In 1468, Warwick had a decision to make – as he himself said, 'It is a matter of being either Master or Varlet'.
George Neville, Archbishop of York, 1432-1476
George had chosen the church as his career, in time-honoured fashion. The suspicion is that being a Neville had a good deal more to do with his elevation to his appointments as Bishop of Exeter and then Archbishopric of York than either his saintliness or his learning and erudition. As far as saintliness is concerned, that’s probably fair do’s, but learning he clearly had some. But such learning as he had was accompanied by a remarkably large dose of grandeur and magnificence. So he had been through the University of Oxford, and he had done most of the presentations and arguments required of him. But as he’d studied, he’d been fast tracked, while he maintained magnificent rooms in Balliol College; his graduation was marked by a feast so splendid that they’d had to relax the rules of the university to allow it. It was a love of splendour and display that had all the hallmarks of his aristocratic background. But nonetheless he was a man of considerable talent and competence. He might have been largely an absentee Bishop of Exeter, but he governed effectively through subordinates; as Chancellor for three years he was efficient and competent until removed by Edward. He impressed even his Italian peers with the sophistication of his learning and rhetoric and diplomatic talents. George Neville was a talented, silver tongued example of the aristocratic churchman, and that meant he was a leader of the church – but still in every way a player in national politics and a Neville through and through.
George, Duke of Clarence, 1449-1478
Clarence is 19 where we are now in 1468. He’d been welcomed into the royal household by his brother, made Duke of Clarence, and been given lands in the West country, in Staffordshire near the welsh borders. He was also a man with talent; smooth, elegantly attractive, sharp witted and clever in his speech. The Italian humanist and scholar Dominic Mancini visited England, and along with describing Edward’s philanderings, described Clarence as:
possessed of such mastery of popular eloquence that nothing upon which he set his heart seemed difficult for him to achieve
And there’s evidence of this talent when he could bring himself to apply it, evidence of a competent landowner and magnate, managing his tenants and subordinates.
But Clarence’s talents led him into all the wrong areas. There’s an element of the Humphrey Duke of Gloucester about Clarence; as the king’s eldest brother, he was at the moment also his heir, and he expected this to give him special privileges in the running of the realm and influence over his brother. He was dazzled by his own importance and magnificence; he ran an absolutely stonkingly large household, a kind of alternative court at his castle of Tutbury in Staffordshire, which cost £4,500 a year to run, an extraordinary sum, a house of 400 souls, bigger than the royal household. He was in love with himself, willful and un self-disciplined, shallow and spoiled. His talents led him only to pursue his own self interest, and with apparently no moral compass politics meant for him scheming, plotting and power broking rather than any responsibility of leadership and loyalty. Worse for Clarence was that though on the face of it Edward was generous to his brother and welcomed him into the royal household, there was a reluctance and caution about Edward’s attitude to Clarence that is entirely absent from Edward’s attitude to his youngest brother, Richard of Gloucester; somehow Clarence was treated at arm’s length, was never quite given the responsibility that his status would seem to demand. Edward was no fool; Edward had an idea of his brother’s essential unreliability.
John Neville, Earl of Northumberland and Marquis of Montague, 1431-1471
George and Warwick’s other brother, John Neville, looked as though he might make different choices. John Neville had been a rock for Edward’s first years; firmly holding the north against all comers, supressing the Lancastrian revolts and Scottish invasions, hero of the battle of Hedgley Moor and Hexham. Edward had rewarded him handsomely; now Earl of Northumberland, he’d been given many of the old Percy estates, as Henry Percy languished in the Tower of London for his family’s support for the Lancastrians. John Neville was as concerned as any magnate to grow his power and lands and influence – but loyalty to the throne seemed to be paying dividends, and whether his brothers could persuade him otherwise was open to question – with him, Warwick’s chances would be greatly improved, without them they’d be seriously weakened