Neville-Percy Feud

(1450s)
   In the mid-1450s, a violent feud erupted between the sons and RETAINERS of Richard NEVILLE, earl of Salisbury, and Henry PERCY, second earl of Northumberland, leaders of the two most powerful noble families in northern England. This quarrel not only threw the north into turmoil and contributed to the disorder plaguing the reign of HENRY VI, it also forged the political alignments that gave the houses of LANCASTER and YORK the political and military strength they needed to fight the WARS OF THE ROSES.
   The Percy family had long dominated northeastern England, while the NEVILLE FAMILY had in the last century acquired similar influence in the northwest. Each family held one of the wardenships of the Scottish marches, highly salaried royal offices that made their holders military guardians of the border with SCOTLAND and influential political figures. The Percies had traditionally held the wardenship of the East March, while the Nevilles had usually held the wardenship of the West March after Henry V granted the office to Salisbury in 1420. The two families first fell at odds in the late 1440s, when their joint efforts at repelling Scottish incursions left hard feelings among the restless younger sons of both earls. In the early 1450s, Northumberland’s second son, Thomas PERCY, Lord Egremont, began recruiting armed retainers in areas of Neville influence. Whether motivated by lingering resentments over the Scottish war, by disputes over land, or by his own quarrelsome nature, Egremont began harassing Neville tenants and damaging Neville property, and his provocations soon led John NEVILLE, one of Salisbury’s younger sons, to reply in kind.
   The feud escalated in August 1453, when Egremont and his brother Richard Percy, leading a large band of armed retainers, intercepted the wedding party of Thomas NEVILLE, Salisbury’s second son, as it passed near York. Although this encounter, known as the Battle of HEWORTH, ended with little more than harsh words, it extended the feud to other northern families, for the Percies were accompanied by John CLIFFORD, eldest son of Thomas CLIFFORD, Lord Clifford. During the two months following the Heworth incident, most of the principal members of both families were drawn into the quarrel, while partisans of each side attacked the property and tenants of the other. John Neville vandalized Northumberland’s house at Catton, Richard Percy terrorized Neville tenants at Gargrave, and the mayor of York met with Salisbury, Egremont, and Lord Poynings, Northumberland’s eldest son, in an effort to mediate the dispute. By October 1453, the two families, despite having been ordered to keep the peace by the royal COUNCIL, had assembled large bodies of armed retainers. For three days, the Neville and Percy forces lay within dangerous proximity of one another. Although both earls finally disbanded their armies without a fight, no reconciliation was effected, and tensions remained high.
   In 1454, the feud began to merge into national politics. When Salisbury’s eldest son, Richard NEVILLE, earl of Warwick, quarreled with Edmund BEAUFORT, duke of Somerset, a royal favorite and chief rival of Richard PLANTAGENET, duke of York, the Nevilles drew closer to York, forming an association that gave them a political advantage over the Percies when York became lord protector for the incapacitated Henry VI (see Henry VI, Illness of). Northumberland countered by aligning more closely with Somerset and with Queen MARGARET OF ANJOU, who was becoming leader of the opposition to York. During the summer of 1454, renewed Neville-Percy violence in the north hardened these alliances. Egremont joined Henry HOLLAND, duke of Exeter, in an uprising intended to disrupt York’s FIRST PROTECTORATE.Although York’s intervention led to Exeter’s capture, Egremont continued to attack Neville supporters. In late October, Thomas and John Neville defeated and captured Egremont and his brother Richard Percy at the Battle of STAMFORD BRIDGE in Yorkshire. By obtaining a huge monetary judgment against Egremont from a royal commission, the Nevilles were able to imprison him for debt in LONDON, where he stayed until his escape in 1456.
   Meanwhile, the national political struggle turned violent in May 1455, when the forces of York and the Nevilles slew Somerset, Northumberland, and Clifford at the Battle of ST. ALBANS. Northumberland’s sons, considering their father’s death to be murder perpetrated by the Nevilles, became staunch adherents of the house of Lancaster, while the battle irrevocably committed Salisbury and Warwick to the house of York.Although Henry VI tried to reconcile the Nevilles and Percies as part of his LOVE-DAY peace initiative in 1458, violence continued in the north, and the two families quickly mobilized for battle on the outbreak of civil war in 1459. In July 1460, a Yorkist army led by Warwick slew Egremont at the Battle of NORTHAMPTON, while Henry PERCY, third earl of Northumberland (the former Poynings), was a leader of the Lancastrian force that slew Salisbury,York, and Thomas Neville at the Battle of WAKEFIELD five months later. In March 1461, Northumberland was himself killed fighting York’s son, EDWARD IV, at the Battle of TOWTON. By driving each family to opposite sides in the national struggle, the Neville-Percy feud played a key role in the coming of the civil wars.
   See also North of England and the Wars of the Roses; all entries under Neville and Percy
   Further Reading: Griffiths, Ralph A.,“Local Rivalries and National Politics: The Percies, the Nevilles and the Duke of Exeter, 1452–1455,” in Ralph A. Griffiths, ed., King and Country: England and Wales in the Fifteenth Century (London: Hambledon Press, 1991), pp. 321–364; Storey, R. L., The End of the House of Lancaster, 2d ed. (Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Sutton Publishing, 1999).

Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. . 2001.

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