Edward IV eventually claimed the English throne in the War of the Roses against Henry VI. Though he was forced to give it up for a year before Henry’s death.
Edward IV (1442–1483), king of England and lord of Ireland, was born at Rouen, Normandy, on 28 April 1442, the second surviving child and eldest son of Richard, third duke of York (1411–1460), and Cecily, duchess of York (1415–1495), the daughter of Ralph Neville, first earl of Westmorland, and Joan Beaufort.
Early life, 1442–1461
Edward probably assumed his father's title of earl of March (no patent of creation survives) late in 1445, when negotiations were under way for his marriage to a daughter of Charles of France. Little is known of his early childhood, but it does not seem to have been spent in the household of another lord or of the king. He and his younger brother Edmund were certainly based at their father's castle of Ludlow by spring 1454, and were probably already living there in May 1452, when one of the Kent rebels was accused of spreading the unlikely story that the earl of March (then aged ten) was coming with a great number of Welshmen. Although one chronicler claims that March was present at the first battle of St Albans, the first certain evidence of his involvement in his father's opposition to the circle around Henry VI is his flight from Ludford Bridge in October 1459. Edward accompanied his uncle the earl of Salisbury, and Salisbury's son Richard Neville, earl of Warwick, to Calais, while York and Edmund went to Ireland. All five men were attainted in the parliament that met at Coventry the following month.
In 1460 the ‘Calais earls’ invaded England, landing in Kent and entering London on 2 July. On 10 July Warwick and March gained possession of Henry VI by defeating the Lancastrian army at the battle of Northampton, and returned with him to London. For the rest of the summer the earls and their allies ruled in Henry's name. The dominant figure in this arrangement was apparently Warwick, although he seems to have been careful to defer to March, and it was March who remained in London while Warwick was in the midlands in September. Nor did Edward accompany his mother to meet York, who had landed near Chester early in September. By the time York entered London, bearing the undifferenced royal arms, it was obvious that he had resolved to claim the throne for himself. Although Edward had not been a party to the earlier meetings of York and Warwick at Waterford and Shrewsbury, he was presumably aware of his father's intentions, and it is unlikely that, as Waurin claims, he tried to persuade York to abandon them. But he may have realized that public opinion was against the duke, and he seems to have kept a low profile in the ensuing negotiations. In the end a compromise was achieved whereby York and his heirs were to succeed Henry on the king's death, and on 31 October March joined York in swearing that they would do nothing against the person or estate of the king.
It was clear, however, that this agreement, which disinherited Edward of Lancaster, the prince of Wales, would generate the immediate opposition of the queen and her circle. Edward was sent to the Welsh march to prevent the earl of Pembroke joining forces with the queen, while York and Edmund went north, where they were killed by the queen's forces at the battle of Wakefield on 30 December. Queen Margaret led her army south, defeating Warwick at the second battle of St Albans on 17 February, although she turned back without entering London. By then, March had defeated the Lancastrian forces led by Pembroke and Wiltshire at the battle of Mortimer's Cross on 2 or 3 February. He subsequently joined forces with Richard Neville in the Cotswolds, and they entered London together on 26 February. On 1 March the chancellor, Warwick's brother George Neville, declared Edward's title to the throne at a gathering at St George's Fields, reportedly to acclaim. Two days later a ‘council’ of Yorkist allies meeting at Baynard's Castle (the London house of the dukes of York) agreed that Edward should be king, and on the next day (4 March) Edward took his seat at Westminster and began his reign.
Securing the throne, 1461–1465
Although events in London were no doubt carefully stage-managed, Edward's accession reveals how thoroughly the situation had changed since his father had first declared his claim to the throne in the previous October. In part, this surely owed something to Edward's succession to his father. Richard of York, like Margaret of Anjou, had become too closely linked with faction for his victory to offer much hope of ending the civil war. Edward could more plausibly offer to unite the warring factions—and his readiness to welcome former Lancastrians into his service was to be a characteristic of the early months of his reign. In the short term, however, he needed to establish himself by military success. He and his allies began raising money and men immediately, and confronted the Lancastrian forces at Towton on Palm Sunday (29 March). Although the Lancastrian army was the larger, it was decisively defeated. Edward returned to London on 26 June, after a progress through the northern counties, and was crowned at Westminster two days later.
Although the thoroughness of the Yorkist victory forced the tacit acknowledgement of Edward's title by all but the most committed Lancastrians, his position was far from entirely secure. Henry VI, with his wife, had remained at York during the battle and had fled to Scotland on receiving news of the Lancastrian defeat. Edward IV, uniquely among medieval usurpers, thus began his reign with his predecessor not just alive but still at large: a situation that inevitably undermined Yorkist authority. The early years of the reign saw almost continuous military involvement in the north of England, where the Lancastrians could call on Scottish support, and in Wales. Edward himself played relatively little part in the campaigns. He did lead the great army assembled late in 1462 in response to the loss of Bamburgh, Alnwick, and Dunstanburgh, but fell ill with measles at Durham in November, and leadership passed to the earl of Warwick. In the following summer it was expected that Edward would lead a major campaign into Scotland in response to continuing Scottish support for the Lancastrians, but although practical preparations were still in train late in August, and the king moved into Yorkshire in September, no military operations followed. Edward also played no part in the campaigns of 1464, which culminated in the defeat of the Lancastrians at Hexham, followed by the surrender of the remaining Lancastrian fortresses in Northumberland, although he had, again, been making preparations to go north in person.
Military activity was only one facet of Edward's attempt to establish himself as the rightful and effective ruler of England. Another, perhaps Edward's preferred strategy, was his commitment to winning over opponents. From the outset of his reign Edward showed himself willing to take former Lancastrians into his favour, on little more than their assurances of future good behaviour. Given the narrowness of his power base in 1461, such a policy had obvious practical advantages, but it perhaps also marked a deliberate attempt by the king to restore political life to normality after the factionalism of the previous decade. The policy had some dramatic failures, most notably Sir Ralph Percy and the duke of Somerset, whom Edward took into his service in spite of their strong Lancastrian links, and who afterwards reneged. But in general men were as eager to support the de facto king as he was to have their backing, and it is a measure of the policy's success that in July 1465 Henry VI was finally betrayed and captured in Lancashire, the hereditary heartland of his dynasty.
Edward's marriage and its consequences, 1465–1467
Alongside Edward IV's search for domestic security went the need to secure recognition for his dynasty in Europe. In the context of the early 1460s the obvious opening for England onto the European stage was the growing tension between France, on the one side, and the dukes of Burgundy and Brittany on the other, as Louis XI attempted to exert his authority over the duchies. The value to both sides of acquiring English backing, or at least denying it to their opponents, gave Edward a European importance that he would otherwise hardly have deserved, status that would inevitably be diminished once he had committed himself. In this respect, the fact that by the mid-1460s Edward was apparently inclining towards a Burgundian alliance, while Warwick favoured France, often taken as evidence of a growing rift between Edward and the earl, may have had its diplomatic advantages. Once it had become clear that Edward had decided for Burgundy, Charles, count of Charolais, who succeeded his father as duke in June 1467, was able to drive a hard bargain in the negotiations of 1467–8.
The Burgundian alliance was formalized in the marriage of Duke Charles (formerly Charolais) to Edward's youngest sister, Margaret: the only one of the Yorkist royal family to make a foreign marriage. Discussion of possible European brides for Edward and his brothers had been a feature of earlier diplomacy, but nothing had come of them and Edward had taken himself out of the running by his secret marriage, on 1 May 1464, to Elizabeth Grey, the widow of John Grey who had died fighting on the Lancastrian side at the second battle of St Albans. She was the daughter of Richard Woodville, a former servant of John, duke of Bedford, who had married Bedford's widow, Jacquetta de Luxembourg, and had been made Earl Rivers in acknowledgement of his wife's standing. Socially, Edward had married beneath himself and an important diplomatic opportunity had been lost. Contemporaries evidently found the marriage surprising, and critics of the queen's family in 1470–71 put about the story that Edward had been bewitched by Jacquetta. The more usual explanation, progressively embroidered by later writers, was that Edward was sexually infatuated with Elizabeth, who made her submission conditional on marriage. Edward himself seems to have been rather embarrassed by his action. It was not until September that he broke the news of his marriage to the royal council at Reading, and on 29 September Elizabeth was formally acknowledged as queen, by being escorted into Reading Abbey by Edward's brother, George, duke of Clarence, and Warwick.
Edward's marriage, and his delay in acknowledging it, laid him open to accusations of misjudgement and bad faith, the latter not least because his ambassadors were left negotiating a French match that had become impossible. But in discussions of the political impact of the marriage most emphasis is usually placed on the consequences of finding appropriate preferment for the new queen's family. Elizabeth brought a large, and largely unmarried, family into the royal circle: two sons from her first marriage, five brothers, and six sisters. Within two years Edward had found aristocratic husbands for five of the queen's sisters, who married the duke of Buckingham, and the heirs of the earls of Kent, Essex, and Arundel, and of Lord Herbert (later to become the earl of Pembroke). This series of marriages is unlikely to have been prompted only by the king's infatuation with his new wife. With his usual pragmatism Edward was seizing the chance to ally his dynasty more securely with the English nobility, an interpretation strengthened by the fact that he showed much less interest in finding brides for his wife's brothers, although the youngest, John, married the dowager duchess of Norfolk. The marriages consolidated links with existing allies of York, such as the Herberts and Bourchiers, and also forged new alliances with the Staffords and Fitzalans. This is not to imply that the marriages benefited only the king. By the mid-1460s Edward was sufficiently secure on the throne for marriage into the royal family to confer welcome prestige and influence, and the royal patronage that accompanied several of the marriages should probably be seen not as the king's attempt to buy the grudging acquiescence of the noble families concerned, but as the first fruits of an alliance valued by both sides.
The creation of an enlarged royal circle was, however, also to have more negative consequences. With hindsight the Woodville marriage marked a turning point in Edward's first reign, contributing to the progressive alienation of one of the king's leading allies, the earl of Warwick. This was probably not immediately apparent. Earlier in the reign Warwick had coexisted harmoniously with other close associates of the king, notably William, Lord Hastings, and Richard Fiennes, Lord Dacre, and there was no obvious reason why this state of affairs should not continue after the emergence of the Woodvilles as a new element within the royal circle. Warwick certainly made no overtly hostile response to Edward's marriage and the Crowland chronicler believed that the earl initially sought to co-operate with the queen's kindred. He escorted Elizabeth on her first formal appearance as queen and stood godfather to the first child of her marriage to Edward, born in February 1466. Even Warwick's plan to marry his daughter to Clarence, first mooted at about this time, may be evidence of the earl's wish to become part of the extended royal family, rather than a sign that he was already disaffected and was seeking allies against the Woodvilles.
The disaffection of the Nevilles, 1467–1469
Edward's response to the marriage proposal was, however, unwelcoming, and in the course of the next few years relations between the two men cooled noticeably. Warkworth, while linking that loss of affection with the king's marriage, saw June 1467, when Edward dismissed Warwick's brother George from the chancellorship, as a crucial stage in their slide into hostility, commenting ‘And yett thei were acorded diverse tymes; but thei nevere loffyd togedere aftere’ (Warkworth, 4). Waurin also saw 1467 as the point of no return, but for him the issue was Warwick's continuing support for an alliance with France, at a time when Edward had finally committed himself to supporting Burgundy and Brittany. But it is likely that both issues were expressions of a deeper malaise. Later events make it clear that Warwick had come to feel excluded from the circle around the king, and resented the influence it wielded.
The political tensions induced by this are reflected in the stirrings of Lancastrian activity apparent in the late 1460s. In autumn 1467 a captured Lancastrian claimed that Warwick had made contact with Margaret of Anjou, and in the following summer another Lancastrian, Cornelius, implicated a number of prominent Londoners and Warwick's associate at Calais, John, Lord Wenlock, in his confession. None of this amounted to very much, and the persistent rumours of the involvement of Warwick and his circle were probably little more than wishful thinking on the part of Lancastrian dissidents. But that in itself is evidence of the importance attached to the earl's growing disaffection, and the government was clearly uneasy. In 1468 Edward arrested the surviving representatives of three strongly Lancastrian families: Henry Courtenay, Thomas Hungerford, and John de Vere, earl of Oxford. Courtenay and Hungerford were found guilty of plotting the king's death and executed, but Oxford, Warwick's brother-in-law, was not brought to trial—evidence, perhaps, that Edward, although aware of Warwick's manifest disillusionment with the regime, still thought him fundamentally loyal.
The Neville rebellions, 1469–1470
In 1469 Warwick finally moved into overt opposition, taking with him Edward's brother and heir, the duke of Clarence. The rebellion began obliquely. There had been unrest in the north of England from late April, and although it had been repressed for the king by Warwick's brother John, the rebels apparently regrouped in June under the leadership of ‘Robin of Redesdale’, who was almost certainly an associate of Warwick and probably one of the Conyers family. At this stage, however, Warwick had given no sign of support for the rebels, and Edward seems not to have regarded the rising as particularly threatening. It was only in mid-June that he decided to raise troops and go north in person, and not until July that he seems to have realized the full scale of the opposition.
On 11 July Clarence married Warwick's daughter Isabel at Calais and on the following day the two lords issued a manifesto, couched as a list of popular grievances which they had resolved to bring to the king's attention ‘for the honoure and profite of oure seid sovereyn Lord, and the comune weal of alle this his realme’ (Warkworth, 47). The complaints were directed at named associates of the king: Rivers and his wife, the earls of Pembroke and Devon, lords Scales and Audley, Sir John Fogge, and the queen's brothers. They were accused of forcing up taxes, to make good the financial shortfall their own rapacity had created, and of maintaining wrongdoers so that the law could not be enforced. The cure for such misgovernment, the manifesto proclaimed, was for the king to pay more attention to the counsel of the true lords of the blood, who had been estranged from the king by the circle around him.
If the 1469 rising is evaluated in terms of high politics, it is clear that Warwick and Clarence were extremely isolated, and it is difficult to see their disaffection as evidence that Edward was guilty of serious political mismanagement. In particular, although it is possible to cite examples of Woodville greed and insensitivity, hostility to the queen's family does not seem to have been a particularly effective rallying cry among the nobility and gentry at large. The extent of popular dissatisfaction with the regime is harder to assess. The rebel lords clearly expected their accusations of over-taxation and royal laxity in the area of law and order to be well received, and Warkworth confirms that criticisms of the regime were current by the late 1460s, although he stresses rather the damage Edward's policies were thought to have done to English trading interests. Warwick and Clarence apparently gained significant support as they advanced through Kent; enough, at least, to persuade London to open its gates to them and even to give them financial support. It is unlikely, however, that popular disillusionment alone would have constituted a major threat to the regime; a view which gains some support from the ease with which John Neville dispersed the early manifestations of northern unrest, before the emergence of aristocratic support for the rising.
Edward was, however, caught unprepared by the rebellion. The rebels were able to defeat the royal forces under Pembroke and Devon at the battle of Edgcote on 26 July. The king had not been present at the battle, and when news of the defeat reached him as he advanced south from Nottingham he was deserted by many of his men. He was captured by George Neville and sent as a prisoner first to Warwick Castle and later to Middleham, Yorkshire. For the next few weeks Warwick and Clarence attempted to rule England in the king's name; but the knowledge that the king was a prisoner fatally undermined their attempts, and the period was marked by a dramatic upsurge in lawlessness, including an attack by the duke of Norfolk on the Pastons' castle of Caister, and a flare-up of the dispute between the Stanleys and the Harringtons in the north-west. When there was a Lancastrian rising, led by Sir Humphrey Neville of Brancepeth, in the north, Warwick found himself unable to raise troops to deal with it, and Edward was able to reassert his freedom of action. He was at York, apparently at liberty, in the second week of September, and Humphrey Neville and his brother had been defeated and executed by the end of the month.
Edward returned to London in the middle of October. Initially he was careful not to take action against Clarence and Warwick, an approach that, as described by Polydore Vergil, has clear parallels with his policy towards the Lancastrians in the early 1460s: ‘He regarded nothing more than to win again the friendship of such noble men as were now alienated from him [and] to confirm the goodwill of them that were hovering and inconstant’ (Vergil, 125). The famous comment of John (II) Paston that, although Edward declared Warwick and the rest to be his best friends, ‘hys howsolde men haue other langage’ (Davis, 1.410) may imply hostility to Edward's approach within the royal circle rather than deception on the part of the king. But the leading rebels cannot have felt secure, particularly as the victims of the rising had included the queen's father and her brother John, and their apprehensions can only have been intensified when Edward showed himself minded to restore Henry Percy to the earldom of Northumberland, presumably as a counterweight to the Nevilles in the north. The chief beneficiaries of the Percy forfeiture had been Clarence and Warwick, and also Warwick's younger brother John, who had remained loyal to Edward throughout his brother's move into opposition. Edward was careful to compensate John Neville with a major new holding in the south-west, where he was given the forfeited Courtenay lands previously held by another victim of the rising of 1469, Humphrey Stafford, earl of Devon. The grant was testimony to Edward's confidence that John Neville would be able to assert Yorkist authority in a notoriously disaffected region, but it represented a break with Neville's traditional interests in the north, and it was later to become apparent that Neville had resented the enforced move.
In the short term, however, John Neville remained loyal, as his brother and Clarence again moved into opposition. In the spring of 1470 the two men exploited opposition in Lincolnshire to a leading local member of Edward's household, Sir Thomas Burgh, in order to stir up a rising against the king. Contemporaries seem to have been unsure of the rebels' intentions: Warkworth implies that the aim was to restore Henry VI, while the official narrative of the rising and its suppression claims that it was Clarence who was to become king. It seems clear, at least, that Warwick and Clarence had abandoned hopes of forcing themselves on Edward, and were now contemplating removing him altogether.
Flight and recovery, 1470–1471
The rebellion was a complete failure. The Lincolnshire rebels were defeated near Empingham, and only the closest associates of Warwick and Clarence proved willing to support their lords' treason. The two noblemen and their families fled to France, where they opened negotiations with Margaret of Anjou for the restoration of Henry VI. Edward responded by sending secret messengers to Clarence, who had no reason to welcome a Lancastrian restoration. He also took steps to secure Calais and the south coast, and, with Burgundian help, blockaded the French coast. In September 1470, however, the fleet was scattered by storms, and the rebels, now reinforced by committed Lancastrians such as Jasper Tudor, and with French backing, invaded England. They were soon joined by Lord Stanley and the earl of Shrewsbury and it was a sizeable force that moved north. Edward had been in the north when the news of the invasion reached him, drawn thither by risings in the North Riding and Cumberland. He moved south only slowly, awaiting reinforcements from John Neville. What came instead was news of Neville's defection and Edward and a group of followers, including Gloucester, Hastings, and Howard, fled to the Low Countries, leaving Warwick to enter London unopposed and replace Henry VI on the throne.
Edward's arrival in Burgundian territory was a considerable embarrassment for Duke Charles. As part of the price Warwick had paid for French backing, the new regime in England was committed to support an invasion of Burgundy, and Charles's initial reaction was to keep his distance from Edward, to avoid giving the new Anglo-French alliance any excuse for taking action against him. For the early weeks of his exile Edward was dependent on the hospitality of Louis de Gruthuyse (whom he was later, after his restoration, to reward with the earldom of Winchester). It was only when Louis XI declared war on Burgundy in December 1470 that Charles abandoned his cautious neutrality and agreed to support a Yorkist invasion of England. The preparations for Edward's return were not, however, only military. In spite of the apparent thoroughness with which Edward's authority had collapsed, the restoration of Henry VI offered little to many of the political establishment left behind in England, and Edward could hope to call on their support once an invasion seemed viable. Members of the Yorkist royal family were mobilized to put pressure on Clarence to reconsider his allegiance, and messengers were sent to other possible allies, including the newly restored earl of Northumberland.
Edward returned to England in March 1471. Initial plans to land in East Anglia proved abortive, and the Yorkists finally came ashore at Ravenspur in Holderness on 14 March. The East Riding was Percy territory, and although Edward seems to have been confident of the earl's backing, the attitude of the Percy retainers was more problematic. Edward accordingly moved cautiously, initially claiming that he had come only for the duchy of York. This claim saw him safely through east Yorkshire, and as he turned south he began to be joined by allies, until by the time he had reached Nottingham his forces were large enough for a Lancastrian army under Exeter and Oxford to fall back rather than challenge him. On 3 April his forces were swelled by his conjunction with Clarence, and the Yorkist army entered London unopposed on 11 April. Edward was reunited with his queen, who during his exile had remained in Westminster sanctuary, where she had given birth to their heir, the future Edward V, on 2 November 1470.
On Easter Sunday (14 April) Edward IV defeated Warwick's army at Barnet. On the same day Margaret of Anjou and her son Edward landed at Weymouth. She was able to rally significant support from Devon and Cornwall, and began to advance towards the Welsh march. Edward and his army aimed to intercept her before she could cross the Severn, and the two armies met at Tewkesbury on 4 May. The Yorkists were victorious and Edward of Lancaster was among those killed. This removed the argument for keeping Henry VI alive, and the Lancastrian king was killed on the night of Edward IV's victorious return to London, Yorkist claims that he died of ‘pure displeasure and melencoly’ (Bruce, 38) probably then, as now, commanding little credence.
The second reign: the exercise of patronage
As in 1461 Edward IV's title to the throne had been confirmed by battle. But in one respect the situation in 1471 was very different. The death of Henry VI and his son meant that there was no longer an alternative king to validate opposition to the Yorkists. Contemporaries recognized as much, and Edward's restoration was followed by the reconciliation of most of the hard core of committed Lancastrians, like Sir Richard Tunstall, who had remained in opposition throughout the 1460s. The few exceptions included the Lancastrian half-blood, now represented by Jasper Tudor and his nephew Henry, and a handful of men who knew that they had no hope of regaining their estates under York, such as John de Vere, earl of Oxford, whose lands had been used to endow the king's younger brother Richard, duke of Gloucester (afterwards Richard III).
As a result the ‘feel’ of Edward's two reigns is very different. The 1470s were not without flurries of opposition, most notably in 1473, when Oxford secured French backing for an abortive invasion, but Edward looked unassailable in a way that he had not in the 1460s. The difference between the two reigns does not, however, extend to royal policy. There is no sense in which the events of 1469–71 had forced Edward to rethink his strategy, and most of the policies perceived as characteristic of the 1470s can be paralleled in the preceding decade.
Edward consistently showed himself willing to foster the power of trusted supporters, who then acted as his agents at a local level. The best-known example comes from the 1470s, with the elevation of Gloucester to be lord of the north, but Neville authority in the region had been built up in a similar way in the 1460s, and in the same decade William Herbert, later first earl of Pembroke, had become ‘King Edward's master-lock’ (Griffiths, 159) in south Wales. On a smaller scale, Edward adopted a similar policy towards leading members of the local gentry, many of whom had their links with the crown formalized by membership of the royal household, which was growing steadily throughout Edward's reign. Contemporaries saw the creation of this nexus of support as one of Edward's great achievements, and were particularly impressed by the fact that he knew all his servants, even those of yeoman status. Nor did the king's knowledge extend only to his own servants. It is characteristic of Edward that, in delivering a stinging rebuke to the Mowbray associate William Brandon, he was reported as saying three times in as many sentences that he understood or knew Brandon and his dealings ‘well j-now’ (Davis, 1.544).
Edward's reliance on his local agents was, on the whole, successful, allowing an effective mediation of royal authority, and it is striking that although his critics in 1469 attacked the power wielded by a group of Edward's allies at the centre, the role of his servants beyond the court never seems to have become a national issue. There were, inevitably, local grievances, such as the complaint that no lawyer could be found who was prepared to act against Sir Richard Croft, one of Edward's key men in Wales in the 1470s, but on the whole Edward's servants seem to have been seen as the embodiment of co-operation between king and country, rather than as an intrusive and alien force.
By contrast, many subsequent commentators have been critical of Edward's willingness to build up the power of his allies through grants of office and land, seeing it as tantamount to the creation of ‘over mighty subjects’. But none of Edward's leading allies was able to turn his power fully against the crown. Warwick came nearest, but although he led his own retinue against Edward in 1469–70, most of the royal servants over whom he had been given authority by the crown refused to become involved. It is also clear that what Edward had made he could break, as is shown by the ruthless demotion of Clarence and the second earl of Pembroke. Their progressive exclusion from power points to the negative side of Edward's policy: the imperative to make things fit, even if that involved the manipulation of landed interests. The attempt to turn John Neville into a power in the south-west has already been mentioned, and Edward indulged in a whole series of reshapings of the political map in 1473–4, including the replacement of Clarence by Hastings in the north midlands and the downplaying of Gloucester's role in East Anglia in favour of the Woodville circle. Edward's decision to mediate authority in Wales, through a council associated with the prince of Wales, not only entailed the removal from the region of the second earl of Pembroke (who was instead given land in the west country), but also the exclusion of Henry Stafford, duke of Buckingham, after he came of age.
Such manipulation, which at the time went largely unchallenged, is testimony to Edward IV's authority. It is the king's destruction of his brother Clarence, however, that demonstrates this most clearly. Although Clarence had been reconciled with his brother in 1471, relations between the two men were soured by Clarence's refusal to co-operate with Edward's plans to endow Gloucester through marriage with Warwick's second daughter, Anne Neville. In the Act of Resumption of 1474 Clarence lost the duchy of Lancaster estates in the north midlands, upon which his influence in that area had rested. Whether the erosion of his power drove Clarence back into treason has been disputed; if it did, it is clear that his opposition was entirely ineffective. But in 1477 he was accused of conspiring against the crown and in the parliament of January 1478 attainted and subsequently executed. Although some later writers have tried to distinguish the hand of others behind Clarence's fall (Tudor writers favouring Gloucester; P. M. Kendall and other twentieth-century writers preferring the Woodvilles) contemporaries were in no doubt that it was Edward who destroyed his own brother. The Crowland chronicler, who found the episode deeply shocking, commented that in parliament no one spoke against the duke but the king. As the events of the previous years had shown, Clarence was an extremely isolated figure, unable to command much, if any, political support, but it is still striking that Edward was able first to dismantle the duke's power and then to remove him altogether.
The death of Clarence was evidence of the extent to which Edward was, by the late 1470s, master in his own kingdom, at least in the sphere of high politics. His success in the wider governmental arena has been disputed, but here too he seems to have been broadly in control in the 1470s. His most marked, and generally acknowledged, success, was financial. Throughout his reign, Edward IV explored ways of increasing his income, and although he has been criticized for allowing rigour to be tempered by favour, to level such criticism is to misinterpret his motives. Against a background of rigour, quite modest expressions of royal favour came to have a higher value than liberal gifts in a laxer regime. The most striking (and characteristic) example is Edward's use of parliamentary acts of resumption. A measure forced on Henry VI was adopted by Edward as, inter alia, a way of granting patronage (in the form of exemptions) at no additional cost to himself.
Edward consistently sought to maximize his income from the crown estates, and from royal rights such as wardships or ecclesiastical vacancies. To handle the revenues from these sources he developed the royal chamber (which had always had a role in storing and spending the king's own cash) as a financial agency largely independent of the exchequer, which, however, retained its traditional responsibility for other sources of royal finance, such as subsidies, customs (granted to Edward for life in 1465), and the sheriffs' farms. The chamber presumably also received the profits of Edward's trading ventures, and may also have handled the receipts from loans and ‘benevolences’. No accounts survive for the Yorkist chamber, so the scale of Edward's financial achievement is unknown, but it is significant that in the 1480s he was able to meet the costs of one year of the Scottish war before resorting to parliamentary taxation. This drained his cash reserves, although it is impossible to set a value on the royal jewels and plate, and it may be that contemporaries were right in believing that Edward died a wealthy man, even though the exchequer and chamber together held only £1200 at his death.
Contemporary comment on Edward's wealth, and his means of amassing it, was ambivalent. Solvency was obviously desirable in a ruler, particularly when it allowed a king to meet his debts promptly and in cash, but there was always an underlying sense that the king's wealth was likely to be acquired at the expense of his subjects. Although Edward's efforts to increase the yield from his own estates could be seen as good housekeeping, other aspects of his financial dealings were less popular, notably his resort to benevolences (which were gifts, rather than loans, from his subjects) before the French and Scottish wars. Although the great chronicle treats the benevolences light-heartedly, with the story of a wealthy Suffolk widow who doubled her contribution in return for a royal kiss, the general perception is likely to have been closer to the view evoked by Richard III, that benevolences were ‘newe and unlawfull Invencions and inordinate Covetise, ageyenst the lawe of this roialme’ (Luders and others, 2.478).
Contemporaries also seem to have had reservations about the success with which Edward re-established law and order. Certainly, like any king, he took action against lawlessness that threatened political stability, and at this level seems to have been broadly successful. He imposed a settlement in the Harrington–Stanley dispute, for instance, which had threatened the good rule of the north-west. His primary weapon in such cases was his own royal authority, but he also made use of the royal council and of the constable's court, which was not only employed against traitors but against those suspected of less extreme forms of lèse-majesté, such as the two London goldsmiths whose dispute came to the king's attention in 1473. But contemporaries evidently felt that Edward was less active in cases that did not touch him personally, and as political unrest subsided in the 1470s, the Commons became increasingly critical of the regime's apparent failure to take action against other forms of lawlessness. They pointed the finger at ‘such persones as eyther been of grete myght, or elles favoured under persones of grete power’ (RotP, 6.8). Edward was clearly aware of the hostility to livery and maintenance, but his high-profile campaign against the system's abuses was not extended to forms of retaining that might be deemed beneficial to royal authority. Here too, rigour was moderated by the king's need to cultivate the support of those who underpinned his regime.
This sort of balancing act was inevitable in a system that ultimately rested on people rather than institutions, and Edward IV was not alone in his pragmatism. It has, however, sometimes been suggested that Edward's reliance on non-institutional structures was excessive, and that he should have done more to formalize his government, as (it is often claimed) Henry VII was to do. The extended financial role of the chamber, for instance, collapsed at Edward's death and had to be reactivated by Richard III. But it is difficult to argue that this was a weakness within Edward's own lifetime, when his active involvement in government can more plausibly be seen as a sign of royal strength.
Edward IV's growing security at home allowed him to contemplate military involvement abroad. He had been planning an invasion of France as early as 1468, when he obtained taxation for that purpose from parliament, but nothing had come of the proposal, and resentment at the ‘wasted’ tax probably fuelled the popular unrest of the following year. By 1472 the idea of war was again current. In April a body of English archers was sent to Brittany in response to an appeal from Duke François, and in September the Anglo-Breton treaty of Châteaugiron made provision for an English invasion in the following spring, although Brittany was subsequently to withdraw, and in March 1473 Edward made a truce with France. But he continued to prepare for the war, seeking money from parliament in both 1472 and 1473, and in 1474 finally securing an Anglo-Burgundian alliance against France. In July 1475 an English army crossed to France, but saw no significant military action. Charles of Burgundy proved unsupportive, and on 29 August Edward and Louis XI met on a bridge across the Somme at Picquigny and agreed terms. There was to be a truce for seven years, and the amity between the countries was to be embodied in the marriage of the dauphin Charles and Edward's eldest daughter, Elizabeth, or, if she died before reaching marriageable age, her sister Mary. In addition Louis undertook to pay Edward £15,000 immediately, and then an annual pension of £10,000.
In fact, Edward had been bought off, and there was considerable popular hostility to this latest waste of taxation. But the French pension helped Edward to do without further parliamentary taxation until 1482, when war with Scotland placed him under renewed financial pressure. That war developed unexpectedly after a period of relatively harmonious relations between the two countries. In October 1473, as events moved towards the English invasion of France, James III and Edward had agreed a truce, which was planned to last until 1519 and which was formalized in the betrothal of the English princess, Cecily, to James's infant son and namesake, born the previous March. But in 1480 Edward complained about the increasing incidence of truces broken by the Scots and threatened war if reparation were not made. In May English military preparations were set in train, but failed to deter a large-scale raid into the east march by the earl of Angus, which prompted a counter-raid by Gloucester and Northumberland later in the year.
By this date Edward was clearly committed to war, and began to plan a major campaign for the following year, which he was to lead in person. In the event he did not go, although the planned campaign was not finally abandoned until October, and the English attack consisted of little more than a naval raid on the Firth of Forth in the spring and raids across the land border led by Gloucester later in the year. The end of 1481 brought a shift in English strategy. Edward decided to put forward James III's brother, Alexander, duke of Albany, as a rival claimant to the Scottish throne. By the treaty of Fotheringhay, agreed on 11 June 1482, England promised military backing in return for Albany's undertaking (if he won the Scottish throne) to hand over Berwick, to do homage and fealty to the king of England, and to break off relations with France.
The intention had been that Edward IV should lead the campaign of 1482 in person, but he again changed his mind and on 12 June Gloucester was put in effective control of the war. The English army, aided by the political divisions between James III and his nobility, entered Edinburgh unopposed, but then withdrew, after Gloucester had secured an agreement that gave England very little more than Berwick, which was finally surrendered to the English on 24 August. The immediate cause of Gloucester's withdrawal was Albany's decision to renounce his claim to the Scottish throne, but it is curious that the English did not take more advantage of their position of strength, particularly as his later career suggests that Gloucester, their commander, was strongly committed to the war. By the end of the year Albany had had second thoughts and was again in touch with England, but although Edward proved willing to reactivate the treaty of Fotheringhay, no military preparations had been made before Albany again made terms with his brother on 19 March, and three weeks later Edward IV was dead.
The Scottish war was pursued against the background of an increasingly complex continental situation. Charles of Burgundy had been killed at the battle of Nancy in January 1477, and his daughter and heir, Mary, had married Maximilian, the son of the emperor Friedrich III. In 1480 Edward's sister Margaret, the widow of Duke Charles, had helped to negotiate an Anglo-Burgundian alliance, a move that prompted Louis to withhold the latest instalment of Edward's pension, and probably also to encourage Scottish infractions of the truce. Edward responded by rebuilding bridges with France, and by the summer of 1481 the relationship between the two countries was, on the face of it, much as it had been after Picquigny. For French chroniclers, Edward's motive was fear that he would lose his pension, but that is unlikely to have been the whole story. Edward was in no position to take large-scale military action against France, and he may also have hoped to return to the situation in the early 1460s, when his diplomacy had centred on the avoidance of commitment. Whatever his aims, the policy collapsed. In January 1482 Maximilian, who was unaware of the extent of the Anglo-French rapprochement, approached Edward for military help against France. Edward temporized, on the grounds that he was too heavily committed against Scotland to take action against France. This lack of English backing, coupled with the death of Mary of Burgundy in March 1482, drove Burgundy into the arms of France. On 23 December the two countries came to terms at the treaty of Arras, one of the conditions of which was that the dauphin should marry Maximilian's infant daughter, Margaret. Edward IV had lost his pension and his daughter Elizabeth her promised husband.
Last illness and death
The apparent ineffectiveness of Edward's foreign policy in the closing years of his reign has led several commentators to suggest that the king was losing his grip on affairs. There is, however, no contemporary evidence that the king's health was failing. The apparent claim in the Canterbury records that Edward's health was giving grounds for anxiety in 1481–2 is an editorial interpolation. The king's notorious self-indulgence was indeed beginning to take a physical toll. Commines noted in 1475 that Edward (then aged thirty-three) was running to fat and looked less handsome than he had done five years previously, and the Crowland chronicler commented on his corpulence in later years. But the chronicler, significantly, coupled that comment with the assertion that there was (to the surprise of the royal circle) nothing wrong with the king's memory for detail. Certainly the king's final illness, which struck about Eastertide 1483, seems to have taken the political community by surprise.
The Crowland chronicle is noncommittal about the cause of Edward's death, which was due neither to old age nor to any identifiable disease that could not easily have been cured in a lesser man—perhaps a guarded way of saying, as French chroniclers did openly, that over-indulgence in food and drink had hastened the king's demise. Mancini, by contrast, has a more circumstantial account of a chill contracted while boating on the river. The onset of illness was dramatic enough to give rise to reports that the king had died (which perhaps endorses Commines's verdict of an apoplexy), but Edward then lingered for about ten days, during which time he was able to add codicils to his will and express his wishes for the future governance of the kingdom. He died at the palace of Westminster on 9 April. After lying in state in St Stephen's Chapel, his body was taken to St George's Chapel, Windsor, where it was buried on 20 April in a chapel built for the purpose in the king's own lifetime, although his projected tomb of black marble, with a silver gilt effigy above a figure of death (presumably a cadaver), was never completed.
Edward and Elizabeth Woodville had ten children: seven daughters and three sons. The eldest, Elizabeth, was born in 1466 and remained Edward's heir until the birth of Edward in 1470. She was later to become the wife of Henry VII, but during her father's reign was betrothed first to George, the son of John Neville, earl of Northumberland, in 1470 as part of Edward's attempt to signal his favour for Neville, and then to the dauphin. Her sisters were Mary (1467–1482), Cecily (1469–1507), Margaret (who died shortly after her birth in 1472), Anne (1475–1510), Katherine (1479–1527), and Bridget (1480–1513). With the exception of Margaret and Bridget, all the sisters featured in Edward's diplomacy. Mary, after initially being held in reserve as a bride for the dauphin, was contracted to Frederick of Denmark in 1481. Cecily was to marry the heir of Scotland, and Anne was proposed as a bride for Philipp, the son of Margaret of Burgundy and Maximilian. None of these plans had come to anything at Edward's death, and Richard III, who undertook to find suitable husbands for his nieces, preferred to look for Englishmen of assured loyalty to himself. This was achieved only in the case of Cecily, who married Ralph Scrope, the brother of Baron Scrope of Masham. The marriage was annulled in 1486, to allow Cecily's marriage to Henry VII's half-uncle John, Viscount Welles. After his death Cecily married another Lincolnshire landowner, Thomas Kyme. But in general Henry VII seems to have been in no hurry to find husbands for his sisters-in-law, and it was not until 1495 that Anne and Katherine were married, to Thomas Howard, earl of Surrey, and William Courtenay, earl of Devon, respectively. Bridget, who never married, became a nun at Dartford.
The marriage of Edward IV's eldest son, Edward, was under discussion from 1476, and by 1481 negotiations for his marriage to Anne of Brittany were well advanced, although they had not been completed by the time of Edward IV's death. The only son of Edward IV to marry was Richard, born in 1473, who married the Mowbray heir, Anne, in January 1478. Anne died in 1481, but Richard retained her estates: an arrangement that disinherited the two heirs general, John Howard and William Berkeley. The third son of Edward IV was George, who was born at Windsor in 1477 and died two years later.
Edward IV also had a number of extramarital relationships. According to Mancini, these were extremely numerous and short-lived, although he adds that the women were willing and Edward never resorted to force. This view of Edward as an insatiable predator may be coloured, as are some of Mancini's other claims, by a version of events deriving from Gloucester and his circle, which were set out more formally in the act of parliament of 1484 that asserted Richard's claim to the throne and presented Edward's womanizing as a political grievance. This may in turn have shaped the condemnation of Edward's behaviour that Sir Thomas More was later to put in the mouth of the duke of Buckingham. However, elsewhere in his history More offers a more detailed and less hostile account. According to this, Edward claimed three mistresses: the merriest, the wiliest, and the holiest in the realm. More only identified one, the merriest, who was Jane (actually Elizabeth) Shore, the daughter of the London mercer John Lambert and the divorced wife of another mercer, William Shore, and he suggests that the others chose to remain nameless because of their higher social standing.
Edward is known to have had two illegitimate children. One, Arthur Plantagenet, married Elizabeth, the daughter of John Grey, Viscount Lisle, in 1511 and was made Lord Lisle by Henry VIII in 1523. His mother is unknown, although one tradition claims her as a member of the Wayte family of Titchfield, Hampshire. Edward also had a daughter, Grace, who is mentioned as present at the deathbed of Elizabeth Woodville in 1492. Other families claimed royal bastards among their number. Isabella, the wife of John, brother of James, Lord Audley (d. 1497), was reputedly Edward's illegitimate daughter, as was Elizabeth, the wife of Sir Thomas Lumley, the son of George, Lord Lumley (d. 1507).
Reputation and significance
Evaluations of Edward and his reign have fluctuated considerably over the years. Edward's contemporaries, at least among the political élite, seem to have been impressed by him, and early Tudor writers absorbed that tradition. Although no one was under any illusions about his self-indulgence (and the Crowland chronicler was evidently both relieved and surprised that he made an exemplary end), he was regarded as an able and far-sighted ruler. Much of this admiration surely derived from a perception that Edward had reasserted the authority of royal government after the disasters of the previous reign. For those who had experienced Henry VI's incompetence, and particularly the descent into civil war in the late 1450s, the sense that there was an effective king again must have been a considerable relief, and perhaps encouraged a readiness to allow that the ends justified the means. A similar view is apparent among Edward's more recent defenders, who regard his occasional ruthlessness as a necessary evil in the establishment of a ‘new monarchy’ (a concept first propounded by J. R. Green in 1878) which was a considerable improvement upon the old. An extension of this view sees Edward IV as a prototype Renaissance prince, whose appetites and cruelty matched those of his grandson Henry VIII (who seems indeed to have resembled him physically).
This interpretation can shade into a much more hostile reading, derived ultimately from the French chroniclers, which sees Edward as debauched, vicious, greedy, and lazy, stirred to action only by a crisis. The difference between proponents of the two views is less the degree to which Edward's perceived vices are stressed, than an unwillingness on the part of Edward's critics to offset those vices with statesmanship. William Stubbs, who thought that Edward's regime marked a retrograde step after Lancastrian parliamentary monarchy, clearly felt that the needs of government were subordinated to, rather than served by, Edward's cruelty and ‘conspicuous talent for extortion’; a subordination made explicit in his comment that Edward enforced the law but only when that was compatible with ‘the fortunes of his favourites or his own likes and dislikes’ (Stubbs, 3.226). For later historians, by contrast, ‘the ruthlessness of a Renaissance despot’ becomes a desirable attribute when coupled with ‘the strong-willed ability of a statesman’ (Ross, 419).
Seeing Edward as a ‘new’ or proto-Renaissance monarch is, however, a false perspective. Edward's reign presents, and was no doubt intended to present, a contrast to the disastrous regime of Henry VI, but what Edward was doing was restoring the norms of medieval monarchy after their eclipse, not taking the opportunity to devise a new model of kingship. In a personal monarchy the character and aptitude of the individual king will necessarily colour his reign, but nothing in Edward's style of government constituted a break with accepted practice. Like any medieval king Edward essentially exercised his power through other people, and his readiness to enhance (or even create) and then employ the authority of trusted associates needs to be seen in that context. This meant that a good deal of government activity, for instance Edward's apparent concern to enforce his rights over such things as wardships and marriages, had to remain a matter of ad hoc negotiation, in which the king was inevitably involved. As a result, and in spite of his willingness to delegate local authority, Edward's own input remained essential. His achievements were thus vulnerable when he died, and would have been equally vulnerable had he simply lost his grip or his energies as he grew older.
Some writers have gone further, and argued that the Yorkist power base created by Edward was not only fragile but fundamentally flawed. According to this interpretation, developed most fully by C. D. Ross, Edward's willingness to promote his family and friends caused deep factional divisions within the Yorkist polity, particularly between the Woodvilles and others, so that the polity split along these fault lines as soon as Edward's hand was removed. It was thus Edward himself, on this reading, who was responsible for the dynastic collapse that so quickly followed his death, and his reign must be judged in the light of his failure to secure the accession of his heir.
While it is true that Edward's death did give rise to anxieties about the likely role of the Woodvilles, it is difficult to accept that hostility to the family was so profound that the deposition of Edward V was seen as preferable to allowing them influence—or even that political dislocation short of deposition was inevitable. In the immediate aftermath of Edward's death the political community seems, on the contrary, to have been anxious to preserve the status quo. It was the intervention of Edward's brother Gloucester that transformed the situation, and Edward IV can hardly be blamed for not foreseeing the dramatic deposition of a child king by his appointed protector. Significantly, an informed observer like the Crowland chronicler, although aware of Edward's failings (and of what was to happen after his death), was still prepared to describe the king's provisions for the future as wise.
Personality and achievement
Edward IV was a successful warrior, whose victories in 1461 and 1471 were quite literally vital to his success. His repeated determination to seize the initiative, to move quickly and confront his enemies in the hope of taking them at a disadvantage, along with his readiness to take a lead on the battlefield itself, probably did as much as any tactical skills he may have possessed to enable him first to take the throne and later to recover it. Nevertheless, if Edward IV could be summed up in a single phrase, it would probably be that he was someone who liked to have all comfortable about him. His command to the sheriff of Devon in 1473 that ‘ye sit still and be quiet’ (Morgan, 17) could almost be the reign's leitmotif. At times this manifested itself as a preference for doing nothing. The Pastons' troubles over the Fastolf inheritance have been seen as an example of Edward's tendency to shrug his shoulders and let events take their course. His preferred mode of kingship was probably the careless affability he showed to overawed visitors to his court. But Edward's very accessibility is evidence that he knew how to say no. Although good-natured it is never suggested that he was gullible, and significantly ‘counsel’ is very rarely an issue in his reign. Apart from the criticism levelled by Warwick and Clarence at the circle around the king in 1469—which does not seem to have commanded general acceptance—no contemporaries made political capital out of accusations that Edward had favourites. The almost universal respect shown towards Edward's closest friend, William, Lord Hastings, is as much a tribute to Edward's acumen as to Hastings's.
The king was his own master and did not hesitate to show it as necessary. When John (I) Paston ignored the king's commands Edward reportedly erupted: ‘he made a gret a-vowe that if ye come not at the third commandement ye xulde dye therefore’, although, characteristically, Edward added that he was not convinced by the accusation brought against Paston (Davis, 1.201). Such displays of temper should not be seen as empty words. Contemporaries testify to Edward's personal authority. One of his servants reportedly withdrew from court when Edward refused to recognize him in public, and retired to a nearby manor to await the king's orders. Consciousness of his power, coupled with the desire for things to be arranged for his own convenience, could make Edward overbearing and insensitive, as in his treatment of John Neville. His territorial reorderings of 1473–4 could be seen in the same light.
Comfort is not only a political concept. Edward liked luxury and was a great builder, most notably at Windsor, Greenwich, and Eltham. His projects were expensive, and contemporaries were under no illusions about Edward's desire to amass wealth (to an extent that some considered unbecoming in a king). Foreign commentators generally assumed that this meant a concomitant unwillingness to spend, and certainly Edward seems to have been eager to secure diplomatic marriages for his children at minimum cost to himself. But this should perhaps be seen, at least in part, as one facet of the marked hostility to the export of bullion which characterizes royal policy in this period. There is no suggestion that Edward was a miser in the usual sense of the word. On the contrary, he liked spending on himself and on his surroundings, and was well aware of the political significance of being seen in splendour. The absence of chamber accounts makes it difficult to reconstruct his environment in detail, but it can be glimpsed in the Crowland chronicler's description of Edward amid the splendour of his court at Christmas 1482. The latest fashions ‘displayed the prince (who always stood out because of his elegant figure) like a new and incomparable spectacle set before the onlookers’. It was a royal court ‘such as befitted a mighty kingdom’ (Pronay and Cox, 149).