King Edward IV

Born: April 28, 1442

Rouen, Normandy, France

Reigns: March 4, 1461 - October 31, 1470; April 11, 1471 - April 9, 1483 (21 years)

Died: April 9, 1483

Westminster, London, England (Age 40)


Edward of York was born the eldest surviving son of Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, and his wife, Cecily Neville, on April 28, 1442, while the family was stationed in the Norman capital of Rouen, where York was serving as lieutenant of France for King Henry VI. Information about Edward’s early life is remarkably sparse and was not followed to any great extent considering that no one ever expected him to become king. He was given a sound education and undoubtedly grew up quite comfortably on his father’s vast estates (York was by far the wealthiest nobleman in England). At some point in his childhood, Edward was created Earl of March, a title that had been held by his Mortimer ancestors for over a hundred years.

The political fortunes of Edward and house of York changed drastically in 1455 when open war erupted between the Yorkists and their rivals, the reigning house of Lancaster. York was able to defeat the Lancastrians at the Battle of St. Albans, where a number of his political enemies were killed and Henry VI was taken captive. There are certain chroniclers who claim that Edward, though still only thirteen, participated in the battle. This is mere speculation, but it was not at all uncommon for boys of Edward’s age to take part in battles and therefore most likely holds a grain of truth. For the next four years, an unsettled peace was maintained, but the ambitions of Queen Margaret, and her control over her passive and mentally unfit husband, Henry VI, assured that tensions would, by no means, disappear. When hostilities broke out again in the fall of 1459, the Yorkists were forced to flee the country after they were routed at the Battle of Ludford Bridge. York himself, and his second son, Edmund, Earl of Rutland, escaped to Ireland, whereas Edward chose to flee to Calais with the Earls of Salisbury and Warwick (both named Richard Neville), allies of the house of York.

While in exile, Edward, along with York, Rutland, Salisbury, Warwick and a number of other lords loyal to the house of York, were attainted in parliament as traitors to the crown. The Yorkist lords immediately began making preparations to return to England and reclaim their place in government. They sent out proclamations stating that they meant no harm to the king himself, only to the evil counselors that he surrounded himself with (the same proclamation was made during the events of 1455). Edward, Salisbury and Warwick then left Calais and landed in England at Sandwich. From there, they marched, largely unopposed, to London, where they were admitted to the city. Salisbury was left behind to besiege the tower, which still held out for the Lancastrians, but Edward and Warwick departed with their forces and were able to win a decisive victory against the Lancastrians at the Battle of Northampton. Not only were a number of powerful Lancastrian magnates killed in the engagement, but the Yorkists were able to gain possession of Henry VI and use him as their own personal puppet to reverse the attainders against them.

Events took a dramatic turn when Edward’s father York suddenly returned from Ireland and laid claim to the throne, taking everyone present at parliament, including his closest allies, by complete surprise. Up to this point, York had claimed complete loyalty to Henry VI, despite the fact that, if succession to the throne could pass through a female line, he had a better claim to the throne than Henry did (York being descended, through his mother, from Lionel of Antwerp, the second son of Edward III [and through the fourth son, Edmund of Langley, through his father], while Henry VI was descended from the third son, John of Gaunt, in the male line). Parliament was extremely hesitant to grant York’s request to become king, but ultimately agreed to disinherit Henry’s son and heir, Prince Edward, in favor of York and his male heirs, though Henry VI would continue to reign for the remainder of his own life. The king had no choice but to agree to this arrangement, but Lancastrian resistance in the north and the midlands, led by Queen Margaret and her band of violent Lancastrians followers, made continued conflict inevitable. York, Rutland and Salisbury set out to the north and Edward to Wales to fend off their enemies. The Lancastrians, however, were able to surprise York and brutally defeat him at the Battle of Wakefield. York, Rutland and Salisbury were all killed in, or immediately after, the battle. When Edward heard of his father’s defeat and death, he took up the Yorkist cause and styled himself Duke of York. He then proceeded to defeat a Lancastrian army at the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross (his first official victory in battle). Unfortunately, Edward did not act swiftly enough to prevent Warwick’s defeat at the hands of the Lancastrians at the Second Battle of St. Albans, where possession of Henry VI was lost, but the Yorkists received a reprieve when Margaret and her army were not admitted into London and were forced to retreat north.

Edward and Warwick then proceeded to march into the city where Edward was able to convince the people that he was the rightful King of England. His justification for taking the throne was based upon his legitimate, and most senior, descent from Edward III (through his second son Lionel), therefore making the Lancastrian kings usurpers; the fact that the reign of Henry VI had brought nothing but misery and defeat to England; and Henry’s breaking of the accord made in parliament the previous year, which stated that York and his heirs were to be the designated heirs to the throne. Edward had little convincing to do in a city that suffered greatly under the harsh taxation of Lancastrian rule for so many years and on March 4, 1461, he was proclaimed King Edward IV shortly before his nineteenth birthday.

The new king, however, was far from being able to breathe easily at this point. There was still a large Lancastrian army reaping havoc in the north that had to be subdued before Edward could begin to consolidate his power as king. Edward and Warwick marched out of London and ultimately met the Lancastrians at the Battle of Towton. The engagement, which took place during a fierce blizzard, turned out to be one of the bloodiest battles ever to be fought on English soil and saw death tolls in the thousands, with certain chroniclers going so far as to put the number of casualties near thirty thousand, but this surely must be an exaggeration. In the end, however, Edward and the Yorkists reigned supreme. A majority of the Lancastrian leaders were either killed in the fighting or captured and executed shortly after and many men were cut down in retreat or died horribly by drowning in the nearby River Wharfe. Though Edward’s victory at Towton was highly significant, and allowed him to travel back to London to have himself officially crowned king, Henry VI, Queen Margaret, Prince Edward and a number of other powerful Lancastrian magnates escaped to Scotland. This virtually assured Edward that he would face further problems and he knew that his throne would not be truly secure until the Lancastrians were wiped out.

Edward spent the next several years attempting to subdue the areas within his new kingdom that still held out for the Lancastrians. The primary areas that required attentions were the north, where the Percy family, staunch supporters of the house of Lancaster, were the driving force in politics; the midlands, the main power base of the Lancastrians; and in Wales, where Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke, a half-brother of Henry VI, held considerable influence. Progress on bringing these areas into submission would be painfully slow at times and prevented Edward from effectively running the country for several years. Meanwhile, Margaret and her allies continued to receive patronage from the Scots and also received some aid from King Louis XI of France, who was all too happy to fuel the fire of disaffection in England. Edward attempted to sway the French king and Mary of Guelders, the Scottish regent, to his cause but to no avail, at first. The king then made a monumental blunder when he decided to show mercy and take the Duke of Somerset into his confidence and favor. Somerset’s father had been a mortal enemy of Edward’s father York and had been killed by the Yorkists at St. Albans back in 1455. It is believed that the quarrel between York and the elder Somerset is what really caused the official outbreak of the Wars of the Roses. In addition, Somerset was a member of the house of Beaufort, a cadet branch of the house of Lancaster, and therefore should not have been fully trusted by a Yorkist. The king also showed mercy to Ralph Percy and left him in control of several castles in the north. Percy’s father and three of his brothers had been killed fighting the Yorkists and Edward should have known him to be unreliable. But, Edward insisted on showing himself as a merciful king and one who was willing to take a chance on men who had shown themselves, time and time again, to be his enemies.

Though a number of castles in Wales and, more significantly, in northern England, continued to resist the Yorkist regime, Edward began making real progress in defeating his enemies by way of diplomacy. Truces were concluded with Scotland, France and Burgundy in which it was agreed that those countries would give no further aid to the Lancastrians. Margaret and her son Edward had already escaped from their precarious position in Scotland (leaving Henry VI behind to fend for himself) and remained on the lands of Margaret’s father, Rene of Anjou, for the next eight years or so. By the end of 1463, however, Edward began to regret making peace with Somerset and Ralph Percy as they were now in open rebellion against him and became hunted fugitives. At this point, resistance began to become more prominent against Yorkist rule, particularly in the three most hostile areas: the midlands, the north and Wales. Additionally, the English people were none too happy with the high cost of Edward’s military adventures against Lancastrian rebels.

In April 1464, Somerset, Percy and their fellow rebels (who had been creating destruction in northern England for some months now) decided to make their move against their Yorkist enemies and ambushed a force led by John Neville, Lord Montague (the Earl of Warwick’s brother), who was in the process of escorting a group of Scottish diplomats back home. Montague defeated the Lancastrian army at the Battle of Hedgley Moor where Ralph Percy was killed. Though Montague was not able to destroy the rest of the Lancastrian force immediately after his victory, the following month, at the Battle of Hexham, he handed them a decisive defeat. Somerset and all the other Lancastrian captains were captured and executed. As a reward for his services, a grateful Edward IV created Montague Earl of Northumberland, a title that had been in the hands of the Percy family, longtime enemies of the Nevilles, since 1377. With the defeat of Somerset’s army, the remaining castles in Northumberland under rebel control soon capitulated and Edward was able to breathe a sigh of relief that Lancastrian resistance with the realm was, for the time being, at an end. A long truce was concluded with Scotland to prevent them from harboring any more Lancastrians, but Edward knew very well that, with Henry VI and his wife and son still on the loose, he would have no choice but to continue to be on alert for future rebellions.

While Montague was putting down the Lancastrian resistance in the north, Edward was committing one of the most serious, and perplexing, follies of his reign when he was secretly married to one Elizabeth Grey, an impoverished widow of the Woodville family whose husband had died fighting for the Lancastrians. Though not without any connections to the nobility at all (her father Richard, Lord Rivers, was a member of the lover nobility and her mother, Jaquetta of Luxembourg, was the widow of John, Duke of Bedford [an uncle of Henry VI] and a member of the royal family within her native land), but she was certainly no match for a king and it was for this reason that Edward continued to keep the union a secret from even his closest advisers for the next several months. Contemporaries and modern historians alike were, or remain, puzzled as to why Edward, who arguably could have had any woman within the royal family of any European country, would choose to marry a poor widow. Certain chroniclers will state that it was the king’s rash youth and poor decision making powers that caused the match, claiming that he was blinded by affection for the attractive and charming Elizabeth. Others will claim that Edward, who already had gained a reputation as a lecher, agreed to marry her because she refused to give in to his seductions otherwise. Whatever the case may be, the union between Edward and Elizabeth brought with it political consequences that would fester and ultimately create immense problems.

Firstly, Elizabeth’s relatively low social status did not bring with it a humble nature. The new queen was looked at as highly ambitious and overreaching. She also brought with her a huge family that now needed to be provided for, which included her parents, her two sons from her previous marriage and a whole slew of siblings. Edward achieved this mainly through a series of advantageous marriages for his new in-laws, the most outrageous of which was the wedding of Elizabeth’s twenty-year-old brother John to the dowager Duchess of Norfolk, a woman well into her sixties. With events such as this taking place, it is no wonder that the Woodvilles were almost immediately unpopular and would remain so through all of Edward’s reign. Though most of Edward’s nobles dared not question their king’s choice of bride, the marriage did begin the process of alienation between Edward and his most powerful supporter, Warwick. Warwick had been in the process of arranging a marriage between Edward and Bona of Savoy, sister-in-law to Louis XI of France. The marriage would have been highly advantageous and would have brought with it a coveted alliance, but Edward, in addition to already being married, was more open to an alliance between England and Burgundy (France’s enemy), rather than France, yet another issue that he and Warwick did not see eye to eye on. Not only had Warwick been made to look like a fool by Edward’s thoughtless behavior, but he also had little appreciation for his power and influence at the king’s court being slowly usurped by the greedy and overly ambitious Woodville family. Though the alienation process between king and mighty subject was by no means complete by this point, with the next five years, Edward would deeply regret snubbing the man who had been so instrumental in gaining him his throne.

In the year following the uprising in the north, Henry VI was captured while moving from place to place in Northumberland and was promptly imprisoned in the Tower of London. This was a huge political victory for Edward and undoubtedly aided his credibility as a king. The next several years were spent engaging in diplomatic issues. It is widely believed that Edward had intentions at this point of invading France and attempting to take back some, or all, of the territory that Henry VI had lost. Therefore, the king began to further court alliances with France’s enemies, such as Castile, Aragon, Brittany and, most significantly, Burgundy. Though Edward would have made whatever alliance was more convenient for his kingdom (even if that meant making peace with France), he was well aware that anti-French sentiment was still high and that parliament would have gladly agreed to the subsidies required for a full-scale invasion. On the other hand, the economies of both England and Burgundy were heavily dependent on the cloth and wool trade, which made an alliance between the two countries seem more desirable. Warwick, however, had been pushing for quite some time, and continued to push, for a treaty with France. The earl had already been humiliated once when Edward secretly married Elizabeth and ended all hope of a French martial alliance, which Warwick had been in the process of setting up. He now felt even more slighted when Edward agreed to an alliance with Burgundy, sealed with a marriage between Duke Charles of Burgundy and Edward’s sister Margaret.

Alliances with Brittany, Castile and Aragon followed and Warwick had no choice but to embarrassingly cease his negotiations with Louis XI. Brittany and Burgundy would prove to be somewhat fickle allies and would actually make subsequent agreements with Louis XI not to aid England if they were to invade France. But reunions were made and Burgundy, especially, would proved to be a valuable friend to the Yorkist cause. Edward’s actions though, had made him a powerful and fierce enemy in Louis XI, who now made it a priority to give aid to Queen Margaret and the Lancastrians. More significantly, Edward seems to have reached the point of no return in his relations with Warwick. The earl’s influence was clearly on the decline and the fact that Edward was not nearly as dependant on him as he once was must have been crystal clear. Edward’s favoring of a Burgundian, instead of French, alliance and the rise of the Woodville family at court only added more fuel to the fire between the king and his most powerful nobleman.

In addition to their differences over foreign policy and the rising influence of the Woodvilles, Edward and Warwick also clashed over the proposed marriage between Warwick’s daughter Isabel and Edward’s brother George, Duke of Clarence. The king’s outright refusal to sanction the marriage greatly angered both Warwick and Clarence, allowing Warwick to easily bring the young and foolish Clarence under his influence, most likely by convincing him that he would one day reign as king. Edward’s reasons for not agreeing to the marriage are various. He most likely did not want Warwick to gain even more power than he already had through direct marriage with the royal family and clearly did not fully trust his brother Clarence, who was also the heir apparent to England’s throne. Though Clarence, like Warwick, was shown extreme favor by the king, granted land worth thousands of pounds per annum, he was also greedy and ambitious. It was this greed, ambition and hope of attaining the throne that made Clarence an easy target for the charismatic Warwick. It therefore comes as no surprise that the two men who wanted nothing short of sovereign (or near sovereign) power would soon join forces against the king in an attempt to fulfill their own selfish aspirations.

The schemes of Warwick and Clarence would come to fruition in the summer of 1469. Using his popularity amongst the commons, Warwick staged a series of small rebellions in the north under the command of a man who called himself Robin of Redesdale. Edward’s regime was unpopular at the time because of high taxation, unpopular foreign policies and a group of hated favorites at court that included a number of the Woodvilles and the Earls of Pembroke and Devon. The situation was eerily similar to that of the regime of Henry VI and Warwick intended to capitalize on this. When Edward departed north to deal with the rebellions in person, he still had no idea that Warwick and his brother Clarence were plotting treason against him. Meanwhile, Clarence and Warwick’s daughter Isabel were married (despite the king’s previous refusal to sanction the marriage) and Warwick began to send out proclamations denouncing the evil counselors that Edward was surrounding himself with. The king still had no clue as to what was occurring in his own kingdom and had clearly put too much trust in men who were now in defiance of him.

Warwick and Clarence then proceeded to lead an army north in order to gain possession of the king. On their journeys, the rebels encountered a royal force led by the Earls of Pembroke and Devon and defeated them at the Battle of Edgecote. Pembroke and Devon were executed following the battle, followed shortly after by Earl Rivers, father of Queen Elizabeth, and his son John. The king finally discovered what was happening and began his march to meet the rebels, but was captured by the men of Warwick’s brother, Archbishop George Neville of York. With the king now a prisoner, Warwick intended to rule the kingdom in his name and possibly even put his new son-in-law, Clarence, on the throne. Unfortunately, these ideas were not received well by the commons, who were perfectly content to see Edward set free now that his hated favorites had been killed or removed from power. Warwick was forced to capitulate and the king was given his liberty. Though Edward publicly reconciled himself with Warwick and Clarence, it was blatantly clear that the relationship between the three men would never quite be the same and it was only a matter of time before hostilities were once again imminent.

These hostilities came about the following spring when Warwick and Clarence incited yet another northern rebellion, this time under the leadership of one Sir Robert Welles. Edward, however, was not about to repeat his blunders from the previous year and acted quickly. The king marched north and routed the rebels at the Battle of Losecoat Field, with Welles being executed soon after. Edward subsequently discovered that Warwick and Clarence had been the instigators of the rebellion and summoned them to his presence, claiming that they would be treated mercifully and taken back into royal favor if they obeyed quickly. Warwick and Clarence, however, knew that this would not be to their best benefit (and probably felt the king was not being completely truthful with them) and decided to flee to France to seek greener pastures.

While in France, Louis XI convinced Warwick and Clarence to form an alliance with the Lancastrians. Though Margaret was highly reluctant to this proposal at first, she ultimately agreed to the betrothal of her son Edward to Warwick’s younger daughter Anne. Louis XI now agreed to provide the Lancastrian resistance with troops in order to depose Edward IV and put Henry VI back on the throne. Margaret and Prince Edward, now seventeen, refused to depart France until victory was assured. Therefore, Warwick, Clarence and an army of French and loyal Lancastrians departed for England. Meanwhile, Edward fully expected that an invasion was imminent and was on high alert. In a wise tactical maneuver, the Nevilles staged yet another rebellion in the north. Remembering his slow response to the rebellion of the previous year, Edward decided to set off immediately to subdue the rebels. By the time Edward reached his destination, the rebellion had already dispersed, but the main goal of the rebels, to distract the king so that Warwick and Clarence could land safely in the south, was accomplished. When Edward heard of the rebels’ landing, he immediately marched south but encountered a bigger surprise when he discovered that Warwick’s brother Montague had also turned coat against him. Apparently, Montague was unhappy that Edward had stripped him of the Earldom of Northumberland that he had worked so hard to gain by subduing the Lancastrian rebellion of 1464, in favor of the Percy heir, and replaced it with the near meaningless marquisate of Montague. With Montague’s defection and the tide within England in general turning against him, Edward had no choice but flee the country and take sanctuary with his brother-in-law, Burgundy, in the Low Countries.

For the next six months, Edward was dependent on the hospitality of his Burgundian ally Louis of Bruges while Warwick ruled in England in the name of the clueless and passive Henry VI. Warwick’s regime, however was highly tenuous because of the continued presence of a number of loyal Yorkists within the country. Edward received a major break when Louis XI threatened to invade Burgundy, supposedly with English aid provided by Warwick. This gave Burgundy, whose loyalties wavered between York and Lancaster up to this point, all the reason he needed to put his support behind Edward and Yorkists. With Burgundian support, Edward and his band of faithful Yorkist followers set off to England and, despite Warwick’s efforts to prevent his coming, was able to land at Ravenspur in Yorkshire (ironically the same place Henry Bolingbroke had landed back in 1399 before he deposed Richard II). Support for Edward was, at first, not forthcoming. He was actually forced at one point to say that he had only come back to England to retrieve his inheritance as Duke of York, not to take the throne (another trick Bolingbroke used in 1399, only with the duchy of Lancaster). However, Edward’s allies within England, which now included his brother Clarence again, gradually joined him and swelled his army to the point where it could now compete with that of Warwick.

Once Warwick found out about Edward’s return and Clarence’s defection, he took shelter in Coventry Castle. Edward attempted to force the earl to come out and fight him, but to no avail. Not having the resources to besiege the castle, Edward decided to march to London and gain possession of the capital and of Henry VI, which he was easily able to do. By this point, Warwick’s substantial army was marching south to meet the Yorkists. Edward acted swiftly and the two sides ultimately met at the Battle of Barnet, where the Yorkists scored a substantial victory over the Lancastrians. Both Warwick and his brother Montague were killed, delivering a mortal blow to the Lancastrian cause. Edward, however, was not quite out of the woods yet, as Margaret, her son and a number of other Lancastrians landed in England the evening of Warwick’s defeat. Though discouraged by Warwick’s defeat and death, Margaret was able to quickly assemble a large army and proceeded to engage in a game of cat and mouse with Edward, where she forced the king to follow her around aimlessly throughout the midlands and Welsh marches. This game culminated at the Battle of Tewksbury where the Lancastrians suffered the fatal blow that would destroy them. Prince Edward was killed in the battle and all of the important Lancastrian commanders died fighting or were taken and executed soon after. Margaret, now a broken woman with nothing to call her own, was taken captive. A smaller rebellion conducted by the bastard Fauconberg (a cousin of Warwick’s) was put down soon after (with Fauconberg soon to be executed) and Edward was able to march triumphantly into London. The very night that Edward returned to his capital, Henry VI died in the tower. Though details are obscure at best, it would be extremely difficult to believe that the former king was not murdered under direct orders from Edward himself. With the deaths of Henry VI and his son, the house of Lancaster was now extinct in the legitimate male line and Edward could finally breathe a sigh of relief and look ahead to peaceful times in his kingdom.

The years following Edward’s final triumph against the Lancastrians were relatively quiet in comparison to the years leading up to the final showdown (for the time being) between the two houses. There were a number of other smaller risings that had to be put down and a number of minor Lancastrian loyalists were executed. Many others though, were pardoned, continuing Edward’s tendency to lean towards clemency rather than cruelty. On the domestic front, one of the primary issues of the early 1470s was the quarrel between Edward’s two younger brothers, Clarence and Richard, Duke of Gloucester. After Gloucester married Warwick’s younger daughter Anne, widow of the late Prince Edward, tensions arose between him and Clarence, who was already married to Warwick’s elder daughter Isabel, over who should receive Warwick’s vast inheritance. In the end, Edward decided to disinherit Warwick’s widow (from whom Warwick had received his titles and lands in the first place and split the inheritance evenly between Clarence and Gloucester. It was a fair compromise and Gloucester seemed content with it. Clarence, however, had already shown himself to be the more greedy and ambitious of the two and had already turned traitor once. It can therefore be concluded that Clarence was not happy with the arrangement and the duke’s continued disgruntlement with the king seemed destined to end in tragedy.

The bigger issue during these years seems to have been Edward’s foreign policy. He was still attempting to form an Anglo-Breton-Burgundian triple alliance against the French and actually intended to commit to a full-scale invasion this time around. Both Burgundy and Brittany, however, continued to be wavering and questionable allies (just as they had been during Edward’s first reign) and made a number of truces with Louis XI, who was supposed to be their mutual enemy. For this reason, negotiations between Edward and Dukes Charles and Francis (of Burgundy and Brittany respectively) were painfully slow and dragged on for a good four years before Edward departed for France in the summer of 1475. Historians have wondered for hundreds of years as to what Edward could have possibly hoped to accomplish by invading France. He must have known that conquest would have been out of the question, especially considering the uncertainty surrounding the alliances with Burgundy and Brittany, whose support would have been essential for the English to have achieved anything of real substance. It is possible that Edward pushed for the invasion for purposes of a purely adventurous nature. After all, Edward had never actually fought against a foreign enemy, only against his own people in a civil war, a most certainly would have loved to have gained some experience fighting against the French, who were still looked at derogatorily by most Englishmen. The most likely explanation, however, seems to be Edward’s desire at this point and time to punish, or even simply humiliate, Louis XI for the aid that he provided for the Lancastrians that led to Edward’s temporary deposition and exile. Joining forces with the French king’s two most powerful vassals, Burgundy and Brittany, despite the fragility of the alliance, seemed to be the best way to accomplish these goals.

The expedition to France, which has come to be known as Edward’s “Great Enterprise,” was not the glorious journey of conquest that the people of England had hoped it would be when they agreed to heavy taxation in order to fund it. Brittany did nothing and Burgundy may as well have done nothing, leaving Edward in the field to possibly engage in battle with a substantially larger French force. To make matters worse, Edward was betrayed by the Count of St. Pol (a powerful French nobleman who agreed to hand over the town of St. Quentin to the English) who even went so far as to fire on the English troops, killing several of them. Though by no means a coward, and certainly not wanting to disappoint his subjects who had funded his “great enterprise” and expected results, Edward was not in the position to try for another Poitiers or Agincourt and, after only about a month in France, Edward agreed to peace talks with Louis XI. The result of these peace talks was the Treaty of Picquigny, which stated that Louis XI was to pay Edward the immediate sum of 75,000 crowns and annual sums of 50,000 crowns for life in exchange for the English withdrawing all troops from France. In addition, there was to be a marriage between Louis’ son and heir, the dauphin Charles, and Edward’s eldest daughter Elizabeth (the marriage would never happen), and several other mutually beneficial components. Edward returned to England in the fall of 1475 having achieved a great financial victory against the French which greatly benefited his kingdom and subjects. The English people, though most likely upset that they did not see any territorial gains within France, did not seem to have been overly upset with their king and he continued to remain fairly popular.

In the years following the Treaty of Picquigny, events in England and abroad were a good deal calmer and Edward spent much of his time attempting to find suitable marriages for his growing number of children. However, Edward was forced back into continental affairs when Louis XI threatened to annex Burgundy into his kingdom following the sudden death of Duke Charles in early 1477. Edward was torn between supporting Louis XI or the Duchess Mary, Burgundy’s only child and heir, who was married to Maximilian, son to the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III. After much contemplation and diplomatic filibustering, by the turn of the decade, Edward was leaning towards supporting Mary and Maximilian against the hostilities of Louis XI.

The only major event within England during the latter half of the 1470s that is worthy of mention in the downfall of Edward’s brother Clarence. Clarence had already tested his brother’s patience and committed treason once and was forgiven. The duke now seemed intent on destroying himself. After the death of his wife Isabel in late 1476, Clarence had been pushing for advantageous marriages for himself to women such as Mary of Burgundy and Margaret, sister of James III of Scotland. These proposed matches were promptly rejected by Edward, who had no intention of providing his brother, whom he still did not trust completely, with any more power. Clarence was, of course, deeply angry with his brother’s thwarting of his plans and began scheming, once again, to take the throne. Since Edward had no proof of his brother’s treasonous activities (but knew something was going on), he decided to send a sharp warning to Clarence by executing two of his associates who had apparently prophesized the king’s death. Still Clarence did not fall into line. The duke’s fatal mistake, however, seems to have come in the spring of 1477 when he illegally arrested, tried and executed one Ankarette Twynho, a former servant of his late wife whom Clarence had believed, without any real evidence, had murdered the duchess. Edward used this rash and heartless deed as ammunition to arrest Clarence and have him tried for high treason, claiming that only a king has the right to put a person to death, and only after a fair trial. Clarence languished in prison for several months before he was convicted of treason and sentenced to death. Edward still showed some hesitation in having his own brother executed but seemed thoroughly convinced that Clarence would never learn his lesson and would continue to cause trouble. In February 1478, Clarence was privately executed in the tower. The general understanding amongst historians is that he was drowned in a butt of malmsey wine, a strange and unconventional method of execution indeed.

The final years of Edward’s life and reign were filled with disappointment and diplomatic follies. In the ongoing struggle between France and Burgundy, Edward was a greatly sought after ally. Edward began to lean towards making a treaty with Burgundy but undoubtedly realized this would put his annual 50,000 crown pension from Louis XI in jeopardy and began to think twice. Meanwhile, Edward had no choice but to withdraw himself from continental affairs for the time being because of problems occurring in England’s north with the Scots, who were most likely urged on by Louis XI. After forming an alliance with Alexander, Duke of Albany, brother to James III of Scotland, Edward planned to lead a full-scale campaign and replace the Scottish king with his brother, who would then play the role of puppet to Edward. Edward, however, never took part in the expedition and left the English forces under the leadership of his brother Gloucester. Though Gloucester was able to take back the border town of Berwick (which had been handed over to the Scots by Margaret of Anjou back in 1461), he accomplished little else and was forced to agree to a truce when the Duke of Albany defected back to his brother.

All in all, the expedition to Scotland turned out to be, for all intensive purposes, nothing but an expensive buy-back of Berwick. To make matters worse, Mary of burgundy had died in the spring of 1482 and a marriage alliance was agreed to (through the Treaty of Arras in December of that year) between the dauphin Charles and Mary’s daughter Margaret. With the signing of this treaty, most of the Duchy of Burgundy was absorbed into the French crown and Louis XI had no further need of Edward’s friendship, nor did he feel obligated to continue paying him his yearly pension. After this devastating turn of events, Edward attempted to gain the friendship of Brittany and even tried to engage in another campaign into Scotland, but to no avail.

In the spring of 1483, Edward suddenly and unexpectedly suffered what was believed to have been a stroke and fell violently ill. As to what the king was suffering from can only be speculated. Some chroniclers at the time state that the illness was brought on by the lecherous and gluttonous lifestyle that Edward had been living since securing his hold on the throne, while others claim that the king never fully recovered from the shock of the Treaty of Arras and died a depressed and broken man. Being that no final copy of Edward’s will survives, it is impossible to known what his intentions for the kingdom were after he died. It is most likely though, that he assigned his brother Gloucester as protector of the realm during the minority of the king’s eldest son and heir, Prince Edward, who was still only twelve years old. However, Edward, in quite possibly his biggest folly as king, failed to reconcile his brother and others of his faithful followers with the still unpopular Woodville family, who undoubtedly expected to be highly influential during the reign of their kinsman, creating an atmosphere in which tension were bound to boil over with deadly results. The end came for Edward IV on April 9, 1483, shortly before his forty-first birthday. His eldest son succeeded him as Edward V but, as history already shown, the young king would not reign for very long.

Assessment and Analysis

It is difficult, in the opinion of many historians, to make definitive judgment on Edward IV as a leader considering the fact that he showed that he could be both decisive and incompetent. Edward showed incredible skills as both a general and a leader when he decisively defeated the Lancastrians in 1461, 1464 and 1471. In contrast, Edward showed laziness and nonchalance when he allowed himself to be captured by Warwick and Clarence in the rebellion of 1469 and chased away the following year. Edward did seem to learn his lessons to an extent and he made sure to take no chances and spare no enemies when he took back his kingdom for good in 1471. The fact that he was able to rally and inspire his subjects already showed that he was twice the king that his predecessor, Henry VI, had been. Another quality of Edward’s that caused him trouble was his tendency to lean towards clemency, giving numerous opportunities to men who had committed treason against him to redeem themselves. Edward did show that he could be ruthless if he absolutely had to, as in the case with the murder of Henry VI in 1471 and Clarence’s execution in 1478.

Other flaws of Edward’s included his rashness, most prominently demonstrated in his secret marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, and his poor diplomatic policies. Edward wasted a great amount of time and money on courting alliances with Burgundy and Brittany and his “Great Enterprise” to France, though it did bring him financial gain, seemed pointless. He achieved even less success against the Scots and indeed seemed disinterested in governing towards the end of his life, choosing to concentrate on food, wine and women. Edward was notorious for his overindulging and philandering and was even said to have frequently gorged himself with food and drink, used enemas to cleanse himself and gorged himself again all in a single night, a truly sickening prospect. It is most likely Edward’s love of wine and women that led to his premature death at the age of forty, leaving his kingdom in uncertainty as to who would possess the greatest amount of influence, Gloucester or the Woodvilles, neither of which would turn out to be a particularly attractive scenario. Though Edward’s reign had its ups and downs, he was well-respected, feared and loved, just as a good monarch should be. Once he was gone, the realm descended into chaos, a chaos that would end with the extinction of the house of York and the birth of a new dynasty in which his eldest daughter, Elizabeth, would be a primary figure.

Further Reading

Clive, Mary. This Sun of York: A Biography of Edward IV

Dockray, Keith. Edward IV: A Source Book

Falkus, Gila and Antonia Fruser. The Life and Times of Edward IV

Hicks, Michael. Edward IV

Kleineke, Hannes. Edward IV

Ross, Charles. Edward IV

Santiuste, David. Edward IV and the Wars of the Roses

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