Brief biographies of kings, queens, nobles, clergymen and commoners who play a part in Richard’s history:
|Edward IV||Edward V||Henry VI|
|Margaret of Anjou||Henry (VII) Tudor||Margaret Beaufort|
|Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham||Eleanor Talbot, Lady Butler||Sir WilliamCatesby|
|George, Duke of Clarence||William, Lord Hastings||Edward of Lancaster|
|Francis, Viscount Lovell||Edward of Middleham||Sir Thomas More|
|John Morton, Bishop of Ely||Anne Neville||Cecily Neville|
|Henry Percy, 4th Earl of Northumberland||KatherinePlantagenet||John Plantagenet|
|Sir Richard Ratcliffe||Richard Woodville, Earl Rivers||Anthony Woodville, Lord Scales|
|Elizabeth (Jane) Shore||Lambert Simnel||Robert Stillington, Bishop of Bath and Wells|
|PerkinWarbeck||Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick (the ‘Kingmaker’)||Elizabeth Woodville|
|Richard, Duke of York||Margaret of York, Duchess of Burgundy||Richard, Duke of York (Sr.)|
He was of visage lovely; of body mighty, strong and clean made; howbeit in his latter days, with over liberal diet, somewhat corpulent and burly, but nevertheless not uncomely.
Sir Thomas More
The future king, Edward IV, was born April 28th, 1442 in Rouen, France, the eldest son of Richard Plantagenet, the third Duke of York and Cecily Neville. His early childhood is shrouded in mystery, but by the time he reached 19, it is known he had already led a turbulent life.
During the Wars of the Roses, which began in 1455, and following a defeat at Ludlow in 1459, Edward was driven from England by the Lancastrian king, Henry VI. The deaths of his father, brother and uncle, the Earl of Salisbury, at the Battle of Wakefield in 1460, brought him back to his homeland. He was now the head of the House of York. After conquering the Lancastrians at the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross a year later, he was crowned as the first Yorkist king in June 1461.
His proven expertise on the battlefield would be matched by his showmanship and acumen in the political arena. A popular monarch, his financial reforms and government policies won the approval of his Commons and his subjects. The first ten years of Edward’s reign were dominated by his relationship with his powerful and influential cousin, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, nicknamed the “Kingmaker”. Edward might have worn the crown of England, but in those early years, it was Warwick who played the piper’s tune.
Although the two got along at first, by 1464, there arose the first signs of conflict. The king’s prodigious sexual appetite and his secret marriage to the beautiful and ambitious Lady Elizabeth Woodville angered the established aristocracy, especially the Earl. After negotiating for the hand of a French princess, the Earl, feeling betrayed by the young king, struck an alliance with Margaret of Anjou, the queen of the deposed Henry VI, who was rescued from the Tower to again wear the crown of England, driving Edward once more from the land to the shores of Burgundy. But after raising a large army, he secured his crown after defeating Warwick at the battle of Barnet, and the forces of Henry VI at Tewkesbury.
Except for the continuous treasonous acts committed by his brother George, Duke of Clarence, whom he eventually and regretfully put to death in 1478, a half-hearted attempt at an invasion of France, and the odd border skirmish that took place, the second half of Edward’s reign was relatively uneventful. Edward’s authority remained unchallenged until his death on April 9, 1483. His constitution failed him in later years; his debauched lifestyle and passion for food got the better of him, changing the king’s physical health from a robust, athletic man to a corpulent, diseased invalid. On his death , his twelve year old son, Edward V, succeeded to the throne.
Edward V was the eldest son of Edward IV. He was born in 1470 while his father was in exile in The Netherlands, as a result of the Earl of Warwick’s rebellion and coup d’etat in that year. On his father’s triumphant return and the end of the civil wars in his reign, Edward was appointed Prince of Wales and assumed the position of heir to the throne. Very little of Edward’s life is known, nor is the manner and timing of his death. (The date quoted above is not certain at all, of which more below.) What is known is that his upbringing was entrusted to the hands of his mother’s family, the Woodvilles. He was under the tutelage of his maternal uncle, Earl Rivers, at the time of his father’s death in 1483, in the royal castle at Ludlow, on the Welsh Marches. It is assumed that he had a conventional upbringing for one of his class at the time.
The key feature of his life is in fact the nature of his upbringing. Edward IV’s greatest disservice to his son was the clumsy fashion in which he treated the various magnates and their factions within the kingdom. He raised his wife’s family to heights that were astonishing for the time, and unwise in the event. They were perceived as being well above their ‘natural station’, wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice, and influential beyond reason. Consequently, there was a dangerous split in England’s body politic – on the one side was the Queen’s grasping family, on the other was the natural nobility of England. This latter group was led, albeit with some reluctance, by Edward IV’s brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester.
While Edward IV was alive, this dangerous split was managed by the king without much difficulty; such was the force of his personality. Gloucester, well rewarded for his years of loyalty and manifest abilities, was the greatest landowner in England, and he dominated the North. At the time of Edward IV’s unexpected death, Gloucester was in the North and upon learning of his brother’s death, he immediately hurried south to London in order to secure his position.
The series of events that led to Gloucester’s disinheriting his nephew and assuming the crown himself, will not be recounted here. The fundamental motivation was possibly simple self-preservation as a triumphant Woodville faction would have been most unlikely to have tolerated Gloucester for long. A judicial murder was his likely fate. Gloucester struck first, and his enemies, and the enemies of a wide swath of the body politic, were done away with. The probability that this series of events was premeditated is low, but assumed a certain momentum that could not be stopped once underway.
What happened to Edward V as these events played out? It can be assessed as certain that the youngster played no part in the political maneuverings centred on his person. He was removed to the Tower of London in the late spring of 1483 – the Tower was a royal residence, as well as a prison, and there was little untoward about this move, despite later connotations. His brother, Richard, Duke of York, joined him in due course. The sources of the time noted that the two boys were seen ‘less and less’ and eventually not at all. The contemporary rumour held that Gloucester had arranged for their deaths so as to eliminate an obvious point of rebellion against his own assumption of the Crown as Richard III. Whether this is actually true remains an open question.
The rumours surrounding Edward’s fate, and that of his brother, were extremely damaging to Richard III, there is no question on that score. And, it is the nature of his accession that provided the motivation for the invasion of Henry Tudor that brought his reign to a sudden end in 1485. Nonetheless, the fate of Edward must remain an open verdict. While Richard III definitely had motivation and opportunity to do away with his nephews, it is by no means certain that he did so. While the stakes he was playing for in 1483 included his life, it is not necessarily the case that he would have accepted that doing away with his nephews was thereby justified. It is quite possible he had the boys removed from London surreptitiously and that he intended to allow them to live out their lives on an anonymous basis somewhere within his extensive holdings. If this speculation, (and that is all it is), is in fact the case, there is absolutely no surviving proof.
While the above speculation isconceivable, it must be acknowledged that Richard III could have diffused some of the opposition and distaste for his rule, by displaying them as alive and well at appropriate moments. He did not do so. Equally, Henry Tudor could have eliminated a great deal of uncertainty regarding his own claim to the throne had he been able to locate the bodies of the two boys (had they been alive it would have been awkward for him, to say the least). He was unable to do so. In the final analysis, the balance of probabilities suggests that Edward V, and his brother, did not survive his uncle’s reign – but this is not certain. When and how they met their end remains an abiding mystery, without much likelihood of ever being satisfactorily resolved.
Born December 6, 1421, Henry VI reigned from the age of 8 months after the ignominious death of his father, Henry V, of dysentery in France. Crowned on November 6, 1429, at the age of 8, the country was ruled during his minority by a council made up of the nobility, all of whom jostled for power and control over the boy-king. The early years of Henry’s reign was marked by squabbling amongst his adherents and the deteriorating situation in France, which saw the rise of Joan of Arc, and led to the crowning of the Dauphin as Charles VII at Rheims in 1429. To counter this, Henry was crowned King of France at Saint Denis in Paris in December 1431.
At the end of his minority, in 1437, the executive power of the Crown fell into the hands of a small circle of men who had access to Henry, including William de la Pole, fourth Earl of Suffolk. In 1444, Suffolk secured his ascendancy at court by arranging for Henry to marry Charles VII’s niece, the fifteen-year-old Margaret of Anjou. The result of the marriage was not a lasting peace with France but the renewal of war which eventually resulted in the loss of all English territories in France except Calais.
Suffolk’s glaring military blunders and his Machiavellian influence on Henry led the country to rise in rebellion in the spring of 1450. Henry tried to save his favourite by exiling him to France, but Suffolk was captured mid-Channel and executed on the spot.
Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset filled Suffolk’s shoes as court favourite. Somerset had a long-standing personal feud with Richard, Duke of York. From the enmity of these two men sprang the Wars of the Roses.
In 1453 came several catastrophes. The Hundred Years’ War came to an end with an English defeat, and Henry’s government was held to blame. Then in August, the King suffered the first bout of insanity (inherited from his grandfather, Charles VI of France) which were to recur at intervals throughout the rest of his life. His illness reduced him to a state of paralytic depression, depriving him of memory, speech and reason. Yet, in October, after eight barren years of marriage, Queen Margaret presented her afflicted husband with an heir. Prince Edward was shown to the King for his blessing at Windsor on New Year’s Day 1454, “but…in vain, for they departed thence without any answer or countenance, saving only that once he looked upon the Prince and cast down his eyes again, without any more.” It is perhaps notable, that when he recovered, Henry expressed bewilderment at the birth of his son, who, he said, must have been conceived by the Holy Ghost.
Richard, Duke of York was appointed as Protector in March 1454 during Henry’s spell of insanity, and he took advantage of his position to arrest Somerset and imprison him to the Tower. However, towards Christmas the King recovered, and in February 1455 York was dismissed as Protector and Somerset restored to Court.
Deprived of what he felt were his true hereditary rights, the Duke of York launched the first volley in what was to be known as the Wars of the Roses. On May 22, 1455 an army led by the Duke of York confronted Somerset and the King at St. Albans. Somerset was killed and the King hoped to end hostilities by allowing York to renew his oath of allegiance. But the uneasy truce came to an end when civil war broke out once again at Northampton on July 10, 1460. Henry was captured and forced to recognize Richard, Duke of York as his heir, to the exclusion of his own son Edward of Lancaster. But Fortune’s wheel turned again, and in December 1460, the Duke of York was ambushed and killed at Wakefield. In 1461, York’s heir, the Earl of March led his forces into London and was installed as Edward IV at Westminster Abbey. Three weeks later, Edward defeated the Lancastrian army at Towton, and Henry took refuge in Scotland.
For two years, Edward chased Henry and his Queen in minor skirmishes throughout the north of England. Eventually, in the summer 1463, Margaret returned to France with her son, leaving Henry at Bamburgh. The fall of Bamburgh Castle deprived Henry of his last stronghold and he spent the best part of the next year as a wandering fugitive. He was finally captured near Clitheroe, Lancashire in July 1465, returned to London and imprisoned in the Tower.
But on Wednesday, October 3, 1470, Henry was suddenly moved into the luxuriously appointed apartments of Edward IV’s Queen Elizabeth and addressed once again as King. The rebelling forces of Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick had forced King Edward, his brother Richard of Gloucester and other faithful retainers to seek refuge in Burgundy.
Having lost Edward has his puppet, the Earl of Warwick swore his allegiance to Henry VI, and resumed his self-appointed role as Kingmaker. But in March, Edward IV landed in Yorkshire, and on April 11, 1471, his army entered London. On April 13th, Henry was compelled to join Edward’s forces on the road to Barnet, where on Easter Sunday, Warwick’s army was put to flight and the Kingmaker slain.
Lancastrian hopes were finally quashed early in May at the battle of Tewkesbury, when Prince Edward of Lancaster was killed and Margaret of Anjou taken prisoner. Henry’s captivity ended on the night of May 21, when he was executed on the orders of Edward IV, an act of state designed to prevent further rebellion in his name. Originally buried in the Lady Chapel at Chertsey Abbey, Richard III had the body moved St. George’s Chapel, Windsor.
It is generally agreed that Henry was more suited to be a monk than a king. He was chaste, pious, generous and simple in his tastes, but did not have the leadership, political skills or mental stability necessary to control the country. His two great foundations at Eton College (1440) and King’s College (1441), Cambridge, still preserve his memory.
Margaret of Anjou has been described as beautiful, strong-minded, intelligent and energetic. On the other hand, she also earned herself the dubious sobriquet “she-wolf of Anjou”. Born at Pont-à-Mousson, in the French province of Lorraine on March 23, 1429, she was married to Henry VI at the age of 16 at Titchfield Abbey, in Hampshire on April 22, 1445. Her coronation at Westminster Abbey followed on May 30th. One of her early beneficient acts was the founding of Queen’s College, Cambridge in 1448.
It seemed she was aware of her husband’s disinclination to rule, so she struck alliances with the strong Beaufort-Suffolk faction in court, resulting in bitter acrimony between nobles with their conflicting political agendas.
In 1453, during one of King Henry’s bouts of insanity, their only child, Edward of Lancaster was born. When Parliament appointed Richard, Duke of York as Protector, the superiority of the Yorkist claim to the throne led Margaret to fear for the succession of her son. By the end of 1454, Margaret had taken over the management of affairs, pressured the King to dissolve Parliament and mustered an army in an attempt to crush the Yorkists.
After initial successes, in 1461 the royal army was defeated at Towton. Edward IV ascended the throne, and Henry and his queen fled to safety in Scotland. Margaret abandoned Henry and sailed to France to appeal for aid from Louis XI who was her first cousin as well as first cousin to Henry VI. She returned five months later with a company of French soldiers, attempting to invade Northumberland. However, her policy of allowing her troops to rape and pillage the countryside turned the country against her, and her army was eventually beaten in 1464 at Hexham. She escaped to France with her son Edward, beginning a seven year exile living near Verdun on the sufferance of Louis IX.
Persuaded by Louis XI, she reconciled with Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick and their alliance was cemented by the marriage of the Prince of Wales, Edward of Lancaster to Warwick’s youngest daughter Anne. Allied, they launched a renewed effort to overthrow the Yorkist king, with Warwick landing an army in Dartmouth. King Edward, betrayed by Warwick’s brother, the Marquess of Montagu, fled to Burgundy with his brother Gloucester and a small group of loyal adherents. Henry and Margaret resumed their reign under the guiding hand of Warwick.
Edward IV returned to claim England in 1471 and rallied the country to his cause, winning victories at Barnet, and Tewkesbury. After her defeat and the death of her son Edward at Tewkesbury in May, Margaret was brought before Edward IV at Coventry and spent four years as a prisoner of the crown, residing in various castles throughout the country. In the meantime, her father King René, Count of Anjou, worked to procure her release, finally surrendering some of his Provençal properties to Louis XI to raise the ransom of 50,000 crowns demanded by Edward IV. Margaret was released in November 1475, and finally landed on French soil at Dieppe early in January 1476.
She was called to Rouen, made to relinquish her dower lands to Louis XI, and allowed to join her father at his home near Angers. When he died in 1480, Margaret went to live with an old family retainer, François de la Vignolles, at his Château de Dampière, near Saumur. She died on August 25, 1482, aged fifty-three, and was buried in her parents’ tomb in Angers Cathedral.
Henry Tudor (or Tydder) was the son of Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond, and the 13- year-old child prodigy, Margaret Beaufort. In 1456, Edmond was captured by the Yorkists and imprisoned in Carmarthen Castle, where he died by the end of the year. Edmund’s brother, Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke, took his young, pregnant sister-in-law back to his stronghold of Pembroke Castle. There, on January 28th, 1457, Margaret gave birth to her only child, Henry.
In 1461, when Henry was four, Edward IV took the throne, Jasper fled the country and the Earldom of Pembroke was given to William Herbert. Care of Henry and his mother came with the Earldom. Shortly after, Margaret left Pembroke to be with her new husband, Sir Henry Stafford. Henry Tudor, meanwhile, was brought up in the household of William Herbert; he was given a good education and was intended as a husband for Herbert’s daughter.
In 1469, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick had William Herbert executed on a charge of treason. With the restoration of Henry VI, Henry Tudor was brought to court by his uncle Jasper. Henry VI is reputed to have said on meeting the young Henry for the first time, “This is he unto whom both we and our adversaries must yield and give over the dominion”. In 1471, with Edward IV back in charge, Henry and uncle Jasper fled to Brittany, to begin a fourteen year exile. With the death of Henry VI and his son Edward of Lancaster, Henry Tudor emerged as the focus for Lancastrian support. His exile was uneasy, as first Edward IV and then Richard III made attempts to capture him.
After his victory at Bosworth in 1485, he consolidated his power by marrying Elizabeth of York (Edward IV’s eldest daughter) and by eliminating any potential sources of opposition. An example of Henry’s style can be seen by the execution of the simple-minded son of George, Duke of Clarence, on charges of high treason and plotting to overthrow Henry. Henry favoured foreign courtiers and kept the English nobles in place by a series of stiff fines and bonds. He genuinely seemed distraught on the death of his eldest son, Arthur, and on the death of his wife Elizabeth in 1503. During his last six years of life, he became a virtual recluse and presided over a very sombre court.
Polydore Vergil in his Anglica Historia describes Henry as “remarkably attractive and his face was cheerful, especially when speaking; his eyes were small and blue, his teeth few, poor and blackish; his hair thin and white; his complexion sallow.” Henry’s obituary from the Anglica Historia (which he funded) includes the following: “But all these virtues were obscured latterly by avarice, from which he suffered. This avarice is surely a bad enough vice in a private individual, whom it forever torments; in a monarch indeed it may be considered the worst vice since it is harmful to everyone and distorts those qualities of trustfulness, justice and integrity by which the State must be governed.”
He died within a few months of his mother, Margaret Beaufort, in 1509, his main legacy to the English royal house being his son, King Henry VIII.
Margaret Beaufort was a remarkable woman in a period dominated by men. She was a child prodigy who learned to play chess from her step brothers and then beat all comers before she turned seven. She was the daughter of John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, who died a year after she was born, and Margaret Beauchamp, who remarried Lionel, Lord Wells. Both Margarets went to live at Bletsoe Castle where Lord Wells’ two sons took charge of young Margaret’s education. Besides chess, they taught her French, Latin, English, astronomy, some medicine and mathematics, horsemanship and falconry. Her wardship was given to William de la Pole, Marquess and later Duke of Suffolk, and she became the child bride of John de la Pole, her third cousin.
In 1450, at the age of seven, Margaret was sent to court with all the intrigue that marked the last decade of Henry VI’s reign. She went as one of the youngest ladies-in-waiting, and because of her age, she was allowed to take her nurse. Elizabeth, her nurse, was 11 years older than Margaret and stayed with her throughout her life, dying a few months after Margaret. By 1456, her marriage to John de la Pole, which was probably in name only, was over and she married Edmund Tudor. She became a widow by year end, and gave birth to her only son two months after that. She was now almost fourteen.
Husband number three was the second son of the Duke of Buckingham, one Sir Henry Stafford, and husband number four was Lord Thomas Stanley. It appears that both these marriages were political, particularly that to Lord Stanley. She was well-schooled in the ways of the court, was an intelligent strategist and maintained her own household separate from her husband’s. Following her involvement in Buckingham’s rebellion, she and her lands were placed in the custody of her husband, Lord Stanley. She gained them back when her son took the throne. In the events surrounding the Perkin Warbeck rebellion, the situation was reversed; she gained custody of Stanley and his lands.
Throughout Henry VII’s life, Margaret maintained steady contact with him, either in person or by letter. Most of their correspondence is either in their own hand or as lengthy postscripts in their own hand. It is also fairly clear she was the one person that Henry consistently trusted and from whom he sought advice. She was intensely loyal to Henry, as he fulfilled everything she could have wanted for herself, they even died within a few months of each other.
Henry Stafford (known as Harry) was born in 1455, his father being Humphrey Stafford, son and heir to Humphrey Stafford, 1st Duke of Buckingham. His mother was Margaret Beaufort, daughter of Edmond Beaufort and cousin of Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII.
Harry was three when his father died of the plague, and five when his grandfather was killed in the battle of Northampton. Edward IV purchased his wardship and marriage from the 1st Duke’s executors. In 1465, at Elizabeth Woodville’s coronation, he was created a Knight of the Bath. He was also married to Elizabeth Woodville’s sister Katherine. Harry and his brother became members of Elizabeth Woodville’s household. In 1474 he was made a Knight of the Garter, and the following year he contributed men to Edward’s French expedition, but failed to go himself. In 1478 he was given the ceremonial position of High Steward of England for the trial of George of Clarence, and as such pronounced sentence. The position was for the trial only.
In 1483, after being on the sidelines, Buckingham came onto centre stage throwing his hand in with Richard against the Woodvilles. Richard was generous with rewards, creating Buckingham Lord Great Chamberlain, and possibly High Steward. Buckingham was also recognized as the sole heir of the de Bohun estates. Buckingham had been a Woodville pawn for 18 of his 28 years, now he could stand on his own. In October 1483, he led his abortive rebellion against Richard. After its failure he went into hiding, was betrayed by a servant and executed at Salisbury on November 2nd. Richard reputedly refused him a final interview, describing his erstwhile friend, “him that had best cause to be true.”
The Cat, The
Rat, and Lovel our Dog…
William Catesby came from a minor Northamptonshire family and trained to become a lawyer. He was reputed to be a very good lawyer, and used his family connections to gain posts as legal advisor, steward and councillor to various noble families including: Lorde Zouche, Lord Scrope of Bolton, the Duke of Buckingham and Lord Hastings.
It was with Lord Hastings approval, and perhaps encouragement that Richard III asked Catesby to join his council. Lord Hastings was said to have trusted Catesby implicitly. It is therefore ironic that when Richard III discovered Hastings’ betrayal in 1483, he sent Catesby to win him over. Sir Thomas More implies further that Catesby influenced Richard to get rid of Hastings, and it must be said that Catesby profited considerably in lands and annuities as a result of Hastings’ death.
Catesby quickly became one of Richard III’s closest confidants. The Croyland Chronicler refers to William Catesby and Richard Ratcliffe as those “to whose opinions the king hardly dared offer an opposition”. Catesby was made Esquire of the King’s Body and in the Parliament of 1484 he was chosen Speaker of the House.
This sitting of Parliament witnessed the enactment of Titulus Regius, and brought various acts of attainder against rebels — Lord Hastings and his co-conspirators. Notably, despite the fact that the King had financial problems, no new taxes were imposed and six important statutes were passed. The statutes concerned the powers of noble lords over the people on their estates. Three of the statutes were directed at correcting economic injustices and the further three statutes were to protect the rights of individuals against abuses of the law itself. The common man under King Richard III no doubt welcomed these new laws; the noble lords of the realm did not.
In 1485, when rumours surfaced of a plan by Richard to marry Elizabeth of York, the eldest daughter of his brother Edward IV, Catesby and Ratcliffe were said to be at the forefront of the opposition to such a marriage. It is claimed Catesby told Richard the whole of the North would rise against him in indignation, and he brought twelve Doctors of Divinity to assure the King that the Pope would never grant him a dispensation. Shortly after, Richard publicly announced that he had no intentions towards Elizabeth, and is said to have ordered that the bearers of the false tale be apprehended and their sources traced.
Catesby was with Richard III during the last months of his reign. In mid-May of 1485, Catesby travelled with Richard, Lord Stanley, John Kendall and others to Windsor, then on to Kenilworth where they stayed for two weeks. In mid-June, Catesby remained with Richard in Nottingham. In July, Catesby and other councillors begged Richard to refuse Lord Stanley’s request to return to his estates. Catesby also played a part in taking LordStanley’s son Lord Strange hostage, as a means to secure Stanley’s loyalty in his absence from court.
During the Battle of Bosworth, Catesby was at Richard’s side on Abion Hill. At the height of the battle, shortly before Lord Stanley’s betrayal, Catesby is said to have urged Richard to retreat, insisting “a single battle need not decide all”. Notably, after Richard’s refusal, Catesby did not ride into battle with his sovereign lord. Three days after Bosworth, Catesby was captured and executed at Leicester. In his last will and testament, he begged for mercy claiming he “ever loved Henry Tudor”. So ended the life of Richard’s “Cat”.
A friend and supporter of Richard III’s brother, Edward IV. In Edward’s government, he was Chamberlain of the Royal Household, and Captain of Calais.
Hastings was prominent in Edward’s IV’s return from exile in 1471. At the Battle of Barnet, he commanded the left wing of Edward’s army. Despite his friendship with Edward, his relationship with the Woodville faction, headed by Edward’s queen, was strained.
After Edward IV’s death, Lord Hastings sent word to Richard, who was in the north, to notify him of his brother’s death and the plans for the coronation of Edward V. Hastings initially supported Richard in his political struggle with the Woodville faction, but in time his support weakened.
It is speculated that Hastings would not tolerate the removal of Edward’s eldest son from the throne—or that he may have resented the rise of one of Richard’s early supporters—the Duke of Buckingham, which threatened Hasting’s own political power.
On June 13, 1483, at a council meeting in the Tower, Hastings was accused of allegedly conspiring with the Woodvilles against Richard. Without benefit of a trial, he was taken immediately to Tower Green and beheaded.
Edward, Prince of Wales was Richard’s heir and the only child of his marriage to Anne Neville. The date of his birth is under some question, being assigned to either 1473 or 1476 at Middleham Castle. Historians have theorized that he was “delicate” in constitution, but once again, no conclusive information is available.
When Richard was crowned in 1483, Edward was heir apparent; this was confirmed by an Act of Parliament in January 1484. The boy was made Lieutenant of Ireland on 19 July 1483, and later that summer, he travelled from Middleham to Pontefract to join his parents. His poor health meant that he was unable to ride a horse, but was borne in a carriage. At the end of August, Edward was created Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester, and on Monday, 8 September was invested as Prince of Wales at a splendid ceremony in York, where his parents had been welcomed with warmth and acclaim.
Edward died suddenly at Middleham Castle on 9 March 1484, and was buried in the chapel at Sheriff Hutton church. The Croyland Chronicler wrote poignantly of Richard and Anne’s reaction to the news of his death: “You might have seen his father and mother in a state almost bordering on madness, by reason of their sudden grief.” Edward’s death meant that the royal succession had to be reestablished and Richard first selected Edward, Earl of Warwick, son of his late elder brother George, to be heir apparent.
Probably born prior to 1430, Morton had used his intellect and “silver tongue” to pursue money & power. By 1479 he was finally elevated to the Bishopric of Ely and Edward IV made him Master of Rolls. In 1483, despite Richard making him part of the Lord Protector’s council, he conspired with other former councillors of Edward IV to get rid of the Protector from the North. At the time there were four main centres of power, each vying for control of the new King and hence the country. There was Richard, as the Lord Protector, with his friends and Northerners, there was the old nobility, there was the Woodville clan and there were the former councillors of Edward IV. Richard, by his actions at Stoney Stratford made a temporary union with the old nobility, an action which precipitated the strange link between Edward IV’s councillors and the Woodvilles. The “strange link” produced a conspiracy was quickly discovered and its leader (Hastings) executed, the other conspirators were imprisoned.
After a stay in the tower, Morton was entrusted to Harry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, who secured him in his castle in Brecon. It is possible that Buckingham requested this arrangement from Richard. It is certain that once they were both at Brecon, Morton and Buckingham discussed matters. It is very probable that Morton strongly influenced Buckingham. It was through Morton that Buckingham contacted Margaret Beaufort and hence her son, Henry Tudor. This association lead to the abortive rebellion in October of 1483. Before the end, Morton abandoned Buckingham and fled to join Henry Tudor in France. In the attainders that followed the rebellion, Morton was stripped of everything but his life and title. For a man who craved money and power, this must have been devastating. His lot was now tied to Tudor’s and he became one of Henry’s closest councillors.
Morton returned to England in late 1485, following the Battle of Bosworth. In 1486, Henry VII rewarded his friend by helping him become Archbishop of Canterbury. In March 1487 he was made Chancellor of England, and in 1493 Henry helped him become a Cardinal. He died in 1500, but his story and legacy do not die with him.
In 1490, Morton took into his household, twelve-year-old Thomas More. More stayed in his household until he went to Oxford at fourteen. During those two years More acted and improvised in morality plays and listened to Morton’s stories of life at court. Years later, among More’s papers were found two copies of an unfinished history of Richard. Both were relatively crude in style compared to More’s published works. Both broke off abruptly during a recorded conversation between Morton and Buckingham at Brecon. The “more complete” version of the manuscript is in Latin, while the other is in English, and it is this Latin version, that some historians have credited to Morton himself. This unfinished history became the foundation for the subsequent Tudor history of Richard, and was certainly known to the author of Shakespeare’s Richard III. This in turn gives Morton the credit for initiating Richard’s 500 years of bad press.
In a lighter vein, Morton was buried in a shallow temporary grave before an altar in Canterbury Cathedral. Over his body was placed a marble slab with a brass plaque. It was intended that his body would be moved to a more showy and significant tomb in the middle of the nave, but this never happened. During the English Civil War, the brass plaque was removed to make weapons and the marble cracked. A hole opened and the grave was looted of items including bones, perhaps by devout souvenir seekers. Finally the skull and a few remaining items were removed for safe-keeping by a nephew of the then Archbishop. The nephew kept the skull in a box as a curiosity. It is unknown what happened to it but it appears that it may have passed to Stonyhurst College where it is now collecting dust in a box in a cupboard in Lancashire. In light of what happened to Richard’s body this may be seen as a form of justice.
Born June 11, 1456, Anne was the youngest daughter of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick (“The Kingmaker”).
The Nevilles were powerful northern landowners. Anne and her sister Isabel were thus valuable ‘commodities’ in the stakes of wealth, land and power. Contrary to the wishes of King Edward IV, his brother George, Duke of Clarence married the elder Warwick heiress, Isabel. While Warwick had been a staunch Yorkist, and helped Edward IV to the throne, he grew dissatisfied with Edward’s lack of deference, and his own waning power. He made the fateful decision to turn coat and join the Lancastrian faction led by Margaret of Anjou, wife of Henry VI.
To cement his new Lancastrian loyalty, he betrothed Anne, aged 14, to Edward, Prince of Wales, heir of Henry VI. Anne married Prince Edward in France in December 1470. Her father restored Henry VI to the throne (the readeption), but was killed at the Battle of Barnet, during Edward IV’s invasion of England.
Anne returned to England with the Lancastrian army under Margaret of Anjou, only to have her husband killed at the Battle of Tewkesbury, on 4 May 1471. She was taken prisoner, and eventually came under her brother-in-law Clarence’s “protection”. He of course wanted full control of the vast Neville estates in the North. However, Richard, Duke of Gloucester discovered her whereabouts and removed her to sanctuary. With the king’s consent, they were married at Westminster Abbey on 12 July 1472 and they lived at Middleham Castle, with Richard serving as Governor of the North. Their one child, Edward, was born about 1473.
With the death of King Edward IV in April 1483, Richard became Lord Protector for his brother Edward’s son. In June, it was revealed that, because of a prior contract of marriage to another woman, the king’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was bigamous, and their children, including Edward of Wales and his brother Richard of York were illegitimate. Richard came to the throne, and Anne was crowned Queen at their joint coronation on 6 July 1483. Their son was made Prince of Wales, but he died in April the following year.
As there were no other children from the marriage, there was gossip (never proof) that Richard planned to divorce Anne and marry his niece, Elizabeth of York. When Anne died on 16 March 1485, rumours circulated that Richard had poisoned her. (It is suspected that she had died of tuberculosis.) Anne was buried in Westminster Abbey after a “magnificent funeral”, but her grave was unmarked until late in the 20th century, when a bronze tablet was installed by the Richard III Society.
Born May 3, 1415 at Raby Castle, the daughter of Ralph de Neville, Earl of Westmoreland and Lady Joan de Beaufort. Married Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York in 1424. Gave birth of 13 children, two of whom would be kings of England. Died May 31, 1495 at Berkhamsted Castle and interred at the Collegiate Church of Fotheringhay.
It was not unusual for a medieval ruler to have a number of children who were born out of wedlock; one author points out that it was quite natural for a bachelor to have children before marriage, and relatively little stigma was attached to their illegitimacy. Richard III fathered at least two children prior to his wedding to Anne Neville in London in the early months of 1472.
Katherine Plantagenet, Richard’s daughter, was old enough by May of 1484 to be married to William Herbert, Earl of Huntingdon. It can be assumed that she was born in the later 1460’s when Richard was in his late teens. Richard generously settled property on Katherine and her husband worth 1000 marks annually, as well as an annuity of £152 10s 10d. Unfortunately, Katherine died a short time after her marriage, sometime before November 1487, and there is no evidence of children from this union.
John of Gloucester, also known as John of Pomfret, was Richard’s first acknowledged illegitimate son. Like Katherine, he was probably born during Richard’s late teens, circa 1470, before his marriage to Anne Neville. John was knighted in 1483, and on March 11, 1485, Richard appointed him Captain of Calais, in a writ which stated, “our dear son, our bastard John of Gloucester whose quickness of mind, agility of body, and inclination to all good customs give us great hope of his good service for the future.” John went to Calais with Robert Brackenbury in 1485. He was captured 3 days after Bosworth, presumably after fighting alongside his father, since he was old enough to do so. It seems he was imprisoned in the Tower until Perkin Warbeck’s rebellion. John of Gloucester was executed along with Warbeck and his own cousin Warwick in 1499.
Richard Woodville was born in 1405, knighted in 1426 by Henry VI, and by the age of 24 had been given his own command in France.
His father’s place in the household of the Duke of Bedford put Sir Richard in a position to court Jacquetta, widowed Duchess of Bedford. The two married secretly in 1436 in direct contravention of the edict which forbade ladies enjoying crown lands to marry without consent of the King’s Council. When the marriage was revealed, her income was forfeit.
But Richard Woodville had gained the favour Cardinal Beaufort, a wealthy priest, statesman, and grandson of Edward III. Through Beaufort’s intervention, Richard and Jacquetta obtained a pardon and restitution of her lost income. In 1437, Elizabeth, the eldest of their twelve children (and future wife of King Edward IV), was born.
In 1448, Sir Richard was created Baron Rivers; in 1450 he became a Knight of the Garter and a Privy Councillor to Henry VI. While he was in high favour with the Lancastrian court, he did not carry much political weight. He served as Seneschal of Gascony and Lieutenant of Calais. In 1461 he fought with Henry VI at the battle of Towton, but this seems to be his only recorded campaign.
Under his son-in-law Edward IV, Sir Richard’s star began to rise once more as he was titled Earl Rivers in 1465, given the office of Lord Treasurer in 1466, and that of Constable of England in 1467. However, his quick preferment gained him the emnity of the nobility, most particularly, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick.
After King Edward’s defeat at Edgecote Field and subsequent capture (1469), the Earl of Warwick’s men encountered Earl Rivers and his son John Woodville near Chepstow and brought them before Warwick in Coventry. Having made plain his sentiments towards Rivers and his family, Warwick had no qualms as he ordered the pair beheaded, without trial on August 12, 1469 outside the city walls.
The Rivers title was passed to the eldest son, Anthony Woodville, Lord Scales.
After his sister Elizabeth, Anthony Woodville was the second most influential member of the family in the court of Edward IV. Born in 1442, he was a devout Lancastrian, fighting for King Henry VI at Towton, but after the defeat, he switched his allegiance to Edward IV.
In 1460, Anthony married the heiress Elizabeth Scales, a match which brought him his first title as Lord Scales and many estates, including Sandringham.
He was a dichotomy of the grasping, ambitious courtier, harbouring a love of pageantry and ceremony, of gorgeous clothing and beautiful possessions, but he was also an accomplished poet and translator, a pious scholar, a pilgrim and something of a religious ascetic. Like his sister, he was considered cool and reserved. And while he had a great passion for tournament and a demonstrated skill at arms, he was apparently undistinguished in battle.
Upon the death of his father, in 1469, Anthony succeeded as Earl Rivers. However, the office of the Constable of England, which was to have reverted to him, was given instead by Edward IV to Richard, Duke of Gloucester. As a concession, Rivers received many appointments, one being Lieutenant of Calais under the Earl of Warwick.
In 1473 he went on a pilgrimage to the shrine of St. James of Compostella, and again was on pilgrimage in the south of Italy in 1476. He was appointed by Pope Sixtus IV as defender and director of papal causes in England. During his lifetime he translated three devotional works from the French; his first, The Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers was the first book printed by William Caxton in England and presented by Rivers to Edward IV in 1477. At his own expense, Rivers had the burnt-out shrine of Our Lady of the Piewe in St. Stephen’s Chapel, Westminster restored, and named the chapel as his first choice as a burial place.
Also in 1473, Rivers was granted his most important and influential political appointment, that of Governor of the Prince of Wales. The position allowed Rivers to precide over the Prince’s court at Ludlow, and carried with it the power to sign warrants on behalf of the the Prince. Rivers could now raise an army in the Welsh Marches. It gave the Woodvilles a regional power base.
On April 14th Rivers received the notification of Edward’s death from his sister and Dorset, and instructions to bring the new king to London with all haste. Nevertheless, it seems he felt secure enough with the King in his possession, to wait and enjoy the St. George’s Day celebrations, delaying the household’s departure from Ludlow until April 24th.
It is agreed by many historians that River’s decision to move Edward V from Northampton on to Stoney Stratford, was a direct contravention of Gloucester’s instructions and authority. Rivers himself must have been aware that his position with Gloucester was precarious, for before he returned to Northampton to meet with the Duke, he left instructions that the King’s party was to start out early the next morning from Stoney Stratford, and to not to wait for him if he was delayed. The next day, April 30th, Earl Rivers was arrested by Gloucester and Buckingham in Northampton, and sent off immediately to Sheriff Hutton as a prisoner.
On June 24, Rivers, along with Richard Grey, and Thomas Vaughan, was moved to Pontefract Castle. The next day, under the supervision of Sir Richard Ratcliffe and the Duke of Northumberland, they were beheaded one after the other. Under his splendid clothes, Rivers was found to be wearing a hair shirt, which was later hung up in a church at Doncaster as a holy object.
Known to us as “Jane”, perhaps to distinguish her from Edward IV’s queen, Elizabeth Shore was born around 1450, the daughter of John Lambert, a prosperous London mercer.
According to Sir Thomas More, in his History of Richard III, she was married ‘ ere she were well ripe’ to another mercer, ‘an honest citizen, young and godly and of good substance’, named William Shore, but ‘she not very fervently loved’ her husband, who was ‘frigid and impotent’ in bed.
It is thought she became mistress to the king sometime during 1476, based on an entry on the Patent Rolls for December 4, 1476, which bestowed the King’s protection upon “William Shore, citizen of London, and his servants, with all his lands, goods and possessions in England and elsewhere”. Also in 1476, the Shore’s marriage was annulled on the grounds of non-consummation.
More, who knew Elizabeth Shore at the end of her long life, described her as ‘a soft, tender heart’. ‘Yet,’ he continued, ‘me delighted not so much in her beauty as in her pleasant behaviour’. Historians agree she was witty, literate, cheerful, intelligent and warmhearted.
Edward IV made a practice of sharing his mistresses with his friends, and both William Lord Hastings and Thomas Grey, the Marquess of Dorset were in competition for her. After the death of the king, she became the mistress of Dorset until he fled the kingdom in May 1483, after which she was happy to accept the protection of Hastings.
Her association with Dorset and Hastings involved her in the Woodville plot against Richard, and resulted in Hastings’ execution. It was suspected she acted as a messenger between the Queen, self-imprisoned in Westminster Abbey, and other elements of the Woodville faction. Both Sir Thomas More and the Italian chronicler Dominic Mancini wrote that the herald proclaiming Hastings’ guilt in the plot to overthrow the Protector and Duke of Buckingham, also accused “Jane” as being one of the plotters.
Richard, who was not inclined to execute a woman, instructed the Bishop of London to sentence her to the traditional penance for harlotry at St. Paul’s. On Sunday, June 15th, 1483, her punishment was carried out: she was forced to walk barefoot through the rough-paved streets, wearing only her kirtle, and carrying a lighted taper. Afterwards, Elizabeth Shore was incarcerated in Ludgate prison.
Thomas Lynom, Richard’s solicitor-general, requested permission of his sovereign to marry Mistress Shore, which the king might naturally be inclined to forbid. But in a letter Richard wrote to his Chancellor, John Russell, he indicated he would not deny another man’s happiness:
“…And, if ye find him utter set for to marry her, and none otherwise would be advertised, then, if it may stand with the law of the church, we be content (the time of marriage being deferred to our coming next to London) that, upon sufficient surety being found of her good a-bearing, ye do send for her keeper, and discharge him of our commandment by warrant of these; committing her to the rule and guiding of her father or any other, by your discretion in the mean season.”
Historians differ on whether Lynom actually married Mistress Shore; however, the will of her father, John Lambert, who died in 1487, indicates a bequest made to “Elizabeth Lineham, my daughter” (Harleian MSS No. 2378) which suggests he did. But after that time, Elizabeth Shore fades into obscurity.
Elizabeth “Jane” Shore died about 1526, and was buried in Hinxworth Church, Hertfordshire.
Lambert Simnel was 10 years of age and a non-entity when he was crowned Edward VI of England at Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin, Ireland on May 24th, 1487. (His father was a joiner in Oxford). He was used by the Yorkists claiming he was Edward, Earl of Warwick, son of George, Duke of Clarence, a brother of Edward IV and Richard III. The Yorkists invaded England with a band of 2,000 German mercenaries that same month, and were beaten by Henry VII, although with difficulty, at Stoke in Nottinghamshire.
Meanwhile, the real Earl of Warwick was a prisoner of Henry VII in the Tower of London.
Simnel’s sponsors in this debacle were Gerald Fitzmaurice Fitzgerald, the Earl of Kildare, and John de la Pole, the Earl of Lincoln. They fled after the defeat at Stoke, but Simnel was captured. Henry VII, deciding that Simnel was harmless, put him to work in his kitchens.
As a side note, Kildare later repented his part in the rebellion, and in 1489 Henry VII held a reconciliation banquet for, among others, the reformed Yorkists from the Irish Pale, and Henry
enjoyed rubbing salt in their wounds by having poor Lambert Simnel wait on their table.
Simnel Cake (I have no idea if there is any connection) is made from a very fine flour called Simnel, and was originally a currant loaf. Nowadays it is a rich fruitcake with marzipan icing.
Perkin Warbeck was trained by Yorkist sympathizers, particularly Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy, a sister of Edward IV and Richard III, to impersonate Richard, Duke of York, the younger of the princes held in the Tower. The Duke of York, if still alive and his brother dead, would have been the rightful king of England as Richard IV. From 1492 on, Warbeck was entertained as such by Charles, King of France, Maximilian, the Holy Roman Emperor, and by James IV of Scotland. James IV even gave his cousin Catherine Gordon to Warbeck in marriage in 1495, although within two years James refused to back Warbeck’s claim to the English throne.
In 1493, by the Treaty of Etaples, Charles of France agreed not to support any pretenders to the English throne. Warbeck at this time was being maintained by Charles at the castle at Amboise, and therefore had to make a hasty retreat to safety at Maximilian’s court as, by the above treaty, Charles was to hand Warbeck over to Henry VII at once.
In retaliation for Maximilian’s recognition of Warbeck’s claim to the English throne, Henry VII opened economic warfare with the Holy Roman Emperor and English merchants were forbidden to trade with Antwerp and the Low Countries.
Perkin Warbeck made a few feeble attempts to invade England, and was finally captured at Taunton in1497. He was able to convince Henry VII he was not really a contender to the throne, and was treated more as a member of the Court than a prisoner. However, he escaped and was recaptured in June 1498. He was then confined in the Tower with the Edward, Earl of Warwick who was now the main Yorkist candidate for the throne. It is not known if they plotted together against the king or not, but Warbeck was found guilty of escaping and Warwick of treason and both were hanged.
(Warbeck was accused of bringing syphilis to Scotland. Evidently, Christopher Columbus’ sailors brought it back with them from one of the voyages and infected the Neapolitan women. Then, at the Siege of Naples, Warbeck’s mercenaries were infected by these women and the mercenaries brought it along with them when Warbeck was attending James IV’s court in Scotland.)
Without question, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, was the most important magnate outside the Royal Family in 15th century England. He was the grandson of the Earl of Westmorland, who founded the family fortune early in the century. His father, the Earl of Salisbury, was one of twelve children of Westmorland. The rise of the family was expedited through a series of marriage arrangements that cemented their fortunes. Salisbury, also called Richard, had married Alice Montague and so inherited her title of Salisbury. Other members of the family inherited similar positions via the heiresses of the baronies of Latimer, Abergavenny and Fauconberg; another became Bishop of Durham; and a sister, Cecily, became Richard, Duke of York’s wife.
Warwick had gained his title via the expedient of marrying, as a minor, Anne, the ultimate heir of Thomas Beauchamp, the Earl of Warwick. Beauchamp (pronounced Beech’am) had died in 1439 without male issue, with Richard assuming the estates and title on turning 21 in 1449. As a result of this inheritance – increased in 1460 with the addition of his father’s estates as Earl of Salisbury – Warwick became the wealthiest landowner in England, outside the Royal Family.
Neville family policy, if it may be so described, was initially aligned with that of the Government of Henry VI. However, conflict at the magnate level, exacerbated by the weakness in royal authority as personified by the rather inadequate Henry VI, led to growing, if deeply reluctant and ambivalent, support for the Duke of York’s claim to the throne. In the early 1450’s conflict with the Percies, the family headed by the Earl of Northumberland, in the north, as well as conflict with the Duke of Somerset (the Beaufort family) in the south, inclined the Nevilles’ to support the Yorkist cause. Warwick quickly distinguished himself as a leader of courage, dash and vigour. He also possessed his family’s avariciousness, ruthlessness, and greed.
In 1454 the undercurrents of dissatisfaction with the Royal Government were brought into the open with Henry VI’s first mental breakdown, and the assumption of authority of the Duke of York as Protector. York was an appropriate appointment as leading member of the nobility, of royal descent – indeed, had a better title to the throne than Henry himself – and of no small ability as a ruler himself. At this time, Henry’s wife, the formidable Margaret of Anjou, gave birth to their only son – Edward of Lancaster – and she began to fear for the succession. Henry resumed his authority in 1455, but in an attempt to bring the Yorkists to heel, provoked the so called first Battle of St Albans. This view of the battle exists given its limited nature – once the Duke of Somerset, the Earl of Northumberland and Lord Clifford had been killed, and the person of Henry secured, the fighting ended. Indeed, it was more of an ‘affray’ than a battle per se.
After this incident, York dominated Henry’s Government, aided ably by Warwick and other adherents. Nevertheless, the seeds for civil war were well and truly planted as a result of St Albans, and two factions arose – one centred on Margaret of Anjou, the other on York. Open warfare broke out in 1460 and several significant battles occurred involving major loss of life. Warwick was a critical player in these events. York lost his life at Wakefield in 1460 (as did his son, the Earl of Rutland, and Warwick’s father, Salisbury), and his adherents, led by Warwick, suffered further defeat at the second Battle of St Albans in early 1461.
At this point, the young Earl of March, York’s heir, had himself crowned Edward IV after his triumph in Wales at the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross. Warwick’s possession of London materially assisted in this development. Otherwise, Warwick’s leading position in the Yorkist cause had now been eclipsed by the young and obviously able king – a position that was cemented with the total defeat of the Lancastrian’s at Towton in late March, 1461. Warwick, it is clear, did not fully appreciate that Edward IV was his own man, and needed no tutelage by such as he. Warwick’s misreading of his position and role – that of the power behind the throne – was to have dire consequences in the decade ahead.
Initially, the years after Towton were spent in consolidating power and restoring peace and good government to the realm. Warwick, and the Neville interest, did well out of the peace by securing additional lands and castles, previously owned by their opponents. Much Percy territory therefore came under Neville control. Also well rewarded at this time was the Duke of Clarence, Edward IV’s brother. (Edward’s youngest brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, was to have his time in the sun in due course.) The struggle in the north of England was prolonged and bitter. The Lancastrian interest died hard, and really only had the fight taken out of it with a ‘final’ defeat at Hexham in 1464. Henry VI, at this time, was an exile in Scotland – a continuing symbol of resistance to the Yorkist king, but little more.
Warwick, to this point, had played an important part in the civil war, but had not dictated its course or the nature of the settlement. Rather, he was an important magnate and a critical bastion of support to Edward, but not in and of himself a mover of events. Had he been prepared to accept such a role, there is little doubt there would have been no further civil war in England and the future course of history would have been very different. However, Warwick was not so prepared, and he now doomed England to further civil strife and upheaval in the pursuit of his own interests.
Edward had much to commend himself as a king. He had many important and necessary attributes that made his claim to the throne all the more credible to contemporary eyes, beyond simple birth. These included bearing, demeanour, success and style – critical features for any medieval monarch, and totally lacking in his immediate predecessor. Unhappily, Edward was also impetuous and his 1464 marriage – seemingly a love match for there was no other justification – with Elizabeth Woodville provided the grounds for Warwick’s eventual rebellion.
The Woodville clan was noteworthy for the number of its members – all of whom required suitable emoluments appropriate to their new rank in life. Elizabeth Woodville came from the ranks of the minor nobility or gentry, and normally would not have been considered remotely suitable as the consort of a king. From Warwick’s perspective the Woodville’s were likened to a ravening swarm of locusts that were stealing suitable marriage alliances from his Neville relations. Perhaps the most egregious from his perspective was the dowager Duchess of Norfolk’s forced marriage when in her sixties to a Woodville scion in his teens – the Duchess was a Neville and property and prestige was thus perceived to be slipping away to this parvenu family.
At the same time these developments were underway, Warwick was also promoting a shift in English foreign policy from one of hostility to France and friendship with Burgundy, to one of shunning Burgundy in favour of France. There exists some speculation that Warwick was promised French lands and titles should he succeed in effecting this about face. This was clearly a development that Louis XI of France desired, but Edward spurned the advice and adopted England’s traditional approach to Continental affairs. Warwick’s hopes were comprehensively dashed in 1468 with
Edward’s sister’s marriage to the Duke of Burgundy. Of significance is the fact that the Woodville’s were related by marriage to Burgundy and various Burgundian notables – this marriage was consequently a victory for their interests, as well as defeat for Warwick.
Warwick suborned the pliable Duke of Clarence, Edward’s somewhat feckless brother, and executed a coup d’etat in 1469. At this date Clarence was the heir to the throne as Edward and Elizabeth had produced no sons. It would appear that Warwick intended to both capture Edward and rule through him, or to establish Clarence on the throne directly. As well, Clarence was to wed his eldest daughter (Warwick had no male heirs), and thus Warwick would be able to manipulate events as father-in-law to the king. Warwick instigated a rebellion in the ever troublesome north where he had many retainers, and in the ensuring confusions, materially aided by the dilatory fashion Edward reacted to the dangers facing him, was able to prevail. The rebellion succeeded after the hard fought battle of Edgecote and Edward was taken into custody. Warwick’s triumph was complete.
Warwick did not long enjoy his success. Unlike the strife in the 1450’s the only explanation for his rebellion, and the king’s captivity was self-aggrandisement on Warwick’s part. As the events of that unhappy decade demonstrated, rebelling against even a manifestly unworthy anointed king was a horrifying breech of the established order and not to be engaged in lightly. Warwick’s usurpation was regarded as unworthy in the extreme and things quickly became untenable. The immediate trigger was yet another Lancastrian effort being made from Scotland. Edward was released as it was clear no one would follow Warwick, but the damage had been done and a great unease lay on the kingdom.
This period commences the faith that Edward began to place in Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Clarence was tainted and would never be trusted again – albeit he had another nine years of intrigue left in him. Warwick had rather less time. Warwick executed a goodly number of Edward’s courtiers and adherents after the battle at Edgecote, and Edward needed to rebuild his party. Some of the immediate responsibilities went to Gloucester in both Wales and the North Country. Such was the beginning of Gloucester’s honourable relationship with both areas, particularly the North.
The last acts of the Warwick drama now unfolded. Warwick, along with Clarence, was by no means reconciled by the turn of fortune’s wheel and set about instigating yet another rebellion in early 1470. This failed miserably after its start in Lincolnshire – the key engagement tellingly entitled the Battle of Lose-Coat Field – and Warwick and Clarence absconded to the Continent. Louis XI now entered into the drama and brought the exiled Margaret of Anjou and her son, Edward, of Lancaster into an alliance with Warwick and Clarence. This was a bitter pill for her given the
prominence of the former in her defeats ten years before. The scheme that was decided upon was to invade England and restore Henry VI to the throne. The Lancastrian Prince of Wales was to wed Warwick’s younger daughter, Anne, and hence secure Warwick’s political future.
Clarence’s position in all of this was most uncertain. It is clear that the Lancastrian interests, if restored to power, would expect that their confiscated estates would be returned to them.
Clarence had benefited mightily from the redistribution of lands as arranged by his brother, Edward IV, and hence could expect huge losses in this regard. As well, the restoration of Henry VI eliminated his claim to throne, and so he was no longer heir. There is little doubt that Clarence was uneasy and reluctant in all the arrangements that Warwick had made. Had Warwick been a little more astute he would have allowed for this in some fashion, but in the event he provided Edward with a weak link in his armour, a weakness later exploited.
Warwick’s invasion in late 1470 was a surprising success. Edward was engaged in dealing with yet another Lancastrian and Neville uprising in the North. Meanwhile, in the Channel, his naval forces were scattered by gales and in the interval Warwick was able to land his invading army, paid for by Louis XI. After landing in Devon, the invading forces were joined by various Lancastrian supporters – including it needs to be noted, Lord Stanley – and rapidly marched inland. Edward was caught without forces at hand and was obliged to flee in his turn to the Continent. His safe haven was in Burgundian territory in what is now The Netherlands.
While Warwick’s restoration of Henry VI was successful on the surface it was a most unstable and untenable enterprise. The various Yorkist and Lancastrian interests were as at dagger’s drawn to say the least – rewarding one, meant penalising the other. Warwick was not above rewarding himself with some of the spoils, which did not help his cause. As well, the motivation of the rebellion was so obviously based on self-interest with but the thinnest veneer of legitimacy that all were mutually suspicious of each other. Finally, the enmity of the two factions had been sealed in blood.
Too many nobles had died at the hands of the other, to allow for any real reconciliation. The only cure was time and peace. Warwick’s whole scheme promised neither.
As the price for Louis XI’s support for Warwick’s restoration of Henry VI, England was to declare war on Burgundy, in concert with France. Louis pressured Warwick to get on with this promise early in 1471, and he obliged, partly because Margaret and the Prince of Wales had yet to arrive in England, delayed as they were by bad weather – a diplomatic delay to be sure. Needless to add, Louis was a little premature. Had he waited a year or two it is conceivable that Warwick’s government – it is difficult to describe it as Henry VI’s – may have established itself on firmer footings. As it was the Duke of Burgundy immediately provided the wherewithal for Edward IV to have shot at regaining his throne. (The enmity of Burgundy and France was enduring, and was to have its effects on English history in 1485, 1487 and later.)
Edward’s invasion in March 1471 was, at the end of the day, more successful than that of Warwick some six months earlier. He had been able to resuborn his brother Clarence, as well as other nobles who feared for their long-term prospects under a Lancastrian regime – particularly one led by an avaricious ex-Yorkist Warwick. The early stages of Edward’s invasion were quite precarious to say the least, but after landing on the Humber, he marched inland and started to pick up supporters from friendly estates and so marched towards London. Clarence abandoned Warwick – not surprisingly – and other Lancastrians sat on the fence for too long (one might note that this included Stanley). Others were in the south awaiting the arrival of Margaret and the Prince of Wales.
London fell to Edward without a fight and Warwick was doomed. Edward won a decisive victory over him at Barnet in April, a battle that cost the wayward Earl his life. Then a month later, Edward defeated the just arrived Margaret of Anjou and her son at Tewkesbury – at that battle, the Lancastrian Prince of Wales was killed. On return to London to deal with the final embers of the revolt, Henry VI died in the Tower of ‘pure displeasure and melancholy’. With that death the dynastic struggle between the two houses of York and Lancaster came to an end, given the extinction of the male Lancastrian line.
Warwick was without doubt a huge factor in mid-fifteenth century English history. He is romantically attributed with the sobriquet “Kingmaker” due to his role in the civil wars that were fought mainly in the period 1460-64, and in 1469-71. There is little doubt that outside the Royal Family itself, Warwick was the most powerful magnate in England. Yet in the end his power was limited, particularly in comparison with that of a monarch, and he played his hand maladroitly. Ambition, avarice and perhaps a too fine sense of his honour and family interests undid him. His effect on England and its body politic was, in the final analysis, highly negative. By reigniting the civil war he opened wounds that had barely begun to heal. He therefore mightily contributed to the deterioration in the body politic that resulted in Richard III’s disputed accession a bare decade later on. The lack of trust between the leading men of the day continued, therefore, to bear its bitter fruit and so poisoned the reigns of not only Edward IV, but as well the reigns of Richard III, and his successors Henry VII and Henry VIII. Warwick indeed has much to answer for.
Elizabeth, the eldest child of Richard Woodville and Jacquetta, former Duchess of Bedford, is thought to have been born sometime in 1436 or 1437.
As her mother was a friend of Margaret of Anjou, Elizabeth spent her early teenage years as a lady in waiting to the Queen. In 1450 she married Sir John Grey, a Lancastrian knight, heir to Lord Ferrers of Groby, and in possession of the manor of Bradgate in Leicestershire. At Bradgate, she gave birth to two sons, Thomas in 1451 and Richard in 1453. Her husband, serving in Henry VI’s army, was killed leading a victorious charge at the second battle at St Albans in 1461. Elizabeth lost Bradgate to the Yorkists, and, now the destitute widow of a rebel, returned to her family home in Grafton.
After the battle of Towton in the spring of 1461, Edward had paused on his journey south at Grafton Regis, the manor of his old enemy Lord Rivers, whose son Anthony had fought on the side of Henry IV at the recent battle. There he laid eyes on Elizabeth Woodville for the first time. Not many days later, both Rivers and his son received pardons.
Elizabeth, in all sources, has always been described as a beautiful woman, her most characteristic physical trait, beyond her fall of golden blond hair which she wore loose, was her eyes with their half lowered, swollen-looking lids. While Hall described her as “lovely looking and feminine smiling (neither too wanton nor too humble)…her tongue so eloquent and her wit so pregnant.”, others sources characterize her as cold, dignified and aloof.
The story of the courtship and marriage of Elizabeth and Edward has assumed mythic proportions, and is difficult to distinguish fact from romantic fantasy. One version claims Elizabeth, waiting under a giant oak tree with a son clasped by either hand, waylaid Edward as he was hunting in the royal chase of Whittlebury, near Grafton. She appealed to him to restore her late husband’s estate, and he, fell “under the enchantment of her strange beauty” (Jenkins. p. 28). Mancini’s version of their romance says that Edward attempted to overcome her chastity with the point of a dagger at her throat, but “she remained unperturbed and determined to die rather than live unchastely.” and that Edward “coveted her the more, who could not be overcome in her constancy even by an infatuated king.”
In any case, on May 1, 1464, while enroute to join his army at Leicester, King Edward made a detour to Grafton where he married Elizabeth in a ceremony witnessed only by her mother Jacquetta, and two gentlewomen. To his companions, he explained his three hour delay as a hunting expedition. Edward kept his marriage a secret for four months, revealing it only to quell developing council plans to marry a foreign princess.
On February 11, 1466, Elizabeth of York, the first of ten children were born. This was quickly followed by Mary in 1467, Cecily in 1469, the heir to the throne, Edward in 1470, Margaret in 1471, Richard in 1473, Anne in 1475, George in 1476, Catherine in 1479 and finally Bridget in 1481.
Immediately after Edward IV’s death in April 1483, Elizabeth, with her son Thomas Grey, Marquess of Dorset, sent off the news to her brother Anthony, Earl Rivers with the Prince of Wales in Ludlow. Neither she nor Dorset, nor anyone appointed by them, had informed Richard of Gloucester of his brother’s death. In council, Elizabeth had demanded the regency, and although she carried a faction of her supporters amongst the councillors, they commanded but a slender majority, and her demand was not met. However, Elizabeth, through her son Dorset, convened several council meetings and eventually imposed on the council the date of May 4th for the coronation.
At midnight on April 30th, upon learning of the arrest of Earl Rivers, and Gloucester’s interception of the King, the Queen, her brother Lionel, Bishop of Salisbury, and Dorset fled into Sanctuary at the Palace of Westminster with her children and her goods.
On June 16th, Elizabeth, after much persuading by the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Howard, gave up the nine-year-old Duke of York to join his brother the King in the Tower.
By September 1483, Elizabeth, still in sanctuary, had agreed to the proposition put to her by Lady Margaret Beaufort that her eldest daughter Elizabeth of York marry Henry Tudor.
It was not until March 1484 that Elizabeth and her five daughters left sanctuary. While she was deprived of her property and all her letters patent annulled, Richard III granted Elizabeth a yearly annuity of seven hundred marks, and allowed her to retire to a country house.
Not long after, Elizabeth wrote to her son Dorset in France, urging him to come home to England, to make his peace with Richard.
Seventeen months later, the situation changed entirely for Elizabeth.
Once Henry Tudor took power, the act of Richard’s Parliament depriving Elizabeth of her dignities and lands was repealed, but she was restored only a meagre estate as her widow’s jointure. She continued to enjoy the dignity and rights of her role as Queen Dowager. She stood as godmother to Prince Arthur, and was even proposed by Henry as a second wife to King James III of Scotland.
But with the Lambert Simnel uprising late in 1486, her fortunes changed again. By May of the next year Henry had stripped her of her possessions, and had lodged her in the convent at Bermondsey, giving his reason to be her treasonous act of releasing her daughters from sanctuary into Richard III’s hands in 1484. According to Francis Bacon, it became dangerous to have contact with her.
On Friday, June 8, 1492 Elizabeth Woodville died at Bermonsey Abbey. She was buried in her husband’s tomb in St. George’s chapel, Windsor.
Richard, Duke of York was the second son of Edward IV. He was born in Shrewsbury – it is believed in August of 1473.
In terms of his upbringing and the major events in his life it would appear that they were similar to that of his brother, Edward V. He was likely given the typical upbringing of a second son of the age, and consequently would have mirrored that of his elder brother.
At the time of his father’s death in 1483, Richard was with his mother, Elizabeth Woodville. She fled to the Sanctuary of Westminster Abbey with her household once Richard, Duke of Gloucester had secured the person of Edward V and had imprisoned various members of her extended family. Ultimately, Elizabeth allowed her son Richard of York to join his brother in the Tower of London. Her motivation for allowing this has been the source of much speculation ever since. Many cannot conceive how she would have allowed her youngest son slip into the hands of the enemy of her family. However, others have argued that her perspective on Gloucester, and his motivations, has been provided by later generations and that she did indeed trust his care and concern for the two boys. Or, it may be that she felt she had no choice.
These questions will never likely be answered satisfactorily. Suffice to say that York joined his brother and eventually disappeared from public view. No absolute answer as to his fate has ever been forthcoming, and it likely will remain a mystery.
One thread of speculation has it that his uncle, Richard III, intended, on their disinheritance, to permit their ‘retirement’ in anonymity somewhere within his many estates. This certainly would have been more humane than actually doing away with the boys. The need for complete secrecy is obvious in that had their existence been well known, they would have become the focal point for rebellion. In point of fact, this possibility eventually came to pass with the Perkin Warbeck conspiracy of 1497. Warbeck claimed to the Duke of York and nearly succeeded in defeating Henry VII. In any event he failed, and he was ultimately executed for his troubles. Henry took good care to ensure that his claim to be York was dismissed as fantasy, and that Warbeck was a tool of malcontents. While there are considerable doubts about Warbeck, there are sufficient grounds supporting his claims to take them seriously. At the least it suggests a more humane Richard III than the one commonly attributed to him.
Richard, Duke of York was the most powerful member of the Royal Family, other than the king himself in the first half of the 15th century. He possessed a formidable pedigree, the details of which can properly place him in the turmoil of the period.
Richard was born September 21, 1411, and was directly descended from Edmund of Langley, Duke of York, the fourth son of Edward III, and indirectly from Lionel of Clarence, Duke of Clarence, Edward III’s second son. Edmund had two sons, the first succeeded to the dukedom in 1402, the second bore the title of Earl of Cambridge. Richard’s father was the Earl of Cambridge, also called Richard. Both Cambridge and York died in 1415. The Duke was the only significant member of the English nobility to die at the Battle of Agincourt in France. His younger brother was executed earlier in the year for his part of the so-called Southampton Plot, which was designed to put on the throne Edmund Mortimer, the Earl of March. March was not himself implicated in the plot, a remarkable feat in many respects. Cambridge’s motivation was partially explained by the fact that his wife was Anne Mortimer, Edmund’s sister. (March was descended, through the female line of the Duke of Clarence). Thus at the end of 1415, young Richard (he was four at the time) found himself Earl of Cambridge and Duke of York, as his uncle had died without heirs. In 1425 this rich inheritance was augmented with the Mortimer estates, as his maternal uncle, Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March also died without heirs. Richard was by this time fourteen.
Along with Mortimer’s title and estates was a more troubling legacy – a claim to the throne. Henry, Duke of Lancaster, the usurper of 1399, had deposed his predecessor Richard II and assumed the mantle of kingship himself, as Henry IV. There were many reasons for Henry’s taking this dire step, which will not be expanded upon here, but suffice it to say that many felt that if Richard II had to go, then the rightful replacement was the Earl of March, whose descent from Edward III was superior to Lancaster’s descent from John of Gaunt, third son of Edward III. Thus, Richard had
inherited title to the English crown through the second and fourth sons of his illustrious predecessor, and that the three Henry’s – that is the IV, V and VI – had a lesser claim. (Note: Other members of the aristocracy were also descended through John of Gaunt. These included the numerous members of the Beaufort clan – Dukes of Somerset – and the Holland family – Dukes of Exeter.
However, all remained descendants of the third son of Edward III, a fact trumped by York’s descent through the second son.)
There are a number of explanations why the Lancastrian claim was left unchallenged for approximately 50 years – that is, from 1399 to about 1453. The first is that the quarrel between Lancaster and Richard II was resolved in the former’s favour and that disputing the outcome would lead to civil war and bloodshed (of course it did as far as the Percy rebellions in 1403 and 1408 demonstrated). A secondary aspect was that the Mortimer claim was considered somewhat weak in that it had been transmitted through the female line – reference was made to Salic Law that would disbar inheritance through the female line. However, this argument was itself anything but robust and was not common practice in England throughout the Middle Ages, albeit it was the tradition in France. More importantly, the Earl of March did not press his case, and so the matter was allowed to rest. Finally, Henry IV and, spectacularly, Henry V, were successful monarchs. One did not rebel against an anointed monarch, no matter how dubious his claim to the throne, if he demonstrated the will of God through self-evidence success on the battlefield, in protecting the common weal throughout the land and other general demonstrations of worthiness and God’s favour. The modern age might smile at such conceits, but this does not deny their centrality in the medieval period.
These arguments generally applied to York’s long minority. Henry V died in 1422, a young man, in the midst of the interminable wars in France. He perished as a result of dysentery contracted as he was conducting a siege. He had, however, succeeded in getting himself acknowledged as the future King of France on the death of the current incumbent, Charles VI. This stunning success was indeed the long sought objective of the English kings throughout the Hundred Years War (1337 – 1453). Henry cemented the arrangement with his marriage to Katherine of Valois, Charles VI’s
daughter. Charles also died in 1422, and Henry’s infant son, Henry VI, inherited both the English and French crowns as a result.
While not directly related to this brief narrative of Richard, Duke of York, there are two threads that have a bearing on York’s fortunes. The first is that by definition Henry V’s assumption of the throne of France on the death of Charles VI was that Charles’ son was disinherited (also called Charles – ultimately, Charles VII). Had Henry survived another twenty years – not a particularly lengthy lifespan for a king in those days (he would have been in his fifties) – it is possible that he would have been able to pass on the two crowns to his son without much trouble. He would have had two decades to tidy up the many loose ends associated with this inheritance, as well as seeing to the education and training of his son. However, this was not to be and the infant Henry VI was immediately vulnerable to the machinations of a disinherited Charles, who became a focus of all who were unhappy with the settlement – most romantically, of course, this included
Joan of Arc. Problems in France had a bearing on Henry’s later problems in England.
The second thread was that Henry’s widow, Katherine, married one Owen Tudor. They had two sons – Jasper, Earl of Pembroke, and Edmund, Earl of Richmond. The latter, in the fullness of time, produced Henry, Earl of Richmond, who eventually became Henry VII. Richmond’s claim to the throne was in consequence virtually non-existent, save by right of conquest.
Richard, Duke of York, had a minority that was full of incident. Its later years, and the early period of his coming of age in the 1430’s were filled with the struggles in France as Henry VI’s protectors (the Dukes of Gloucester and Bedford, his uncles) attempted to hold on to his French crown. In this they ultimately failed. In retrospect it can be concluded that the likelihood of a successful union of the two crowns was improbable in the extreme. Consequently, the ambition of Edward III was fundamentally misplaced. Most historians consider England’s expulsion from France to have been a matter of when, not if, and thus the various setbacks associated with Henry VI’s long minority were likely to have occurred even if his father had remained alive. This mature and no doubt rational perspective was not available at the time, needless to add, and the defeats, retreats and loss of territory were greeted with dismay.
Meanwhile, York was brought up as a ward of Ralph Neville, the Earl of Westmorland and he was thus contemporaneous with the Earl’s large family (there were twelve children). He married one of Westmorland’s daughters – Cecily – on October 18, 1424 by her proceeded to have his own large family. This included his eldest son, Edward, Earl of March (ultimately, Edward IV), Edmund, Earl of Rutland (killed at Wakefield in 1460), George, Duke of Clarence, and Richard, Duke of Gloucester (ultimately, Richard III).
York by virtue of his birth and vast wealth was by definition a leading personage in the governance of England. To that end he played his role in governing Henry VI’s realm with at least average ability. His most noteworthy appointments were as Henry’s lieutenant general in France in the mid 1440’s, and then as lieutenant in Ireland in the last year of that decade and the first in the 1450’s.
The 1450’s were a dire decade for the Government of Henry VI. He was a manifestly unsuccessful monarch, and was presiding over disaster after disaster in France. At the same time, the Jack Cade rebellion in 1450 illustrated the degree of discontent within England itself of Henry’s ineffectual grip on affairs. Closely associated with this period was the Duke of Suffolk’s impeachment for mismanagement, corruption and incompetence. As a resolution to these troubles, Henry was urged to look to his ‘natural councillors’ such as York and entrust the governance of his realm accordingly. This particular approach was typical for the medieval period – unsuccessful monarchs were constantly being adjured to do away with ‘evil councillors’ and appoint the ‘natural’ leaders of the realm.
York sprang into prominence during this period of strife with Henry’s enfeebled Government – a prominence that was to last until his death a decade later. At this point, that is 1450, York was the effective heir to the throne given Henry’s lack of children. He was therefore a natural and prominent member of the aristocracy and an appropriate pillar on which Henry might lean. Throughout this troubled decade, York appears to have sought an honourable resolution to the troubles afflicting England and Henry’s ineffective Government. He was not a particularly astute political figure and was routinely making mistakes that contributed to the outbreak of civil war in 1455, and then again in 1459 – 60. But, these seem to have been genuine mistakes rather than a cynical grasping for power.
The key events include York’s assumption as Protector during Henry’s breakdown in 1454, the first Battle of St Albans in 1455, and then the armed revolt in 1459 – 60. Throughout this period two factions arose – the one centred on himself, including the Neville earls (i.e. Salisbury and Warwick), and the second centred on Henry’s Queen, Margaret of Anjou, including the Tudor, Holland, Percy and Somerset interests. York’s conduct as Protector was widely regarded as a success, with Henry’s resumption of power in late 1454 being accorded as a disaster for the realm. York was able to pacify the country and reintroduce an effective and even handed application of the law throughout the country. The contrast with Henry’s Government was stark and painful.
The resumption by Henry of his Government undid much of York’s good work. The Duke of Somerset set about seeking vengeance for his sidelining and imprisonment during York’s Protectorship, and York and his adherents were obliged to flee. On being summoned to a council at Leicester where York expected to be punished for his conduct while Protector, he and the Neville earls arrived in force. The resulting skirmish at St Albans resulted in Somerset’s death, along with Northumberland and Clifford. With the dangers associated Henry’s courtiers so dealt with, matters may have calmed down. Indeed, York assumed the role of Protector a second time (late 1455 – early 1456) and was able to pacify matters somewhat in this period.
However, Henry, through the machinations of Queen Margaret, resumed his authority in early 1456 and sought, ineffectually, a reconciliation between the parties. The animating obstacle was, in point of fact, the Queen. She detested York and the Nevilles, perceiving that York and his brood could supplant her own youngster’s chance at succession. In this, at the end of the day, Margaret was prescient, but it is unlikely that York had such ambitions at this point. Margaret’s hostility provoked the result that she feared. The next two years were spent by Henry and his party in seeking reconciliation in an atmosphere increasingly poisoned by hostile relations between the principles. In 1459 matters came to a head when the court party determined to resolve the matter by force. The second engagement of the War of the Roses occurred at Blore Heath in September 1459 when a royalist force attempted to prevent the junction of the forces of York
with those of the Neville earls. The third took place at Ludlow where the Yorkist forces scattered given their numerical inferiority to Henry’s assembled troops (this event was known as the ‘Rout of Ludlow’). York and some of his supporters fled to Ireland, the Nevilles, accompanied by Edward, Earl of March, fled to Calais (the Earl of Warwick was Captain of Calais), there to lick their wounds and seek to fight another day.
Thus were set in motion the first serious convulsions of civil war. It will be noted in the above discussion that the events in France (the final defeat occurred in Aquitaine at Castillon in 1453) are quite peripheral as an explicatory cause for the War of the Roses. This view is a newer one, supplanting a version popular in the past that held that defeat in France led ineluctably to civil war in England. The reason this connection is now considered weak to non-existent is that relatively few of the protagonists in the struggle in England had had much at stake in France. The lost French titles and estates were nominal for the most part, and the fighting in France had been largely confined to mercenaries, and a limited selection of the English aristocracy (the Earl of Shrewsbury being the most notable). It was as if subconsciously most of England understood the fundamental futility of the French adventure and shook off the loss. Likely this explanation can be overplayed, as the humiliation was real. But, there is almost certainly truth to it as well.
Within six months of the ‘Rout of Ludlow’ the fortunes of York and his party were reversed. York returned to England in the summer of 1460, defeating Henry’s forces at the Battle of Northampton. This engagement saw Henry himself fall into York’s hands. This allowed them to conduct the government in the King’s name. York then made a fatal mistake. He called a parliament to meet in October 1460, with a view to ratifying the many steps taken to that point, confirming various grants and charters. At this parliament, York made a great play of seizing the Crown for himself. This went over very badly, and he withdrew his claim, and substituted a resolution that granted the throne to him and his descendants on the death of Henry. This compromise was acceptable given the oaths of loyalty most had sworn to Henry in the past, oaths that most of the Commons and nobility were not prepared to break. These oaths did not, however, apply to Margaret of Anjou and her son. (It might be noted here that the paternity of Margaret’s son, Edward, Prince of Wales, was doubted by many. Henry himself apparently was visibly surprised at his wife’s pregnancy, with many suspecting the real father to be the Duke of Somerset. The latter’s death at 1st St Albans would have added venom to Margaret’s hatred of York if this story is true).
The final act in York’s life now got underway. A revolt in the North in favour of the Lancastrian cause called for a response. York, accompanied by Salisbury, Rutland and other members of his retinue hastened into Yorkshire in order to deal with the rebellion. York’s army was depleted for a number of reasons, and in an engagement at Wakefield on 30 December 1460, it was overwhelmed and York was defeated and killed. Also slain were his son Rutland and Salisbury (the latter executed after the battle).
The Yorkist cause was upheld by the Earl of March, and less than three months later the verdict of Wakefield was reversed at Towton. Prior to this March had had himself crowned as Edward IV, and hence ushered in a new phase in the civil strife.
In summary, York can certainly be considered to have had a mixed legacy. Yet, for the most part, he played an honourable role in the governance of England and was pushed into many of the positions he found himself by the actions and lack of statesmanship of others. His chief tragedy was a lack of decisiveness, a quality not shared by his more successful son, and to find himself in situations with no easy resolution. The difficulties he faced were those contingent upon an inadequate monarch in an era were the personal qualities of kings were crucial to the well being of their
realm. Henry VI was clearly unworthy of his rank in life and much evil flowed from the consequences of his weaknesses. York was as much a victim of Henry’s inadequacies as was Henry himself.