Edward IV (April 28, 1442 – April 9, 1483) was King of England and Lord of Ireland from March 4, 1461 to October 3, 1470, then again from April 11, 1471 until his death in 1483. He was a central figure in the Wars of the Roses, a series of civil wars in England fought between the Yorkist and Lancastrian factions between 1455 and 1487.
Edward was born on April 28, 1442 at Rouen in Normandy, eldest surviving son of Richard, 3rd Duke of York, and Cecily Neville. Until his father’s death, he was known as the Earl of March. Both his parents were direct descendants of King Edward III, giving Edward a potential claim to the throne. This was strengthened in 1447, when York became heir to the childless King Henry VI on the death of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester.
Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester was the fourth and youngest son of Henry IV of England and his first wife Mary de Bohun. Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester was the brother of Henry V, and the uncle of Henry VI. The Duke of Gloucester fought in the Hundred Years’ War and acted as Lord Protector of England during the minority of his nephew.
Allegations of illegitimacy toward Edward of York were discounted at the time as politically inspired, and by later historians. Edward and his siblings George, Duke of Clarence, and Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy, were physically very similar, all three being tall and blonde, in contrast to Richard, 3rd Duke of York who was short and dark. His youngest brother, who later became King Richard III, closely resembled their father.
Edward inherited the Yorkist claim when his father, Richard, 3rd Duke of York, died at the Battle of Wakefield in December 1460. Yorkist armies went on defeating Lancastrian armies at Mortimer’s Cross and Towton in early 1461.
On February 2, 1461, Edward won a hard-fought victory at the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross in Herefordshire. The battle was preceded by a meteorological phenomenon known as parhelion, or three suns, which he took as his emblem, the “Sun in splendour”. However, this was offset by Warwick’s defeat at the Second Battle of St Albans on February 17, the Lancastrians regaining custody of Henry VI.
On March 4, Edward, 4th Duke of York deposed King Henry VI and took the throne. Edward was hastily crowned as King Edward IV, before marching north, where the two sides met at the Battle of Towton. Fought on March 29, in the middle of a snowstorm, it was the bloodiest battle ever to take place on English soil, and ended in a decisive Yorkist victory.
Estimates of the dead range from 9,000 to 20,000; figures are uncertain, as most of the mass graves were emptied or moved over the centuries, while corpses were generally stripped of clothing or armour before burial.
Margaret fled to Scotland with Edward of Westminster, while the new king returned to London for his coronation. Henry VI remained at large for over a year, but was caught and imprisoned in the Tower of London. There was little point in killing him while his son remained alive, since this would have transferred the Lancastrian claim from a frail captive to one who was young and free.
Although Edward preferred Burgundy as an alliance partner, he allowed Warwick to negotiate a treaty with Louis XI of France, which included a suggested marriage between Edward and Anne of France or Bona of Savoy, respectively daughter and sister-in-law of the French king.
In October 1464, Richard Neville 16th Earl of Warwick known as the “Kingmaker” was enraged to discover that on May 1, Edward IV had secretly married Elizabeth Woodville, a widow with two sons, whose Lancastrian husband, John Grey of Groby, died at Towton.
If nothing else, it was a clear demonstration that Warwick was not in control of the king, despite suggestions to the contrary. Edward’s motives have been widely discussed by contemporaries and historians alike.
Although Elizabeth’s mother, Jacquetta of Luxembourg, came from the upper nobility, her father, Richard Woodville, was a middle ranking provincial knight. The Privy Council told Edward with unusual frankness that “she was no wife for a prince such as himself, for she was not the daughter of a Duke or an Earl.”
The marriage was certainly unwise and unusual, although not unheard of; Henry VI’s mother, Catherine of Valois, married her chamberlain, Owen Tudor, while Edward IV’s grandson Henry VIII created the Church of England to marry Anne Boleyn.
By all accounts, Elizabeth possessed considerable charm of person and intellect, while Edward was used to getting what he wanted.
Historians generally accept the marriage was an impulsive decision, but differ on whether it was also a “calculated political move”. One view is the low status of the Woodvilles was part of the attraction, since unlike the Nevilles, they were reliant on Edward and thus more likely to remain loyal.
Others argue if this was his purpose, there were far better options available; all agree it had significant political implications that impacted the rest of Edward’s reign.
In 1470, with the Earl of Warwick still an enemy of Edward IV, he led a revolt against the King along with Edward’s brother, George, Duke of Clarence. After a failed plot to crown Edward’s brother, George, Duke of Clarence as King and there by deposing his brother, Edward IV, Warwick instead restored Henry VI to the throne.
The triumph was short-lived. Edward IV fled to Flanders, where he gathered support and invaded England in March 1471. On April 14, 1471, Warwick was defeated by Edward IV at the Battle of Barnet in which Warwick was killed and Edward IV resumed the throne.
Edward IV entered London unopposed and took Henry VI prisoner. A second army defeated the Lancastrian army at Tewkesbury on May 4. 17-year-old Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales the heir to the throne and the only son of King Henry VI of England and Margaret of Anjou, was killed at the Battle of Tewkesbury.
Shortly afterwards, Henry VI was found dead in the Tower of London. Despite a continuing threat from Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond (later Henry VII, the last Lancastrian claimant) Edward reigned in relative peace for the next twelve years.
However, The tumultuous relationship between Edward IV and his brother George, Duke of Clarence came to a head when Clarence was imprisoned in the Tower of London and put on trial for treason against his brother Edward IV. The accusations of Treason of George towards his brother are complex and will be the subject of a future blog entry.
Edward himself prosecuted his brother, and demanded that Parliament pass a bill of attainder against him declaring that he was guilty of “unnatural, loathly treasons.” Following his conviction and attainder, he was “privately executed” at the Bowyer Tower on February 18, 1478.
Edward IV died suddenly in April 1483, and was succeeded by his minor son as King Edward V, but Edward IV’s brother, the Duke of Gloucester, sized the throne as King Richard III citing that Edward V was illegitimate due to his parents marriage being unlawful.