3rd Duke of York, Battle of Wakefield, Edward III of England, Edward IV of England, House of Anjou, House of Plantagenet, James III of Scotland, King Henry VI of England, Margaret of Anjou, Richard III of England, Richard of York
Richard of York, 3rd Duke of York (September 21, 1411 – December 30, 1460), also named Richard Plantagenet, was a leading English magnate and claimant to the throne during the Wars of the Roses. He was a member of the ruling House of Plantagenet.
Richard of York was born on September 21, 1411, the son of Richard, Earl of Cambridge (1385–1415), and his wife Anne Mortimer (1388–1411). Both his parents were descended from King Edward III of England (1312–1377): his father was son of Edmund, 1st Duke of York (founder of the House of York), fourth surviving son of Edward III, whereas his mother Anne Mortimer was a great-granddaughter of Lionel, Duke of Clarence, Edward’s second son.
After the death in 1425 of Anne’s childless brother Edmund, Earl of March, this ancestry supplied her son Richard, of the House of York, with a claim to the English throne that was arguably superior to that of the reigning House of Lancaster, descended from John of Gaunt, the third son of Edward III.
Richard had an only sister, Isabel. Richard’s mother, Anne Mortimer, died during or shortly after his birth, and his father the Earl of Cambridge was beheaded in 1415 for his part in the Southampton Plot against the Lancastrian King Henry V.
Within a few months of his father’s death, Richard’s childless uncle, Edward, 2nd Duke of York, was slain at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, and so Richard inherited Edward’s title and lands, becoming 3rd Duke of York. The lesser title but greater estates of the Mortimer family, along with their claim to the throne, also descended to him on the death of his maternal uncle Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March, in 1425.
Richard of York already held a strong claim to the English throne, being the heir general of Edward III while also related to the same king in a direct male line of descent. Once he inherited the vast Mortimer estates, he also became the wealthiest and most powerful noble in England, second only to the king himself. An account shows that York’s net income from Welsh and marcher lands alone was £3,430 (about £350,000 today) in the year 1443–44.
In December 1459 the Duke York, the Earls of Warwick and Salisbury suffered attainder. Their lives were forfeit, and their lands reverted to the king; their heirs would not inherit. This was the most extreme punishment a member of the nobility could suffer, and the Duke of York was now in the same situation as Henry of Bolingbroke (the future King Henry IV) in 1398.
Only a successful invasion of England would restore his fortune. Assuming the invasion was successful, the Duke of York had three options: become Protector of England again, disinherit the king’s son so that York would succeed, or claim the throne for himself.
On June 26, Warwick and Salisbury landed at Sandwich. The men of Kent rose to join them. London opened its gates to the Nevilles on July 2. They marched north into the Midlands, and on July 10, they defeated the royal army at the Battle of Northampton (through treachery among the king’s troops), and captured Henry, whom they brought back to London.
The Duke of York remained in Ireland. He did not set foot in England until September 9 and when he did, he acted as a king. Marching under the arms of his maternal great-great-grandfather Lionel of Antwerp, 1st Duke of Clarence, he displayed a banner of the coat of arms of England as he approached London.
A Parliament called to meet on October 7, repealed all the legislation of the Coventry parliament the previous year. On October 10, the Duke of York arrived in London and took residence in the royal palace. Entering Parliament with his sword borne upright before him, he made for the empty throne and placed his hand upon it, as if to occupy it.
He may have expected the assembled peers to acclaim him as king, as they had acclaimed Henry Bolingbroke in 1399. Instead, there was silence. Thomas Bourchier, the Archbishop of Canterbury, asked whether he wished to see the king. York replied, “I know of no person in this realm the which oweth not to wait on me, rather than I of him.” This high-handed reply did not impress the Lords.
The next day, Richard advanced his claim to the crown by hereditary right in proper form. However, his narrow support among his peers led to failure once again. After weeks of negotiation, the best that could be achieved was the Act of Accord, by which York and his heirs were recognised as Henry’s successors.
However, in October 1460 Parliament did grant York extraordinary executive powers to protect the realm, and made him Lord Protector of England. He was also given the lands and income of the Prince of Wales, but was not granted the title itself or made Earl of Chester or Duke of Cornwall. With the king effectively in custody, York and Warwick were the de facto rulers of the country.
Final campaign and death
While this was happening, the Lancastrian loyalists were rallying and arming in the north of England. Faced with the threat of attack from the Percys, and with Margaret of Anjou, wife of King Henry VI, trying to gain the support of the new King of Scotland, James III, York, Salisbury and York’s second son, Edmund, Earl of Rutland, headed north on December 2.
They arrived at York’s stronghold of Sandal Castle on December 21, to find the situation bad and getting worse. Forces loyal to Henry VI controlled the city of York, and nearby Pontefract Castle was also in hostile hands. The Lancastrian armies were commanded by some of York’s implacable enemies such as Henry Beaufort, 3rd Duke of Somerset, Henry Percy, 3rd Earl of Northumberland and John Clifford, 9th Baron de Clifford, whose fathers had been killed at the Battle of Saint Albans, and included several northern lords who were jealous of York’s and Salisbury’s wealth and influence in the North.
On December 30, York and his forces sortied from Sandal Castle. Their reasons for doing so are not clear; they were variously claimed to be a result of deception by the Lancastrian forces, or treachery by northern lords who York mistakenly believed to be his allies, or simple rashness on York’s part.
The larger Lancastrian force destroyed York’s army in the resulting Battle of Wakefield. The Duke of York was killed in the battle. The precise nature of his end was variously reported; he was either unhorsed, wounded and overcome fighting to the death or captured, given a mocking crown of bulrushes and then beheaded.
Edmund of Rutland was intercepted as he tried to flee and was executed, possibly by Clifford in revenge for the death of his own father at the First Battle of St Albans. Salisbury escaped, but was captured and executed the following night.
York was buried at Pontefract, but his head was put on a pike by the victorious Lancastrian armies and displayed over Micklegate Bar at York, wearing a paper crown. His remains were later moved to Church of St Mary and All Saints, Fotheringhay.
Within a few weeks of Richard of York’s death, his eldest surviving son was acclaimed King Edward IV and finally established the House of York on the throne following a decisive victory over the Lancastrians at the Battle of Towton. After an occasionally tumultuous reign, he died in 1483 and was succeeded by his twelve-year-old son, Edward V, who was himself succeeded after 86 days by his uncle, York’s youngest son, Richard III.
Richard of York’s grandchildren included Edward V and Elizabeth of York. Elizabeth married Henry VII, founder of the Tudor dynasty, and became the mother of Henry VIII, Margaret Tudor and Mary Tudor. All future English monarchs would come from the line of Henry VII and Elizabeth, and therefore from Richard of York himself.