Edward IV, King of England

(1442–1483)
   Edward IV, first king of the house of YORK, was a central figure in the WARS OF THE ROSES. Only eighteen when he overthrew HENRY VI and the house of LANCASTER, Edward, despite personal flaws and political misjudgments that briefly cost him the Crown, was a strong and successful monarch who reduced disorder and lawlessness and reversed the deterioration of royal authority. The eldest son of Richard PLANTAGENET, duke of York, and his wife, Cecily NEVILLE, Edward was born on 28 April 1442 at Rouen in English-held Normandy, where his father was then serving as lord lieutenant. By 1454, twelve-year-old Edward had been created earl of March, a title formerly belonging to the Mortimers, the family of Edward’s paternal grandmother, from whom the house of York derived its claim to the throne. In 1459, when civil war erupted between the supporters of York and the king, Edward, now seventeen, was with his father at the Battle of LUDFORD BRIDGE, where the defection of Andrew TROLLOPE and his men forced the duke and his adherents to flee the country. York sailed for IRELAND, while Edward made for CALAIS with his father’s chief allies, Richard NEVILLE, earl of Salisbury, and his son, Richard NEVILLE, earl of Warwick. Although separated from his father, Edward began in 1460 to emerge as an important political figure in his own right as he acted in concert with the vigorous Warwick to advance his family’s cause. Having frustrated all Lancastrian attempts to dislodge them from Calais, the three Yorkist earls invaded England in June 1460. After securing LONDON, the earls marched north and, on 10 July, captured Henry VI at the Battle of NORTHAMPTON. In October,York returned to lay claim to the Crown. PARLIAMENT, being unwilling to depose Henry, fashioned the compromise Act of ACCORD, which disinherited Henry’s son, Prince EDWARD OF LANCASTER, and vested succession to the Crown in York and his sons. In December, when York marched north to suppress Lancastrian uprisings against the new regime, Edward set out to raise troops on the Welsh border. At Gloucester, in early January 1461, Edward learned of the death of his father at the Battle of WAKEFIELD.
   Now leader of the Yorkist cause and, for the first time, in independent command of a military force, Edward confronted the army of Jasper TUDOR, earl of Pembroke, who was advancing against him from WALES. Edward crushed Pembroke at the Battle of MORTIMER’S CROSS on 2 February, but two weeks later Queen MARGARET OF ANJOU defeated Warwick and took custody of Henry at the Battle of ST. ALBANS. Aided by southern fears of the northerners in Margaret’s army (see March on London), whose acts of plunder had been magnified by Warwick’s PROPAGANDA efforts, Edward boldly entered London in late February. Handsome and confident, the very antithesis of Henry VI, Edward, though only eighteen, looked and acted like a king and was therefore hailed as a deliverer by the frightened Londoners. Proclaimed king on 4 March, Edward began immediately to gather an army. On 29 March, Edward secured his throne by winning the bloody, daylong Battle of TOWTON, his personal leadership helping to steady his troops at several crucial junctures during the fighting (see Generalship). Although the Lancastrian royal family fled into SCOTLAND, from where their supporters raided the north for the next three years, Edward was firmly in power by 1465, when Henry VI was in the TOWER OF LONDON and Queen Margaret and her son were in exile in FRANCE. During the 1460s, Edward’s political inexperience led him to pardon opponents too easily, to reward supporters too richly, and to delegate authority too freely, especially to Warwick and the NEVILLE FAMILY.Although he never abdicated ultimate control, and never allowed his mistresses political power, Edward was also pleasure loving and much given to sexual dalliance. In 1464, he created enormous political problems for himself and his heirs by secretly marrying a subject, Elizabeth WOODVILLE, who brought to COURT a host of ambitious relatives. Although the WOODVILLE FAMILY eventually formed a powerful political connection in support of the Yorkist throne, their avid pursuit of wealth and power alienated Warwick and the king’s brother, George PLANTAGENET, duke of Clarence, who in 1469 launched a coup that briefly placed Edward in their custody. When a second coup failed in the spring of 1470, Warwick and Clarence fled to France, where the earl, through the self-interested mediation of LOUIS XI, concluded the ANGERS AGREEMENT with Margaret of Anjou. Realizing that Edward had grown too independent and politically astute to allow him to continue to dominate the government,Warwick agreed to restore the weak-minded Henry VI, who could never be more than a figurehead. Given to indolence and self-indulgence, Edward had been caught unprepared in 1469, and was again in 1470, when the Neville defection to Lancaster found him in the north without sufficient forces to make a stand. On 2 October, Edward fled to BURGUNDY with his brother Richard, duke of Gloucester (see Richard III, King of England), and a small band of supporters (see Edward IV, Overthrow of).
   Over the winter of 1470–1471, Edward convinced the previously hostile HANSEATIC LEAGUE to supply him with ships, while Warwick’s alliance with France persuaded Duke CHARLES of Burgundy to allow Edward to recruit men and raise money. Landing in England in March 1471, Edward began a bold and energetic two-month campaign that permitted him to retake London, defeat and kill Warwick at the Battle of BARNET, and defeat and kill Prince Edward of Lancaster at the Battle of TEWKESBURY.When Henry VI was murdered in the Tower on 21 May, undoubtedly on Edward’s orders, the house of York was secure and the Wars of the Roses were over (see Edward IV, Restoration of). In the 1470s, Edward began the process, which was continued and extended by HENRY VII, of restoring royal authority, of making the king once more the powerful and respected arbiter of noble disputes, rather than merely the leader of one faction of the PEERAGE. As the power of the Crown grew in relation to that of the nobility, noblemen found themselves no longer able to conduct private feuds or disrupt local courts, although, as the PASTON LETTERS indicate, the Crown still required the military and political support of great magnates (see Bastard Feudalism) and Edward was occasionally willing to overlook their transgressions to retain their cooperation. Edward also reorganized Crown finances, becoming one of the few medieval English kings to die solvent, and developed a loyal and capable body of councilors and household servants, often drawn from former opponents, who worked to improve royal administration and implement royal policy (see Council, Royal). However, Edward was also willing to allow his closest supporters to build regional political interests that had serious consequences in the reign of his son. His brother Gloucester governed the north as heir to Warwick, while William HASTINGS, Lord Hastings, dominated the Midlands, and the Woodville family developed powerful support in the south and Wales, where Anthony WOODVILLE, Earl Rivers, supervised the household of Prince Edward.
   In 1475, Edward invaded France in concert with the duke of Burgundy, who had been a formal ally of the house of York since his marriage to Edward’s sister, MARGARET OF YORK, in 1468. However, no fighting occurred, for, after a personal meeting with Louis XI, Edward agreed to the Treaty of Picquigny, whereby he withdrew his army in return for an annual pension and a promise of marriage between Louis’s heir and Edward’s daughter, ELIZABETH OF YORK. In 1478, Edward preferred a bill of ATTAINDER against his brother Clarence, whose long history of treasonous and provocative behavior, perhaps magnified in the king’s mind by Woodville hostility, determined Edward to destroy him (see Clarence, Execution of). In the late 1470s, Edward revived claims to English hegemony over Scotland, an ill-advised policy that achieved the recapture of BERWICK but otherwise led only to costly and futile campaigns by Gloucester.
   By 1483, Edward’s power was unquestioned, and his dynasty was recognized across Europe and unchallenged in England, although many of his subjects were beginning to see him as increasingly arbitrary and avaricious. Edward died unexpectedly on 9 April 1483, just short of his forty-first birthday; given to corpulence in later years, the king was said to be the victim of a life given to excess and self-indulgence.He was succeeded by his son EDWARDV, who within three months of his father’s death had lost his Crown to his uncle and disappeared into the Tower.
   Further Reading: Ross, Charles, Edward IV (New Haven, CT:Yale University Press, 1998).

Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. . 2001.

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