London

   Because London was the political and economic heart of the kingdom, the city’s friendship and support were vital to both sides during a civil conflict like the WARS OF THE ROSES. Concerned with prosperity, stability, and their own rights and privileges, Londoners generally sought to remain neutral or, failing that, favored the party that seemed most capable of protecting the city’s interests, which, after 1460,was usually the house of YORK. In 1485, London had a population of over 60,000, making it by far the largest city in the realm. Although smaller than Paris, London was more demographically and economically dominant in England than its French counterpart was in FRANCE. The city was the center of English trade, the site of English government (Westminster was one mile from London), and the source of financial resources that were vital to any regime. In the late 1450s, economic recession, aggravated by the government’s haphazard commercial policies and by the official favor shown to foreign merchants (see Hanseatic League), caused much civic dissatisfaction with the Lancastrian administration. After 1456, Queen MARGARET OF ANJOU, seeking to isolate the weak-willed king from outside influences, removed HENRY VI and the royal COURT from Westminster to the Midlands, a transferal of patronage and prestige that further damaged relations between the city and the house of LANCASTER.
   Meanwhile, the city’s interest in a Yorkist administration was strengthened by the activities of Richard NEVILLE, earl of Warwick, who, as captain of CALAIS since 1456, controlled the continental entrepôt for London’s wool trade. Many city merchants invested heavily in the maintenance of Warwick’s garrison, while the earl’s piratical attacks on foreign shipping, launched in 1459 after the government cut off funding, won the Yorkists much popularity in the city by allowing Warwick to appear more interested in protecting trade than did the distant Lancastrian regime. On 2 July 1460, the municipal authorities, after some hesitation, allowed Warwick to enter the city. This decision effectively ended London’s neutrality; the city could henceforth expect only harsh treatment from the queen. After serving as capital of the Yorkist regime instituted by Warwick after the Battle of NORTHAMPTON, the city fell into a panic in January 1461 when the queen’s victorious army turned south after the Battle of WAKEFIELD. Marked by the plunder of Yorkist towns and castles, the Lancastrian MARCH ON LONDON, when exaggerated by Yorkist PROPAGANDA, persuaded city leaders to deny Margaret entrance after her defeat of Warwick at the Battle of ST. ALBANS on 17 February. Instead, Londoners admitted Warwick and Edward, earl of March, and enthusiastically endorsed March’s elevation to the throne as EDWARD IV. The queen’s failure to take London allowed the Yorkists to survive defeat, crown a king, and use the resources of the city to raise an army that defeated the Lancastrians at the Battle of TOWTON on 29 March.
   In 1470, with Edward isolated in the north and popular sentiment swinging to Warwick, the city welcomed the earl and provided willing though moderate financial support for the READEPTION government of Henry VI. In April 1471, with Warwick at Coventry and Edward IV approaching rapidly, the London authorities, influenced by Yorkist lords then in the city and by hopes that a restored Edward would repay his many outstanding loans, allowed the Yorkists to enter the capital. In May, while Edward was in the west winning the Battle of TEWKESBURY, London became the only English town to stand siege during the Wars of the Roses. Warwick’s kinsman, Thomas NEVILLE, Bastard of Fauconberg, assaulted the city with a large force of Calais troops and Kentish rebels. As his troops attacked London Bridge and the eastern gates, Fauconberg’s ships bombarded the city from the Thames. Fear of plunder as much as loyalty to Edward IV inspired Londoners to a fierce resistance that repelled the attack. For the rest of Edward’s reign, stable government, low taxes, and growing trade ensured the city’s loyalty. However, after the king’s death in 1483, Londoners reluctantly acquiesced in RICHARD III’s deposition of his nephew EDWARD V (see Usurpation of 1483). Because London had little taste for rule by the WOODVILLE FAMILY, the city approved Richard’s protectorship, but several sources, including Sir Thomas More in his HISTORY OF KING RICHARD III, describe the lack of enthusiasm with which Richard’s claim to the throne was greeted in the city (see Shaw’s Sermon). After Richard’s coronation, support for the regime declined as rumors spread that Edward IV’s sons had been murdered in the TOWER OF LONDON. As a result, HENRY VII was readily welcomed by the city after his victory at the Battle of BOSWORTH FIELD in 1485.
   Further Reading: Baker, Timothy, Medieval London (New York, Praeger, 1970); Porter,Roy, London: A Social History (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994); Sheppard, Francis, London: A History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998).

Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. . 2001.

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