Lancaster and York: The Wars of the Roses by Alison Weir

  Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou were in York when the battle was fought. Together with Exeter, Roos and Dr John Morton, a cultivated and intelligent cleric who would one day become Archbishop of Canterbury but who was now committed to supporting the House of Lancaster, they awaited news. When they were told of the terrible Lancastrian defeat, and that their army had been virtually annihilated, they decided on flight, ‘packed up everything they could carry’, gathered up their train, and fled from the city via Bootham Bar, passing north through the forest of Galtres, Margaret vowing fiercely that she would one day be revenged on the House of York. ‘King Henry and his wife were overthrown,’ wrote Waurin, ‘and lost that crown which Henry IV had violently usurped and taken from King Richard II. Men say that ill-gotten goods cannot last.’

  Edward IV might have scored a resounding victory, but it was an incomplete one, for Henry, Margaret and their son were still at large, focal points for resistance to Yorkist rule, and he would not be secure on the throne until they were either dead or he had them in his power. The Queen, in particular, would be a thorn in his side for some time to come.

  ‘When King Edward had won the day at Towton he gave thanks to God for his glorious victory,’ wrote Waurin. ‘Then many knights, earls and barons came into his presence, bowed to him, and asked him what they ought now to do for the best, to which he replied that he would never rest until he had killed or captured King Henry and his wife, or driven them from the country, as he had promised and sworn to do.’ His lords advised him to make for York, because they had heard that the Queen and her supporters were there, but before they could depart the King ordered that the executions of forty-two Lancastrian knights and others captured during or after the battle be carried out. Many Lancastrians would now go into exile, while others, observed the Milanese ambassador, were ‘quitting’ King Henry ‘and coming to tender obedience to this king’. The transfer of allegiance by so many lords meant that Edward was able to consolidate his position and become in fact, as well as in title, master of his realm. Many believed that, by according him so decisive a victory, God had declared His pleasure. There were still a number who regarded Edward as a usurper, but they were now in a minority; nor was the Lancastrian faction any longer in a position to challenge his authority. Nevertheless, although he was in control of most of England, the Lancastrians still held the English border counties in the north and several strategic castles in Wales.

  Edward, knowing he needed to win support in the north, did show mercy to a number of northern magnates captured at Towton, including Northumberland’s brother, Sir Ralph Percy. Others were allowed to escape and were later pardoned. Lord Rivers came to Edward and acknowledged him as the rightful king, whereupon Edward forgave his past support of the Lancastrians and promised him and his son Anthony Wydville pardons, which were issued the following July. By March 1463 both men had been admitted to the royal Council. The King also rewarded the men who had fought on his own side. Warwick’s brother, John Neville, had shown such valour in the field that the King raised him to the peerage with the title Lord Montague.

  On Good Friday, 3 April, news of the King’s victory was delivered to the Lord Mayor of London; the Duchess of York learned of it the next morning when a letter from the King, written on 30 March, arrived. All her household gathered excitedly in the great hall of Baynard’s Castle to hear her read it out. That Saturday, the Lord Chancellor, George Neville, announced the victory at Paul’s Cross, and there was great rejoicing among the people. One rumour had it that Henry VI had been captured, but the Milanese ambassador shrewdly commented that ‘vain flowers always grow in good news’. In Dover and Sandwich, huge bonfires were lit to signal the news to the royal garrison at Calais, where a third beacon was kindled in response.

  On the morning after the battle King Edward rode in triumph to York, ‘with great solemnity and processions’, but as he approached the Micklegate Bar his face set into grim lines as he saw above him the rotting heads of his father, his brother, and his uncle of Salisbury. This dreadful sight turned him visibly grey with anger and sorrow, and he vowed that the Lancastrians would taste his vengeance and that those responsible for the deaths of his kinsfolk would be relentlessly sought out and slaughtered. When he arrived in York his first order was that the heads be taken down and decently interred at Pontefract with the corresponding bodies.

  Edward received a warm welcome from the people of York. ‘All the clergy came out to greet him,’ says Waurin, ‘and did reverence to him as their sovereign lord and prince, humbly begging him to forgive them if they had in any way offended him, and he freely forgave them [and] stayed a full week in the city with much joy and celebration.’ Representatives from major towns in Yorkshire came and offered their submission, and he issued commissions of the peace for the arrest of any rebels. The King’s officers soon discovered several Lancastrians in hiding in the city and rounded them up. Devon had barricaded himself in the ancient Norman castle, but had not the resources to defend it, so he too was taken, while Wiltshire was soon afterwards captured at Cockermouth and imprisoned. The King ordered that the Earl of Devon, Sir Baldwin Fulford and Sir William Hill, all prominent Lancastrians, be beheaded in York as an example to the citizens. Their heads replaced those of the Yorkists on the Micklegate Bar, grim reminders of the fate of those who rebelled against their lawful sovereign.

  On 5 April, Edward celebrated Easter in York, having ordered his captains to recruit fresh soldiers. He then rode north with his army to Durham, and thence to Newcastle, in pursuit of King Henry and Queen Margaret, who were making for Scotland, accompanied by Somerset, Exeter, Roos and Morton. The city of Coventry had paid Warwick £14 for the expenses of hiring fourteen men to chase after the deposed King. By 7 April the fleeing Lancastrians were resting briefly in Newcastle; they then continued their journey to Alnwick, whence the Queen sent an urgent message to the Bishop of St Andrews, Regent of Scotland, begging him to issue a safe-conduct for their entry into that kingdom. At Wark Castle, near Carham, Henry and Margaret were besieged by a force of Yorkist adherents led by Sir Robert Ogle. Retainers of the late Earl of Northumberland gathered 5-6,000 men in order to relieve the siege, and their intervention enabled the royal party to escape through a little postern gate at the back of the castle and proceed in haste to Berwick. Here, while awaiting word from Scotland, they enjoyed a few days of rest; the Queen even went hunting and shot a buck. But they knew that this respite could not last.

  In Scotland, Mary of Gueldres found herself in a difficult position. The Duke of Burgundy was her uncle, and he was hopeful of securing an alliance with Edward IV. A show of friendship by his niece to Edward’s enemies could place this alliance in jeopardy. Warwick was well aware of the Queen Regent’s dilemma and capitalised on it by using diplomatic pressure. Before long, he had extracted from her an agreement that the Scots would not offer military support to the Lancastrians. Nevertheless, he could not stop them from granting asylum to the dispossessed royal family, and the necessary safe-conduct was issued. Henry, Margaret, the Prince and 6000 followers crossed the border into Galloway. Henry sought refuge in the convent of the Grey Friars at Kirkcudbright, while his wife and son travelled on to the Scottish court, then at Linlithgow Palace, where Mary of Gueldres accorded them a sympathetic welcome and ordered that apartments be prepared for them. Margaret stayed here for a time, then at Durrisdeer, then at Dumfries, and finally at Lanark, before the Bishop of St Andrews arranged in July for her to move to more convenient lodgings in Lincluden Abbey near Edinburgh.

  The Yorkists pursued their quarry almost to Scotland and, had they succeeded in capturing them, Edward IV would have been spared many problems in the years to come. But they failed, and returned south, much dispirited. Edward himself had arrived in Newcastle on 1 May, where he ordered the execution of Wiltshire, whose head was afterwards displayed on London Bridge.

  Because the north of England was still strongly Lancastrian in sympathy, Edward dared not penetrate beyond Newcastle. Th
e north would remain unconquered for some time to come, and Margaret of Anjou would capitalise on this, fuelling discontent against the Yorkists by propaganda and appealing to the loyalties of local landowners. On 18 April, Prospero di Camulio had prophesied: ‘If the King and Queen of England, with the other fugitives, are not taken, it seems certain that in time fresh disturbances will arise.’ He also predicted that ‘before long, grievances and recrimination will break out between King Edward and the Earl of Warwick. King Henry and the Queen will be victorious.’ Both these predictions were to prove strangely accurate.

  It was not long before the Queen managed to persuade the Scottish government to conclude a treaty providing for the marriage of Prince Edward to James III’s sister Margaret Stewart. In return, Henry VI would surrender Berwick, as already promised, and when he was restored to the throne of England would grant the Scots lands in England and make the Bishop of St Andrews Archbishop of Canterbury. Furthermore, England was to enter into a tripartite alliance with Scotland and France, her traditional enemies. When Edward IV learned of this agreement, he issued a proclamation, publishing its terms in full and accusing Margaret of ‘exciting and provoking the greatest and largest cruelty against our subjects, unto the execution of her insatiable malice towards them’. He then wrote an angry letter to King James, saying, ‘Whereas ye took and received our traitors and rebels, we require and exhort you to deliver [them] unto us without delay.’ The regents, in James’s name, refused; they would not break such an advantageous alliance, nor jeopardise the Princess Margaret’s marriage.

  Life was not easy for the Lancastrians in Scotland, however. Although Queen Mary took Prince Edward into her household to learn the knightly graces, his mother found herself in desperate financial straits. Having pawned her gold and silver plate to raise funds for a fresh onslaught upon the Yorkists, she had to resort to borrowing money from the Queen Regent. Between May and July Mary loaned Margaret a total of £200, but she had no means of paying it back. Before long she was ‘in want of the absolute necessities of life’, according to the French chronicler Le Moine. Nevertheless, for all her poverty, Edward IV feared her more ‘than all the princes of the House of Lancaster combined’.

  On 25 April, Margaret, in the name of Henry VI, formally ceded Berwick to the Scots. Needless to say, its surrender infuriated the English and presented the Yorkists with an excellent propaganda weapon. Nevertheless, the loss of the last English-owned fortified border town meant that Edward had lost an invaluable bridgehead for invading Scotland; it weakened his diplomatic bargaining position, and gave the French, Scotland’s allies, a potential advantage. Worst of all, in Scottish hands Berwick became a centre for launching Lancastrian raids into Northumberland.

  After dealing with several outbreaks of disaffection and disorder in the north, Edward IV left Newcastle on 2 May and returned to London, where he received a hero’s welcome as the man who had saved the city from the brutality of the northerners. During the summer the King issued a stream of commissions of array, which testify to his fear that a Lancastrian invasion was imminent. Fauconberg was left in overall charge of the north, with instructions to safeguard it from Lancastrian attacks. In May, Geoffrey Gate was commissioned to safeguard Carisbrooke Castle and the Isle of Wight against invasion from the south, and in July, orders went out to Lord Ferrers, Sir William Herbert and Sir James Baskerville to raise the levies of Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and Shropshire for the defence of the realm against the King’s enemies in Scotland and France. Edward was taking no chances.

  In June, Queen Margaret led an army of Scotsmen, retainers of the earls of Douglas and Angus, into England. With her rode Prince Edward, Exeter, Lord Rougemont Grey, Sir Humphrey Dacre, Sir Robert Whittingham, Sir Henry Bellingham and Sir Richard Tunstall. Her objective was to take Carlisle, which she had also promised to the Scots, Her army laid siege to the town and burned its suburbs, but was driven back by a force led by Warwick’s brother, Montague, whose task it was to guard the northern border from attack.

  Undaunted, the Lancastrians, who had now been joined by Henry VI himself, who rode at their head, penetrated further south, making for Durham. But King Edward commanded the Archbishop of York to muster his tenants and have them prepare to join a force led by Fauconberg and Montague. When, on 26 June, the Lancastrian standards were raised at Ryton and Brancepeth, the levies raised by the Archbishop, which were now under the command of Warwick himself, repelled the invaders, who retreated north two days later.

  Warwick began to root out Lancastrian rebels in the countryside bordering the River Tyne, and by July, thanks to his presence in the region, the Yorkists had gained a foothold in the north and were, by a gradual process, beginning to overcome Lancastrian resistance. On 31 July the King appointed Warwick Warden of the East and West Marches on the northern border, instructing him to bring the north to Edward’s allegiance or reduce it to submission. A month later it was being reported in Milan that Warwick had prevented the Lancastrians from invading Northumberland. Edward was now relatively free to focus his attention upon Wales, where his enemies were still in control of several strategically placed strongholds, and wasted no time in dispatching an army to deal with them also.

  On Friday, 26 June, Edward IV was conducted by the Lord Mayor and aldermen of London to the Tower, where custom decreed he must spend a night prior to his coronation. There he created twenty-eight Knights of the Bath, among them his brothers George and Richard, and a further five the following morning. These knights, clad in gowns of blue with white silk hoods on their shoulders, like those worn by priests, then preceded him in a grand procession through the streets of the city to the Palace of Westminster, there to lodge the night before his coronation.

  On the morning of Sunday, 28 June 1461 Edward issued a proclamation promising his subjects good and just government, and condemning ‘the oppression of the people, the manslaughter, extortion, perjury and robbery amongst them, the very decay of merchandise wherein rested the prosperity of the subjects’ that had characterised Lancastrian rule. This touched a sensitive nerve in the London merchants, who had suffered much under Edward’s predecessor.

  Before leaving the palace, Edward created his brother George, then twelve, Duke of Clarence: later that same year he would be made a Knight of the Garter. The King’s youngest brother, Richard, was just eight, and would for a time remain under their mother’s care.

  That Sunday, Edward was crowned in Westminster Abbey in a ceremony of great splendour, amidst public acclaim. ‘I am unable to declare how well the commons love and adore him, as if he were their god,’ wrote one London merchant. ‘The entire kingdom keeps holiday for the event, which seems a boon from above. Thus far he appears to be a just prince, and to mean to mend and organise matters otherwise than has been done hitherto.’

  On the 29th, the King went again to Westminster Abbey to give thanks, and on the following day to St Paul’s Cathedral to attend its 800th centenary celebrations and be entertained by a series of elaborate pageants. Everywhere he received an ecstatic welcome. It was obvious to the Londoners that he had the makings of a great ruler: at the very least, he was a considerable improvement on Henry VI.


  ‘A Person Well Worthy

  To Be King’

  Unlike Henry VI, Edward looked every inch a king. Sir Thomas More called him ‘princely to behold, of body mighty, strong and clean made’. Polydore Vergil, who, like More, never saw him but relied on descriptions given by those who had, described him as ‘very tall of personage, exceeding the stature almost of all others, of comely visage, pleasant look, [and] broad breasted’. In 1789, when Edward’s skeleton was found by workmen repaving the choir in St George’s Chapel, Windsor, it was discovered to be over 6’3” long, and still had wisps of golden-brown hair adhering to the skull.

  Commines remembered Edward in youth as ‘the handsomest prince my eyes ever beheld’. In November 1461 the Speaker of the Commons, Sir James Strangeways, addressing the King in Parlia
ment, referred to ‘the beauty of personage that it hath pleased Almighty God to send you’. Edward was aware of the effect that his good looks had on people, and enjoyed showing off, wearing magnificent and daringly cut clothes that revealed his fine, well-proportioned physique to onlookers. By the standards of his day he was very clean, having his head, legs and feet washed every Saturday night, and sometimes more often. But he loved food and drink to excess, and in later years would even take an emetic so as to be able to gorge once more. Predictably, he steadily gained weight over the years, but as a young man in his twenties he was lean, energetic and very active. The head and shoulders portrait of him in the Royal Collection is a copy by a Flemish artist of an original believed to have been painted before 1472, and shows a strongly built man with a marked resemblance to Henry VIII, Edward’s grandson. An inferior version of this portrait is in the National Portrait Gallery.

  In 1461 Coppini described Edward as ‘young, prudent and magnanimous’. He had courage, determination and resourcefulness, which he used to his own advantage, and was pragmatic, generous, witty and ruthless when the occasion demanded it. However, Commines, who met the King several times, concluded that he was ‘not a man of any great management or foresight, but he was of invincible courage’. Mancini states that, like many big men, Edward was gentle and cheerful by nature; he was normally tolerant, easy-going and pleasure-loving, but when his anger was aroused he could be terrifying.

  Vergil describes Edward as being of ‘sharp wit, of passing retentive memory, diligent in doing his affairs, ready in perils, bountiful to his friends. Humanity was bred in him abundantly, but he would use himself more familiarly among private persons than the honour of his majesty required.’ The common touch came naturally to him. ‘He was easy of access to his friends,’ wrote Mancini, and had a genial greeting for everyone. If someone showed that he was nervous, the King would place a kindly, reassuring hand on his shoulder, thus putting him at ease. He was well-skilled in the art of courtesy, and if he thought strangers were trying to have a close look at him, he would call them to his side. On a personal level he enjoyed great popularity.

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