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


  Other marriages of the Queen’s sisters followed. Anne married William, Viscount Bourchier, the King’s cousin; Eleanor married Lord Grey de Ruthin, whose father had recently been created Earl of Kent in place of the deceased Fauconberg; Mary married William, son and heir of Lord Herbert, the King bestowing upon the bridegroom the barony of Dunster, which Warwick himself had claimed as heir to the Montagues; Jacquetta married Lord Strange, and Martha married Sir John Bromley.

  In the spring of 1466, Edward created his wife’s father Earl Rivers and made him Treasurer of England, thereby offending Warwick, whose uncle, Lord Mountjoy, had been dismissed from the post to make way for Rivers. Matters were made worse in October that year, when the Queen’s son, Thomas Grey, was married to Anne Holland, daughter of the Duke of Exeter by the King’s sister, Anne Plantagenet. This marriage infuriated Warwick more than any of the others, because the King had paid the Duchess of Exeter 4000 marks to break a previous alliance between Anne and the son of Warwick’s brother, Northumberland. It seemed that the Queen had deliberately set out to slight Warwick.

  Most nobles dared not risk the King’s displeasure by refusing to allow the Wydvilles to mate with their children; indeed, they were obliged to turn down all other offers. This meant that most of the eligible heirs to the peerage were removed from the marriage market, and this angered Warwick because he had two daughters as yet unspoken for. It may have been to mollify Warwick that the King promoted his brother George Neville to the archbishopric of York in September 1464.

  One thing that the King could not bestow on the Wydvilles was popularity, which they never acquired. The mass advancement of the Queen’s family drew adverse comment everywhere. Not only the nobles complained but also the common people, whose sense of fitness was outraged. Even Edward’s court jester dared to joke, in his presence, that ‘the Rivers run so high that it is impossible to get through them!’

  With the King married, Warwick could no longer consolidate the proposed French alliance with a marriage treaty. But Louis did not let that prevent him from continuing to negotiate with Warwick to bring their two countries closer together. Edward had recently made friendly approaches to Burgundy and Brittany, with regard to forming alliances with them, and Louis had no intention of letting that happen. Warwick continued to put pressure on Edward to agree to what both he and Louis wanted, while Edward refused to commit himself.

  The teeth qf the Lancastrians might have been drawn, but there were still those who cherished hopes of a restoration. Late in 1464 the Earl of Ormonde went to Portugal to see if the King of Portugal, a descendant of John of Gaunt, would be interested in helping Henry VI. Soon Ormonde was writing to Queen Margaret at Bar to say that the King had told him he would be pleased to assist, but these proved to be empty words. Fortescue wrote back to the Earl that they were all ‘in great poverty, but yet the Queen sustaineth us in meat and drink, so we beeth not in extreme necessity’. King René’s subjects in Bar constantly urged him to give more succour to his daughter, and ballads were written about her plight, but René was too impoverished himself to offer Margaret more than he had already assigned to her.

  She still had friends in England, and had been gratified to hear from them of Warwick’s displeasure at King Edward’s marriage. At the same time, her contacts at the French court, less well informed, told her that war between Edward and Warwick was imminent. Delighted with this apparent turn of events, Margaret again appealed to Louis for aid to recover her husband’s kingdom. ‘Look how proudly she writes!’ commented Louis, amused at the imperious tone of her letter. But he would not help her; he even took Brézé from her, summoning him to do military service in the war against Burgundy. Margaret never saw Brézé again, for in 1465 he was killed at the Battle of Montlhery and she lost her finest champion.

  On Whitsunday 1465, Elizabeth Wydville was crowned by Archbishop Bourchier in Westminster Abbey amidst lavish celebrations. Warwick was not present, having been sent on an embassy to Burgundy. Thanks to Edward’s procrastination and determination to befriend Philip, his hopes of a French alliance were fading fast, and by the end of that year, England’s relations with France would be very strained indeed.

  By July 1465, Henry VI had spent a year moving from safe house to safe house in the north, relying on the loyalty of Lancastrian partisans for shelter and protection from the Yorkist agents who were looking for him. In that month, he and the faithful Tunstall, who had been joined by Thomas Manning, formerly Keeper of the Signet Seal, were guests of Sir Richard Tempest at Waddington Hall in Lancashire, not far from the Yorkshire border. Tempest considered himself honoured to be able to shelter the man he regarded as his rightful sovereign, but his brother John, who lived nearby and often visited, was not at all sympathetic to the Lancastrian cause, and so it was decided that the King’s true identity should remain a secret. This would be easily accomplished, as John Tempest had never seen the King. But another guest in the house, a ‘black monk of Abingdon’, had, and he had no compunction about doing what he felt was his duty. He went to John Tempest’s house and told him that his brother’s guest was in fact Henry VI.

  John was at first unsure as to what he should do. He had no wish to lead an armed raid on his brother’s house, yet as a loyal subject of Edward IV he could not let Henry slip through his fingers. At length, on 13 July, he took with him two neighbours, Thomas Talbot and his cousin John, and with a handful of men rode to Waddington Hall, where the family and their guests were at dinner. John challenged Henry VI to reveal his true identity, and made as if he would drag him from his seat, but Tunstall jumped up, unsheathed his sword, and sprang to Henry’s defence. A brief but violent struggle followed in which Tunstall broke John Tempest’s arm. Tunstall then grabbed Henry by the hand and slashed his way through John’s men-at-arms, aiming to escape from the house into nearby Clitherow Forest. But no sooner had he and the King reached the trees than John’s men had mounted their waiting horses and were riding them down. The King, Tunstall, Manning and others who had followed them ran on into the forest and downhill to the River Ribble, but at four o’clock that afternoon were all caught by their pursuers just as they were attempting to ford it near Bungerly Hippingstones.*8

  Edward IV was at Canterbury with the Queen when, on 18 July, he was informed by a monk – the ‘black monk of Abingdon’ perhaps – of Henry’s capture. At once he had the news proclaimed and ordered that a service of thanksgiving be held in the cathedral.

  Henry was brought south under guard and delivered at Islington to Warwick, who was waiting to escort him into London. On the 24th, the deposed King rode into the capital on a small horse, without spurs, with his legs ignominiously bound with leather thongs to his stirrups, a rope round his body lashing him to the saddle, and a straw hat on his head. As he rode through the streets, along Cheapside and Cornhill, then through Newgate, crowds gathered to see him, shouting derisory remarks and even pelting him with rubbish and stones. One shouted obscenities about Queen Margaret, accusing her of being ‘shameless with her body’. At length, the mournful procession arrived at the Tower, where Henry was to be confined.

  Loyal Yorkists, such as Robert Ratcliffe, were appointed his gaolers and were allocated £3 a week for his maintenance. At all times there were two squires and two yeomen of the Crown and their men guarding him. Lancastrian chroniclers allege that Henry was not well treated during his imprisonment, but although he may not have been kept very clean or allowed many changes of clothing, his keepers were fairly accommodating, treating him with respect and allowing him certain comforts, such as the services of a chaplain who came to say the holy offices each day for him and permitting him to receive visitors: Warkworth says that ‘anybody was allowed to come and speak to him’. Yet this brought its own disadvantages. One visitor, whose name is not recorded, attacked Henry with a dagger and wounded him in the neck. Predictably, Henry forgave him, although he did administer a mild reproof, telling him he did ‘foully to smite a king anointed so’. Another tactless visi
tor asked the prisoner how he could justify having ruled as a usurper for so long, but Henry stood up for his cause, and told him, ‘My help cometh of God, who preserveth them that are true at heart.’

  Yet despite these comforts and privileges – King Edward even sent him wine from his own cellar – Henry seems to have withdrawn into himself during his imprisonment. He spent much of his time reading or at prayer, but there were occasions when he was forced to face the reality of his defeat and imprisonment and would gasp with shame, or burst into tears and lament his lot, asking what sin he had committed to deserve to be thus locked up. Generally, however, he bore his confinement with fortitude and patience.

  The news of her husband’s capture came as a blow to Queen Margaret and ruined her hopes of a Lancastrian restoration, for even if she persuaded Louis XI or Duke Philip to finance an invasion force, Edward held Henry hostage for her good behaviour in a virtually impregnable prison, and she could not risk his life.

  On 28 September 1465 George Neville was enthroned as Archbishop of York, but the failure of the King and Queen to attend the ceremony gave rise to speculation about a fresh rift between Edward and Warwick. By January 1466 Warwick was growing desperate about his future relations with King Louis. Edward could not be made to see sense about a French alliance and was moving ever closer to Burgundy; Philip’s ambassadors had recently arrived to discuss a marriage between Edward’s sister, Margaret of York, and Philip’s heir, Charles, Count of Charolais. Warwick knew that Louis would soon hear of this, if he had not already done so, and he wanted the French king to think that his influence with Edward was such that he could turn him away from Burgundy and persuade him to restore friendly relations with France. He therefore forged a letter from Edward to Louis, promising that England had no intention of invading France or hindering him in any way from suppressing rebellion in the duchy of Normandy, which Louis had just wrested from his brother – something that Edward, just then, would never have agreed to. In fact, sending such a letter was an act of treason, but Warwick was beyond caring; he knew also that Edward’s negotiations with Burgundy were not so far advanced that war against France was an imminent possibility.

  Unaware of Warwick’s duplicity, Edward went to his castle of Fotheringhay, where, on 30 January, he, his heavily pregnant queen, his mother, and a large gathering of relatives and friends, gathered in the collegiate church for the solemn reinterment of the bodies of the Duke of York and the Earl of Rutland, which had lain for five years in humble graves at Pontefract and had now been brought in a long and stately procession from Yorkshire. Both were laid to rest in the choir, near the tomb of Edward, Duke of York, who had fallen at Agincourt. In 1495, Duchess Cecily, at her own request, was buried beside her husband, and a century later Elizabeth I commissioned and paid for a classically inspired monument to York’s memory which may still be seen today.

  Afterwards, the King and Queen returned to Westminster, where Elizabeth retired to her chamber to await the birth of her first child. Edward was hoping that it would be a son, to ensure the continuance of his dynasty and the succession, and his wife’s physician, Dr Domenico Serigo, had assured him that it would be a boy. Men, even doctors, were by custom forbidden to enter the Queen’s apartments during her confinement, but Dr Serigo was determined to be the first to tell the King that he had a son and so hopefully gain a reward. He haunted the corridors leading to the Queen’s rooms and eventually, on 11 February 1466, managed to gain entry to the antechamber to the room where Elizabeth was in labour. When he heard the cry of a newborn baby he called out to ask ‘what the Queen had’, at which one of her ladies called back, ‘Whatsoever the Queen’s Grace hath here within, sure it is that a fool standeth there without!’ The baby was a girl, and the doctor made a hasty departure without seeing the King.

  Edward rewarded his wife with a jewelled ornament costing £125 to mark the birth of ‘our most dear daughter’, who was christened Elizabeth by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Warwick was chosen as godfather, and the baby’s grandmothers, the Duchesses of York and Bedford, were her godmothers.

  Queen Elizabeth was afterwards churched at a dignified service in Westminster Abbey, to which she was escorted by two dukes and attended by her mother and sixty ladies of high rank. Afterwards she hosted a sumptuous banquet in the palace. Leo, Lord of Rozmital, the Queen of Bohemia’s brother, was a guest, and dined at the King’s table with Warwick, who represented his sovereign, custom decreeing that it was not proper for the King to attend his wife’s churching. There were so many guests that the feast was laid out in four great chambers. Warwick escorted Rozmital through each of these, pausing to see his reaction to such magnificence. His guest’s attendants, including the diarist Gabriel Tetzel, were allowed to stand in the corner of the Queen’s room and watch her eat.

  This was the most luxurious of the chambers, hung with colourful tapestries. Elizabeth sat alone at the high table in a golden chair throughout the banquet, which lasted three hours, during which time neither she nor her guests spoke a single word and her ladies-in-waiting, all of noble birth, were obliged to remain on their knees before her. Even her mother had to kneel when she wished to address the Queen. After the banquet there was dancing, as Elizabeth looked on. The courtly reverence paid to her, observed Tetzel, ‘was such as I have never seen anywhere’. The day ended with a performance of the King’s choristers, who sang beautifully: the Yorkist court was renowned for its music.

  To foreign visitors, Warwick appeared as powerful as ever. They were amazed at his wealth and influence, and even more at his lavish and now legendary hospitality. Acting as host to the Lord of Rozmital and his suite, he served them a banquet with sixty courses.

  On 15 April, the Earl, on Edward’s orders, was in Calais to meet Charolais and discuss the proposed Burgundian alliance. Warwick did not trouble to hide his hostility to the plan and made it clear that he was determined to conclude an alliance with France come what may. The meeting was hardly a success.

  Soon afterwards Warwick and Louis met at Calais and signed a two-year truce, under which Louis again promised not to support Margaret of Anjou, and Edward undertook not to help Burgundy or Brittany against the French. Louis also agreed to find a French husband for Margaret of York and provide her with a dowry. Edward had allowed the truce as a sop to Warwick, but had no intention of keeping to its terms and, indeed, broke them shortly afterwards by sending a safe-conduct to Francis II of Brittany’s envoys, enabling them to come to England. Edward was determined to assert his own authority in this matter: the English might resent Burgundy, but they loathed the French, having never forgiven or forgotten the humiliations they had suffered at their hands at the end of the Hundred Years War.

  In October 1466, Edward IV and Philip of Burgundy reached a private agreement that they would sign a treaty of friendship. The terms remained to be negotiated. Queen Margaret, learning that an Anglo-Burgundian alliance was imminent, and knowing how hard Warwick had worked for a French alliance, deduced how disillusioned and frustrated the Earl must feel. She knew that Louis too had wanted friendship with the English. If Warwick could be persuaded to abandon his Yorkist affinities and throw in his lot with the Lancastrians, then Louis might consider funding a Lancastrian invasion of England, for he had great respect for Warwick, and the Earl had the ability to make a success of the venture.

  Swallowing her pride, for Warwick had been among the worst of her enemies, Margaret sent a messenger secretly into England to sound him out. But, near Harlech, the man was apprehended by Herbert’s men, who searched him and found the Queen’s letter. He was then sent to London under armed escort, where, under torture, he revealed that the Queen had indeed sought a rapprochement with Warwick. Edward himself questioned Warwick about it, but the latter denied that he had ever had any dealings with ‘the foreign woman’.

  Margaret’s hopes were thus disappointed, but she knew it would not be long now before her son was able to take up the banner of Lancaster on his own behalf: certainly he w
as eager to do so, taking after his mother rather than his father. He had grown up surrounded by intrigue and the horrors of war, and had been exposed to Margaret’s prejudices from an early age. The Milanese ambassador in France reported that the Prince, ‘though only thirteen years of age, talks of nothing else but cutting off heads or making war, as if he had everything in his hands or was the god of battle’. In a few more years, when this boy came to maturity, Edward IV would not sit safely on his throne, but Margaret would seemingly have to rest content until then.

  Early in 1467, thwarted of various marriage alliances he had been considering for his daughters, Warwick hit upon one that would outshine them all. As the greatest heiresses in England Isabel and Anne must make brilliant marriages: who better to mate with them, then, than the King’s two brothers, Clarence and Gloucester? Clarence could have Isabel and Gloucester Anne.

  It was true that Burgundy had already offered Clarence the hand of his granddaughter, Charolais’s heiress, Mary, but Edward IV was not enthusiastic because Mary would one day inherit Burgundy and her husband would become its sovereign duke. Edward did not want his brother gaining such power on the Continent, nor did he want him embroiled in European politics, fearing that it would bode ill for England. The truth was that Edward did not trust Clarence.

  George Plantagenet was now seventeen, a tall, blond, handsome youth who carried himself like the king he wished to be. He could be witty and charming when he chose, but was of weak character, unstable, impressionable, changeable and easily led. His jealousy of his brother had long been apparent, and was now eating into him like a cancer, for he was intensely ambitious. Although he had been generously endowed by Edward with lands, especially in the West Country, and had a great household of his own staffed by 300 servants and maintained at a cost of £4000 a year, he was dissatisfied, for it was power that he craved, and Edward had so far denied him that, being aware of his weaknesses.

 
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