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


  Warwick and Clarence tried to resolve their dilemma by placing Edward in honourable confinement in Warwick Castle and attempting to rule England in his name. Warwick, using the Great Seal, issued writs summoning Parliament to meet at York on 22 September, since some cloak of legality had to be given to the present r gime. But the King’s subjects remained staunchly loyal to him, and the magnates were determined to curb Warwick’s power rather than help extend it. Without their support, the Earl found that ruling England was impossible. Unlike the King, he had no means of dispensing patronage with which to buy noble loyalties, and even his Neville kinsfolk were pointing out the dangers inherent in what he had done. There was a general feeling that, this time, Warwick had gone too far.

  Edward, meanwhile, cheerfully acted like a well-behaved puppet, doing as he was told, signing everything that Warwick put before him, and comporting himself with unfailing courtesy and good humour. He was well aware that Warwick could not hope to maintain the status quo, but enough of a realist to know that no one would attempt to liberate him at present. Nevertheless, Warwick was nervous that a rescue attempt might be made, and had the King moved at the dead of night to Middleham Castle in Yorkshire.

  Queen Elizabeth had been lodging in the royal apartments of the Tower of London when Edward IV was taken into captivity, and Warwick allowed her to remain there, insisting only that she kept ‘scant state’. But he was determined to have his revenge on the other Wydvilles. One of his agents tracked down and apprehended Lord Rivers and Sir John Wydville in the Forest of Dean, and brought them to Coventry, where they were condemned to death on the orders of Warwick and Clarence. Both were beheaded on 12 August at Gosford Green outside the city walls. Rivers’s body was carried to Kent and buried in All Saints’ Church in Maidstone, where an indent remains to show where his brass lay. His son Anthony now became Earl Rivers, and his office of Treasurer of England was given to a former Lancastrian, Sir John Langstrother. When Queen Elizabeth learned the fate of her father and brother, she vowed vengeance on those who had perpetrated the deed.

  Warwick’s hatred of the Wydvilles extended also to Rivers’s widow, the Duchess of Bedford. Shortly after the Earl’s execution, she was arrested on a charge of witchcraft. Two men had been paid by Warwick to give evidence that she had made obscene leaden images of Edward IV and Elizabeth Wydville and had practised her black arts upon them to bring about her daughter’s marriage to the King. It was also alleged that she had cast another image to bring about Warwick’s death. The Duchess, mindful of the fate of Eleanor Cobham thirty years earlier, immediately wrote to the Lord Mayor of London soliciting his protection. The mayor forwarded the letter to Clarence, but then remembered how the Duchess had tried to save London from the savagery of Margaret of Anjou’s northern army in 1461, and forcefully interceded on her behalf with the Council. Further investigation proved that the evidence against her was deeply suspect. Witnesses had been bribed to make them testify against her, but when it came to it and they would not take the oath in court, the prosecution’s case collapsed and the Duchess was freed. In February 1470 she was officially declared innocent of all the charges by Edward IV.

  By the end of August 1469 Warwick’s authority was crumbling and the government beginning to descend into anarchy. Many lords were taking advantage of Edward’s captivity to settle old feuds or pervert justice in their localities. The people were angry with Warwick for imprisoning the King and were attributing all their ills to this. In London angry mobs were gathering, threatening violence, while Clarence and Archbishop Neville vainly strove to maintain a semblance of normality at Westminster. Warwick himself issued several proclamations in the King’s name demanding civil obedience, but the people ignored them. The situation was getting out of control, and Warwick was obliged to issue a further writ cancelling the Parliament at York.

  At that moment, Humphrey Neville of Brancepeth, who had been in hiding near Derwentwater since Hexham, raised Henry VI’s standard and incited his northern compatriots to rebellion. He had a strong following and large numbers of men came in at his summons. Warwick rode north with an army to suppress the rising, but was unable to do so, for his men threatened to desert unless they were assured of Edward IV’s health and safety. Nor would the magnates support Warwick, though they would undoubtedly obey a summons from the King. Warwick therefore had no choice but to invoke Edward’s authority, and Archbishop Neville asked Edward if, in return for a degree of liberty, he would support Warwick against the rebels. The King, who had been kept secretly informed by his own supporters and Burgundian agents as to what was happening, declared himself willing to co-operate, telling the Archbishop that he harboured no ill-will against the Nevilles. He was then taken to York, where his entry to the city was marked by fanfares and ceremony, while crowds turned out to cheer him, and lords thronged round him, eager to renew their vows of homage. When, at Warwick’s request, the King summoned his lieges to arms such was his authority that there was an enthusiastic response. The royal army, commanded by Warwick, then marched north and crushed Humphrey Neville’s rebellion almost effortlessly. Neville himself was captured by Warwick and brought back to York where, on 29 September, he was beheaded in the presence of the King.

  Warwick had no choice but to keep his promise and allow Edward more freedom. It was clear to both him and to Clarence that their victory had been a hollow one that had gained them precisely nothing. Now they had to retrieve the situation without bringing down charges of treason upon their heads. In fact, there was no way of holding Edward. The King had secretly summoned his loyal lords and supporters – Gloucester, Hastings, Buckingham, Essex, Arundel, Northumberland (who had not supported his brother’s rebellion), Howard, Dynham and Mountjoy – who all rode at speed to join him. Early in October, with Warwick’s blessing, Edward rode out of York to Pontefract and freedom.

  Surrounded now by his loyal lords, the King informed Warwick that he was returning to London. He arrived in triumph in his capital, followed by 1000 mounted men, and received a tumultuous reception from the citizens, being formally welcomed back by the Lord Mayor and aldermen in their scarlet robes and 200 prominent citizens clad in blue. Archbishop Neville and the Earl of Oxford had been waiting at the Archbishop’s residence called The More in Hertfordshire to follow the King into London and so present themselves as his loyal supporters, but he forbade them to approach the city.

  Edward immediately set to work to re-establish his authority, adopting a conciliatory policy that would, he hoped, persuade those who had deserted him to return to their allegiance. Although Warkworth says that once in London he ‘did as he liked’, the King had to tread carefully, and once he was settled at Westminster he wisely referred to Warwick and Clarence in courteous and forgiving terms, never once showing any mark of disfavour towards them.

  Herbert’s death had left a vacuum in Wales, of which Lancastrian sympathisers in the south of the principality had been quick to take advantage, stirring up rebellion, seizing royal castles, and using them as a base from which to terrorise the local population. In December the King acted to remedy this situation, granting his brother, Gloucester, then only seventeen, full powers to secure the castles that had fallen to the Welsh rebels, a task which the young Duke fulfilled with commendable efficiency.

  Warwick and Clarence remained in the north for at least a month after Edward left for London. Then the King summoned them to a meeting of a great council in the capital, which was intended to be a forum in which all grievances could be aired, discussed and, it was hoped, redressed. When Warwick and Clarence arrived at Westminster in December, the King staged a very public ceremony of reconciliation, doing his best to convince everyone that he harboured no ill-feelings towards his brother and cousin. John Paston reported that he had ‘good language of the lords of Clarence and Warwick, saying they be his best friends; but his household men have other language, so what shall hastily fall I cannot say’. Soon afterwards Warwick and Clarence returned north, where they remained for
the rest of the winter. Presently, the King issued full and unconditional pardons to those who had been involved in the previous summer’s rebellion. Nevertheless, Warwick’s wings had been well and truly clipped, and he must have realised with dismay that his influence in government was now less than it had ever been and was diminishing daily. Edward might present a smiling face, but he would never again trust Warwick, still less be controlled by him.

  Louis XI had been quick to take advantage of the political confusion in England, and had made public his intention of allying himself to the House of Lancaster. In December, in response to his invitation, Margaret left Bar and travelled to Tours to see him. At the French court she had an emotional reunion with her father, and Louis himself extended a warm welcome to her, assuring her that the restoration of Henry VI would be one of his prime concerns.

  News of events in France prompted unfounded rumours in England that the Queen was at Harfleur with an invasion fleet, ready to set sail. In fact, she was still at Tours, discussing strategies with Louis and her relatives. Soon, she was writing to her supporters in England that they should hold themselves in readiness to rise against the Yorkists, for the time was fast approaching when King Henry would come into his own again.

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  The Queen and M. de Warwick

  By February 1470 it was clear to Warwick that the King would do nothing to redress his grievances, and the Earl was growing desperate. Again, he began to intrigue with Clarence, both of them resolving that this time they would not be satisfied with anything less than the deposition of the King and the elevation of Clarence to the throne. Warwick must have realised that Clarence was unstable and could not be counted upon to restore him to his former power, but the only alternative was Henry VI, and Warwick still had no wish to ally himself with Margaret of Anjou, even if she were willing: she was even less likely to allow him to enjoy his former dominance at court once her husband had been restored.

  Warwick’s strategy would be to instigate a rebellion against the King. Then, while Edward was preoccupied with suppressing it, he would enlist the help of King Louis to depose him. He hoped the rebellion would lead to an armed confrontation in which the King would be defeated and easily overthrown, or even killed.

  No sooner was the plan conceived than Warwick began to put it into action, using all the resources at his disposal – wealth, territorial influence and the weight of his formidable personality. Again, he used the old tactic of exploiting the grievances of the commons to effect a popular rising, targeting the lower orders and the gentry, who had always supported him, rather than the nobility, who had not. Predictably, it was the commons who responded to his propaganda.

  By late February, as Edward IV worked conscientiously to re-establish himself, Warwick and Clarence had become involved with certain disaffected gentlemen of Lincolnshire and Yorkshire, men of Lancastrian sympathies who heartily resented the Yorkist king and his onerous taxes. The chief of these was Robert, Lord Welles and Willoughby. Warwick did not find it difficult to encourage these men and their tenants to rise on the basis of their local grievances and with the aim of restoring Henry VI to the throne, nor did Welles and other leaders have any trouble in getting others to join them.

  However, early in March the King summoned Lord Welles, his brother-in-law, Thomas de la Lande, and Sir Thomas Dymoke to London to receive pardons for their part in the previous uprising. Fearing Edward’s displeasure, they all obeyed his summons. In the meantime, Clarence arranged that Sir Robert Welles, the son of Lord Welles, should lead the rebels in his father’s absence, then himself rode to London, saying that he would speak in Lord Welles’s favour and prevent the King from marching north to confront Sir Robert. Yet when Clarence arrived in London on 4 March he did neither of these things.

  On that day Sir Robert Welles arranged for a summons to arms, signed by Warwick and Clarence, to be posted on church doors in the county of Lincoln. All able-bodied men were commanded to attend Sir Robert, fully armed, on Ranby Hawe, seven miles north of Horncastle, on 7 March in order to resist the King who, it was alleged, would be coming north to punish the commons for their involvement in riots the previous year.

  As soon as Lord Welles had departed for London, a Yorkist knight, Sir Thomas Burgh, had destroyed his house and taken all his goods and livestock. This incensed Lancastrian sympathisers in the region, and 30,000 of them answered Sir Robert’s summons, crying, ‘King Henry!’ and shouting derision at King Edward. At the same time, Sir John Conyers, Lord Scrope of Bolton and Lord FitzWalter were orchestrating a rising in Yorkshire, ostensibly in protest at the King’s failure to restore Henry Percy to the earldom of Northumberland.

  On 6 March the King left London and went to Waltham Abbey in Essex, where the next day he was informed of Sir Robert’s proclamation and told that a great army was assembling in Lincolnshire for the purpose of restoring Henry VI. Edward summoned his captains and told them to begin recruiting, then he sent for Lord Welles and Dymoke to join him. He did not send for Clarence because he had not yet learned that the Duke was one of the prime movers in the rebellion.

  On the 8th the King arrived at Royston, whence he issued commissions of array to Clarence and Warwick, who had both written to offer their help in suppressing the revolt. The next day Edward was in Huntingdon, raising an army which was to muster at Grantham on the 12th. Clearly, he was expecting a French invasion: ‘We be ascertained’, he wrote, ‘that our rebels and outward enemies intend in haste to arrive in this our realm.’ Then he rode towards Lincolnshire, ordering Lord Welles to write to his son and his tenants saying that they should surrender to the King as their sovereign lord, or else the King had vowed that Welles should lose his head.

  With the King on the march, displaying no trace of the lethargy that had proved so damaging before Edgecote, very few people joined the rebels; even supporters of Warwick and Clarence refrained. On the 11th the King came to Fotheringhay, whence he issued more commissions of array, commanding that his lieges rendezvous at Stamford. Soon afterwards his scouts reported that the rebels had passed Grantham and were forty miles off, moving towards Leicester where Warwick had promised to meet them with 20,000 men. The Earl would then wait with them in the hope that the King would move north, in which case the Yorkshire rebels would advance on him, while Warwick and Sir Robert would close in from behind in a pincer movement, thus blocking Edward’s retreat south.

  The King had no intention of moving any further north. Instead, at dawn on the 12th he led his own force to join up with the greater one awaiting him at Stamford. Here he learned that Sir Robert’s army was five miles west of the town, at Empingham in Rutland, and ordered his vanguard to advance on them, taking their artillery.

  Just then, a messenger arrived with a letter from Warwick and Clarence, promising that they would bring reinforcements and join the King at Leicester that evening. This was obviously a trap: the reinforcements were for Sir Robert, and Edward resolved to march west to do battle with Welles at once. Before he went, however, in order to forestall any desertions, his lords advised him to show the world what happened to those who committed treason against their king. Edward ordered that Lord Welles be summarily decapitated, which was done before the incredulous eyes of the waiting soldiers. Then a herald was dispatched to Sir Robert Welles to inform him of his father’s execution and offer him the King’s mercy if he would submit. Sir Robert, horrified at the news, refused.

  The King’s army confronted the rebels in a field at Empingham and struck so swiftly that Warwick and Clarence had no time to bring reinforcements. Edward had with him an impressive array of artillery, and when he used the full force of it upon the rebels, the casualties were such that the peasants in Sir Robert’s army panicked and fled. Some left the field in such haste that they threw off their surcoats as they ran, which led to the battle being named ‘Losecoat Field’. The rebels had had no chance against the King’s seasoned and well-armed troops and the magnates’ experienced retainers. Although many of the
rebels were wearing Clarence’s livery, some were so bewildered that they were uncertain as to whom they were fighting for, and in the heat of the battle cried, ‘King Henry!’ instead of ‘Warwick!’ or ‘Clarence!’ Waurin says that most of the fleeing men would have been slaughtered in the rout had not the King ordered his men to stop the pursuit. Sir Robert Welles, Sir Thomas de la Lande and other rebel captains were captured. Meanwhile, among the corpses that littered the battlefield was found one that was identified as a servant of Clarence, and on the body were discovered letters from the Duke and Warwick confirming their part in the rebellion.

  Later that day Edward rode in triumph back to Stamford. His victory ensured that he remained in control of London, East Anglia and the East Midlands, while in Yorkshire Sir John Conyers’s uprising had collapsed in the wake of the royal victory. On 13 March, prompted by his knowledge of Warwick’s true intentions, the King issued a proclamation forbidding any of his lieges to array their men.

  When he arrived in Grantham the next day, the captured rebel leaders were brought before him and publicly confessed their faults. They also revealed that Warwick and Clarence had initiated the rising and promised to aid them against him. Sir Robert Welles kept repeating that they had told him several times that they meant to make Clarence king. All three were condemned to be beheaded: de la Lande and Dymoke were executed on the 15th at Grantham, Welles on the 19th at Doncaster. The King ordered an official account of the rebellion and a transcript of Sir Robert’s confession to be distributed and read throughout his kingdom.

  On 13 March the King issued an urgent summons to Warwick and Clarence to present themselves before him ‘in humble wise’ with only a few retainers to answer grave charges of treason. Warwick and Clarence ignored his summons and, having recruited more men at Coventry, marched north via Burton-on-Trent, Derby and Chesterfield, which they reached on the 18th, intending to orchestrate another rebellion. As they rode, they sent ahead messengers with proclamations demanding that the men of Yorkshire rise in arms and join them on pain of death.

 
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