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

  They could not as yet be married because they were cousins in the fourth degree, both being great-grandchildren of John of Gaunt, and a dispensation from the Pope had to be applied for. It was vital that the Pope be made to see the urgency of the matter, but to speed up the process took money. Louis had therefore procured a loan from a merchant in Tours to pay whatever bribes were needful, then dispatched his envoys to the Vatican. After the betrothal ceremony Anne was committed to the safe-keeping of Queen Margaret.

  Clarence, meanwhile, had refused to attend the betrothal and was sulking in Normandy. His plan had been to supplant Edward IV himself, but Warwick had abandoned him without a qualm and was now promoting the claims of Lancaster. All he could offer Clarence was a vague promise that if Prince Edward and Anne Neville had no children he would be heir to the throne. And it was for this that Clarence had betrayed his brother, slandered his mother and risked his life and his fortune.

  Margaret had kept her part of the bargain, now it was up to Warwick to fulfil his. On 30 July, in Angers Cathedral, the Earl publicly swore an oath on a fragment of the True Cross to keep faith with King Henry, Queen Margaret and Prince Edward and to uphold the right of the House of Lancaster to the throne of England. Margaret, in turn, swore to treat the Earl as a true and faithful subject and never to reproach him for his past deeds.

  It had been agreed by the allies that Warwick and Jasper Tudor, who had recently arrived in France, would lead the invasion force, and that Margaret and her son would follow them to England when it was safe to do so. Warwick would sail to the south-east coast, while Jasper would lead an assault on Wales, where he could count on the support of many loyal Lancastrians. Warwick had already sent word of his coming to his affinity in Yorkshire and they were arming themselves, while Queen Margaret wrote to her supporters in England, bidding them be ready to rise when Warwick came.

  On the 31st, Margaret, the Prince and Anne Neville left Angers for Amboise, and a day or so later Warwick set off for the coast to prepare for the invasion. Queen Margaret soon joined him at Harfleur in Normandy to help him recruit men. Already, his invasion was expected in England, for on 5 August the Paston Letters record rumours ‘that Clarence and Warwick will essay to land every day, as folks fear’.

  Clarence had swallowed his grievances for the time being and rejoined Warwick, and together they produced a manifesto which was addressed to the ‘worshipful, discreet and true commons of England’, and dispatched across the Channel and posted in various towns on church doors and on London Bridge and buildings in Cheapside. The manifesto referred in harsh terms to Edward IV’s misrule and the oppression and injustice that had resulted from it, and ended with a promise from Warwick that he would ‘redeem for ever the said realm from thralldom of all outward nations and make it as free within itself as ever it was heretofore’.

  Clarence was especially active in arranging for this and other propaganda material to be displayed in London, and he also went to Calais to rally the garrison. Commines says that, while he was there, a mysterious Englishwoman ‘of few words’ arrived, and told Lord Wenlock that she was a friend of the Duchess Isabel, on her way to comfort her for the loss of her child. He did not believe her, and when pressed she revealed that she had come to negotiate a peace between Edward IV and Warwick, showing Wenlock papers to prove this. Wenlock, no doubt hoping that this time of conflicting loyalties would soon be ended, allowed the woman to go free.

  She went straight to Clarence, saying that she had come from England to serve his wife as a waiting woman and would be grateful for a private interview. When they were closeted alone together, the woman – who was undoubtedly a female undercover agent working for the Yorkists – produced a letter from Edward IV to Clarence promising the Duke that, if he forsook Warwick and returned to England, the King would forgive him and restore him to his former position at court. Clarence was heartened by his brother’s message and seriously tempted to accept his offer, but in the end he decided that he had more to hope for from Warwick than Edward at the moment. Nevertheless, he was careful to keep his options open, and sent the woman back with a promise to Edward that he would join him as soon as the opportunity presented itself. According to Commines, the female agent, whose name has never been discovered and who disappears from the records at this point, was ‘the only contriver of the enterprise whereby the Earl of Warwick and his whole faction were utterly destroyed’. From this, we may deduce that she played a greater role behind the scenes than is anywhere recorded in the surviving sources.

  By the second week of August, the Milanese ambassador was reporting that Warwick’s embarkation for England was expected at any time. Charles of Burgundy had been deeply concerned about the Earl’s presence in France and had made strong representations to Louis about harbouring English traitors, even threatening war if Louis did not expel them. When Louis ignored this, Charles sent a fleet of ships to blockade the mouth of the Seine, so that Warwick’s invasion force could not sail. The presence of these Burgundian ships delayed his departure for many days, and since Louis had not been over-generous with money, the Earl found it difficult to provide food and stores for his men during this period. He was also anxious to see his daughter married to Prince Edward before he left for England, but when the dispensation did not arrive in time he had to content himself with Louis’s promise that Anne would be treated as if she were royalty and married as soon as it came.

  Although Edward IV had been informed by his ambassadors and spies of events in France, he seems to have underestimated the danger. Commines scathingly accuses him of being more preoccupied with hunting than with preparing to resist an invasion. He ‘was not so much concerned about the invasion of the Earl of Warwick as the Duke of Burgundy was, for [Burgundy] knew [of] the movements in England in favour of the Earl of Warwick and had often warned King Edward of them, but he had no fear. It seems to me folly not to fear one’s enemy, seeing the resources that he had.’

  At the beginning of August, Lord FitzHugh, Warwick’s brother-in-law and a member of his northern affinity, staged a sham rebellion in Yorkshire. As a trick to lure the King away from London it worked, and by 5 August Edward was summoning his levies. Before he left the capital he installed Queen Elizabeth, who was again pregnant, in the Tower of London, where she occupied luxuriously appointed chambers which she now had specially prepared for her confinement. She also arranged for the royal apartments to be ‘well-victualled and fortified’, and the King stored there extra ammunition and several large cannon from Bristol.

  By the middle of August Edward was in Yorkshire, marching from York to Ripon. His government had not been popular in recent months and he found his subjects less enthusiastic than on former occasions. Nevertheless, he did manage to recruit over 3000 men, who were augmented by another 3000 horse brought by Sir William Hastings, while news came that Lord Montague had gathered 6000 men and was also preparing to join the King. On 7 September, Edward was in York, issuing signet letters to his lieges, commanding them to attend him to vanquish the traitors in his realm. Yet there was now no one to vanquish, for, at news of the King’s advance, Lord FitzHugh had fled north to seek asylum in Scotland.

  The real danger was approaching from the south, for across the Channel a violent storm had dispersed the Burgundian blockade of ships, and now there was nothing to prevent Warwick from launching an invasion.


  The Readeption of Henry VI

  On 9 September, Warwick and Clarence and a fleet of sixty ships carrying their invasion force sailed from La Hogue in Normandy. Their company included Jasper Tudor, the Earl of Oxford and Thomas Neville, Bastard of Fauconberg. Edward IV, learning that Warwick had been preparing for an invasion, had sent a royal fleet to prevent him from landing, but a storm had scattered it, leaving the coast unguarded. On the 13th, when Edward was still in Yorkshire, the Earl’s fleet arrived in the West Country, putting in at Dartmouth and Plymouth.

  Warwick was still very popular in England. Commines says that
, although it was late in the campaigning season, he ‘found infinite numbers to take his part’. As he marched towards Exeter, he ‘gathered a great people’, according to Warkworth, and in Plymouth his supporters proclaimed Henry VI king. In Exeter, Warwick issued a proclamation declaring that his invasion was authorised ‘by the assent of the most noble princess, Margaret, Queen of England, and the right high and mighty Prince Edward’. It was signed by Warwick, Clarence, Jasper Tudor and Oxford, and called upon all true subjects of Henry VI, ‘the very true and undoubted King of England’, to take up arms against the usurper Edward, whose misgovernment was dwelt upon in some detail. The proclamation also prohibited members of the invasion force from pillage and rape. No one wanted a repeat of the atrocities of 1461.

  Jasper Tudor set off for Wales to recruit more men there, while Warwick marched northwards, hoping to link up with his supporters from Kent and the north. From all over England Lancastrian supporters came rallying to his banners, and many men deserted King Edward’s army so that they could join Warwick, ‘in such sort that every day his force increased’. His objective now was to hunt down the King, confront him and, he hoped, defeat him in battle. At first he made for Nottingham, having received reports that Edward had been recruiting there. By the time he reached Coventry, he himself was in command of an army variously estimated as 30,000 or 60,000 strong. Presently, he was joined by Shrewsbury and Lord Stanley.

  London had been plunged into a turmoil at the news of Warwick’s invasion. At the end of September his Kentishmen marched on the capital and rioted against the Flemish and Dutch weavers living in Southwark, causing extensive damage to their homes. The Lord Chancellor, Bishop Stillington, had fled into sanctuary, and when Warwick learned of this he reappointed his brother, Archbishop Neville, as Chancellor in his place.

  On 29 September, Edward IV learned of Warwick’s advance and also that Montague was coming with a large force to help his sovereign deal with the rebels. The King therefore galloped south to meet him. At Doncaster, says Commines, ‘the King lodged (as himself told) in a strong house into which no man could enter but by a drawbridge. His army lay in villages round about. But as he sat at dinner, his serjeant of the minstrels came running in and brought news that the Marquess of Montague and certain others were mounted on horseback and had caused all their men to cry. “God save King Henry!’” At first Edward did not believe this, but he did send messengers to find out the truth, ‘and armed himself, and set men at the barriers of his lodging to defend it’. He then donned armour as did his companions Hastings and Rivers ‘and divers other knights and esquires’.

  Montague, says Warkworth, ‘hated the King and intended to capture him, so when he came within a mile of King Edward he told his people that he would side with Warwick. Immediately, however, one of the men went from this gathering to inform King Edward about it, and told him to stay away, because he was not strong enough to take on Lord Montague.’ Montague’s desertion was a terrible blow to the King, for Edward had relied on him to hold the north secure while he moved south to deal with Warwick, who was now at Coventry.

  By now, Edward’s men were deserting in large numbers, and his force had been reduced to a mere 2000 soldiers. In alarm, he realised that his authority was rapidly crumbling and that he had no choice but to take flight. Accompanied by Hastings, Gloucester, Rivers and those troops who remained loyal, the King sped east across Lincolnshire, narrowly avoiding being drowned in the Wash, and at ten o’clock at night on Sunday, 30 September, came to the port of King’s Lynn in Norfolk, intending to leave England and seek asylum with his ally, Charles of Burgundy. Fortunately, says Commines, ‘God so provided for the King’ that he found two Dutch hulks, ‘freighted with merchandise’ and bound for Holland, lying at anchor. The ships’ masters were willing to take Edward and his party of 7-800 persons, and at eight in the morning of 2 October, they put to sea. ‘The King had not one penny on him’ and no change of clothing, so he ‘gave the master of the ship for his passage a goodly gown furred with martens, promising one day to do him a good turn. As touching his train, never so poor a company was seen.’ Presently, the ships docked at Alkmaar in Holland, which was in Burgundian territory.

  Meanwhile, Duke Charles had sent Commines to Calais to ensure that Lord Wenlock and his garrison remained loyal to Edward IV. Wenlock, however, had long been displaying outward loyalty to King Edward while secretly negotiating with his enemies. Commines perceived this and went to Boulogne to warn the Duke. While they were there, news arrived of Edward’s defeat; one report, which Charles believed, even said he had been killed. The Duke sent Commines back to Calais to obtain further information and do all he could to preserve the English alliance, but when he got there Commines found Wenlock and the garrison all wearing Warwick’s emblem of the bear and ragged staff. Worse still, when he returned to his lodgings, he saw that the doors were covered in graffiti, white crosses and verses lauding Louis’s pact with Warwick. Commines saw Wenlock at once, but while Wenlock agreed to continue to support the Burgundian alliance, he said he would only do so with Henry VI as king, not Edward IV.

  On 1 October news of King Edward’s flight from Yorkshire was cried in London. Queen Elizabeth was eight months pregnant and, feeling that it was no longer safe for her to remain in the Tower, that night, with her children and her mother, sought sanctuary in Westminster Abbey. When she arrived, ‘in great penury and forsaken of all friends’, Abbot Thomas Milling received her kindly and, rather than lodging her with the common rabble in the cruciform bulk of the sanctuary building, placed at her disposal the three best rooms in his own house within the abbey precincts.

  No sooner had the Queen arrived than she received word that Warwick’s advance company had entered London unopposed. Elizabeth at once sent the abbot to the Lord Mayor and aldermen, asking them to take command of the Tower of London and secure the city against the men of Kent and the rest of Warwick’s approaching army. The mayor, however, knew that it would be folly to resist such a large force, and that he and his fellows would be better advised to come to terms with Warwick, then entreat him to spare the city from the more violent members of his affinity.

  Warwick sent his representative, Sir Geoffrey Gate, ahead into London to receive its submission and liberate Henry VI. Gate was unpopular with the citizens because he had incited the Kentishmen to riot, and there was much murmuring against him. Nevertheless, on the 3rd the Constable of the Tower surrendered the fortress to Gate and the Lord Mayor, which placed Gate in control of the person of Henry VI. Acting on Warwick’s instructions, Gate sent the Bishop of Winchester to liberate the King. Henry emerged ‘as a man amazed, utterly dulled with troubles and adversities’. According to Warkworth he ‘was not worshipfully arrayed as a prince, and not so cleanly kept as should seem such a prince’. Gate arranged for him to be moved to the royal apartments in the Tower and lodged in the sumptuous rooms prepared for Queen Elizabeth’s confinement.

  On the 5th Archbishop Neville marched into London at the head of a strong force and took control of the Tower. The next day, Warwick and Clarence, accompanied by Shrewsbury, Stanley and the main body of their army, rode in triumphal procession into the City and made straight for the Tower, where they knelt before Henry VI and greeted him as their ‘lawful king’. Their arrival prompted many Yorkist knights and squires, as well as some members of the Council, to seek refuge in various sanctuaries, just as a similar number of Lancastrian and Neville sympathisers were emerging from them. One was Thomas Howard, treasurer of Edward IV’s household, who, after an abortive attempt to flee abroad to join his master, took sanctuary at Colchester.

  Warwick ordered that the King be ‘new arrayed’ in a robe of blue velvet, then he and the lords escorted him in procession into London, passing along Cheapside to the Bishop of London’s palace by St Paul’s Cathedral, where he was to lodge temporarily. Here, they sat him on a throne and placed the crown on his head. Warwick paid Henry ‘great reverence’, says Warkworth, ‘and so he was restored
to the crown again, whereof all his good lovers were full glad’. But it was noted that the restored King sat on his throne as limp and helpless as a sack of wool. ‘He was a mere shadow and pretence’, a puppet worked by Warwick – who, as the King’s Lieutenant, was now the real ruler of England – and Clarence. Henry, states the Great Chronicle of London, did not rejoice in his restoration, ‘but merely thanked God and gave all his mind to serve and please Him, and feared little or nothing of the pomp and vanity of the world’. He appeared, says Commines, ‘mute as a crowned calf’, and must have been quite bewildered by this new turn of events. His mind, never very acute or stable before his captivity, had become duller as a result of it. During the months to come, ‘what was done in his name was done without his will and knowledge’. However, he was by no means deranged, and was quite capable of issuing a pardon to the man who had stabbed him in the Tower during his imprisonment.

  That same day, Edward IV’s ignominious flight from England was announced to the people from Paul’s Cross and he was declared deposed. From then on, all letters, writs and other records showed Henry VI’s regnal year in the following style: ‘In the 49th year of the reign of Henry VI and the first of his readeption to royal power.’ Thus historians refer to the period of Henry’s restoration as ‘the Readeption’.

  The new Lancastrians were soon saying that the troubles of Henry’s previous reign were the fault of ‘the mischievous people that were about the King’, whose greed had undermined his royal prestige and the prosperity and well-being of the realm. It was these ‘false lords’, and not Henry himself, who had been to blame for the loss of England’s possessions in France. Now there was to be a new order, and the first sign of this was when the chief officers of Edward IV’s household were required to resign their posts, which were then filled with men of impeccable Lancastrian backgrounds.

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