The Wars of the Roses by Alison Weir


  Warwick’s personality was more charismatic by far than York’s. While people might sympathise with York’s grievances, their imagination was stirred by Warwick, who came to enjoy far more influence with all ranks of society because he had the common touch, coupled with lavish, open-handed hospitality and a ready wit.

  No portrait or effigy survives to show us what Warwick looked like, nor do the contemporary sources contain any descriptions of his appearance. He appears in the Rous Roll in full armour, but bears a marked resemblance to all the other armoured males in the work: Rous made no attempt at portraiture, even though he knew and admired Warwick.

  By 1453, ‘there was none in England of the half possessions that he had’. Warwick owned land in eighteen counties and more than a score of magnificent castles, his main seat being at Warwick Castle, a massive fortress that had been rebuilt by the Beauchamps with a splendid new tower. The Earl also held hundreds of manors, and his territorial influence stretched from Cornwall to the mighty lordship of Castle Barnard in Yorkshire, while the greatest concentration of his lands lay in the west Midlands and south Wales. From these properties Warwick drew a huge income, and could also call upon formidable reserves of fighting men if need be. Indeed, his possessions were so extensive that he was regarded as of greater political importance than his own father, Salisbury, and was thought to be richer even than York. The splendour and extravagance of his household was already renowned, while his huge army of retainers and men of his affinity displayed on their livery of bright scarlet surcoats his personal badge of a white, muzzled bear and a ragged staff, a device inherited from the earls of Warwick.

  This was the man who now became York’s principal ally.

  The great council assembled, and York, whose supporters had expressed doubts about the Prince’s paternity, now argued that the Queen’s child could not be recognised as the heir to England unless he was first acknowledged by the King and then presented by him to the nobility as his heir, according to ancient custom. A delegation of twelve lords, spiritual and temporal, therefore took the prince to visit his father at Windsor in the hope that the sight of the child would arouse Henry from his stupor. But although they made several attempts to make him acknowledge and bless the baby, he remained impervious to what was going on around him, appearing ‘uncurious and unconscious’.

  The council was faced with a problem. Until the King had acknowledged his son, Parliament could not pass legislation confirming the child’s right to the royal succession or make provision for him as heir. This situation only served to fuel the rumours that flourished during the winter of 1453–4, that the prince was a bastard, that he was not the King’s son, and possibly not even the Queen’s. It was alleged that he was either a changeling, smuggled into the Queen’s bed after her own child had died, or the result of an affair between Margaret and Somerset. This was all too believable, given Henry VI’s vaunted views on marital sex and the fact that the Queen had not conceived once during the first seven years of her marriage. The rumours were also given credibility by the fact that the people were not aware of the King’s condition, and placed their own interpretation on why he had not recognised the child as his heir.

  Warwick even went so far as publicly to refer to the prince as the offspring of adultery or fraud in front of a packed assembly of the magnates at Paul’s Cross in London. The King, he said, had not acknowledged him as his son and never would. Margaret never forgave Warwick for this insult which was to prove so damaging to her honour. York prudently kept silent, but of course he had everything to gain from the rumours and the defamation of the Queen.

  On 18 November Margaret was churched at Westminster, wearing a robe trimmed with 540 sables, and attended by the duchesses of York, Bedford, Norfolk, Somerset, Exeter and Suffolk, eight countesses including the Countess of Warwick, and seven baronesses. Then she returned with great determination to the political scene.

  The birth of a son had consolidated the Queen’s power and her standing in the country. Despite the rumours, she had no doubt that the King would eventually acknowledge the child, and as the mother of the heir apparent she meant to dominate the government and rule with the help of the court party. Motherhood had transformed her into a doting parent, fiercely protective of her son’s rights, which she was determined to safeguard by any means in her power, and it was now that she emerged as the most bitter enemy of York and as the driving force behind Somerset. Her greatest ambition was to crush the House of York, which she regarded as the chief threat to her husband’s throne and her son’s succession. From this time on, therefore, the conflict between Lancaster and York was not so much a power struggle between Henry VI and York, but a contest for political supremacy between York and Margaret of Anjou, who was to prove the backbone of the Lancastrian cause.

  York in turn was poised for a return to the centre stage of politics, and was courting support for a bid to become regent during the King’s illness. The King’s half-brothers, Richmond and Pembroke, concerned about the extent of the court party’s influence over the King, supported his candidature, while the court party took every opportunity of advancing the claim of the Queen to be regent, though here Margaret’s sex was against her since most of the magnates found the prospect of petticoat government repugnant and improper.

  Because York had, by January 1454, won the support of several influential magnates, the court party made a final attempt to rouse the King. On 19 January the prince was again taken to Windsor, and when he arrived, according to the Paston Letters, ‘the Duke of Buckingham took him in his arms and presented him to the King in goodly wise, beseeching the King to bless him; and the King gave no manner answer. Nevertheless, the Duke abode still with the prince by the King, and when he could no manner answer have, the Queen came in and took the prince in her arms and presented him in like form as the Duke had done, desiring that he should bless it, but all their labour was in vain, for they departed thence without any answer or countenance, saying only that once he looked on the prince and cast down his eyen again, without any more.’

  Later that month, the Queen, ‘being a manly woman, using to rule and not be ruled’, made a determined bid for the regency. The Paston Letters record that she ‘hath made a bill of five articles, desiring those articles to be granted: the first is that she desireth to have the whole rule of this land; the second is that she may make [i.e. appoint] the Chancellor, the Treasurer, the Privy Seal and all other officers of this land; the third is that she may give all the bishoprics of this land and all other benefices belonging to the King’s gift; the fourth is that she may have sufficient livelode assigned her for the King, the prince and herself. But as for the fifth article,’ the writer did not know what it contained.

  Margaret was well aware of the fact that many magnates were hesitating, reluctant to associate themselves with York in case it appeared that they were in treasonable opposition to the King, and she tried to capitalise on this, cultivating the support of York’s enemies. However, her arrogant and peremptory bid to assume virtually sovereign power and exercise the royal prerogative offended and alienated many of them; nor did the common people wish to be ruled by their haughty, unpopular French queen, and they made this very clear. It was at this stage that many lords, who might not otherwise have done so, first began to support York’s bid for the regency.

  In the capital the political atmosphere was tense, as if a major conflict was about to erupt: the Archbishop of Canterbury took the precaution of issuing weapons to all the male members of his household at Lambeth Palace, and told them to hold themselves in readiness to safeguard his person. Somerset’s ally, the Earl of Wiltshire, was preparing to attend Parliament at the head of a large army of retainers, as were several other lords including Somerset himself: his billeting officer had secured for his armed supporters every lodging in Thames Street and the vicinity of the Tower. Warwick sent 1000 armed retainers ahead into London to ensure his safety; then, at the head of another private army, he escorted York into th
e city. The Duke was accompanied by his household and a large retinue, and also by his son, March, and the earls of Richmond and Pembroke, each with a military following.

  Somerset’s spies had not been idle, for they were ‘going into every lord’s house of this land’, some disguised as friars, others as sailors on leave, their brief being to discover how much support the Duke and his rival York would be able to command in the coming Parliament. Rumours of the activities of Somerset’s spies gave rise to some alarm among those who secretly supported York but were waiting to see how matters turned out before committing themselves.

  When Parliament did actually assemble, so few lords turned up that fines were imposed on the absentees for non-attendance – the only occasion on which this penalty was used in the Middle Ages. Undoubtedly some had been intimidated, while others had preferred to remain neutral. Parliament met on 14 February, and though some of York’s supporters attempted to raise the sensitive question of the prince’s paternity, the Lords refused to listen to them, and confirmed the infant’s title and status as heir apparent. York, like the other magnates, was required to acknowledge him as heir to the throne, but it was noticed that he did so with ill-concealed chagrin. Indeed, Thomas Daniel and John Trevelyan and other members of the court party were so concerned about York’s true intentions that they submitted to the Lords a bill providing for the safeguarding of the King and the prince. On 15 March 1454 Edward of Lancaster was formally created Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester, and made a Knight of the Garter; on 13 April, an annual income of £2000 was settled on him, and in June he was invested as Prince of Wales at Windsor.

  It was March before the regency question was settled. In that month, Cardinal Kempe, one of the chief mainstays of the court party, died. His death made the election of a regent even more pressing, since his successor to the See of Canterbury could only be chosen by the authority of the King.

  York now had the backing of a substantial number of peers who were anxious to prevent the Queen or Somerset (which amounted to the same thing) from seizing power. He had also neutralised one of the Queen’s chief supporters, the parliamentary Speaker, Thomas Thorpe, against whom the Duke had brought a charge of trespass. Thorpe had been sent to the Tower and fined £1000.

  Before reaching a decision, the lords of the Council made one further visit to the King to see if he showed any signs of recovery, but there were none. Says Benet: ‘The King’s Council perceived that, if the King did not recover, England would soon be ruined under the government of the Duke of Somerset, so the noblemen of the kingdom sent for the Duke of York.’

  On 27 March the Lords in Parliament nominated York as regent under the title Protector of the Realm. He was to be chief of the King’s Council, but would not have the title of ‘tutor, lieutenant, governor or regent, nor no name that shall impart authority of government of the land, but the name of Protector and Defender, which importeth a personal duty of intendance to the actual defence of this land, as well against the enemies outward as against rebels inward, during the King’s pleasure, and so that it be not prejudice to my lord Prince’. York was to enjoy the same title and powers that Gloucester had enjoyed during Henry VI’s minority, with the same limits on his authority.

  Parliament further provided that, if the King did not recover sufficiently to reassume control of the government, the office of Protector should devolve upon Prince Edward when he attained his majority. As this would not happen for at least fourteen years, the lords had demonstrated singular confidence in York by entrusting to him the governance of the realm for so long.

  After his nomination had been approved, York asked the Lords for their help and support in the task that lay ahead, saying, ‘I shall employ my person with you.’ Parliament then drafted an Act formalising his appointment.

  Almost the first thing he did after his nomination was to depose Somerset from all the offices he had held from the King and order his arrest. Somerset was in the Queen’s apartments when the guard came to take him to the Tower, and this time Margaret was powerless to save him. Nevertheless, she defiantly visited him in prison and assured him of her continuing favour. Parliament would not agree to Somerset being brought to trial, which York had wanted, but the Protector was not a vindictive man, and now that Somerset had been removed from the political arena, he left him unmolested in the Tower.

  On 3 April York was formally appointed Protector in a short ceremony during which he formally reaffirmed the oath of allegiance he had made to Henry VI at the latter’s coronation, and signed the deed that named him Protector. This provided that, should he break his oath, he was to be dismissed from office. On the 10th, he appointed his ally Salisbury as Chancellor of England.

  Shortly afterwards, York ordered the Queen to remove to Windsor to be with her husband, making it clear that her influence was to be confined solely to the domestic sphere; nor was the furious Margaret allowed to leave Windsor once she had got there. Her worst fears had been realised and, angry and frustrated at being deprived of the regency, she chose to believe that the magnates had chosen York as Protector because they were really aiming to make him king, and was convinced that it was only a matter of time before he made a bid for the crown. Her very helplessness added to her fears for her husband and son.

  Although he was extremely busy at this time, York remembered to send Easter gifts of green gowns to his eldest sons, March, now twelve, and Rutland, aged eleven, who were then being schooled by their tutor, Richard Croft, at Ludlow. Edward wrote back to his father, congratulating him on his recent victory in Parliament, and thanking ‘your noblesse and good fatherhood of our green gowns, now late sent unto us to our good comfort’. He asked if they might ‘have some fine bonnets sent unto us by the next sure messenger, for necessity so requireth. And where ye command us by your said letters to attend specially to our learning in our young age, that should cause us to grow in honour and worship in our old age, and please it your Highness to wit that we have attended to our learning since we came hither, and shall hereafter.’ Nevertheless, the boy ended with a complaint about ‘the odious rule and demeaning’ of Master Croft. We do not know whether his father took any notice of it.

  On 28 July, York appointed himself Captain of Calais in Somerset’s place in an attempt to establish control of the English Channel in the face of attacks on English shipping by French pirates. He also sought to protect England’s western shores and regions by asking Parliament to confirm his appointment as Lieutenant of Ireland. This time, however, his duties in Dublin were carried out by a deputy.

  York proved to be a conscientious and able Protector. He made a vigorous effort to restore good government, and carried out the duties of his office efficiently and with integrity. His opponents had expected him to exact revenge upon them for all the years he had been slighted and excluded from government, but he behaved towards them with moderation, trying to work with them in the Council for the benefit of the realm. He was ably supported by Salisbury and Warwick, the three of them making a formidable and seemingly invincible triumvirate, representing between them the larger part of the landed wealth and territorial influence of the aristocracy. Warwick’s younger brother, George Neville, aged only twenty, was already embarked upon a meteoric career in the Church. As secular appointments became vacant, York tried to consolidate his position by filling them with men of his affinity, and he also raised his kinsman Thomas Bourchier to be Archbishop of Canterbury.

  One of York’s main concerns was to restore order, especially in the north, where the Percies and Nevilles were still ‘breaching the King’s peace’. In May, he visited the area to curb the quarrelsome tendencies of the Percies. However, says Benet, they fled at his approach. He was also concerned about rumbling Lancastrian disaffection in the north and west, and in July he ordered that the pro-Lancastrian Duke of Exeter be held at Pontefract Castle as a hostage for the good behaviour of his affinity.

  York made some headway in restoring the authority of the Council, signing war
rants issued by it as ‘R. York’. He attempted to sort out the Crown’s finances, so that adequate provision could be made for the King’s household without incurring further debts or draining the Exchequer. In November he had the Council draw up ordinances for the reduction and reform of the household, in the interests of economy and cost efficiency. Even Henry’s Tudor half-brothers found their establishments reduced, each being allowed only a chaplain, two esquires, two yeomen and two chamberlains, an entourage equal to that of the King’s confessor. Nevertheless Richmond and Pembroke supported the reforms because they realised that they could only be in the King’s interests. In fact, these household reforms were aimed primarily at the Queen, being an attempt to deprive her of the means with which to reward her favourites if she returned to power. Her household was reduced to 120 persons, and the Prince of Wales’s to 38, which gave her further reason to hate York. Despite his efforts as Protector, York still failed to win over a majority of the peers. Some were suspicious of his motives and unwilling to trust him, and many still resented his manner.

  On Christmas Day 1454, just as York was making some headway with the task of reforming the administration, ‘by the grace of God the King recovered his health’, emerging after sixteen and a half months from his stupor ‘as a man who wakes after a long dream’. He had no memory of what had happened to him during his illness, and told his courtiers that ‘he never knew till that time, nor wist what was said to him, nor wit not where he had to be whilst he had been sick, till now’. As soon as he could speak, he ordered that a mass of thanksgiving be celebrated in St George’s Chapel, and requested that prayers be offered night and day for his complete recovery. On 27 December, he commanded his almoner to ride to Canterbury with an offering, and commanded his secretary to offer at the shrine of St Edward the Confessor in Westminster Abbey.

 
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