The Wars of the Roses by Alison Weir

  One of the King’s priorities in his early years on the throne was to repay the debts owed by the Crown to London merchants and Italian banks. Henry VI’s reputation for not repaying loans had resulted in him being unable to obtain any further credit. Edward IV had no intention of allowing the same thing to happen again, and by the end of his reign had repaid debts totalling £97,000. To do this, he had tightened controls on royal expenditure, streamlined the administration of the Crown’s finances, and made corrupt practices difficult. He appointed professional receivers and surveyors to manage the Crown’s estates, abandoning the inefficient and unwieldy system by which they had been administered under his predecessor. Estate officials were made accountable to the Chamber, the financial department of the royal household, instead of to the Exchequer, which meant there was less delay before the King received the revenues due to him, while discrepancies could be spotted early. It was not long before the Chamber replaced the Exchequer as the chief financial department of state.

  In 1467 the King promised in Parliament to ‘live of his own’ without borrowing, and not to levy burdensome taxes unless it was for ‘great and urgent causes’, such as the defence of the realm. During the 1460s Parliament voted the King a total of £93,000, and most of this was spent on putting down rebellions. From 1463 Edward became heavily involved in the wool trade for his own profit, exporting thousands of sacks of wool and woollen cloth; over the years the venture proved highly successful and enabled him to pay off his debts and also provide employment for many people.

  Mancini commented that, ‘though not rapacious of other men’s goods, [Edward] was yet so eager for money that in pursuing it he acquired a reputation for avarice. By appealing to causes, either true or at least with some semblance of truth, he did not appear to extort but almost to beg for subsidies.’ Between 1461 and 1463, however, the political situation was such that he was obliged to make many financial demands of his subjects, and this did not endear him to them.

  Next to the King, the greatest man in England was Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, Edward’s mainstay and foremost supporter. Warwick virtually controlled the government for the first three years of the reign, carried along on a tide of public popularity. He was so well loved that, according to an agent of the King of France, whenever he showed himself in public, accompanied by his customary train of 600 liveried retainers, crowds would run to greet him, crying, ‘Warwick! Warwick!’ ‘It seems to the people that God has descended from the skies.’ No one – especially the Earl himself – doubted that the King was indebted to Warwick for his crown. In Europe it was openly said that he reigned ‘by virtue of the Earl of Warwick’, while the Scots perceived Warwick as ‘the conductor of the realm’, Warwick and the King were allied not only by kinship, friendship, affinity and a debt of gratitude, but also because their association benefited the interests of both: Warwick did not render his services for entirely selfless motives, while the King needed his support. Many magnates, outwardly subservient to the new regime, were of doubtful loyalty, lukewarm at best, or pragmatic opportunists. Warwick in contrast had proved himself to be a loyal friend to Edward and his father in prosperity as in adversity, and at thirty-two, the Earl was thirteen years older than the King, and far more experienced in politics. It was easy, at first, for him to assert himself, and while he was using his considerable talents and energy to maintain Edward on the throne, Edward naturally felt no resentment. He made Warwick his chief adviser and allowed him to control foreign policy, giving him also complete responsibility for military affairs and the defence of the kingdom. For the present, he was content to let the Earl share the burdens of state while he enjoyed the more frivolous aspects of kingship.

  ‘Warwick seems to me everything in this kingdom,’ commented the Milanese ambassador, but although Edward IV relied on the Earl in many ways, he would not be ruled by him. This was not apparent to everyone, even Warwick himself, who certainly overestimated his influence over the King, nor was it obvious to most foreign observers, who tended to exaggerate his role. One citizen of Calais wrote to the King of France, ‘They tell me that they have but two rulers in England: Monsieur de Warwick, and another whose name I have forgotten.’ The Earl, observed Commines, ‘could almost be called the King’s father as a result of the service and education he has given him’. Prospero di Camulio had already foreseen discord between the King and his cousin, but few others had such insight.

  Warwick was regarded by his contemporaries as ‘the most courageous and manliest knight living’. ‘Of knighthood he was the lodestar, born of a stock that shall ever be true.’ His income at this time was £3900 a year, far exceeding that of any other magnate. His principal seats were at Sheriff Hutton Castle and Middleham Castle, where he maintained the greatest private household of the age, with 20,000 retainers. He also kept a lavish establishment in London, where generous hospitality was dispensed to visitors. He always appeared in public splendidly attired, and his genial manner and unfailing politeness never failed to impress those who had dealings with him.

  Yet for all his wealth Warwick had no son to succeed him. His brilliant marriage had produced only two daughters, Isabel, now ten, and Anne, five. These girls would one day inherit all Warwick’s riches and were therefore the greatest heiresses in England. Wellborn husbands must be found for them, and Warwick was beginning now to consider potential candidates.

  Warwick worked hard to restore the authority of the Crown, but, while he entertained no secret designs on the throne itself, he wanted – and needed – to wield power. He saw himself not simply as a member of the aristocracy, but as a man set apart, destined to rule by his gifts and talents. Yet he was more interested in self-aggrandisement and dabbling in international politics than in reforming the government at home or the royal finances, both of which the King regarded as vitally important. Warwick’s own priority was to establish the Nevilles as the leading power in the realm and thus dominate the magnates. His fellow peers, however, were understandably jealous of his power and wealth, and reluctant to offer him their friendship and support. He had already alienated Sir William Herbert by his ambitious designs in Wales, and made enemies of several other nobles, among them Lord Audley and Humphrey Stafford. Yet his influence with the King was such that no one dared criticise him.

  Edward was grateful to Warwick for many things, but he intended that there should be only one ruler in England: himself. How that would ride with Warwick’s own ambitions in the long term remained to be seen.

  One government body that needed reform was the Council. Lord Chief Justice Fortescue described at this time how he believed it should be done. No longer should that august body be dominated by ‘the great princes and the greatest lords in the land, which lords had many matters of their own to be traded in the Council, [so that] they attended but little to the King’s matters’. Instead, the Council should in future consist of a dozen ‘spiritual men and twelve temporal men, of the wisest and best disposed men that can be found in all the parts of this land’. In other words, it was to be staffed, not by an aristocracy, but by a meritocracy, and its members would swear to serve no one but the King and would in return be assured of a permanent seat on the Council.

  Edward IV followed Fortescue’s precepts to some extent, coming to rely on a select group of about twelve trusted individuals and giving them wide responsibilities and influence as his lieutenants in different parts of the kingdom, thereby satisfying their ambitions for power. These councillors were largely highly qualified men who owed their promotion and advancement to the King and had been long-standing supporters of the House of York. Not all were magnates: some were gentlemen, canon lawyers or public servants. Hitherto, high-ranking clergy had made up the greater part of the Council; under Edward IV it became more of a secular institution.

  Prominent among these councillors was Sir William Hastings, a close friend and confidant of the King, who was entrusted with control of the area around Leicester – previously Lancastrian in sympathy –
where he ruled with unprecedented authority. Sir William Herbert was appointed governor of south Wales, where his word was law; the Nevilles’ chief sphere of authority was in the north of England, along the border Marches (there were Nevilles on the Council throughout the 1460s – in fact, they dominated it); while Norfolk and Suffolk controlled East Anglia, and the new Earl of Devon and Humphrey Stafford the West Country. Other members of the Council included Henry Bourchier, Sir John Howard and John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester.

  Tiptoft remains one of the most enigmatic and repellent figures of the age. He was the son of Sir John Tiptoft, member of Parliament for Huntingdon and a descendant of an old Norman family. The elder Tiptoft had been Keeper of the Wardrobe and Treasurer of England under Henry IV, and had sent his son to be educated at Balliol College, Oxford. In 1443, when his father died, Tiptoft inherited his estate and left university. Six years later he married Warwick’s sister, Cecily Neville, and became Earl of Worcester in right of his wife. His connection with Warwick led to his joining the latter’s affinity, which helped to earn him advancement under Edward IV.

  Tiptoft had served as Treasurer of England for three years under Henry VI, and in 1457 had made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land before spending two years at Padua in Italy, studying Roman law, Greek, Latin and the humanist culture of the Renaissance. After this, he rapidly acquired renown as an outstanding Latin scholar, being indeed the foremost scholar among the English nobility and one of the earliest English humanists. He translated Cicero, and his works were later some of the first to be printed by William Caxton. He also amassed a valuable collection of manuscripts, it being said abroad that he had robbed Italy to adorn England. Tiptoft certainly modelled himself on the princes of Italy, and followed many of the precepts of current Italian statecraft that would appear in Machiavelli’s The Prince. He was a vigorous supporter of Edward IV, who was impressed by him and appointed him Constable of England; thereafter the Earl used his many talents and abilities in helping to crush Lancastrian resistance to Yorkist rule.

  There was another side to Tiptoft. This ostentatiously pious and flamboyant man with the cold, protruding eyes could be ruthless and sadistic. ‘The Earl of Worcester was known to be cruel and merciless,’ records the Great Chronicle of London. In 1467 he ‘put to death two sons of the Earl of Desmond, who were so tender of age that one of them, who had a boil on his neck, said to the executioner that was going to chop off his head, “Gentle godfather, beware of the sore on my neck.” ’ Tiptoft seems also to have taken pleasure in devising novel methods of execution, some of which he imported from abroad, and ‘for these reasons, and other similar cruelties, he was much hated by the common people and reputed in some cases even worse than he deserved’. Many complained that his judgements were based on the laws of Padua and not of England.

  Edward IV’s attitude towards his magnates, even such as Tiptoft, was tolerant and conciliatory. He realised that to stay in power he had to cultivate a wide base of support among the aristocracy and reward those who had supported him. He did his best to woo recalcitrant nobles by judicious patronage and promises of advancement. Some he won over; others remained loyal to Henry VI; a few cared only for their own profit and interests, and took what was offered without much commitment. In order to bolster support among the lords, Edward created or revived more than thirty-five peerages during the early years of his reign. He did not promote ‘new men’ with roots in the mercantile class to the peerage; although he valued their talents and services he endowed them ‘with wealth, not dignity’. Thus they were not a threat to the magnates, whose wealth and influence the King could not afford to ignore.

  He was careful to ward off rivalry between Yorkist nobles who were vying with each other for the prizes of high office. When important matters, such as foreign policy, rebellions or war, were being discussed in Council, the King always summoned and consulted his magnates. He made it clear that he relied on them at all times to uphold his authority, his peace and his justice in their own localities; in return, they could rely on him to be a generous patron.

  The influential Londoners had long since given their allegiance to the Yorkist cause, and the King was sensitive to their needs and interests, always trying to formulate his policies to their advantage. His mercantile enterprises enabled a sense of affinity to develop between him and the London merchants, and many were honoured with his friendship. Under his rule, despite the unpopular forced loans which were demanded of them from time to time, and the liberties taken by the King with their wives and daughters, they prospered, and gave thanks for his virtues.



  Once Berwick was theirs, the Scots saw no further advantage to be gained from the Lancastrian exiles, and lost interest in their cause. Mary of Gueldres was finding it expensive to support them, and by the summer of 1461 it was obvious to Queen Margaret that the faction-ridden Scottish court was unlikely to offer her any financial aid. All she could expect was the goodwill of individuals such as the Earl of Angus, who offered her men in return for the promise of a dukedom in England. Her best hope now, she realised, lay in appealing to Charles VII of France for assistance.

  In July, the Queen dispatched Somerset and two other envoys, Lord Hungerford and Sir Robert Whittingham, to the French court to ask for men, ships and a loan of 20,000 crowns. She also employed Pierre de Brézé to request a further loan of 80,000 crowns and another fleet to enable the Lancastrians to conquer the Channel Islands and so make a bridgehead to England. ‘If the Queen’s intentions were discovered,’ wrote Brézé, ‘her friends would unite with her enemies to kill her.’ Charles agreed that Brézé could assemble ships and men for the projected invasion, and with French help the Lancastrians did occupy Jersey that year, though it was later recaptured by the Yorkists.

  By invoking foreign aid from England’s traditional enemies, although it was indeed the only realistic option open to her, Margaret made the Lancastrian cause doubly unpopular in England and provided the Yorkists with splendid propaganda material. Her actions changed the course of the Wars of the Roses, which as a result now became dependent upon the tortuous diplomacy and shifting alliances of late fifteenth-century European politics. Her involvement of foreign princes in the conflict gave them the opportunity to subvert the common weal of England by playing off one faction against the other there and inciting rebellion.

  Before Somerset, Hungerford and Whittingham could gain an audience, Charles VII died on 22 July and was succeeded by his son Louis XI. This was seemingly bad news for the Queen, because Louis hated his mother’s family, the House of Anjou, and manifested this almost at once by placing Hungerford and Whittingham under house arrest at Dieppe, while Somerset found himself a prisoner in the Castle of Arques.

  Louis had hitherto been friendly towards the Yorkists, and news of his accession was greeted with some relief at Edward IV’s court as fears of a French invasion receded. But this euphoria was short-lived. During the 1460s international politics were dominated by the rivalry between France and its vassal state, Burgundy; both France and Burgundy wanted the friendship of England, but France, although more powerful, was England’s traditional enemy, while the Low Countries, ruled by Burgundy, were the chief market for English wool.

  Louis’s main ambition was to conquer the duchy of Burgundy, as well as that of Brittany, and absorb them into the kingdom of France. He both resented and feared the power of Burgundy, and was therefore determined to prevent Edward IV from forming a defensive alliance with Duke Philip. Louis would, with reason, come to be known as the ‘Universal Spider’, because his web of political intrigue encompassed the whole of Europe, and his portraits show a man of uninspiring appearance, with an over-long, hooked nose, a mouth on which sat an expression of perpetual disdain, a double chin, and heavy-lidded, wary eyes.

  Edward IV was in a strong position, and knew it. He was a bachelor, free to make a marriage alliance with either France or Burgundy. It was now a question of waiting to see who could o
ffer the most advantageous terms.

  On 30 August, Lord Hungerford wrote to Queen Margaret from Dieppe, sending three copies of his letter by different routes, informing her that he and Whittingham had been summoned to see King Louis. ‘Madam, fear not, but be of good comfort,’ he wrote, ‘and beware ye venture not your person by sea till ye have other word from us.’ Yet, to their surprise, the envoys found Louis prepared to be very friendly towards them and their mistress, the reason being that it now suited his purpose to see England divided by civil war. He had decided on an aggressive policy against Burgundy and did not want Edward IV to unite with Philip against him. He therefore told Hungerford and Whittingham that he would support the Queen in her attempts to subvert the north of England. This was good news indeed, for the King of France was a powerful ally. From now on Margaret’s chief desire would be to meet with him and conclude a formal Franco-Lancastrian alliance.

  Meanwhile, King Edward’s spies had intercepted one of Hungerford’s letters, which proved to him that Margaret was intriguing with the French. From this time onwards he and his government would live with the ever-present fear of invasion. Believing that this would centre on the north, the King sent Warwick to capture the great Northumbrian stronghold of Alnwick, seat of the Earl of Northumberland who had fallen at Towton and would soon be posthumously attainted. Northumberland’s younger brother, Sir Ralph Percy, had submitted to Edward and was now entrusted with the safe-keeping of the defensive royal castle of Dunstanburgh on the Northumbrian coast. In September, Warwick took not only Alnwick Castle but also Bamburgh Castle. The chief strongholds of Northumbria were now in Yorkist hands.

  King Edward entrusted the task of crushing the rebellious Lancastrians in Wales to his lieutenants Lord Ferrers and Sir William Herbert, the latter of whom had been created Lord Herbert of Raglan, Chepstow and Gower in July. Their first objective was to take Pembroke Castle, which surrendered on 30 September. When Herbert took possession he found four-year-old Henry Tudor living in the castle with his mother and her second husband, Henry Stafford. Herbert bought Henry’s wardship for £1000 and removed him from his mother’s care and into his own household. The boy spent much of the next nine years at the luxuriously appointed Raglan Castle where Herbert, although a rough and often violent man, proved a surprisingly good guardian, providing the boy with an excellent education and planning to marry him to his daughter, Maud Herbert.

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