The Wars of the Roses by Alison Weir

  The battle ended with Montague scattering Somerset’s army. Afterwards, he rode on to Norham, collected the Scottish envoys and escorted them to York, where a fifteen-year truce was agreed upon. Somerset and his remaining companions had meanwhile rejoined Henry VI in Tynedale, where they sat fast and planned their next strategy.

  * The practice whereby great lords would enter into contracts with men who were willing to fight for them and wear their livery in return for a pension, or wage, known as ‘maintenance’.


  ‘Now Take Heed What Love May Do’

  Edward IV had other preoccupations at this time. He had fallen in love with a most unlikely – and unsuitable – partner. Elizabeth Wydville, the eldest daughter of Earl Rivers, was twenty-seven; she was four years Edward’s senior and a widow. Her husband, Sir John Grey of Groby, had been killed fighting for the Lancastrians at St Albans, leaving her with two small sons, Thomas and Richard. The elder boy had inherited the manor of Bradgate in Leicestershire from his father, and there Elizabeth had been living.

  Elizabeth had once been one of Queen Margaret’s ladies-in-waiting, which firmly placed her in the wrong camp to start with. She was of medium height, with a good figure, and she was beautiful, having long gilt-blonde hair and an alluring smile. Edward was oblivious to the fact that she was also calculating, ambitious, devious, greedy, ruthless and arrogant.

  By 1464, his subjects were concerned that he had been ‘so long without any wife, and were afeared that he had not been chaste in his living’, according to ‘Gregory’. He had not been chaste, but this was one woman who was not prepared to fall into bed with him and then be discarded. Whatever ruses he employed, she foiled them all and held out for marriage. Yet she was a commoner, and no king of England had married a common subject since before 1066.

  Before long, Edward became obsessed with Elizabeth’s cool beauty. Many lurid tales were told of his courtship, even one that, as he tried to rape her, she seized a dagger and made as if to kill herself, crying that she knew herself unworthy to be a queen but valued her honour more than her life. ‘Now take heed what love may do,’ wrote ‘Gregory’, ‘for love will not cast no fault nor peril in nothing.’ Edward’s proposal of marriage was a triumph for the ambitious Elizabeth, for love rarely figured in the unions of kings. Mancini observed that in his choice of wife the King was ‘governed by lust’. His decision to marry this commoner from a Lancastrian family was an impulsive one and was unlikely to have resulted from a plan to build up a new faction at court to counterbalance the power of the Nevilles. That came later.

  The Wydvilles were an old Northamptonshire family, said to be descended from a Norman called William de Wydville, and Elizabeth’s father and grandfather had been loyal servants of successive Lancastrian kings. Lord Rivers had started his career as a country squire, but had improved his social standing and caused a tremendous scandal by marrying Bedford’s widow, Jacquetta of Luxembourg. After their marriage they became known as the handsomest couple in England and produced fourteen children. In the reign of Henry VI Rivers had allied himself with Suffolk and the Beauforts, and he also had connections with the influential Bourchier and Ferrers families. The family seat was at Grafton in Northamptonshire.

  Rivers and his eldest son Anthony were cultivated men of many talents and were respected abroad as knights of valour, Anthony especially excelling as a jouster. Mancini describes Anthony as ‘a kind, serious and just man. Whatever his prosperity he injured nobody, though benefiting many.’ Pious and even ascetic, he loved learning, and his treatise The Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers was the first book to be printed by William Caxton.

  For all this, Elizabeth was not a suitable bride for a king whose marriage was a matter of national importance, and in choosing her Edward IV showed appalling political judgement and irresponsibility. By marrying her he gained no financial or political advantage, and threw away the chance of making an advantageous foreign alliance. That he was aware of the unsuitability of the match is proved by the fact that he arranged for his wedding to take place in the strictest secrecy.

  At the end of April 1464 the King was riding north to deal with the Lancastrian rebels. On the way he stopped at Stony Stratford, near Northampton, where he ordered the sheriffs of sixteen counties to have all men between sixteen and sixty ‘defensibly arrayed’ and ready to join him at a moment’s notice. Then, before dawn on 1 May, he rode secretly to Grafton, pretending he was going hunting. There, early in the morning, he was married to Elizabeth Wydville in a small chapel called the Hermitage, tucked away in the nearby woods. Recent excavations there have revealed tiles bearing white roses and the heraldic shield of the Wydvilles. The only witnesses were the unknown priest, Elizabeth’s mother, the Duchess of Bedford, two gentlemen, and a young man who helped the priest to sing. After the ceremony Edward and his bride went to bed to consummate their marriage, but then he had to return to Stony Stratford. That night he came back again, and his new wife was secretly smuggled into his bedchamber by her mother. He stayed for four days, ostensibly receiving routine hospitality from Lord Rivers and the Duchess, although at night, again with Jacquetta’s connivance, Elizabeth came to his bed. Before long, this idyll had to end, and by 10 May Edward had ridden to meet his forces at Leicester.

  In the three weeks since his defeat at Hedgeley Moor, Somerset had regrouped his army and recruited more men in the north. He then marched south, determined to restore Henry VI, who was then staying at Bywell Castle. But Montague, who was marching to meet this new threat, had at least twice and possibly as many as eight times more men – Warkworth claims he had 10,000, although modern historians estimate perhaps 4000 to the Lancastrians’ 500 – and was ably supported by Lords Greystoke and Willoughby.

  The two armies came face to face on 15 May at Hexham, south of the River Tyne. Somerset’s men encamped in a large meadow enclosed on three sides by a river and steep, wooded hillsides. The Duke believed this to be a good defensive position, but in fact it was to prove a deadly bottleneck, as Montague’s men, coming upon them suddenly, blocked the only exit and charged headlong into the meadow. Somerset’s army panicked at the sight, and fell into disarray. Many scrambled up the hillsides and fled into the woods; they later had no choice but to surrender. Those who stood their ground and stayed to confront the enemy were cut down mercilessly or taken prisoner. Somerset himself was captured, and his army annihilated, thus effectively crushing Lancastrian resistance in the north for good.

  The Yorkists spent the next few days hunting down the Lancastrian lords who had fled the field. Immediately after the battle, in accordance with the King’s wishes, Montague ordered the execution of Somerset and other captured peers. The Duke was beheaded and his remains interred in Hexham Abbey. He had never married, and left only a bastard son, Charles Somerset, who became the ancestor of the dukes of Beaufort. Somerset’s brother, 25-year-old Edmund Beaufort, styled himself Duke of Somerset after the Duke’s death, but was not formally confirmed in the title and spent the next few years in Burgundy, fighting as a mercenary for Duke Philip.

  On 17 May Roos, Hungerford and three others were beheaded at Newcastle. The next day Montague rode south to Middleham Castle, where he ordered the executions of Sir Philip Wentworth and three Lancastrian squires. Sir Thomas Finderne and Sir Edmund Fish met the same fate in York, while others captured at Hexham were tried and convicted of treason in a court presided over by the Constable of England, the sadistic John Tiptoft. All were put to death, and Sir William Tailboys followed them to the scaffold a few weeks later.

  Henry VI had narrowly avoided being captured by the Yorkists after Hexham. Enemy soldiers were already on their way to Bywell Castle when a messenger brought news of the Lancastrian defeat, and the King made such a precipitate departure that he left behind his helmet, surmounted with a crown, his sword, his cap of estate, armour and other valuables. One chronicler observed with irony that ‘King Henry was the best horseman of the day, for he fled so fast that no on
e could overtake him.’

  Thereafter he remained a fugitive for over a year, hiding in safe houses in Lancashire, Yorkshire and the Lake District. It is impossible to make a chronology of his movements, for few are known – unlike his wife’s, his adventures are poorly documented. His only companion was his chamberlain, Sir Richard Tunstall. At one time, they disguised themselves as monks and stayed in a monastery in Yorkshire, and they are also said to have hidden at Bolton Hall near Sawley in the West Riding, where a well is named after them, and it is claimed Henry left behind a boot, a glove and a spoon, which are now in the Liverpool Museum; however, since none of these predates the sixteenth century, the tale of his lodging there may be spurious.

  In gratitude for his services, Edward gave Montague the earldom of Northumberland and granted him most of the ancestral lands of the Percies. Alnwick Castle, however, was still occupied by the Lancastrians, but on 23 June Warwick appeared before it with an army and demanded its surrender. The garrison agreed, on condition their lives were spared, and Alnwick fell to the Nevilles.

  The capitulation of Dunstanburgh and Norham followed in late May, then there remained only Bamburgh, in which Sir Ralph Grey, Humphrey Neville of Brancepeth and others had barricaded themselves after Hexham. Warwick’s army arrived there on 25 May and sent Chester Herald to proclaim a free pardon for the garrison if it surrendered. Grey was exempt from this, however, because he had turned his coat too often. King Edward did not want the castle damaged by artillery, and Warwick warned Grey that every shot fired by his great iron guns, ‘Newcastle’ and ‘London’, that caused such damage, would be paid for by the head of one of the defenders. Grey still refused to open the gates, so Warwick resorted to bombarding the castle with his own guns. Great chunks of masonry crashed into the sea below, while shot from a brass cannon called ‘Dijon’ demolished Grey’s room and he was knocked unconscious by falling stonework and left by his men for dead. Very soon the walls were breached and the victorious Yorkists surged in and occupied the castle. Neville and the garrison were allowed to go free, but Grey, in a daze, was taken prisoner and brought south to stand trial before the notorious Tiptoft, who had him beheaded.

  The fall of Bamburgh deprived the Lancastrians of their last power base in the north. There now remained just one bastion of enemy resistance and that was Harlech Castle in Wales, which had been providing safe asylum for Lancastrian refugees since 1461. ‘This castle is so strong that men said that it was impossible to get it,’ wrote ‘Gregory’. In the autumn of 1464 Edward IV appointed Lord Herbert constable of Harlech Castle, charging him to take it for the Yorkists and allocating him funds of £2000 for the purpose. Herbert began a prolonged siege, but still the enemy remained unharmed behind Harlech’s forbidding walls, confident that Pembroke would come to their relief. This part of north-west Wales had remained largely Lancastrian in sympathy, and Pembroke was a local hero. In their songs the bards anticipated his return, when he would restore Henry VI and trounce the Yorkists. In fact, Pembroke was in the north of England and would soon go abroad to canvass the support of the princes of Europe. Nevertheless, Herbert was going to have a long wait.

  The cost of suppressing Lancastrian resistance had been exorbitantly high and Edward’s subjects were deeply resentful of the heavy taxation he had imposed upon them, and unhappy when he debased the coinage, believing it would cause ‘great harm to the common people’. The promised golden age had still to arrive.

  For almost a year now Warwick had been negotiating with Louis XI for the marriage of King Edward to Bona of Savoy. Warwick believed that a firm alliance between England and France, sealed by a royal marriage, was the only way to prevent the slippery King of France from a future show of friendship towards the Lancastrians, while Louis, for his part, wanted to consolidate the truce of St Omer with such an alliance. Warwick was due to go to St Omer in October for another peace conference, and hoped to conclude the negotiations then.

  Burgundy naturally did not wish such an alliance to take place; he wanted Edward to join in a defensive compact with himself against France which would also boost trade between the duchy and England. Edward by now was inclined to favour Burgundy, but just then he was doing his best to negotiate the lifting of Burgundian restrictions on English imports and wished to play for time. Knowing that his marriage was a powerful bargaining counter, he had prevaricated for months, but of late, of course, there had been another, compelling reason for stalling. He knew, however, that his secret could not remain a secret for much longer.

  During the summer of 1464 Edward’s envoy, Lord Wenlock, had visited Louis at Hesdin and been presented to a splendidly attired Bona, with whom he was very impressed. Louis offered Wenlock a huge reward if he could persuade Edward to agree to the marriage, and Warwick added his own pleas, having no desire for an alliance with Burgundy, who had shown no inclination to honour and reward him as Louis had. Warwick was, in truth, in thrall to Louis, who had flattered and beguiled him, calling him ‘cousin’ and promising to make him a sovereign prince with his own European duchy.

  On 4 September, a great council of the magnates assembled at Reading. Warwick spent the next few days putting tremendous pressure on the King to conclude the marriage alliance with France, and Edward knew he could prevaricate no longer. On 14 September he dropped his bombshell in the council, announcing that he was in fact married and had been for four months. The magnates, stunned and horrified to learn the identity of their new queen, did not attempt to hide their disapproval, telling the King candidly ‘that she was not his match, however good and fair she might be, and he must know well that she was no wife for a prince such as himself’. Most peers regarded the Wydvilles as upstarts and viewed with distaste the prospect of their inevitable promotion.

  The marriage caused not only scandal but political disruption. ‘Not only did he alienate the nobles,’ wrote Mancini, ‘but he offended most bitterly’ his mother and brothers, and Clarence ‘vented his wrath conspicuously by his bitter and public denunciation of Elizabeth’s obscure family’. Some nobles said they ‘would not stoop to show regal honour in accordance with her exalted rank’, and many members of the King’s household were ‘bitterly offended’ by his choice of bride. Die-hard Yorkists were angered that he had married a woman whose father, brother and husband had fought for Henry VI. Above all, the magnates, and Warwick in particular, were furious that Edward had taken such a momentous step without consulting them, and were angry at having been presented with a fait accompli. Louis XI, on being informed of the marriage, expressed the hope that Warwick would mount a rebellion against Edward. In fact, the long-term effect of the marriage would be to create a fatal disunity among the Yorkists, which would have serious consequences for the dynasty.

  Even before he learned of the King’s marriage, Warwick had been growing dissatisfied. He had power and enormous wealth, yet the King cramped his style by obstinately, and to an increasing degree, asserting his own will in matters of state. Warwick had been frustrated in his attempts to extend his landed interests into Wales, and had expended a great deal of time and energy on negotiations for the marriage with Bona of Savoy. Now he had been made to look a fool. What alienated him most was Edward’s failure to take him into his confidence.

  As soon as he found out what Edward had done, Warwick wrote to several of his friends abroad. Only one letter survives, to King Louis, telling him that the Earl and the King were on bad terms, having almost certainly had some heated confrontation. But Louis soon heard that the rift had been patched over. However angry Warwick might have been, he still had hopes of concluding a treaty of friendship between Edward and Louis.

  After Warwick had made his peace with Edward and their former amity was restored, at least on the surface, his position seemed unaltered. He was still the King’s chief counsellor and the most powerful man in the kingdom. But Edward’s marriage was symptomatic of his determination to act independently of Warwick and form his own policies. As the years passed and the Wydvilles rose t
o eminence, they could only be Warwick’s rivals, and his authority gradually declined, forcing him to pay lip service to policies he deplored. Wrote Warkworth: ‘The rift between them grew greater and greater.’ The chief reason for Warwick’s alienation was not so much the Wydville marriage but disagreement over foreign policy. He still had high personal hopes of King Louis, but Edward was unwavering in his determination to befriend Burgundy, and therefore Warwick’s ambitions were constantly thwarted.

  For the moment, however, he swallowed his gall and pretended that all was as it had been. On Michaelmas Day Elizabeth Wydville was escorted into Reading Abbey by Clarence and Warwick and presented to the magnates and the people as their sovereign lady and queen. The assembly knelt and honoured her, and a week of celebrations followed.

  The new queen was aware of what people thought of her and was careful to insist on the most elaborate ceremonial whenever she appeared in public to emphasise her royal status. Even her brother Anthony had to kneel when addressing her. Like her husband, she followed the courtly fashions set by Burgundy, yet her household was not so extravagantly wasteful as Margaret of Anjou’s and was better administered. Her jointure of 4000 marks a year was less than that allocated to Margaret, but she lived within her means. Edward gave her Greenwich Palace, which had formerly belonged to Margaret, and a London house called Ormond’s Inn in Knightrider Street, just beyond the city walls at Smithfield. In 1465, the King ordered that her predecessor’s arms be removed from Queen’s College. Cambridge, and replaced by his wife’s.

  Elizabeth knew well how to manipulate her husband, and used her considerable influence over him to obtain favours and promotion for her family and friends, much to the disgust of the older nobility. Important posts in the Queen’s household were filled by her Wydville and Bourchier relatives. Mancini says ’she attracted to her party many strangers and introduced them to court, so that they alone should manage the private business of the Crown, give or sell offices, and finally rule the King himself. The Wydvilles, a grasping, rapacious clan, quickly became a power in the land, but they were also a liability. Their influence at court was soon immense, ‘to the exaltation of the Queen’, but also to ‘the displeasure of the whole realm’. Mancini says that the Wydvilles were ‘certainly detested by the nobles because they were advanced beyond those who excelled them in breeding and wisdom’. Above all, this new faction was actively hostile to the Nevilles, whose power over the King they resented. Warwick himself was determined never to play a subordinate role to the Wydvilles, while they naturally came in time to oppose the French alliance so desired by Warwick, and supported the King’s attempts to forge a friendship with Burgundy. This led inevitably to a rift between Edward and Warwick, whose friendship never recovered from the blow dealt it by the King’s ill-advised marriage. Wydville opposition on matters of foreign policy threatened Warwick’s personal ambitions, which were closely linked with the successful outcome of negotiations for a French alliance, and created dangerous tensions at court. The resurgence of rival factions there boded ill for the future of the House of York.

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