The Wars of the Roses by Alison Weir

  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.

  The King, too, rode north, having sent a further abortive summons to Warwick and Clarence from Newark. In Doncaster, he received a message from them demanding his assurance of their safety should they come into his presence; angrily, he refused to give it. Two days later, he drew up his army in battle order; according to the Paston Letters, ‘it was said that there were never seen in England so many goodly men, and so well arrayed’. The royal army marched south towards Chesterfield, then discovered that Warwick had sent his scouts ahead to secure lodgings for the night at Rotherham, so the King advanced there, only to find the place deserted. He guessed that the Earl had deliberately lured him there, and later discovered that Yorkshire rebels under Sir John Conyers and Lord Scrope had planned an ambush in the vicinity, but had not arrived in time. Warwick, meanwhile, had swung west towards Manchester, hoping to enlist the aid of Lord Stanley and his Lancashire levies and so march with them to join the Yorkshire rebels. Stanley, however, refused to commit himself.

  Warwick was in favour of turning back at night and marching east to confront the King in battle, but the Earl of Shrewsbury, one of his captains, suddenly deserted with a large force, and left the Earl with no alternative but flight. Shrewsbury’s reinforcements joined Edward, who temporarily abandoned his pursuit of Warwick and Clarence and rode into York to ‘refresh and victual’ his men and receive the submission of Scrope and other rebels, who all confirmed that Warwick and Clarence had been behind the northern rebellions.

  Edward was worried that the powerful John Neville, Earl of Northumberland, who had hitherto remained loyal, would desert him for his brother, Warwick, and on 25 March he deprived him of the earldom of Northumberland and restored it to young Henry Percy, whose father had fallen at Towton. This found favour with the people of the north, and was plainly intended to counterbalance the power of the Nevilles, who were the Percies’ greatest rivals in the region. The King created John Neville Marquess of Montague to compensate him for the loss of the earldom, but failed to endow him with any lands, leaving him unable to support the dignities of his new rank. Angrily he complained that Edward had given him ‘a magpie’s nest’, and even the creation of his son George as Duke of Bedford did not mollify him.

  Edward had made a grave misjudgement, but matters were seemingly put right when he offered the hand of his eldest daughter, Elizabeth of York, for Bedford, knowing that if anything should happen to him Montague would then ensure that Elizabeth’s right to succeed him would be upheld. The King was determined at all costs to prevent Clarence and Warwick’s daughter Isabel from being crowned, and knew he could rely not just on Montague’s loyalty but also on his self-interest, for what man could resist the prospect of his son becoming a king?

  On 24 March, the King issued a proclamation denouncing both Warwick and Clarence as traitors and ‘great rebels’ and putting a price on their heads. He then issued a further summons ordering them to appear before him by 28 March at the latest or be dealt with as traitors. On the 27th he left York with his host to hunt them down, marching south via Nottingham and Coventry.

  Warwick knew he was in too weak a position to oppose the King. He and Clarence rode hastily to Warwick Castle, collected the Countess of Warwick and her daughter Anne and left, making as much speed as they could for the south. On 18 March, Isabel of Clarence had gone to Exeter and lodged in the bishop’s palace, and Warwick planned that they should join her there and then flee to Calais, which he hoped would have remained loyal to him, and where he might be able to raise support. First, however, they went to Southampton, where one of Warwick’s great ships, the Trinity, was expected to dock shortly. However, the King had anticipated their arrival, and had sent ahead Lords Rivers and Howard, who captured not only the Trinity but also every other ship owned by Warwick that was in port, along with all their crews. Warwick and Clarence were forced to continue on to Exeter by land, where they were reunited with the Duchess Isabel, then nine months pregnant, commandeered a ship and on 3 April put to sea.

  On 14 April the King came from Wells to Exeter to find his quarry were beyond his reach. Baulked of bringing them to justice, Edward marched east along the coast to Southampton, where he commanded Tiptoft to sit in judgement on the men who had been captured in Warwick’s ships. Twenty gentlemen and yeomen were hanged, drawn and quartered, but what appalled the watching crowds was that, after they were dead, on Tiptoft’s orders their corpses were beheaded and the naked torsoes hung up by the legs. Stakes, sharpened at both ends, were forced between their buttocks, the heads being impaled on the protruding ends. Warkworth says that ‘for ever afterwards the Earl of Worcester was greatly hated by [the people] for the irregular and unlawful manner of execution he had inflicted upon his captives’.

  Meanwhile, Warwick had appeared before Calais, which was under the command of Lord Wenlock. Twelve hours before Warwick’s arrival, Wenlock had received orders from Edward IV not to allow ‘the great rebel’ to land, and instead of according Warwick the welcome he had expected, fired guns on him. The Earl had always looked upon Wenlock as his most trustworthy lieutenant, and his apparent disaffection was a severe blow.

  For a time Warwick’s ship remained at anchor before Calais; then, on 16 April, Isabel went into labour. Despite Warwick’s entreaties, Wenlock would still not let them land, and even when her pains grew severe and there were obstetrical complications he remained
obdurate. Although personally sympathetic to the Duchess’s plight, Wenlock’s loyalty to the King prevented him from disobeying Edward’s orders, though he did contrive to send Warwick two flagons of wine for his daughter and a secret message to say that, if the Earl and his party were to sail around the coast, land in Normandy and then obtain aid from Louis XI, he, Wenlock, and the Calais garrison would support him.

  Fortunately for Isabel, her mother was a skilled enough midwife to assist her during a very difficult delivery, but she could not save her baby. The sex of the child is still subject to dispute: it was either an unnamed, stillborn son, or a daughter named Anne who died immediately after birth. The tiny corpse was taken ashore at Calais and buried there, and Warwick then sailed on towards Honfleur, harrying and capturing Breton and Burgundian merchant ships as he went.

  Warwick’s timely arrival in France gave Louis the opportunity to put into action the plans he had long been devising. Warwick and Clarence anchored off Honfleur on 1 May, and were formally welcomed by the Admiral of France and the Archbishop of Narbonne, as Louis’s representatives. They had been commanded by the French king to tell Warwick that he would do everything in his power to help him recover England, either by arranging an alliance with the Lancastrians, or by any other means that Warwick might suggest. Either would suit Louis’s purpose of driving a wedge between England and Burgundy, but he wanted the decision to attempt a Lancastrian restoration to be Warwick’s.

  Warwick responded, asking for an audience, but before the King would grant one, he insisted that the captured Burgundian ships must be secreted away where they could not cause him any embarrassment. Burgundian spies had soon apprised Duke Charles of their capture, and he warned the French king that he intended to launch an attack on Warwick and Clarence as soon as he could find them, whether it was on land or sea. If Louis aided them, he would be breaking the terms of the Treaty of St Omer.

  Louis was still hoping to bring about a reconciliation and alliance between Warwick and Margaret of Anjou that would lead to the restoration of Henry VI to the English throne. He invited both Queen Margaret and Warwick to visit him at Angers, although initially Warwick declined to accept. The Milanese ambassador to France reported: ‘The Earl of Warwick does not want to be here when the Queen arrives, but wishes to allow His Majesty to shape matters a little with her and move her to agree to an alliance between the Prince, her son, and a daughter of Warwick.’ After some persuasion, however, Warwick agreed to meet Louis, who promised to see him separately and to act as mediator.

  On 8 June, Louis received Warwick first, at Amboise on the Loire, Clarence being present at the audience. Warwick knew he was in a desperate situation, and had by now persuaded himself that the only way out was to abandon his plan to put Clarence on the throne and ally himself to the Lancastrians. He therefore indicated that he was willing to link his fortunes with those of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou, and was ready to fight for them, while Louis told him he would press Queen Margaret to pardon him and guarantee him a prominent role in the government of England, should their plans come to fruition. Louis could be very persuasive, and Warwick allowed himself to be convinced. The French king promised a fleet of ships, men and money for the recovery of England, if, as soon as victory was his, Warwick would undertake to bind England in a treaty of peace with France and aid Louis in his proposed offensive against Burgundy. Warwick was happy to go along with this, particularly when Louis suggested that the alliance with Margaret be sealed by the marriage of Edward of Lancaster to Anne Neville.

  Louis had made it clear to Warwick that he thought Clarence was unreliable and that his own plan to restore Henry VI stood a better chance of success than Warwick’s original scheme to place Clarence on the throne. Clarence was not a fool, and very quickly realised that he was to play no part at all in the French plan save that of supporting Warwick, and that his father-in-law was less interested in making him king than in serving his own interests.

  At about this time, Louis wrote to Margaret, proposing that she sign a thirty-year truce between France and the House of Lancaster in return for his promise to help Henry VI recover his kingdom. Margaret readily agreed, and as a compliment to his new allies Louis chose Prince Edward as godfather to the son that Queen Charlotte bore him at the end of the month. Meanwhile, in England, Edward IV was raising men for the defence of the south against a possible invasion by Warwick and Clarence.

  Soon after meeting Warwick, Louis received Queen Margaret at Amboise, and wasted no time in coming straight to the point: with his help the Lancastrians had a good chance of overthrowing Edward IV, but this could only be achieved with the assistance of Warwick, and he asked the Queen seriously to consider allying herself with the Earl since he was the only man who could win England for her.

  Margaret was shocked, then horrified, then furious. When she could speak, she produced a whole tirade of arguments as to why such an alliance was impossible. Louis waited until the storm had passed and heard her out patiently, then told her bluntly that her arguments might be valid but, if she was to regain her husband’s throne for him, she should put her personal feelings aside and adopt a pragmatic attitude. If she could not do this, then he could not support her. According to a report in the Harleian MSS, ‘the Queen was right difficult’, saying that ‘King Henry, she and her son had certain friends which they might lose by this mean, and that might do them more harm than the [good] that the Earl might bring. Wherefore she besought the King that it would please him to leave off.’ Warwick, she cried,

  had pierced her heart with wounds that could never be healed; they would bleed till the Day of Judgement, when she would appeal to the justice of God for vengeance against him. His pride and insolence had first broken the peace of England and stirred up those fatal wars which had desolated the realm. Through him, she and her son had been attainted, proscribed and driven out to beg their bread in foreign lands, and not only had he injured her as a queen, but he had dared to defame her reputation as a woman by divers false and malicious slanders, as if she had been false to her royal lord the King – which things she could never forgive.

  Louis persevered, and Fortescue added his own pleas, perceiving that this alliance was the only way of restoring Henry VI. The Milanese ambassador reported that ‘His Majesty has spent and still spends every day in long discussions with the Queen to induce her to make the alliance with Warwick and to let the Prince go with the Earl to the enterprise of England. Up to the present the Queen has shown herself very hard and difficult.’ Eventually, though, she allowed Louis to overrule her objections and consented to grant Warwick an audience, saying she would let him have her final decision after the interview. She would not agree in any case to the Prince accompanying Warwick, despite Louis’s arguments that his presence would inspire the people of England to rise in favour of Lancaster. She feared to expose her son to the risks that such an expedition must necessarily attract, though Louis was relentless in insisting that there was no question but that the boy should go. Again, Margaret said she would defer any decision on the matter until she had seen Warwick.

  On 15 July, the court moved to Angers, where the Countess of Warwick and her daughter Anne were formally presented to Queen Margaret. It cannot have been a comfortable meeting, given Margaret’s hostility towards Warwick. Worse was to follow, for later that day Louis told her that the Earl was ready to agree to a marriage between Anne and Prince Edward. At this, Margaret exploded. ‘What!’ she cried. ‘Will he indeed give his daughter to my son, whom he has so often branded as the offspring of adultery or fraud?’ And she ‘would not in any wise consent thereunto’, alleging she would gain more advantages by marrying Edward to Edward IV’s heiress, Elizabeth of York – through such an alliance, the House of Lancaster would regain the throne on Edward’s death providing he had no son to succeed him. And she produced for Louis to see a letter she had received from England the previous week, offering the hand of the Princess Elizabeth for Prince Edward.

reported all that Margaret had said to Warwick so that he could marshal his arguments, and on the evening of the 22nd the Earl was at last ushered by the King into the frigid presence of the Queen, and abased himself on his knees, ‘addressing her in the most moving words he could devise’, according to Chastellain, ‘begging forgiveness for all the wrongs he had done her, and humbly beseeching her to pardon and restore him to her favour’. The Harleian MSS account reports him conceding ‘that by his conduct King Henry and she were put out of the realm of England’, but excused this by saying he had believed they ‘had enterprised the destruction of him and his friends in body and in goods, which he had never deserved. He told her he had been the means of upsetting King Edward and unsettling his realm’ and promised that he would in future ‘be as much his foe as he had formerly been his friend and maker’. He now offered himself as a true friend and subject of King Henry.

  The Queen, however, ‘scarcely vouchsafed him any answer, and kept him on his knees a full quarter of an hour’. Seeing that matters were not going as he had planned, King Louis stepped in and offered personally to guarantee the Earl’s fidelity. Margaret demanded that Warwick publicly withdraw his slanderous remarks concerning the paternity of her son, which he assured her he would do, not only in France, but also in England when he had conquered it for her. At length, after much persuasion, the Queen pardoned Warwick.

  Louis then brought in the Earl of Oxford, who received a much warmer reception. Margaret forgave him also, saying that his pardon was easy to purchase, for she knew well that he and his friends had suffered much for King Henry’s quarrels.

  The next three days found Louis, Margaret and Warwick busily negotiating the terms of their alliance. After prolonged discussions, the Queen finally agreed to the marriage of Prince Edward and Anne Neville, although she said she would not allow it to take place until after Warwick had proved his loyalty by taking the field against King Edward, and it should not be consummated until England was mostly conquered. The Prince must therefore remain in France while the Earl invaded England.

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