The Wars of the Roses by Alison Weir

  Margaret remained in Paris over Christmas, and was preparing to leave for England when she learned that, on 5 January 1471, Charles of Burgundy and Edward IV had had a meeting near St Omer. This unnerved her somewhat, yet she was reassured by reports sent to King Louis by the French ambassadors in London that the political situation there was stable and that it would be quite safe for her and her son to return. The Queen therefore left Paris and travelled to Rouen to await the arrival of Warwick, who was to escort her to England.

  Warwick never came. Most of his annual income, which cannot have exceeded £15,000, had been spent in financing his large retinue, his military operations of the previous autumn, and the maintenance of his estates. Short of funds, he had spent the money granted for his journey on other, more pressing, things, and could not now afford to go to France to collect the Queen. Not knowing of this, Margaret refused to consider leaving until Warwick had actually arrived at a French port. While she waited at Rouen, the Earl waited for her at Dover, confident that she would have sailed without him. Soon, though, pressing matters of state obliged him to return to London.

  At last Margaret was forced to accept that Warwick was not coming, and went to Dieppe, intending to embark for England without further delay. Even though the masters of her ships warned her that the weather was not favourable, she refused to listen. Three times her fleet put to sea, and each time it was hurled back upon the coast of Normandy, driven by rough winds and storm-tossed waves. Some ships were badly damaged and had to be repaired, and the more superstitious among the Queen’s men said that the tempest had been conjured up by sorcerers employed by the Yorkists; others perceived the hand of God at work. There was to be no break in the weather for some time, and she had no choice but to wait, fuming in frustration at the interminable delay.

  Back in England, Warwick was desperately trying to consolidate his position. He was concerned about the loyalty of the King’s subjects in the counties of Gloucester and Hereford, and granted Pembroke – who was already responsible for keeping the peace in south Wales and the Marcher lordships – wide military and administrative powers in the Severn Valley. At the same time, Clarence, still outwardly loyal to Warwick but perhaps working for his own ends, was planting his spies in the houses of several noblemen suspected of secret sympathies with Edward IV, among them Northumberland, Shrewsbury and Stanley. Unbeknown to the lords in question, the spies were to monitor all conversations and comings and goings, in order to detect any weakening in their loyalty to the government. The Duke placed two spies in each household, so that one would always be there while the other was reporting back to him.

  Early in February, Parliament considered Warwick’s demand that England be joined in an offensive alliance with France against Burgundy in fulfilment of his promise to Louis XI. The Lords and Commons debated the matter, but would agree only to a ten-year truce, not a formal alliance. Nor, knowing the temper of the people, would they sanction a declaration of war on Burgundy.

  Warwick, however, told Louis’s envoys that England would help their master and that he had already begun recruiting an army and would send it to France as soon as possible. On 12 February, on his instructions, the garrison at Calais prepared to attack Burgundy’s lands in northern France, and the next day, Warwick himself wrote to Louis:

  I pray Almighty God to give you the victory. In the matter of beginning the war at Calais, I have sent instructions to start it, and have today had certain news that the garrison of Calais has already begun and has advanced from Ardres and has killed two of the garrison at Gravelines. As soon as I possibly can I will come to you to serve you against this accursed Burgundian without any default, please God. Your very humble servant, R. Warrewyk.

  The London merchants were furious when Warwick dragged England into a war against Burgundy without Parliament’s consent, knowing that this would be potentially highly injurious to the city’s economic prosperity, and they refused to lend any more money to the readeption government. As for Charles the Bold, the actions of the Calais garrison drove him straight into an alliance with Edward IV, knowing it was now vital to his interests to see the House of York restored to the English throne. The deposition of Henry VI would deprive Louis XI of his principal ally, and so remove the threat of war from Burgundy. With this in mind, Charles agreed to help Edward IV recover his kingdom and gave him 50,000 crowns. Burgundy’s assistance made a Yorkist invasion a realistic possibility.

  When Charles made his decision to support the Yorkists, the self-styled Dukes of Exeter and Somerset, who were still refugees at his court because they did not trust Warwick, begged the Duke not to do anything that would prejudice Henry VI’s tenure of the throne. Charles suggested that they might like to return to England and take up arms against Warwick in the cause of Lancaster, since this, in his view, could only benefit King Edward. Exeter and Somerset returned to England, where they found public opinion united against the French alliance. By his pursuit of it, Warwick had effectively alienated much of the Lancastrian establishment, and Somerset and Exeter had no difficulty in enlisting support for a renewal of the alliance with Burgundy.

  They had hoped that this would leave Edward IV in political isolation, but, with the help of his sister, the Duchess of Burgundy, Edward was already pushing ahead with his plans, and by late February had raised an army of 1000–1500 Englishmen and 300 Flemish mercenaries armed with handguns, according to Warkworth. One London chronicler, however, stated he had 500 Englishmen and 500 Flemings. He had also obtained, through the good offices of the Hanseatic League, a fleet of ships which awaited the order to depart in Flushing harbour. Now Edward, like Queen Margaret in Dieppe, was obliged to wait for a break in the weather.


  ‘The Perfect Victory’

  In England, Edward’s invasion had been expected for some time, and contingency plans to deal with it had been made back in January, when commissions of array were sent to Wales and the Marches. In the north, Montague was mustering an army at Pontefract; Oxford was guarding the coast of East Anglia, Pembroke was preparing to defend Wales, Clarence was in Bristol, guarding the West Country, and the Bastard of Fauconberg had been placed in command of the royal fleet, which was stationed on alert in the English Channel.

  Yet, despite these defence strategies, Warwick’s authority was crumbling, especially in London, where his retainers were now regarded as little better than hooligans – men who ‘would have been right glad of a common robbery’. He had alienated not only the middle and lower classes, but also the lords, who increasingly resented his self-aggrandisement. Neither Lancastrians nor Yorkists trusted him, and his legendary popularity was fast fading. Neville supremacy in the north had declined since Percy’s restoration to the earldom of Northumberland and the removal of Montague from that sphere of influence. It was Percy who now held sway in the north, particularly in Yorkshire, and Warwick knew for a certainty that Percy would not support him. Nor did the Queen’s imminent return bode well for the future prosperity of Warwick, or of England for that matter, for it was unlikely that Margaret and the Earl would remain in concord for long.

  On 2 March, King Edward boarded his flagship, the Anthony, at Flushing, ‘with the intention to re-enter and recover his realm’, but before his fleet of thirty-six ships could sail the wind turned against him. He would not go back on land, and was obliged to remain in the harbour for nine days until the 11th, when good weather returned and the ships were able to head straight for the Norfolk coast. On the evening of Tuesday, 12 March, they appeared before Cromer, but since Oxford’s men were waiting for them there, it was impossible to land. Edward decided instead to sail north for the Humber estuary, and his fleet cast anchor late that night. Clarence, anticipating that his brother might land in the north, had already planted spies in Yorkshire in order to discover Edward’s movements.

  While at sea, the King’s ships were caught in a violent storm and separated. There was no sign of the others when, on the 14th, Edward landed at Ravenspur in
Yorkshire – at the same spot where Henry of Bolingbroke had landed seventy-two years earlier – a long way from the south where most of his support was concentrated. As the King and his party were mustering their men on the beach, they saw the glint of the sun on steel on a hill in the distance and, thinking it was the enemy, seized their weapons. The ‘hostile’ force turned out to be Gloucester and his men, whose ship had landed five miles along the coast. Later, Rivers and his troops joined the King at Ravenspur, having landed fourteen miles away at Paull.

  To cover his traces and show his men that he had no intention of retreating, Edward ordered his ship to be burned. Yet his presence in the vicinity could not be concealed, and before long ‘all the country of Holderness’ – 6–7000 men in all – was rising in arms against him, led by a local vicar, a captain called John Westerdale, and one Martin of the Sea. However, none of these men demonstrated any real qualities of leadership, and their movement therefore lacked cohesion and direction. The King had no difficulty in convincing the leaders that he had come to claim only his duchy of York, after which they let him continue on his way.

  Edward rode to Hull, but its gates remained firmly closed to him. At Beverley, however, the citizens were more hospitable and received him in friendly fashion. After a brief sojourn there, the King drew up his army into marching order, raised his banners aloft, and made for York. He met with no opposition, but then neither did he attract much support, for few people believed he stood much chance of victory. According to the Historie of the Arrivall of King Edward IV in England, the official account of his enterprise, he himself was well aware that he was ‘had in great suspicion and hatred’ by some of the magnates, and knew that the recovery of his kingdom was a dangerous gamble.

  On 19 March, Oxford, then at Bury St Edmunds, received ‘credible tidings’ of Edward’s invasion, and issued an urgent summons to the men of the region to array themselves and attend him. Warwick responded to the news of Edward’s coming with a summons to all loyal Englishmen to take up arms, but some Lancastrian nobles – notably Shrewsbury, Stanley, Somerset, Exeter and Pembroke – disobeyed it, preferring to await Queen Margaret’s arrival. Nevertheless, Warwick managed to raise a sizeable army: the Arrivall claimed that, ‘where he could not raise the people with goodwill, he straitly charged them to come forth on pain of death’. Parliament granted the Prince of Wales the power to array men for the defence of the realm, and commissions were sent out in his name, threatening those who did not comply with the penalties meted out to traitors.

  That Warwick was now a desperate man is evident from a postscript he appended in his own hand to a letter he sent to Sir Henry Vernon, the only surviving one of many that he dispatched at this time to his friends and supporters: ‘Henry, I pray you, fail not now, as ever I may do for you.’ Vernon, like many others, paid no heed to the summons: he received several from both Warwick and Clarence and ignored them all.

  Warwick marched north, leaving Archbishop Neville responsible for the safe-keeping of King Henry and the capital. Clarence was already active in Bristol and Wells, recruiting men, and soon had a force of 4000 soldiers. Montague as yet lacked sufficient numbers to attack Edward’s force in the north.

  When the King arrived before York, the city magistrates at first refused him entry. But he again requested admission, saying he was a simple duke, come only to claim the duchy of York, his rightful inheritance. The city fathers would not argue with that, and reasoned that admitting a duke did not constitute an act of treason. They were further convinced of Edward’s good intentions when, says Warkworth, ‘afore all the people, he cried, “À King Harry! À King Harry!” ’, and stuck an ostrich feather, the badge of the Prince of Wales, in his hat. On 18 March he was allowed to ride into York with a few companions, leaving his army encamped outside the city walls. Within the city, he swore a solemn oath before the citizens that he had no intention of reclaiming the throne.

  Edward waited now to see if Northumberland would join him, but the Earl ‘sat still’ on his northern estates with a strong force of retainers, who would not fight for the King but heeded their master’s injunction to let him pass unmolested. Edward also learned that Montague was waiting for him at Pontefract, but of military movements further south he as yet knew nothing.

  While Edward was in York, Warwick and his army had marched on Coventry to join up with Oxford and Clarence. Oxford was already bringing 4000 men of East Anglia up the Fosse Way towards Newark, and Clarence was marching his army north from the south-west. The combined strength of Edward’s enemies was a formidable challenge to his military abilities, but he was more than equal to it. He left York on 19 March and moved to Tadcaster. The next day, he suddenly swung west, to avoid Pontefract, and began recruiting men in his former lordships of Sandal and Wakefield. Montague, surprisingly, made no move to block Edward’s progress after he had given him the slip.

  From Wakefield, Edward marched via Doncaster to Nottingham, where he abandoned his pretence of having come only to claim the duchy of York and issued proclamations using the royal style. The townsfolk, seeing him astride his horse, smiling, confident and radiantly handsome, came swarming to his standard. He was now approaching the territory of his Yorkist supporters, and many knights and magnates came to him with their retainers, among them Sir William Parr and Sir James Harington with 600 men, Sir William Stanley, brother of Lord Stanley, and Sir William Norris. It was at this point that Edward discovered the full extent of the forces ranged against him, and from Nottingham, he sent his scourers into the surrounding countryside to learn more of his enemies’ movements. Thus he found out that Oxford had occupied Newark, and decided to attack it, sending aforeriders to demand its surrender. Oxford was alarmed by their sudden appearance and – believing his troops would be no match for Edward’s mercenaries – promptly evacuated the town, many of his men deserting at this point. A jubilant Edward, with an army now numbering over 2000 and swelling all the time, next advanced to Leicester, where he was joined by nearly 3000 of Hastings’s men, and so on towards Coventry.

  When Warwick learned of Oxford’s retreat, he withdrew his army of 6–7000 men inside the walls of Coventry, to await the arrival of Oxford and Clarence with reinforcements. In a letter written on the 25th he observed that Edward’s force was still small, thanks to the reluctance of men to rally to his cause, and he was confident of beating it. Warwick, however, was in for a shock.

  All this time, Queen Margaret had continued to delay her departure from France, having received alarming reports that Edward IV was planning to invade England. King Louis told her that, when his ambassadors returned from England, she could use their ships, but she was too fearful and declined the offer. Shortly afterwards, Sir John Langstrother sailed his own ship over to France to collect her, and on 24 March, with grave misgivings, the Queen left Harfleur, accompanied by the Prince and Princess of Wales, Fortescue, Wenlock, Morton and 3000 knights and squires of France. The Countess of Warwick was in a different ship and this landed ahead of the Queen’s fleet at Portsmouth. Knowing that Margaret was making for the south-west coast, the Countess took passage on another ship bound for Weymouth. Once the ship was at sea, however, a fierce storm blew up and tossed it back to Southampton. As the turbulent weather showed no sign of abating, the Countess decided to travel overland to join the Queen.

  On the 29th, King Edward arrived at Coventry, arguably one of the best-fortified towns in England. He stood before the walls and shouted out his defiance of Warwick, calling upon him either to come forth in peace and receive a pardon or to come out and fight. Warwick, looking out upon Edward’s sizeable host, was well aware that if he responded to Edward’s challenge to sally forth and decide their quarrel by recourse to arms the day might well go against him. Moreover, many men in his army were averse to confronting the King in the field since he had never yet lost a battle.

  For three days running Edward sent heralds bearing formal challenges to Warwick, but received no reply. Accepting that the Earl was not
going to come forth, he withdrew and marched to the town of Warwick, where he seized and occupied the Earl’s castle. From here, he had himself formally proclaimed king once more. While he was at Warwick, he received reports that Oxford, Exeter and Montague were marching to join up with Warwick at Coventry. Edward quickly dispatched a force of men to intercept Oxford at Leicester, where they defeated the Earl on 3 April. Clarence, however, failed to join Warwick and instead proclaimed his intention of returning to his allegiance to his brother.

  Hoping to score a decisive victory, the King marched back to Coventry, drew his army up in battle order before the walls, and issued a further challenge to Warwick, which the Earl declined to accept. At this, Edward abandoned his attempts to lure Warwick out of Coventry, ‘not thinking it behoveful to assail nor to tarry for the assieging thereof, as well for the avoidance of great slaughter that should thereby ensue, and for that it was thought more expedient to them to draw towards London’, according to the Arrivall. He now withdrew three miles off and set up camp on the road to Banbury to await the arrival of Clarence and his men.

  Both Burgundy and the Duchess of York had put pressure on Clarence to make peace with Edward IV, and the young Duke of Gloucester was also instrumental in bringing about their reconciliation. On the night of 2 April he had paid a secret visit to Clarence, who was then encamped near Banbury, and persuaded him to return to his allegiance. Clarence, however, needed little persuading. His patience had run out when on 23 March Warwick had forced him to surrender some of his property to Queen Margaret and Prince Edward, ‘notwithstanding the agreements made between the Queen, Prince, himself and Warwick, that he should retain all his possessions until duly recompensed’. Clearly, he could expect very little from his father-in-law. He was also aware that Warwick’s position was growing extremely precarious and that it would be wise to dissociate himself from him; if he delayed much longer in making his peace with Edward, it might be too late.

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