6 May 2010
King Edward IV of York (1461-1470) & (1471-1483)
Reign 4 March 1461 – 3 October 1470
Coronation 28 June 1461
Predecessor Henry VI
Successor Edward V
King of England
Reign 11 April 1471 – 9 April 1483
Predecessor Henry VI
Successor Edward V
Consort Elizabeth Woodville
Elizabeth of York
Mary of York
Cecily of York
Richard of Shrewsbury, 1st Duke of York
Anne of York, Countess of Surrey
Catherine of York
Bridget of York
House House of York
Father Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York
Mother Cecily Neville
Born 28 April 1442(1442-04-28)
Died 9 April 1483 (aged 40)
Burial St George’s Chapel, Windsor
Edward IV (French: Édouard IV d’Angleterre) (28 April 1442 – 9 April 1483) was King of England from 4 March 1461 until 3 October 1470, and again from 11 April 1471 until his death. He was the first Yorkist King of England. The first half of his rule was characterised by violence, but he overcame the remaining Lancastrian threat at Tewkesbury to reign in peace until his sudden death.
Accession to the throne
Edward of York was born at Rouen in France, the second son of Richard, 3rd Duke of York (who had a strong genealogical claim to the throne of England) and Cecily Neville. He was the eldest of the four sons who survived to adulthood. The Duke of York’s assertion of his claim to the crown in 1460 was the key escalation of the conflict known as the Wars of the Roses. When his father was killed at the Battle of Wakefield, Edward inherited his claim.
With the support of his cousin, Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick (“The Kingmaker”), Edward defeated the Lancastrians in a succession of battles. And whilst Henry VI and his militaristic queen, Margaret of Anjou, were campaigning in the north of England, Warwick gained control of the capital and had Edward declared king in London in 1461. Edward strengthened his claim with a decisive victory at the Battle of Towton in the same year, in the course of which the Lancastrian army was virtually wiped out. Even at the age of nineteen, he had remarkable military acumen and a notable physique. His height is estimated at 6 ft 4 in (1.93 m), making him the tallest British monarch to date.
Warwick, believing that he could continue to rule through Edward, pressed him to enter into a marital alliance with a major European power. Edward then alienated Warwick by secretly marrying Elizabeth Woodville, the widow of a Lancastrian sympathiser.
Elizabeth’s mother was Jacquetta of Luxembourg, widow of Henry VI’s uncle, John of Lancaster, Duke of Bedford, but her father, Richard Woodville, was a new-minted baron. Elizabeth’s marriage to Edward IV made the unmarried among her twelve siblings desirable matrimonial catches.
Although they posed no immediate threat to Warwick’s own power, Warwick resented the influence this group had over the King and, with the aid of Edward’s disaffected younger brother George, Duke of Clarence, Warwick led an army against Edward.
The main part of the king’s army (without Edward) was defeated at the Battle of Edgecote Moor in 1469, and Edward was subsequently captured at Olney. Warwick then attempted to rule in Edward’s name, but the nobility, many of whom owed their preferments to the king, were restive and with the emergence of a counter-rebellion, Warwick was forced to release Edward. At this point Edward did not seek to destroy either Warwick or Clarence but instead sought reconciliation with them.
In 1470, Warwick and Clarence rebelled again. This time they were defeated and forced to flee to France. There, they made an alliance with Margaret of Anjou, and Warwick agreed to restore Henry VI in return for French support in an invasion, which took place in late 1470. This time, Edward was forced to flee when he learned Warwick’s brother, John Neville, 1st Marquess of Montagu, had also switched to the Lancastrian side, making Edward’s military position untenable.
Henry VI was briefly restored to the throne in 1470, in an act known as the Readeption of Henry VI, and Edward took refuge in Burgundy, accompanied by his younger brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester. The rulers of Burgundy were his brother-in-law Charles, Duke of Burgundy, and his sister Margaret of York. Despite the fact that Charles was initially unwilling to help Edward, the French declared war on Burgundy and so Charles decided to give his aid to Edward, and from there he raised an army to win back his kingdom.
When he returned to England with a relatively small force he avoided capture by stating his claim, just as Henry Bolingbroke had done seventy years earlier, that he merely desired to reclaim his dukedom. The city of York closed its gates to him, but as he marched southwards he began to gather support, and Clarence (who had realised that his fortunes would be better off as brother to a king than under Henry VI) reunited with him. Edward entered London unopposed, where he took Henry VI prisoner. Edward and his brothers then defeated Warwick at the Battle of Barnet and with Warwick dead, he eliminated the remaining Lancastrian resistance at the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471. The Lancastrian heir, Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales, was killed either on the battlefield or shortly afterwards. A few days later, on the night that Edward re-entered London, Henry VI died. One contemporary chronicle claimed that his death was due to “melancholy,” but it is widely suspected that Edward ordered Henry’s murder in order to completely remove the Lancastrian opposition.
Edward’s two younger brothers, George, Duke of Clarence, and Richard, Duke of Gloucester (later King Richard III of England) were married to Isabella Neville and Anne Neville. They were both daughters of Warwick by Anne Beauchamp and rival heirs to the considerable inheritance of their still-living mother. Clarence and Gloucester were at loggerheads for much of the rest of his reign. Clarence was eventually found guilty of plotting against Edward and was imprisoned in the Tower of London. He was “privately executed” (Shakespearean tradition states he was drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine) on 18 February 1478.
Later reign and death
Edward did not face any further rebellions after his restoration, as the Lancastrian line had virtually been extinguished, and the only rival left was Henry Tudor, who was living in exile.
In 1475, Edward declared war on France and came to terms with the Treaty of Picquigny which provided him with an immediate payment of 75,000 crowns and a yearly pension thereafter of 50,000 crowns. He also backed an attempt by Alexander Stewart, 1st Duke of Albany, brother of King James III of Scotland to take the Scottish throne in 1482. Gloucester led an invasion of Scotland which captured Edinburgh and James III, but Albany reneged on his agreement with Edward. Gloucester decided to withdraw from his position of strength in Edinburgh. However, Gloucester did recover Berwick-upon-Tweed.
Edward’s health began to fail and he became subject to an increasing number of ailments. Edward fell fatally ill at Easter 1483, but lingered on long enough to add some codicils to his will, the most important being his naming of his brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, as Protector after his death. He died on 9 April 1483 and is buried in St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. He was succeeded by his twelve-year-old son, Edward V of England.
It is not known what actually caused Edward’s death. Pneumonia and typhoid have both been conjectured, as well as poison. Some attributed his death to an unhealthy lifestyle, as he had become stout and inactive in the years before his death.