Edward IV of England

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Edward IV
King Edward IV.jpg
King of England
First reign4 March 1461 – 3 October 1470
Coronation 28 June 1461
Predecessor Henry VI
SuccessorHenry VI
Second reign11 April 1471 – 9 April 1483
PredecessorHenry VI
Successor Edward V
Born28 April 1442
Rouen, Normandy, France
Died9 April 1483 (aged 40)
Westminster, Middlesex, England
Burial18 April 1483
among others
House York
Father Richard, Duke of York
Mother Cecily Neville
Signature Edward IV signature.svg

Edward IV (28 April 1442 – 9 April 1483) was King of England from 4 March 1461 to 3 October 1470, [1] and again from 11 April 1471 until his death. He is best remembered for his role in the civil war that brought him to power, and the struggle for control that followed his death in 1483.


His father, Richard of York, was a lineal descendant of Edward III, and from 1447 to 1453, heir presumptive to Henry VI, from the ruling House of Lancaster. Less than a year old when he came to the throne in September 1422, Henry's minority was marked by political infighting within the Regency council. Even when he reached adulthood in 1437, his weak and indecisive personality did little to mitigate factional conflict, exacerbated by reverses in France.

In 1453, Henry suffered a complete mental breakdown, and the government descended into chaos. Conflict between Yorkists and Lancastrians led to civil war in 1455, which continued intermittently until 1485, and is collectively known as The Wars of the Roses. After his father's death in December 1460, Edward became head of the Yorkists; supported by the Earl of Warwick, also known as 'The Kingmaker', he deposed Henry, and was crowned king in June 1461.

Divisions developed after Edward's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville in 1464; Warwick switched sides in 1470 and restored Henry to the throne. Edward fled to Flanders; with support from Flemish merchants, he returned to England in March 1471, winning victories at Barnet in April and Tewkesbury in May. Warwick, Henry's heir Edward of Westminster and other senior Lancastrians were killed, while Henry died in the Tower of London a few days later.

This largely ended the threat posed by the Lancastrians, and England remained relatively peaceful until 1483. However, Edward's failure to exercise strong government, and over-reliance on a small circle of supporters created instability, and divided the Yorkist party. In the power struggle that followed his death, his two minor sons, Edward and Richard, were declared illegitimate by his younger brother, the Duke of Gloucester, who became Richard III.

Early life

Edward, Earl of March, was born at Rouen in Normandy, eldest surviving son of Richard, 3rd Duke of York, and Cecily Neville. Historians generally dismiss later claims of illegitimacy as politically motivated propaganda; Edward, his brother Clarence, and their sister Margaret were physically very similar, all three being tall and blonde, in contrast to their short, dark, father. [2] When his younger brother Richard of Gloucester declared his nephews illegitimate, he did so on the grounds Edward's marriage to their mother was invalid. [3] [lower-alpha 1]

Richard of York was a lineal descendant of Edward III, and heir to Henry VI, from 1447 until the birth of Edward of Westminster in 1453. [lower-alpha 2] Less than a year old when he came to the throne in September 1422, Henry's reign was punctuated by mental illness, economic decline and military defeat; by 1453, only Calais remained of the once extensive English possessions in France. This led to a power struggle between supporters of the Crown, or Lancastrians, and a Yorkist faction, led by Richard and the Earl of Salisbury. Henry's incapacities meant the Lancastrians were led by his wife, Margaret of Anjou, and Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset. [6]

Somerset was executed after defeat at St Albans in 1455, and York appointed Lord Protector; an uneasy peace continued until 1459, when Margaret and Henry Beaufort felt strong enough to challenge him. He fled England with his two eldest sons, Edward and Edmund, accompanied by Salisbury, and his son Richard, Earl of Warwick. After returning in July 1460, they captured Henry at Northampton, but when York claimed the throne for himself, he was abandoned by many of his supporters. [7] Edward was sent to deal with a Lancastrian insurgency in Wales, Warwick remained in London, while York, Salisbury, and Edmund marched north to suppress another in Yorkshire. Defeated at Wakefield on 30 December, all three were killed, and their heads later displayed on Micklegate Bar. [8]


Accession to the throne

Towton Cross, commemorating Edward's victory at the Battle of Towton DacreCross.JPG
Towton Cross, commemorating Edward's victory at the Battle of Towton

His father's death made Edward leader of the Yorkist faction; at this stage of his career, contemporaries like Philippe de Commines described him as handsome, affable, and energetic. [9] Unusually tall for the period at 6 feet 4 inches (193 centimeters), he was an impressive sight in armour, and took care to wear splendid clothes. This was done deliberately to contrast him with Henry, whose physical and mental frailties undermined his position. [10]

On 2 February 1461, [lower-alpha 3] Edward won a hard-fought victory at Mortimer's Cross. The battle was preceded by a meteorological phenomenon known as parhelion, or three suns, which he took as his emblem, the "Sun in splendour. [11] However, this was offset by Warwick's defeat at the Second Battle of St Albans on 17 February, the Lancastrians regaining custody of Henry VI. The two met in London, where Edward was hastily crowned king, before marching north, where the two sides met at the Battle of Towton. Fought on 29 March in the middle of a snowstorm, it was the bloodiest battle ever to take place on English soil, and ended in a decisive Yorkist victory. [12]

Estimates of the dead range from 9,000 to 20,000; figures are uncertain, as most of the mass graves were emptied or moved over the centuries, while corpses were generally stripped of clothing or armour before burial. Nevertheless, casualties among the Lancastrian nobility were enormous, and explains the enduring bitterness among those who survived. Since 1996, excavations have uncovered over 50 skeletons from the battle; an analysis of their injuries shows the brutality of the contest, including extensive post-mortem mutilations. [13]

Margaret fled to Scotland with Edward of Westminster, while Edward returned to London for his coronation. [14] Henry VI remained at large for over a year, but was caught and imprisoned in the Tower of London. There was little point in killing him while his son remained alive, since this would have transferred the Lancastrian claim from a frail captive to one who was young and free. [15]

1461 to 1470

Rose Noble coin of Edward IV, minted in 1464 Rose Noble, Edward IV, from 1464 - Bode-Museum - DSC02744.JPG
Rose Noble coin of Edward IV, minted in 1464

Most of the nobility had either remained loyal to Henry or stayed neutral, forcing Edward to rely heavily on the Nevilles. Consolidating the regime initially took precedence, but John Neville's victory at the 1464 Battle of Hexham seemed to end the Lancastrian threat. [16] This exposed internal divisions, some over policy, but more significantly Warwick's encouragement of the perception he was the senior partner. [17]

Although Edward preferred Burgundy as an ally, he allowed Warwick to negotiate a treaty with Louis XI of France; it included a suggested marriage between Edward and Anne of France or Bona of Savoy, daughter and sister-in-law of the French king respectively. [18] In October 1464, Warwick was enraged to discover that on 1 May, Edward had secretly married Elizabeth Woodville, a widow with two sons, whose Lancastrian husband, John Grey of Groby, died at Towton. [19] If nothing else, it was a clear demonstration he was not in control of Edward, despite suggestions to the contrary. [20]

Edward's motives have been widely discussed by contemporaries and historians alike. Elizabeth's mother, Jacquetta of Luxembourg, came from the upper nobility, but her father, Richard Woodville, was a middle ranking provincial knight. Edward's Privy Council told him with unusual frankness, "she was no wife for a prince such as himself, for she was not the daughter of a duke or earl." [21]

The marriage was certainly unwise and unusual, although not unknown; Henry VI's mother, Catherine of Valois, married her chamberlain, Owen Tudor, while Edward's grandson Henry VIII created the Church of England to marry Anne Boleyn. By all accounts, Elizabeth possessed considerable charm of person and intellect, while Edward was used to getting what he wanted. [22]

Historians generally accept the marriage was an impulsive decision, but differ on whether it was also a "calculated political move". One view is the low status of the Woodvilles was part of the attraction, since unlike the Nevilles, they were reliant on Edward and thus more likely to remain loyal. [23] Others argue if this was his purpose, there were far better options available; all agree it had significant political implications that impacted the rest of Edward's reign. [24]

Edward IV's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, from the illuminated manuscript Anciennes Chroniques d'Angleterre, by Jean de Wavrin. Bibliotheque nationale de France, Paris. Marriage Edward IV Elizabeth Woodville Wavrin Anciennes Chroniques d'Angleterre Francais 85 f109.jpeg
Edward IV's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, from the illuminated manuscript Anciennes Chroniques d'Angleterre, by Jean de Wavrin. Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris.

Unusually for the period, 12 of the new queen's siblings survived into adulthood, creating a large pool of competitors for offices and estates, as well as in the matrimony market. Her sisters made a series of advantageous unions, including that of Catherine Woodville to Henry Stafford, later Duke of Buckingham, Anne Woodville to William, heir to the Earl of Essex, and Eleanor Woodville with Anthony Grey, heir to the Earl of Kent. [25]

In 1467, Edward dismissed his Lord Chancellor, Warwick's brother George Neville, Archbishop of York. Warwick responded by building an alliance with Edward's disaffected younger brother and current heir, George, Duke of Clarence, who held estates adjacent to the Neville heartland in the north. Concerned by this, Edward blocked a proposed marriage between Clarence and Warwick's eldest daughter Isabel. [26]

In early July, Clarence traveled to Calais, where he married Isabel in a ceremony conducted by George Neville and overseen by Warwick. The three men issued a 'remonstrance', listing alleged abuses by the Woodvilles and other advisors close to Edward. They returned to London, where they assembled an army to remove these 'evil councillors' and establish good government. [27]

With Edward still in the north, the royal army was defeated by a Neville force at Edgecote Moor on 26 July 1469. After the battle, Edward was held in Middleham Castle; on 12 August, Earl Rivers and his younger son John Woodville were executed at Kenilworth. However, it soon became clear there was little support for Warwick or Clarence; Edward was released in September and resumed the throne. [28]

Outwardly, the situation remained unchanged, but tensions persisted and Edward did nothing to reduce the Nevilles' sense of vulnerability. The Percys, traditional rivals of the Neville family in the North, fought for Lancaster at Towton; their titles and estates were confiscated and given to Warwick's brother John Neville. In early 1470, Edward reinstated Henry Percy as Earl of Northumberland; John was compensated with the title Marquess of Montagu, but this was a significant demotion for a key supporter. [29]

In March 1470, Warwick and Clarence exploited a private feud to initiate a full-scale revolt; when it was defeated, the two fled to France in May 1470. [30] Seeing an opportunity, Louis persuaded Warwick to negotiate with his long-time enemy, Margaret of Anjou; she eventually agreed, first making him kneel before her in silence for fifteen minutes. [31] With French support, Warwick landed in England on 9 September 1470 and announced his intention to restore Henry. [32] By now, the Yorkist regime was deeply unpopular and the Lancastrians rapidly assembled an army of over 30,000; when John Neville switched sides, Edward was forced into exile in Bruges. [33]

Exile and restoration

Edward IV (left) watching the execution of Edmund Beaufort, 4th Duke of Somerset at Tewkesbury, 1471 Beheading duke somerset.jpg
Edward IV (left) watching the execution of Edmund Beaufort, 4th Duke of Somerset at Tewkesbury, 1471

Edward took refuge in Flanders, part of the Duchy of Burgundy, accompanied by a few hundred men, including his younger brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, Anthony Woodville and William Hastings. [34] The Duchy was ruled by Charles the Bold, husband of his sister Margaret; he provided minimal help, something Edward never forgot. [35]

The restored Lancastrian regime faced the same issue that dominated Henry's previous reign. Mental and physical frailties made him incapable of ruling and resulted in an internal struggle for control, made worse because the coalition that put him back on the throne consisted of bitter enemies. Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, held Warwick responsible for his fathers death in 1455, while he had executed his elder brother in 1464; Warwick and Clarence quickly found themselves isolated by the new regime. [36]

Backed by wealthy Flemish merchants, in March 1471 Edward landed near Hull, close to his estates in Yorkshire. Supporters were initially reluctant to commit; the key northern city of York opened its gates only when he claimed to be seeking the return of his dukedom, like Henry IV seventy years earlier. The first significant contingent to join was a group of 600 men under William Parr and Sir James Harrington. [37] Parr fought against the Yorkists at Edgecote in 1469 and his defection confirmed Clarence's decision to switch sides; as they marched south, more recruits came in, including 3,000 at Leicester. [38]

Edward entered London unopposed and took Henry prisoner; Warwick was defeated and killed at the Battle of Barnet on 14 April, while a second Lancastrian army was destroyed at the Battle of Tewkesbury on 4 May. 16 year old Edward of Westminster died on the battlefield, with surviving leaders like Somerset executed shortly afterwards. This was followed by Henry's death a few days later; a contemporary chronicle claimed this was due to "melancholy," but it is generally assumed he was killed on Edward's orders. [39]

Although the Lancastrian cause seemed at an end, the regime was destabilised by an ongoing quarrel between Clarence and his brother Gloucester. The two were married to Isabel Neville and Anne Neville respectively, Warwick's daughters by Anne Beauchamp and heirs to their mother's considerable inheritance. [40] Many of the estates held by the brothers had been granted by Edward, who could also remove them, making them dependent on his favour. This was not the case with property acquired through marriage and explains the importance of this dispute. [41]

1471 to 1483

Edward IV c.1520, posthumous portrait from original c. 1470-75; it shows signs of the corpulence that affected him in later life Edward IV Plantagenet.jpg
Edward IV c.1520, posthumous portrait from original c. 1470–75; it shows signs of the corpulence that affected him in later life

The last significant rebellion ended in March 1474 with the surrender of the Earl of Oxford, who survived to command the Lancastrian army at Bosworth in 1485. Clarence was widely suspected of involvement, a factor in his eventual death in the Tower on 18 February 1478; claims he "drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine", appear to have been a joke by Edward, referring to his favourite drink. [42]

In 1475, Edward allied with Burgundy, and declared war on France. However, with Duke Charles focused on besieging Neuss, Louis opened negotiations and soon after Edward landed at Calais, the two signed the Treaty of Picquigny. [43] Edward received an immediate payment of 75,000 crowns, plus a yearly pension of 50,000 crowns, thus allowing him to recoup the costs of his army. [44]

In 1482, he backed an attempt to usurp the Scottish throne by Alexander Stewart, 1st Duke of Albany, brother of James III of Scotland. Gloucester invaded Scotland and took the town of Edinburgh, but not the far more formidable castle, where James was being held by his own nobles. Albany switched sides and without siege equipment, the English army was forced to withdraw, with little to show for an expensive campaign, apart from the capture of Berwick Castle. [45]

Edward's health began to fail, and he became subject to an increasing number of ailments; his physicians attributed this in part to a habitual use of emetics, which allowed him to gorge himself at meals, then return after vomiting to start again. [46] He fell fatally ill at Easter 1483, but survived long enough to add codicils to his will, the most important naming his brother as Protector after his death. He died on 9 April 1483 and was buried in St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle. His twelve-year-old son, Edward V of England, was never crowned, Gloucester becoming Richard III in July. [47]

The cause of Edward's death is uncertain; allegations of poison were common in an era when lack of medical knowledge meant death often had no obvious explanation. Other suggestions include pneumonia or malaria, although both were well-known and easy to describe. One contemporary attributed it to apoplexy brought on by excess, which fits with what is known of his physical habits. [48]

While the War of the Roses has been documented by numerous historians, Edward as an individual is less well known; 19th century historians like William Stubbs generally dismissed him as a bloodthirsty nonentity. The most comprehensive modern biography was written by Charles Ross in 1974, who concluded despite Edward's abilities, his reign was ultimately a failure. Ross states Edward ’remains the only king in English history since 1066 in active possession of his throne who failed to secure the safe succession of his son. His lack of political foresight is largely to blame for the unhappy aftermath of his early death.’ [49]


Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers, one of the first printed books in the English language, printed by William Caxton. Woodville presenting it to Edward, his wife Elizabeth, the Prince of Wales, and Richard of Gloucester Rivers & Caxton Presenting book to Edward IV.JPG
Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers , one of the first printed books in the English language, printed by William Caxton. Woodville presenting it to Edward, his wife Elizabeth, the Prince of Wales, and Richard of Gloucester

Economic, Political, Diplomatic

Commentators observe a marked difference between his first period as king, and the second. The failure of attempts to reconcile former enemies like Somerset meant he was noticeably more ruthless after 1471, including the execution of his brother Clarence. [50] In his youth, Edward was a capable and charismatic military commander, who led from the front, but as he grew older, the energy noted by contemporaries became less apparent. [51]

One effect of this was that Parliament became increasingly reluctant to approve taxes for wars which he failed to prosecute, then used the funds instead to finance his household expenditures. Under his rule, ownership of the Duchy of Lancaster was transferred to the Crown, where it remains today. In 1478, his staff prepared the so-called 'Black Book', a comprehensive review of government finances, still in use a century later. [52] He invested heavily in business ventures with the City of London, which he used as an additional source of funding. [53]

Although the economy recovered from the depression of 1450 to 1470, Edward's spending habitually exceeded income; on his death in 1483, the Crown had less than £1,200 in cash. His close relationship with the London branch of the Medici Bank ended in its bankruptcy; in 1517, the Medicis were still seeking repayment of Edward's debts. [54]

Economics was closely linked to foreign policy; Edward's reign was dominated by the three sided diplomatic contest between England, France, and Burgundy, with two of the three seeking to ally against the third. [lower-alpha 4] As Flemish merchants were the largest buyers of English wool, Edward was generally pro-Burgundian, although Duke Charles' reluctance to support him in 1471 impacted their relationship. The death of Charles in 1477 led to the 1482 Treaty of Arras; Flanders, along with the lands known as the Burgundian Netherlands, became part of the Holy Roman Empire, and France acquired the rest. Edward and his successors lost much of their leverage as a result. [55]


Edward's Great Hall, Eltham Palace, ca 2018 Eltham Palace, April 2018 (4).jpg
Edward's Great Hall, Eltham Palace, ca 2018

Edward's court was described by a visitor from Europe as "the most splendid ... in all Christendom". [56] He spent large amounts on expensive status symbols to show off his power and wealth as king of England, while his collecting habits show an eye for style and an interest in scholarship, particularly history. He acquired fine clothes, jewels, and furnishings, as well as a collection of beautifully illuminated historical and literary manuscripts, many made specially for him by craftsmen in Bruges. [57] [58]

These included books for both entertainment and instruction, whose contents reveal his interests. They focus on the lives of great rulers, including Julius Caesar, [59] historical chronicles, [60] and instructional and religious works. [61] In 1476, William Caxton established the first English printing press in the outbuildings of Westminster Abbey; on 18 November 1477, he produced Sayengis of the Philosophres, translated into English for Edward by Anthony Woodville. [62]

It is not known where or how Edward's library was stored, but it is recorded that he transferred volumes from the Great Wardrobe to Eltham Palace and that he had a yeoman "to kepe the king's bookes". [63] [64] More than forty of his books survive intact from the 15th century, which suggests they were carefully stored, and are now included in the Royal Collection of manuscripts, held by the British Library. [65]

Edward spent large sums on Eltham Palace, including the still-extant Great Hall, site of a feast for 2,000 people in December 1482, shortly before his death in April. [66] He also began a major upgrade of St George's Chapel, Windsor, where he was buried in 1483; later completed by Henry VII, it was badly damaged during the First English Civil War, and little of the original work remains. [67]

Marriage and children

Edward had ten children by Elizabeth Woodville, seven of whom survived him; they were declared illegitimate under the 1483 Titulus Regius, an act repealed by Henry VII, who married his eldest daughter, Elizabeth. [68]

Edward had numerous mistresses, including Lady Eleanor Talbot and Elizabeth Lucy, possibly daughter of Thomas Waite (or Wayte), of Southampton. The most famous was Jane Shore, later compelled by Richard to perform public penance at Paul's Cross; Sir Thomas More claimed this backfired, since "albeit she were out of al array save her kyrtle only: yet went she so fair & lovely … that her great shame wan her much praise." [69]

He had several acknowledged illegitimate children;

There are claims for many others, including Mary, second wife of Henry Harman of Ellam, and Isabel Mylbery (born circa 1470), who married John Tuchet, son of John Tuchet, 6th Baron Audley. However, the evidence for these is circumstantial. [74]


Cardinal Reginald Pole, (1500-1558), last legitimate male Yorkist heir El cardenal Reginald Pole, por Sebastiano del Piombo.jpg
Cardinal Reginald Pole, (1500–1558), last legitimate male Yorkist heir

His eldest son Edward was made Prince of Wales when he was seven months old, and given his own household at the age of three. Based in Ludlow Castle, he was supervised by his uncle, Anthony Woodville, 2nd Earl Rivers, who also acted as his regent for the Council of Wales and the Marches. [75]

The historical consensus is Edward and Richard were killed, probably between July to September 1483; debate on who gave the orders, and why, continues, although their uncle Richard was the beneficiary. [76] By mid-August, Elizabeth Woodville was certain of their death; after her initial grief turned to fury, she opened secret talks with Margaret Beaufort. She promised her support in return for Henry's agreement to marry her eldest daughter Elizabeth of York. [3] In December 1483, Henry swore an oath to do so, which he duly carried out after his coronation in October 1485. [77]

Prior to his succession, Richard III declared Edward and Richard illegitimate, on the grounds his brother's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was invalid. [3] The Titulus Regius argued Edward had agreed to marry Lady Eleanor Talbot, rendering his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville void. Both parties were dead, but Robert Stillington, Bishop of Bath and Wells, claimed to have carried out the ceremony. The Titulus was annulled by Henry VII, since his marriage to her daughter Elizabeth added legitimacy to his claim; Stillington died in prison in 1491. [78]

Despite this apparent resolution, the Yorkist cause continued well into the 16th century. The most famous are the pretenders Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck, but Yorkist challengers remained a concern for Henry VII and his son. In 1541, Henry VIII executed Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, daughter of the Duke of Clarence, while a number of attempts were made on the life of her son, the last legitimate direct heir, Cardinal Reginald Pole, who died in 1558. [79]


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  1. "Edward IV". Archontology.org. 14 March 2010. Set sail on 2 October 1470 from England and took refuge in Burgundy; deposed as King of England on 3 October 1470
  2. Crawford 2008, pp. 173–178.
  3. 1 2 3 Penn 2019, pp. 504–505.
  4. Wilson.
  5. Ross 1974, pp. 3–7.
  6. Penn 2019, p. 5.
  7. Ross 1974, p. 32.
  8. Ross 1974, p. 30.
  9. Kleiman 2013, p. 83.
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  1. A 2004 television documentary using circumstantial evidence to support claims of illegitimacy was subsequently discredited. [4]
  2. Henry was a descendant of John of Gaunt, Edward III's third surviving son; his grandfather, Henry of Lancaster, displaced Richard II, from the senior line. York's claim derived from the fourth son, Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York, but his mother Anne de Mortimer, was the senior descendant of his second son, Lionel of Antwerp. By modern standards, York was the senior heir, although this was less clear at the time. In practical terms, it meant both he and Edward had a legitimate claim to the throne. [5]
  3. Now the generally accepted date, although others suggest it was fought on 3 February
  4. This resurfaced in the 17th century contest between England, the Dutch Republic, and France under Louis XIV


Edward IV of England
Cadet branch of the House of Plantagenet
Born: 28 April 1442 Died: 9 April 1483
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Henry VI
King of England
Lord of Ireland

Succeeded by
Henry VI
King of England
Lord of Ireland

Succeeded by
Edward V
Peerage of England
Preceded by
Richard Plantagenet
Duke of York
Earl of Cambridge
Earl of March

Merged in Crown
Peerage of Ireland
Preceded by
Richard Plantagenet
Earl of Ulster
Merged in Crown