Upon King Edward IV‘s accession, the house of York became England’s new ruling dynasty. Although some stability returned to the kingdom, the War of the Roses wasn’t over yet. As Edward’s reign progressed, the king and his closest ally, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, grew distant. After Edward ignored Warwick’s marriage plans and married an English commoner named Elizabeth Woodville, the two men’s relationship fractured beyond repair. In response to the king’s defiance, Warwick began plotting against him.
As he schemed, Richard Neville found a willing ally in Edward IV’s younger brother, George, Duke of Clarence. The duke was an arrogant man who believed that he should be king. Unlike Edward, Warwick viewed George as someone who he could control. Together, the two men secretly left England for France in July 1469. While in Calais, George married Warwick’s daughter to strengthen their alliance.
Shortly after the marriage, Richard Neville raised an army in England. In response, Edward IV personally commanded the Yorkist army against the rebels. During the ensuing conflict, the king would be overwhelmed and captured. With Edward imprisoned, Warwick sought to capitalize on his victory by installing George on the throne. However, the earl faced backlash from parliament, and his plan unraveled. By March 1470, Edward had retaken the throne and Warwick fled back to France.
Although the house of York had regained its hold of the government, Richard Neville and George still threatened Edward IV’s throne. Unfazed by his failed revolt, the earl met with the French King Louis XI to gain his support. Instead, the clever monarch suggested that Warwick ally himself with his hated enemy: Margaret of Anjou. The queen and her Lancastrian allies lived as exiles in France. Despite their previous history, Warwick and Margaret made an uneasy alliance. As part of their agreement, the earl would restore Henry VI to the throne but would use him as a puppet ruler.
Six months after he had retaken the English throne, Edward IV faced another revolt by Richard Neville. Surprised by the earl’s invasion, the king narrowly escaped to Burgundy, France. With Edward gone, Warwick released Henry VI from captivity and put him back in charge. While the Lancastrians celebrated their victory, Edward planned his return. In Burgundy, the former king allied with the duchy’s duke, Charles the Bold. With Burgundy’s backing, Edward readied his forces for an invasion.
In April 1471, Edward IV returned to England with an army. During the ensuing Battle of Barnet, the Yorkist king’s troops killed Richard Neville but spared George. The following month, Edward faced Margaret and the Lancastrian army at the Battle of Tewkesbury. This time, the Yorkists delivered a crippling blow to the Lancastrians. After the battle, Henry VI and Margaret’s only heir, Prince Edward, was killed, and Henry VI died soon after. With the direct Lancastrian line extinct, Edward, now firmly controlled England.
Over the next 12 years, Edward IV reigned over a peaceful and prosperous kingdom. However, George once again conspired against his brother. After his wife died in childbirth, the ambitious duke sought to marry the Duke of Burgundy’s daughter. Edward easily saw through his brother’s bid for power and forbid the marriage. Enraged, George began plotting against the king. Upon discovering his brother’s betrayal, Edward refused to grant him mercy again and had him executed on February 18, 1478.
With England secured, Edward IV focused on expanding his kingdom’s power abroad. Like Henry V, the king decided to invade France to retake land lost during Henry VI’s reign. However, Edward’s invasion of France would be short-lived. Instead of fighting the English, Louis XI had another idea. The French king offered to pay off Edward if the English returned home. Since Burgundian support had failed to materialize, Edward accepted Louis’s offer and left.
Next in Line
On April 9, 1483, the 40-year-old king died from a fever. Before his death, Edward IV had been planning a second invasion of France. The king entrusted his youngest brother, Richard, Duke of Glouchester, with his 12-year-old heir, Edward V. Unlike George, Richard had been a loyal supporter throughout his brother’s reign. In return, Edward appointed Richard to various military and administrative positions throughout England. Although he had retired from politics in 1477, the duke returned to court after Edward’s death.
Initially, Richard fought with the former queen’s family, the Woodvilles, over custody of Edward V. The English nobility resented the Woodville’s rapid rise at court and their attempts at gaining power by marrying other nobles. Although Edward V’s guardian, the Woodvilles attempted to keep him away from Richard. When the duke discovered their deception, he took action.
Richard discovered that the Woodvilles planned to transfer Edward V from Ludlow to London for his coronation. On Edward’s journey, Richard intercepted his nephew. With Edward IV’s remaining son, Richard, at Westminster, the duke pressured the queen to give up the prince. With both of his nephews in his custody, Richard had successfully prevented the Woodville threat to the house of York. Now, the duke had to decide his nephew’s fates.
Richard realized that if Edward V had his coronation, then the guardianship would end, and the Woodvilles would take control. To prevent this from happening, the duke decided to take drastic measures. In June 1483, Richard pressed his claim to the throne. Although the duke had supporters, many nobles still viewed Edward V as England’s rightful king. To counter this belief, Richard began circulating an old rumor about Edward IV.
The former king had allegedly agreed to marry another woman before Queen Elizabeth. Due to this, Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth would be invalid and their children illegitimate. Although there wasn’t concrete evidence, the rumor created enough doubt to support Richard’s claim. As a result, parliament declared Edward V and Prince Richard illegitimate. On July 6, the house of York had its third king: Richard III. Within two months of his brother’s death, the new king had deposed his nephew and claimed the English throne.
Cawthorne, N. (2012). Kings & Queens of England: From the Saxon Kings to the House of Windsor. London: Arcturus.
Cheetham, A. (2000). The Wars of the Roses. London: Cassell.
Wars of the Roses. (2019, August 30). Retrieved January 13, 2021, from https://www.britannica.com/event/Wars-of-the-Roses.