Edward IV

Edward IV (1442-1483) was the first Yorkist king of England. His reforms and innovations invigorated 15th-century English government.

Born at Rouen on April 28, 1442, Edward IV was the son of Richard, Duke of York, and Cecily Neville. He took part in the Wars of the Roses from the first battle at St. Albans (1455), and in 1460 he accompanied Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick (the "Kingmaker"), and the Calais garrison when Warwick invaded England and raised rebels in Kent and in the north demanding "good government." The success of this uprising established Richard of York as regent and heir of the ineffective Henry VI of Lancaster, but Henry's queen, Margaret of Anjou, did not accept this political disinheritance of their son, Prince Edward of Lancaster. Her Army of the North defeated and killed Richard of York at Wakefield (Dec. 30, 1460). Margaret's success in liberating Henry VI and her failure to attack London simplified Edward's position. The 6-foot teenager entered the capital and claimed the crown.

Edward's popular election by crowds at St. John's Field (March 1, 1461) and at St. Paul's, Westminster Hall, and the Abbey (March 4, 1461) was a constitutional novelty. Of at least equal importance was the march north and the 10-hour battle at Towton (March 29, 1461), which left the Lancastrians scattered fugitives. The June 28 coronation followed a Parliament that voted attainders but no funds, and it reminded the new king of his promise of better government.


Early Reign

In 1461 Edward's government was more Neville than Yorkist. The 33-year-old Warwick ruled the north, installed his brother George as chancellor, and corresponded with foreign rulers as a national spokesman. However, Edward's 1464 marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, widow of John Grey of Groby, crossed Warwick's plan for the King to marry Bona of Savoy, sister-in-law of Louis XI of France. The numerous Woodvilles advanced rapidly, and inevitably they quarreled with the Nevilles. In 1467 Edward sent Warwick to parley with the diplomats of Burgundy, France, and Brittany. Then he struck his own bargain with Burgundy, dismissed George Neville as chancellor, and crowned the effect by marrying Warwick's wealthy 79-year-old aunt to a 19-year-old Woodville.

Warwick retaliated forcefully. With Edward's brother George of Clarence as his new candidate, the Kingmaker used the Calais garrison to capture Edward in 1469. However, this time the earl's "good government" slogans failed to win broad support, and Edward regained power. Driving Warwick and Clarence to France was a doubtful success for Edward, for with the help of Louis XI and in the cause of "Lancaster and the Old Families" they returned in 1470. Unarmed and unsupported, Edward fled to Burgundy, and Henry VI was restored.

With help and soldiers from Burgundy, Edward returned to England in 1471. Warwick was slain at Barnet (April 14), Prince Edward was killed at Tewkesbury (May 4), Margaret of Anjou was captured, and Henry VI died the night of the army's return to London (May 21). The lack of a standing army had made the English crown the prize of foreign-sponsored expeditions.


Invasion of France

Alliance with Burgundy and hostility to France was Edward's policy from 1471 to 1475, but it was difficult to coordinate a body as slow as Parliament with a man as unstable as Charles the Bold against an intriguer as seasoned as Louis XI. In 1473 Parliament voted funds for a campaign, but by the time Edward had transported his army to Europe, Charles was distracted by imperial ambitions. Edward conducted his own invasion but only for a price. At Picquigny on Aug. 29, 1475, Edward agreed to give up the expedition and Margaret of Anjou. Louis agreed to pay Edward 75,000 crowns within 15 days and thereafter a secret pension totaling 50,000 crowns per year.

Financially, this settlement turned the tide for Edward. He paid his debts and amassed a comfortable fortune, thus indirectly relieving the pressure on his government's Exchequer. However, even the public form of this treaty was unpopular in England as marking an "inglorious" episode. Edward may have considered England well out of the rivalry that Louis waged against Charles until the latter's death in battle against the Swiss in 1477. Yet the French king's diplomatic net extended to Edward's family, finding a ready dupe in George of Clarence. Edward's patience with his brother's repeated betrayals was exhausted when George reportedly gossiped about the legitimacy of Edward and his children. Clarence was attainted in Parliament and executed in 1478.

Louis's 1482 publication of the secret pension seems to have alarmed Edward into searching for new diplomatic alternatives at the time of his sudden illness and death at Westminster on April 9, 1483. Edward's 12-year-old son was proclaimed Edward V, with his uncle, Richard of Gloucester, as regent.


Further Reading on Edward IV

Cora Scofield, The Life and Reign of Edward the Fourth (2 vols., 1923), is a comprehensive biography. Useful background information is supplied in E. F. Jacob, The Fifteenth Century, 1399-1485 (1961); S. B. Chrimes, Lancastrians, Yorkists, and Henry VII (1964; 2d ed. 1966); and J. R. Lander, The Wars of the Roses (1965). On constitutional developments of the period, S. B. Chrimes, English Constitutional Ideas in the Fifteenth Century (1936), presents a useful commentary, while B. Wilkinson, Constitutional History of England in the Fifteenth Century, 1399-1485 (1964), excerpts documents and chronicles on major events.

Additional Biography Sources

Clive, Mary, Lady, This sun of York; a biography of Edward IV, 1st American ed., New York, Knopf, 1974.

Falkus, Gila, The life and times of Edward IV, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1981.

Ross, Charles Derek, Edward IV, London: Eyre Methuen, 1974.