A Guide to the Wars of the Roses
by Jim Smith of the Ferrers
Until the 1960s, few historians appeared to regard the late fifteenth century as worth more than a passing look. Victorian, Edwardian and early twentieth century writers often took the view that the period between 1450 and 1485 was nothing more than an unpleasant conclusion to a lawless and blood-soaked period that had dragged on since the fall of Rome in 410. Their concern with the growth of institutions such as central government meant that they viewed the period before the Tudors as unworthy of much interest. Fortunately, we can now see beyond their bias to what was in many respects a time of great social, military and political transition in England. What now follows is a timeline of relevant events which we hope will allow you to get a ‘handle’ on this fascinating period of English history.
PART ONE – THE ROAD TO CONFLICT: 1399-1455
1399 Henry Bolingbroke deposes Richard II and seizes the throne as Henry IV.
1403 The Battle of Shrewsbury. This marks the first serious challenge to the new regime. The rebel lords (Hotspur, Vernon and Worcester) are either killed during the battle or executed afterwards.
1415 Henry V reasserts the English claim to the throne of France and begins a new phase of the Hundred Years War. A decisive English victory at Agincourt on 25 October leads to a resurgence of English fortunes in France. This culminates in the Treaty of Troyes, by which Henry V marries Katherine, the daughter of the French king, Charles VI. It is agreed that Henry will succeed to the throne of France on the death of Charles.
1422 The unfortunate death of Henry is followed shortly afterwards by the death of Charles VI. All bets are off; Henry’s infant son is proclaimed Henry VI of England and Henry II of France, but Charles’ adult son is now holding court at Bourges as Charles VII.
1422-34 Joan of Arc notwithstanding, the English and their Burgundian allies continue to keep control over most of northern France. In England a regency council governs the kingdom on behalf of the infant king. However, France now has two kings, since Charles has been crowned king at Rheims.
1435 Collapse of the Anglo-Burgundian alliance. English fortunes in France begin to wane.
1440 Richard, Duke of York is appointed lieutenant general and governor of France and Normandy for five years.
1443 York’s great rival, John Beaufort, is appointed Captain-General of France and Gascony. To York’s anger, he is also made Duke of Somerset. Between this year and 1449, York is starved of the money he needs to pay his captains and soldiers. He is forced to pay his men’s wages out of his own pocket – with the result that by 1446 the crown owes him over £38,000. In addition, York has loaned the King and his household £26,000 and as a result is forced to borrow from friends and relatives.
1445 In April, Henry marries Margaret of Anjou. He unwisely seeks to break the deadlock in peace talks with France by secretly promising to cede Maine and Anjou to French control within the year. He recalls the English commander in chief in France (the Duke of York) and contrives to keep his machinations secret from his Council for nearly eighteen months
1447 The only serious opposition to Henry’s scheming is removed with the death of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. The suspicious circumstances of this return to haunt both Henry and his queen in later years. Meanwhile, York does not receive the treatment due to the main creditor of the government. That July, he is appointed Lieutenant of Ireland, with his old job of Lieutenant of France going to John Beaufort’s younger brother Edmund. York sails for Ireland in disgust.
1449 English trickery and double-dealing backfire when Charles VII rejects the terms of the truce and launches an all-out assault on English possessions in Normandy.
1450 Popular outrage at Henry’s policies is vented on the three senior members of his ruling clique: William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, Adam Moleyns, Bishop of Chichester, and the King’s confessor, William Ayscough of Salisbury.
9 January Moleyns is murdered in Portsmouth by a mob of soldiers and sailors.
28 January Suffolk is committed to the Tower of London on the insistence of the Commons. He is accused of treasonable dealings with the French and corrupt practices in both local and central government. He is pardoned by the King, but on attempting to leave the country is intercepted off Dover and summarily executed. Threats of dire reprisals against the commons of Kent help precipitate Jack Cade’s revolt.
June-July The rebel army effectively holds London to ransom. Henry VI retreats to Kenilworth castle. Although the revolt is eventually suppressed, the rebel manifesto, The Complaint of the Commons of Kent, shows the depth of feeling across southern England.
September The Duke of York returns to England without asking the King’s permission. His motives for doing so are unclear; some historians hint at a link between his return and Cade’s revolt, but this seems unlikely. A more persuasive reason is the return of the Duke of Somerset from France that August. Some historians point to Somerset’s possible claim to the throne, (the Beaufort’s were the, originally illegitimate descendents of John of Gaunt, third son of Edward III). That said, their claim was shaky, since it rested on the legitimising of their line by Henry IV. A more likely cause was the fact that Somerset had presided over the loss of Normandy and despite this seemed to be on the verge of scooping up all the rewards of power in England.
October York’s return throws Somerset et al into confusion. York shows the king all due deference and appears to be restored to favour. York publishes a bill offering his services to the king as chief councillor with a mandate to clean up the corruption in the royal household. Unsurprisingly, Henry rejects this in favour of an elected council where all will have an equal voice. This is of no help to York, since at this point only two peers – the Duke of Norfolk and the Earl of Devon are willing to back his criticism of the court.
1451 For the past eight months York has used constitutional methods of protest, to no avail. Somerset is still in the ascendant at court and is made Captain of the Calais garrison that autumn. In his role as peacemaker, York acts to end (temporarily) the feud between the Bonville family and the Courteneys (the Earls of Devon). This squabble over lands and titles soon takes on the feel of the wider conflict between York and the court party. Bonville’s career had brought him into the orbit of the Beauforts – hence it is probably inevitable that the Courteneys choose to side with the Duke of York.
1452 Feeling that nothing else will force the king to listen to him, York now plans an armed protest, backed up by impassioned letters which are circulated to towns where he knows his support to be good. He is spectacularly unsuccessful and the number of ‘spontaneous’ risings in his favour are few and far between. York does have some sympathy – but only when he is making his complaints through the medium of parliament. Now it’s a case of rebellion against an anointed king and York’s popular support is conspicuous by its absence. Only two lords – the Earl of Devon and Lord Cobham – are to be found in his army.
1 March Facing the king’s army at Blackheath, it is obvious to York that the majority of the peers have chosen to remain loyal – including family members the Earls of Salisbury and Warwick. Despite their army outnumbering York at least three to one (or perhaps because of this), the king’s council opens negotiations. Most of the delegation are York’s relatives. Despite this, the Duke insists he will only disband his army if Somerset is put on trial for his mismanagement of the war in France. The royal delegation agrees and appears to have passed on King Henry’s verbal agreement too. York trusts their word and orders his army to disperse – however he himself is almost immediately placed under house arrest.
10 March The court party ensures that if York is not to be tried for treason, then he is at least to be severely humiliated. In front of a large congregation in St Paul’s he swears an oath of loyalty to the king – an oath which makes explicitly clear the consequences of further rebellion. A disgruntled Duke of York retires to private life – permanently his enemies hope.
1452-53 English fortunes enjoy a brief resurgence. A small army under Sir John Talbot recaptures Bordeaux and Queen Margaret is at last pregnant. This, however, proves to be a false dawn.
17 July Talbot’s army is shattered by artillery as it attempts to storm the fortified French camp near Castillon. Talbot himself is killed and Gascony recaptured by the French. (In retrospect, this can be seen as the final battle of the Hundred Years War).
August News of Castillon reaches England and Henry VI suffers a complete mental breakdown. At a distance of over 550 years we cannot be absolutely sure of the nature and cause of this malady, but contemporary accounts suggest a form of catatonic schizophrenia. For two months, Somerset and the court party contrive to keep the king’s condition a secret – however it soon becomes obvious to them that a more lasting solution is necessary.
October A Great Council is summoned to discuss the king’s condition. Somerset fears York’s presence on the council, but hopes that the abortive coup of the previous year will be enough to render him persona non grata.
1453-54 Somerset is disappointed to find that York has not been idle in his search for allies. During this period the longstanding feud between the Neville and Percy families flares up yet again. Since York’s wife, Cecily is a Neville family member; he is seen as a natural ally against the Percies. In addition, disputes over the ownership of certain manors in Glamorganshire had brought Somerset into conflict with Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick. A bargin is struck; in return for his active help against the Percies, the Nevilles will support York in his attempt to oust Somerset and reform the government. At the same time, general support among the peers moves more in York’s favour. His claim to be a senior council member carries more force now that the king is incapacitated and Somerset is quietly confined to the Tower just before Christmas.
1454 This act has one important and far reaching consequence. With Somerset in prison, leadership of the court party now passes to Queen Margaret. This formidable woman now has a son and heir to the throne, Prince Edward and she knows that his death will once again put York first in line for the kingship. Accordingly, she moves to do all she can to prevent York being appointed regent by the parliament due to assemble that February. She presents a bill to parliament demanding to be allowed to rule in her own right. After some vacillation, the council ignores her and appoints York as Protector and the Earl of Salisbury as Chancellor of England.
March York sets out to restore governmental authority – a process which allows him to pass some suitably anti-Percy legislation. Meanwhile, the Percies have found a powerful ally of their own, Henry Holland, Duke of Exeter. Exeter lusts after the protectorship himself and accordingly signs a mutual assistance pact with Lord Egremont, younger son of the Earl of Northumberland.
May An attempt by Egremont and Exeter to seize the city of York fails, thanks to prompt action by the protector. Despite seeking sanctuary in London, Exeter is imprisoned in Pontefract Castle, where he remains for the next nine months.
November Egremont is defeated in a skirmish with Neville forces at Stamford Bridge; both he and his brother Richard Percy are captured. The Nevilles craftily bring a civil action against them for damages. Neither Egremont nor his brother is able to pay the massive fine levied against them (£11,200) and accordingly both are packed off to Newgate debtors’ prison in London, where they remain until their escape two years later. The Duke of York is able to end the year with a nice warm glow – all his major enemies are in prison.
1455 January Henry VI chooses this month to stage a complete and (from York’s point of view) highly inconvenient recovery. York’s protectorship is at an end and it is not long before the government is back in the hands of the previous clique.
February Somerset is released from prison.
March The Earl of Salisbury resigns as Chancellor in the face of intense pressure from a coalition of Somerset and Percy sympathisers. A little later, York, Salisbury and Warwick leave London without taking formal leave of the king. They disperse back to their estates and begin raising troops.
April All three Yorkist leaders are summoned to attend a Great Council in Leicester on 21 May. The stated aim of the council is to “provide for the king’s safety”, a comment which York, Salisbury and Warwick take to be aimed at them. They ignore the summons and continue mustering their forces.
18 May Somerset is taken completely by surprise. A small Yorkist army is already within 40 miles of London. Hastily he issues orders for the raising of troops.
21 May Somerset, the king and the royal household depart for St Albans, where they expect to rendezvous with the retinues of absent magnates. There are indications that not all members of the court party relish the idea of a fight. Those such as Northumberland and Clifford may be itching to strike a blow at the Nevilles, but can the same be said for the likes of William Neville, Lord Fauconberg, who may be required to draw sword against his own brothers? Other lords present (for example Humphrey Stafford, Duke of Buckingham) are loyal to the king, but their willingness to take up arms for Somerset is uncertain.
22 May The royal army arrives at St Albans to find the Yorkists already encamped on the outskirts of the town. Negotiations soon prove fruitless; York’s demand that Somerset be handed over is rejected and he issues the order to attack.
The First Battle of St Albans
Initially, the Yorkist advantage in numbers is offset by the narrowness of the streets. All roads leading to the market place are barricaded with overturned carts and manned by archers wearing Lord Clifford’s badge of the red wyvrn. Tightly bunched together, the advancing Yorkist men at arms form an easy target and their attack soon falters. Seeing this, the Earl of Warwick leads his men through the back gardens of the houses to emerge behind the royalist lines. Within half an hour all resistance is at an end. Somerset and a few retainers make a desperate last stand outside the Castle Inn and die fighting, whilst the victorious Yorkists take the wounded King Henry into custody. Only three Lancastrian nobles are casualties of the battle – Somerset, Clifford and Northumberland. The fact that it is these three alone may be more than coincidental.
PART TWO - MARGARET OF ANJOU IN THE ASCENDENT: 1455-59
June With the king now firmly in his power, York resolves to win the support of the political nation at large. He summons parliament to meet at Westminster in July.
July Parliament passes a bill granting a full amnesty to all members of the Yorkist army at St Albans. York realises that the situation is still far from settled. The king’s health remains precarious and unrest in the south west is beginning to increase. Accordingly, York plans to secure a second term of office as protector when parliament reassembles in November.
November With the strong backing of parliament, Henry VI confirms York as protector. Strong measures are called for to control another flare up in the Courtenay/Bonville feud. With Exeter under the control of Courtenay forces, York moves quickly and peace is restored with the surrender and imprisonment of the Earl of Devon in mid December.
February York’s second protectorate comes to an end when the king recovers his full health and promptly relieves him of his post. However, there appears to be no residual ill will on the king’s part and contemporary writers speak of York and the Nevilles remaining as the most influential group in the council.
March Queen Margaret still regards York as the greatest threat to herself and her son and is determined at all costs to stop a third protectorate. She begins to quietly carve out a sizeable powerbase in and around the midland castles of the royal Duchy of Lancaster.
August King Henry leaves Westminster and joins his wife at Kenilworth. Between now and the end of the year, Margaret ensures that all new court appointments are filled by men whose loyalty to herself and her husband is as reliable as possible.
January The year opens with gradual indications that the political tide is beginning to turn against York and the Nevilles. That said, the speed of the drift is slow.
August A French raiding force lands on the Kentish coast and sacks the port of Sandwich. A real fear of invasion pushes York and Warwick (now captain of Calais) into the spotlight as men of action who can save the situation. The Duke of Buckingham continues to act as a mediator at court and it is through his efforts that York, Salisbury and Warwick agree to pay compensation to the Percy and Clifford families.
24 March The Loveday. This is a misguided attempt by King Henry to get the rival magnates to kiss and make up. All go in procession to a service of reconciliation at St Paul’s, where promises of friendship are sworn. Observant Londoners find this all rather hard to swallow, given the large armed retinues each magnate has conspicuously brought to the city.
May Determined to balance the royal books, Queen Margaret cuts what she considers to be needlessly large subsidies for the Calais garrison. Warwick finds it necessary to resort to piracy to pay his troops. His piratical exploits earn him the admiration of his men and the ire of Queen Margaret.
October Warwick is summoned to London to answer numerous charges of piracy. He is involved in a brawl between his servants and those of the king, a fracas for which Margaret intends he shall take the blame. In defiance of both the queen and government, Warwick flees to Calais.
May Warwick’s actions force people such as the Duke of Buckingham to abandon the middle ground and throw in their lot with the court party.
June A Great Council is summoned by the queen to meet at Coventry, a meeting from which the Yorkist leaders are pointedly excluded. Fearing ‘the malice of the queen’, Warwick, Salisbury and York determine to hold a council of their own at Ludlow. They claim that they still want peace, but that now only a show of force will get them past the hostile court. Both sides begin actively to prepare for war.
2 September Warwick sails from Calais, leaving Lord Fauconberg in command of the remainder of the garrison.
12 September Salisbury sets out from Middleham Castle. His army numbers no more than 5,000, together with his sons Thomas and Sir John Neville and their leading retainers. On or about the same day, several small royalist armies also take the field. Their aim is to prevent Salisbury from joining forces with Warwick, who is marching north to meet him at Ludlow with his own levies and a large component of the Calais garrison.
15 September The king is at Nottingham with a small force, whilst the queen and Prince Edward are at Chester and the Duke of Somerset keeps a watch on the West Midlands.
16 September Warwick evades Somerset and manages to reach Ludlow without further incident. His father is less fortunate and soon has at least two royalist armies moving to intercept him. The earl successfully evades King Henry’s troops, but hears from local Yorkist sympathisers that he is being pursued by those of the queen.
19 September Both armies anxiously wait to see on which side the Stanleys will come down. Lord Thomas Stanley assures Margaret of his support, but in the event keeps a careful distance. By contrast, his brother Sir William comes to the aid of the Nevilles.
22 September Salisbury learns that his route to Ludlow is being blocked by a hastily raised force from Cheshire under the command of Lords Audley and Dudley. He draws up his army, now just under 6,000 strong on Blore Heath near Market Drayton and prepares to offer battle.
23 September The Battle of Blore Heath.
Salisbury arrays his men for battle along a ridge overlooking the Hempmill brook. His left is anchored by a small wood, his right by a larger of wagons. The Lancastrian commanders are overly confident in their 2-1 advantage and order at least two cavalry charges against the Yorkist line. Undeterred, the Yorkist archers (many of whom are veterans of the French wars), coolly loose flight after flight of arrows into the milling mass of men and horses. During the second of these charges, Lord Audley is killed and Lord Dudley orders a general dismounted assault. Despite severe pressure, Salisbury’s men beat off the inexperienced and poorly led Cheshire levies and with the capture of Lord Dudley, the Lancastrian army breaks and runs. Salisbury, however, is in no fit state to pursue and withdraws from Blore Heath as soon as possible. Despite the capture of his two sons and Sir Thomas Harrington, he eventually reaches the safety of Ludlow Castle.
1 October The Yorkist leaders send a letter to King Henry attempting to excuse and justify their actions. The court is prepared to pardon all those who will lay down their arms and bend the knee – except those involved in Audley’s death. However, there is simply not enough trust remaining between the two sides to allow for any compromise.
12 October The Lancastrian army approaches Ludlow from the south, to find the Yorkist army in a blocking position at Ludford Bridge. Even though the Yorkists have their field artillery and have concentrated all their forces, their opponents have two major advantages. Firstly, a large number of the peers are present in their army, whereas the Yorkists only have six. Secondly (and more decisively), the Lancastrian army have the anointed king with them. At this point, the soldiers of the Calais garrison and their commander Andrew Trollope decide that their oath of allegiance to King Henry outweighs any loyalty they have for the Yorkist lords. They desert to the other side en masse, taking with them full knowledge of York’s battle plans for the following day. The Yorkist commanders realise that their cause is hopeless and order their forces to scatter. York and his second son Edmund, Earl of Rutland, make for Dublin. His eldest son Edward, Earl of March, rides south with the Nevilles and with the help of Yorkist sympathisers in Devon makes his way to Calais. The Yorkist flight has been so precipitate that the Duke of York is obliged to leave his wife, Cecily Neville, and his two youngest sons, George and Richard, with instructions to throw themselves on the mercy of Queen Margaret. While all three are taken into protective custody by the Duke of Somerset, Ludlow is punished for its Yorkist sympathies and is pillaged as if it were in France. The Yorkist cause is in ruins and England firmly in the power of Queen Margaret.
PART THREE – SWINGS OF FORTUNE: 1459-61
November Queen Margaret summons a parliament to convene at Coventry. Not surprisingly, a Bill of Attainder is passed on 27 leading Yorkists; their property is forfeit to the Crown and their heirs disinherited. Lesser Yorkists escape with fines or are pardoned outright – possibly as an attempt to emphasise the isolation of their leaders. Despite this, little can be done against the Yorkists who have fled the country.
December The Duke of York ensconces himself in Dublin, where he continues to transform Ireland into a bulwark of Yorkist support that will endure until nearly the end of the century.
An attempt by Somerset to capture Calais fails. Among his forces are members of the Calais garrison troops who deserted at Ludlow and Somerset hopes to use their local knowledge to his advantage. Some of these unfortunates are blown by rough seas into Calais harbour and taken prisoner. Dragged before the Earl of Warwick, those who are identified as having been with Andrew Trollope at Ludford Bridge are summarily executed. Despite this, Somerset sails down the coast and strikes inland to the fortress of Guines. A promise to pay the garrison their arrears of wages gains him a bloodless victory and a base from which to launch daily attacks against Calais itself. However, Somerset is poorly supplied from England and lacks the reinforcements necessary to achieve a decisive victory.
By contrast, Warwick is able to use his reputation and continued popularity across Kent and southern England to keep him fully informed about any moves being prepared against him.
January Warwick’s spies in Kent have kept him fully updated about the preparation of a fleet designed to deal with him once and for all. The Lancastrian force, under the command of Lord Rivers, is about to set sail from Sandwich, but it is Warwick who makes the first move. In a well planned operation, 800 archers and men at arms under the command of John Dinham land at Sandwich and achieve complete surprise. The Lancastrian commanders are captured in their beds and their ships sailed back to Calais in triumph.
February Warwick’s coup at Sandwich sparks an invasion panic among Henry VI’s government. They hastily give orders for the construction of another fleet, but its completion is delayed by lack of ready cash and political vacillation.
March Warwick sails from Calais to Ireland to consult with the Duke of York. He remains there for two months while they plan their next move. Warwick’s absence is the cue for Somerset to launch an assault against Calais, but as before, he is badly hampered by a lack of troops and the cash to pay them with.
April Somerset attempts an advance on Calais, but is beaten back.
May Warwick returns to Calais.
June John Dinham, Sir John Wenlock and Lord Fauconberg capture Sandwich. This time though, they hold the town for York. At the end of the month they are joined by Warwick, Fauconberg, the Earls of Salisbury and March and between 1,500 and 2,000 men. On 26 June they leave Sandwich for Canterbury. The march on London has begun. Canterbury opens its gates to them and supporters from the surrounding counties begin to flock to York’s banner.
27 June The common council of London vows to resist the Yorkist invaders and turns down an offer from the Lancastrian Lord Scales to act as captain of the city. The city gates are closed and troops stationed on London Bridge.
28 June The Yorkist march on London continues, with their forces growing in number seemingly by the hour. Seeing they are determined to enter the city, the city council losses heart. Cannily, the Earl of Warwick writes to them, assuring them that his purpose is not to attack the king, but to reform the country. This ruse works, and the Yorkists are permitted to enter the city. A disgruntled Lord Scales retreats with his forces into the Tower of London.
1 July The Yorkist army enters London, where its commanders are quick to put their case to a meeting of the lords spiritual (the bishops). They are clearly persuasive, since when they leave the city no fewer than seven bishops, including the archbishop of Canterbury, go with them.
4 July A well-fed and rested Yorkist army marches north from London, leaving a rearguard under Salisbury to contain the recalcitrant Lancastrians holed up in the Tower of London.
6 July The Yorkist army is further augmented by the arrival of several more peers, including the Duke of Norfolk. Meanwhile, King Henry has advanced south to Northampton, where his army proceeds to dig an entrenched camp, half way between Delapre Abbey and the River Nene. Meanwhile heavy rain and the desire to at least attempt negotiation slows the Yorkist advance.
10 July The Yorkist army draws up half a mile from the Lancastrian camp. The embassies of the bishops come to nothing, since Lancastrian peers such as the Duke of Buckingham refuse to allow any of the Yorkist lords an audience with the king. At 2o’clock the Yorkist army advances across the waterlogged fields to the attack.
The Battle of Northampton
In the end, the fighting lasts not much more than half an hour. The prime reason for this is the treachery of one of the Lancastrian peers, Lord Grey of Ruthin, who allow Warwick’s men to climb the earthworks and enter the royal camp unopposed. (Warwick’s order to his men to spare all soldiers wearing Grey’s badge of the black ragged staff may indicate that Grey’s action may not have been a spur of the moment decision). At all events, Grey’s decision to turn his coat deals a fatal blow to the Lancastrian forces and they are soon broken and in full flight. Hundreds drown in the River Nene as they flee. The few lords to make a stand (Buckingham, Egremont, Shrewsbury and Beaumont) lie dead outside the king’s tent in their smashed armour.
16 July Still proclaiming their loyalty to the crown, Warwick and his allies conduct the king back to London.
19 July The Lancastrian garrison in the Tower surrenders.
30 July Warwick moves quickly to take over the reins of government and issues writs summoning parliament to meet on 7 October. His probable aim is to reverse the sentences of attainder passed at Coventry the previous autumn. A more overt move against the queen and her son might alienate the hard won support built up over the past few months. For the moment then, it is essential that he retains his image as the loyal servant of a king led astray by evil councillors.
August The defeat at Northampton has made Somerset’s position outside Calais untenable and he agrees to come to terms. Somerset takes refuge in France and Warwick returns in triumph to England. Here however, the situation is still quite fluid. Although the Yorkists control the south and east, the Lancastrian grip on the north is undiminished.
5 September The Duke of York decides that the time has come to claim the throne. In this it seems that he does not have the support of the Earl of Warwick who, for reasons outlined above, prefers a more cautious policy.
10 October Arriving in London with hundreds of supporters, York finds that he has seriously misjudged the political climate. A humiliating rebuttal in Westminster Hall forces him to pass the case over to his lawyers, who insist that since Henry IV usurped the throne, none of his descendents can rightfully be King. “Though right for a time rest and be put to silence, yet it rotteth not nor shall not perish.” Although York’s claim is a strong one, parliament cannot bring themselves to depose the king and the search for a compromise is on.
24 October The Act of Accord is passed. Henry VI is to retain the throne but on his death the crown is to pass to York and York’s heirs. Ironically, this solves nothing in the long term. In fact, it makes it easier for Queen Margaret to renew the struggle since the Act of Accord has disinherited King Henry’s son. Margaret now has a cause that is quick to attract sympathy and support in the Lancastrian heartlands of northern England and Wales. As autumn progresses, her support continues to grow. Margaret goes to Scotland to seek allies at the Scottish court, whilst the Duke of Somerset returns to England and proceeds to stir up the south west with the assistance of the Earl of Devon.
November Rumours begin to reach London that Lancastrian forces in the north, Wales and the west are planning to join forces. Some kind of action on the part of the Yorkists is now imperative.
December Edward, Earl of March is given his first solo command and dispatched to deal with Lancastrian threats in Wales (Jasper Tudor chief among them).
9 December With Warwick left behind in London to supervise the king and defend the south coast, the main Yorkist army leaves London and heads north under the leadership of York, the Earl of Salisbury and York’s seventeen year old son Edmund of Rutland. Numbering no more than 6,500, they are banking on further contingents joining them en route.
21 December The army reaches Sandal Castle, where it spends Christmas. The main Lancastrian army is at Pontefract under Somerset and Northumberland and their control of the countryside means that from the moment of their arrival at Sandal, York and his army run into severe provisioning problems. Anxiously awaiting the arrival of reinforcements, yet worried about how he will feed those he already has, York is running out of options.
30 December The Battle of Wakefield
With many of his men dispersed on foraging duties, York is duped into bringing his army out to confront the Lancastrians. What he assumes to be the advance guard of a force under the Earl of Warwick’s banner is in fact a trap. The men are Somerset’s, wearing captured livery and under the command of Andrew Trollope. We will never be sure if this really was Trollope’s plan, but what is certain is that York is thoroughly taken in. He is horrified to find that he is under attack by not one, but three separate Lancastrian forces, commanded by Somerset, Clifford and Northumberland. All three of these men lost their fathers at St Albans and are in no mood to show mercy. Within an hour, the surviving Yorkists are hemmed in on three sides and fighting for their lives. At this point, it is probable that York orders his son, Edmund of Rutland to make his escape. With a handful of senior retainers York makes a desperate last stand under a clump of elm trees on Wakefield Green as the remnants of his army break and run. Edmund, Earl of Rutland is stabbed to death on the bridge at Wakefield, whilst Salisbury is beheaded the following day at Pontefract Castle. The heads of York, Salisbury and Rutland are impaled on spikes over Micklegate Bar in York. York’s head is graced with a paper crown, in mocking reference to his claim to the throne.
January Queen Margaret’s triumphant army, reinforced with contingents of Scottish troops, begins moving south towards London. The cash-strapped queen is accused of promising her army plunder in lieu of pay and lurid horror stories precede them as they march south via Grantham, Stamford and Dunstable.
February Edward, Earl of March, finally hears of the disaster at Wakefield and the advance of the queen’s army southwards. However, he has a more immediate threat to deal with - a small Lancastrian army under Owen and Jasper Tudor and the Earl of Wiltshire is advancing south towards Hereford.
2 February The Battle of Mortimer’s Cross
Edward draws up his army on the flood plain of the River Lugg, near the small village of Kingsland. As the battle begins, the Yorkists are awed by the sight of three suns blazing in the sky (the meteorological phenomenon known as a parhelion, but of great significance to that superstitious age). The quick-witted Edward (now styling himself Duke of York), calls out to his men that the three suns signify the Holy Trinity and that therefore God is on their side. The subsequent battle lasts less than an hour and by the end of it the Lancastrian forces are in full flight. Although Jasper Tudor and the Earl of Wiltshire escape, Owen Tudor and his troops are pursued all the way to Hereford, where Tudor himself is captured and beheaded in the marketplace the following afternoon.
12 February Warwick is in London, preparing to meet Queen Margaret’s army as it advances southwards. Commissions of Array have been sent out, and troops from the southern counties and East Anglia are mustering outside the city.
13 February Warwick marches north from London with between 17,000 and 25,000 troops. With him are Sir John Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, Sir John de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk, and the Lords Montagu, Fauconberg, Bonville and Berners with their armed retinues. He arrives at St Albans late in the day, still unsure of the exact position of the Lancastrian army. Accordingly, Warwick deploys his army on a two mile front across the north of the town, so that all main roads to the south are covered. He then spends the following three days improving his position with spiked nets, caltrops and handgun positions.
16 February Warwick receives a report that his outpost at Dunstable has been overrun by the Lancastrians. Fatally, he chooses to disbelieve this intelligence, assuring himself that there is no way that his enemies could have marched so far in such a short time. This is one of the greatest miscalculations of his entire career.
17 February The Second Battle of St Albans
The Lancastrian vanguard makes an unopposed 14 mile night march from Dunstable to the outskirts of St Albans and attacks down George Street towards the market square. The Yorkist defenders are taken completely by surprise but manage to hold the Lancastrians at bay for a while in the narrow streets. Unable to break through, the Lancastrians move around the north side of the town to Barnet Heath. Here, they run into the Yorkist vanguard and heavy fighting ensues. In the meantime, Lancastrian troops repeat Warwick’s tactics of five years previously and find an unguarded route into the centre of town. After fierce fighting, they secure the centre of St Albans, before throwing their full weight against the 5,000 men of the Yorkist vanguard under the command of Warwick’s brother, John Neville. At this point, the full disadvantage of the Yorkist position becomes obvious. Although much of the army has not yet engaged, Warwick has no idea of how heavily outnumbered his brother is. In addition, the narrow lanes and high hedgerows prevent his moving quickly and decisively. Perhaps realising he has blundered, Warwick leads a force of cavalry across country in an attempt to get to Barnet Heath in time to stave off total defeat. He is too late, the Yorkist vanguard is fleeing in disorder and his brother is a prisoner. Warwick attempts to rally his infantry but as the light starts to fade he sees that his men have lost heart and orders a general retreat westwards. King Henry falls back into Lancastrian hands.
19 February There is panic in London as the Lancastrian army approaches. Shops are boarded up and many citizens leave the city. In order to allay panic, Margaret orders her army to return to Dunstable – a move which some chroniclers later claim to have been fatal. On this same day, Edward hears of the defeat at St Albans and marches his small army towards London.
22 February Edward meets up with the Earl of Warwick and the remnants of his forces in the Cotswolds and together they advance on London.
26 February Edward and Warwick enter London in triumph – Edward has augmented his forces with levies from his father’s estates (now his) and with allies from the Welsh borders and Staffordshire such as Walter Devereux and Sir William Herbert. However, the Yorkists realise that since they have lost control of the king, they can no longer claim the obedience of his subjects. The struggle must be taken a stage further with either the deposition of Henry or the setting up of a new king. In the person of Edward they have an ideal candidate.
4 March Following a series of carefully stage managed ceremonies, Edward is proclaimed King Edward IV. His formal coronation is postponed until after the Lancastrians have been dealt with.
6 March Learning that Queen Margaret has withdrawn north of the river Trent, Edward begins to tackle his immediate military difficulties. Margaret is still undefeated and can claim the loyalty of the majority of the English nobility. Therefore, if Edward is to survive, he must attack. He remains in London for the following week, securing an additional £4,000 in contributions from city merchants. In the meantime, many Yorkist leaders leave the city to begin raising troops.
11 March Lord Fauconberg leaves London at the head of troops from the Welsh Marches and his own estates in Essex and Kent.
13 March Edward leaves London with the main body of his army, including a contingent of Burgundian handgunners.
18 March Edward reaches Cambridge, having taken a deliberately slow pace to allow contingents of recruits to catch up with him.
21 March Just north of the Trent, Edward rendezvous with both Warwick and Fauconberg. Historians disagree on the size of his army at this point, but it seems likely to have been in excess of 20,000 men. The ailing Duke of Norfolk was also struggling to join up with Edward, but at this point he was at least two days’ march behind.
27 March The Yorkist army reaches Pontefract. Scouts report that the enemy has taken up a position on a small plateau between the villages of Saxton and Towton, around fifteen miles to the south-west of York. At dusk that day, Warwick and the Yorkist vanguard secure the crossing over the river Aire at Ferrybridge. The occupying Lancastrians put up stiff resistance, aided by the fact that they have destroyed the bridge several days previously on their way to York. The Yorkists take casualties; both from Lancastrian archers and from the biting cold of the river, into which their troops are obliged to wade to rebuild the bridge. Eventually the Lancastrians retreat and Warwick encamps on the north bank of the river.
28 March Just before dawn, a sizable force of Lancastrians under the command of Sir John Clifford attacks Warwick’s camp. Surprise is total and the defeated Yorkists run back across the bridge to safety. Yorkist resolve begins to waver and Warwick is obliged to kill his horse as a gesture of his determination to make a stand, saying “Flee if you will but I will tarry with he that will tarry with me.” At midday, the Yorkist main body reaches the bridge, but in the meantime the Lancastrians have destroyed the previous day’s repairs and now hold the north bank in force. Realising the likely cost of a frontal assault, Warwick dispatches a force of mounted archers under Lord Fauconberg three miles upriver to Castleford, where they cross the ford unhindered. Clifford’s scouts report their advance and Clifford gives orders to retreat to the main Lancastrian position near Towton. Unfortunately for him, Fauconberg is hard on his heels and catches him up just to the south of Dintingdale. In the ensuing skirmish Clifford and most of the Lancastrian force are slaughtered. At about this time the main Yorkist army crosses the river Aire via the repaired bridge and by late evening are encamped just to the south of Saxton village.
29 March The Battle of Towton
As dawn breaks, the Yorkist army deploys northwards from Saxton village onto a narrow neck of land bounded by the Ferrybridge road on their right and the valley of the river Cock to their left. The morning is grey and bitter and snow begins to blow into their faces as they advance towards the Lancastrians, who are drawn up about half a mile south of Towton village where the winding valley of the river Cock narrows their front. The Lancastrians muster around thirty thousand archers and men at arms under the command of the Duke of Somerset and have in their ranks a large proportion of the nobility of England. The banners of the Earls of Northumberland and Wiltshire, the Dukes of Buckingham and Exeter and the Earls of Devon and Shrewsbury flutter above their massed retinues, together with the smaller flags of around sixty knights of varying degrees of wealth and power. The Yorkists are not so well served. Apart from Edward himself, the only other magnates present at the start of the battle are Warwick and Fauconberg. The Duke of Norfolk’s whereabouts at this time are unknown, although he is in fact some five miles south of Ferybridge. Furthermore, the Yorkists, with between twenty and twenty five thousand troops are outnumbered. Despite this, their ranks contain experienced battle captains such as Robert Horne and Sir John Wenlock and they are confident in the leadership of the young king.
At about 9 o’clock the wind shifts and begins to blow the snow into the faces of the Lancastrians. At this, some 7,000 archers under the command of Lord Fauconberg advance down the gentle slope towards the Lancastrians. The change in wind direction not only adds range to the Yorkist arrows but also blinds the Lancastrian archers and shortens the range of any retaliatory shot. Volley after volley of arrows slice into the Lancastrian ranks and when their bowmen reply, their arrows fall well short. To add insult to injury, the canny Fauconberg proceeds to use the Lancastrians’ arrows against them. Aware that the army cannot sustain such punishment for long, Somerset orders a general advance all along the line. Seeing this, Fauconberg and his archers give ground slowly, loosing several volleys into the advancing ranks, before retreating through the advancing Yorkist lines. On both sides, knights and magnates lead their personal retinues into battle.
Sheer weight of numbers pushes the Yorkist line back down the slope towards Saxton village. King Edward is instrumental in the defence. He rides up and down the line, often dismounting to join in the fighting whenever the line looks like giving way. The order has been given on both sides that no quarter is to be asked or given and soon the dead are piled so high that they have to be removed so that each side can come to blows. Slowly the Yorkist line is pushed backwards and at this point Somerset plays his trump card. A small force of mounted men concealed in Castle Hill Wood suddenly storms into the Yorkist left flank. Only the personal intervention of Edward and the commitment of most of the Yorkist reserve staves off disaster. By this time, Lancastrians have pushed the Yorkists almost to the edge of the slope leading down to Saxton village. Victory seems within their grasp, until two events tip the balance firmly against them. Firstly, the Earl of Northumberland is killed and the Lancastrian left wing begins to falter. Secondly, fresh contingents of men are appearing on the field to bolster the Yorkist right wing, men wearing the white lion badge of the Duke of Norfolk.
Hurrying up the road from Ferrybridge, Norfolk’s men (possibly some 5,000 in number), are fed into the battle piecemeal and hence it is some while before they are able to make an impression. The situation is now reversed; the Lancastrians are fought out and the Yorkists emboldened by the arrival of fresh allies and well aware of just how much is at stake. Within an hour the Lancastrian battle line is in full retreat, before finally breaking and running for their lives. Those fortunate enough to be on the left wing break for the Ferrybridge Road – amongst these are the Duke of Somerset and the Duke of Exeter, who ride in the direction of York. Those on the right are pushed back into the valley of the Cock, in whose freezing waters hundreds drown or are cut down by the pursuing Yorkists. At one point, the corpses fill the water so thickly that a bridge of bodies is formed. The pursuit harries the routing Lancastrians as far as Tadcaster, where scores more are butchered as they attempt to make a stand in the village streets.
Queen Margaret, her son and her husband escape to the safety of Scotland with a small retinue including the Duke of Somerset, the Duke of Exeter and Lord Roos. The victors spend a miserable night on the corpse-strewn battlefield before marching on York, which they reach in the early afternoon of the following day. Here Edward orders the removal and burial of the heads of his father, brother and uncle and their replacement with the heads of some of the Lancastrian nobles captured during and after the battle. The final casualty toll for Towton is still the subject of controversy today – what does seem certain though is that between 15,000 and 20,000 died, making Towton the bloodiest battle fought on English soil.
PART FOUR – THE WAR IN THE NORTH: 1461-64
April Edward remains in York for three weeks, taking counsel on how to approach the management of the north now that so many of those once hostile to him are either dead or dispersed. The defeated Lancastrian leaders arrive at the Scottish court to find that the Scots are dealing with the aftermath of the untimely death of James II and the new king is only eight years old. To make matters worse, the Scottish regency council is split on the level of help that should be given to Queen Margaret.
25 April Margaret is so determined to get Scottish military assistance that she hands over the town of Berwick to them. She intends to do exactly the same with Carlisle, although in this case a combined Scottish/Lancastrian force has to lay siege to the town first.
May Edward moves to Newcastle, where he witnesses the execution of the Earl of Wiltshire, one of his father’s chief enemies. He then heads south again, leaving mopping up operations against the few remaining northern Lancastrians in the hands of the Earl of Warwick and his brother John Neville, Marquis of Montague.
June Edward hears of the Scots threat to Carlisle and moves his coronation date forward to 28 June, in order that he can come north in person. In the event, Carlisle is saved by an army under John Neville and the king opts to remain in the south. His control of the country is still tenuous in places, and outbreaks of civil disorder flare up all across the southern counties as the summer progresses.
August Edward plans a royal progress to reassert his authority and accordingly visits Kent, Sussex, Hampshire, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire. His original intention of combining this with a campaign against the Welsh Lancastrians is put on hold and in the end command is given to two men enobled in his coronation honours list; Sir Walter Devereux, Lord Ferrers and Lord Herbert. Between September 1461 and May 1462, Lancastrian support in Wales is systematically smashed until only Harlech castle remains in their hands.
September Lancastrian support in Scotland ensures that over the next few months, the castles of Dunstanburgh and Naworth are back in Lancastrian hands. At this point, a concerted effort is made to bring pressure of a more diplomatic nature against the Scottish court. English support for the disinherited Earl of Douglas is coupled with pressure on Mary of Guelders (the mother of the young King James III) via her uncle, Duke Phillip of Burgandy.
March Margaret of Anjou sails to France to seek further aid from the French king. While she is absent, the Yorkists make every possible effort to recover the initiative in Northumbria, aided by a short Anglo-Scottish truce that is made to last until the end of August.
June Margaret obtains money and a limited number of troops from Louis XI of France – although the French price for this is Calais itself. However, the French army must cross Burgundian territory to reach Paris and Duke Philip refuses to give permission. War with Burgundy being the only other option, Louis soon loses interest in Margaret’s scheme. Margaret in the end leaves France with fewer than 1000 troops.
October Margaret’s small fleet lands near Bamburgh on the 25th, which surrenders and is given into the keeping of the Duke of Somerset. Hearing of this, Sir Ralph Percy in Dunstanburgh Castle switches sides. The capitulation of Alnwick later in the month completes Lancastrian seizure of the three great border castles, but at this point their luck begins to change.
November Edward IV marches north, issuing commissions of array as he goes. Supplies and ordnance are sent by sea to Newcastle and the Earl of Douglas is unleashed to harry the border area. Severely outnumbered, Margaret sets sail for Scotland. Worse is in store for her when a sudden storm wrecks most of her small fleet. She, king Henry and a few survivors barely reach Berwick alive.
December As he is laid low with an attack of measles, Edward delegates command to the Earl of Warwick, who successfully co-ordinates simultaneous sieges of all three castles. News that a Scottish relief force has set out induces Edward to offer generous surrender terms to the three garrisons, whilst at the same time preventing news of the relief force from reaching them. Bamburgh and Dunstanburgh make a conditional offer of surrender in late December – an offer which to their surprise is accepted.
Edward’s peace terms of Christmas 1462 involve an unconditional pardon and reinstatement to all lands for the Earl of Somerset. A similar package is on offer to Sir Ralph Percy, who is allowed to take command of both Bamburgh and Dunstanburgh as soon as he has bent the knee to Edward.
1463 The new year sees two of the northern castles change hands yet again and a large Scottish army threatens Norham castle. Fortunately, prompt action by Warwick and his brother John Neville raises the siege and forces a humiliating Scottish retreat. It is obvious to Margaret that she can hope for no further assistance from the Scottish court and she sets sail for France. Later that year Somerset reverts to type and begins to forment pro-Lancastrian unrest in Lancashire and Cheshire.
February Lancastrian unrest in Wales is put down.
March Somerset, accompanied by two other recently pardoned Lancastrians, Sir Ralph Percy and Sir Humphrey Neville, goes on the offensive in Northumberland. Norham, Langley, Hexham, Bywell and Prudhoe castles are all captured and the rebels are in a position to threaten the main Yorkist supply base at Newcastle. Edward postpones the Anglo-Scottish talks, which had been due to resume at Newcastle in mid-March. Montagu is given command of a small army and sent north to escort the Scottish envoys to the new venue for the talks in York.
15 April On his way north towards Alnwick, Montagu evades several traps and ambushes set for him by Lancastrian sympathisers. His scouts warn him of a substantial Lancastrian force moving to intercept him.
25 April The Battle of Hedgeley Moor
Montagu’s army is attacked by the main Lancastrian force under Somerset, Roos, Percy, Grey and Hungerford. Little is known about the fighting except that the Lancastrians are disconcerted by the death in combat of Sir Ralph Percy and begin to give ground. Montagu’s men press their advantage and their opponents flee in disorder.
Late April The surviving Lancastrian leaders hear of a massive royal army mustering at Leicester under the leadership of king Edward. Its mission is nothing less than the final solution of the northern problem. Seeking a morale-boosting victory, the Lancastrians advance south into the Tyne valley with the unhappy figure of Henry VI in tow. The unfortunate king is ensconced at Bywell castle, 12 miles from Montagu’s base at Newcastle.
Early May John Neville’s army takes the initiative and marches along the Tyne from Newcastle in search of Somerset’s forces.
15 May The Battle of Hexham
John Neville catches Somerset by surprise in a poor position with their backs to the river. In a short while the Lancastrians are shattered, with Somerset, Hungerford and Roos all being subsequently captured and executed. In the three weeks following the battle, some thirty Lancastrian nobles are captured and summarily executed.
27 May In reward for unstinting service to the crown, John Neville is created Earl of Northumberland.
Early June The new Earl of Northumberland marches north with the royal army and its artillery train.
23 June Alnwick and Dunstanburgh capitulate without a fight, but Sir Ralph Grey and Sir Humphrey Neville initially refuse to surrender Bamburgh, despite the threat of bombardment.
27 June Two days of bombardment leave Grey badly wounded, the walls of Bamburgh crumbling and Neville suing for terms. Neville is pardoned but Grey brought to Doncaster and executed before the king. The war in the north is over.
PART FIVE: THE FALSE PEACE – 1464-68
1 May Edward secretly marries Elizabeth Woodville at Grafton Manor. She is the widow of Sir John Grey, who died fighting for the Lancastrian cause at St Albans three years previously. Her mother, Jacquetta of Luxembourg, belonged to the upper ranks of the European aristocracy – but her father was no more than a member of a minor gentry family who’d provided an attractive second husband for a widowed duchess. Edward realises that this marriage is a serious political mistake and hence hides it from even close friends for the next four months.
September At a council meeting, Edward finally reveals the fact of his marriage. The initial reaction of incomprehension finally gives way to anger and mistrust. Edward’s revelation also brings to a head a growing rift between himself and the man who helped put him on the throne – the Earl of Warwick. Warwick seems unaware of the fact that now Edward is king, he would like to be allowed to rule himself – rather than having to refer every policy decision to Warwick. Warwick may have put Edward on the throne, but that doesn’t mean he’s in charge of English foreign policy making.
Warwick’s belief that English policy = Warwick’s policy draws him into a net of flattery spun by king Louis XI of France. The Earl begins negotiations with Louis, despite Edward’s preference for an alliance with Burgundy. Warwick increasingly presses for a French alliance; an alliance that will be sealed by the marriage of Edward to one of Louis’ daughters. Edward’s revelation not only destroys several months of careful negotiation, but also does something far worse – it makes Warwick look a fool.
1464 -65 Another aspect of the Woodvilles begins to make itself felt. Elizabeth comes as part of a package – in this case five brothers, seven unmarried sisters and two sons by her first husband. All of these want their slice of the cake and providing for them is not easy. The lands seized from attainted Lancastrian nobles after Towton have all been parcelled out – hence the only way to satisfy the queen’s family is to arrange advantageous marriages for them. This Edward does, with the result that by 1469, every English earl with a male heir has chosen a Woodville wife for him to marry. Since Warwick has two daughters and no male heir, Edward’s action makes finding husbands for them next to impossible. Edward makes matters much worse by refusing to let them marry his two younger brothers, Richard Duke of Gloucester and George Duke of Clarence.
1465-67 Warwick increasingly takes the view that he is being ousted from his rightful place as chief councillor to the king by a mob of graceless parvenus. Edward continues to treat him as a valued advisor and if the king has other friends to whom he listens as well, why that should be no cause for plotting rebellion…
1467 However, it appears that Warwick’s attitude turns increasingly against his former protégé. Rather than look abroad for allies, the Earl finds them much closer to home in the shape of the Duke of Clarence and English public opinion.
Although George is probably annoyed at Edward’s refusal to let him marry Isabel Neville, he has lands and titles in plenty and no obvious reason to rebel. However, while Edward and Elizabeth remain childless, George is the heir to the throne. To this day it remains uncertain exactly what Warwick’s intentions were. Did he aim to bind Clarence to him by marriage to Isabel and then crown him as a puppet king, or was his wish simply to capture Edward and rule in his name? We will never know the exact truth and some historians have theorised that even Warwick himself was playing it by ear. Whichever the case, it appears that by the end of the year both Clarence and Warwick have come to a secret understanding.
1468 Warwick carefully works to contrast his popularity with Edward’s growing unpopularity. A planned invasion of France with Breton and Burgundian backing comes to nothing when the crafty Louis XI makes peace with both countries. Edward cannot simply disband the expeditionary force he has assembled at such great expense and orders it to patrol the Channel under the pretext that Margaret of Anjou is at Harfleur preparing to invade. This is not the case and the fleet straggles back to port with nothing to show for the cash expended. For the first time since 1461, Edward begins to feel the cold wind of unpopularity.
PART SIX: WARWICK v EDWARD – 1469-70
May Two risings break out in Yorkshire; one is led by someone calling himself Robin of Redesdale and the other by an equally oddly-named Robin of Holderness. Both are put down with little difficulty by John Neville, although Robin of Redesdale slips through his fingers and reappears later the following month in Lancashire.
June Edward decides to deal with Robin of Redesdale personally and sets about the process of mustering troops.
10 July Edward reaches Newark-on-Trent. He has heard rumours that Warwick, Clarence and the archbishop of York are plotting against him and at first simply writes to all three asking them to come to see him.
11July However, at this point Clarence and Warwick are in Calais, where Clarence secretly marries Isabel Neville. At Newark, Edward hears that Robin of Redesdale’s army is close by and that it outnumbers his own. Edward retreats to Nottingham, sending urgent requests to Coventry for reinforcements as he does so.
12 July Clarence and Warwick go public and circulate Robin of Redesdale’s manifesto plus an open letter of their own calling for support and asking all those who would help them to present themselves fully armed at Canterbury on 16 July.
20 July Warwick and Clarence leave Canterbury at the head of a substantial force – Kent has always been a stronghold of support for Warwick – and march on London. Edward remains at Nottingham – possibly he is waiting for the army commanded by the Earl of Pembroke and the Earl of Devon, which is then marching west towards Northampton. At the same time though, Robin of Redesdale’s forces have bypassed the king and are heading south to link up with Warwick and Clarence. Both these forces are on a collision course.
26 July The Battle of Edgecote
Despite Warwick’s protestations that he is nothing more than an aggrieved subject demanding the reformation of the realm, his actions seem to indicate another agenda. The royal army, under the command of the Earls of Pembroke and Devon becomes separated, a dangerous tactical situation since Pembroke’s force is mostly cavalry and Devon commands the majority of the archers. The reason for the separation may have been a combination of ignorance (Pembroke had no idea of the location of ‘Robin of Redesdale’s’ army) and the result of a quarrel between the two commanders over billeting arrangements in Banbury two days previously. Whichever the reason, both Devon and Pembroke are isolated and defeated in detail by both Redesdale and Warwick’s advance guard under Sir William Parr and Sir Geoffrey Gate. Both Pembroke and his brother are captured and later executed on Warwick’s orders.
29 July At the village of Olney Edward hears the disastrous news from Edgecote. His small force numbers less than 2,000 and as the grim news filters out that Warwick is marching closer with vastly superior forces, they begin to desert en masse. Edward is taken into custody by George Neville.
August Warwick attempts to rule England through the captive King Edward, but lack of support from the wider peerage forces him to allow the King to make public appearances and personally sign the orders for the raising of troops to keep the peace.
September Warwick’s attempts to repeat the 1455 and 1460 experiments are at an end. Escorted by some of his most trusted peers and friends, Edward returns in triumph to London. All is seemingly peaceful, but both he and Warwick are now locked on a confrontational collision course.
November Two major administrative changes are made by Edward. The first of these – the transfer to Richard of Gloucester of the estates accumulated by Warwick the previous summer – was only to be expected. The second is the release of Henry Percy from confinement in the Tower and his restoration to the earldom of Northumberland. This proves to be an unwise decision. John Neville resents losing the earldom and becoming Marquis of Montagu instead feels like crumbs from the royal table – since the title comes with no lands or other income with which to support it.
Warwick’s attempt at a coup d’etat has failed – due mainly to a combination of passive resistance by the wider nobility. Thwarted in his ambitions for a French alliance, Warwick feels he has no choice but to make another bid for power. Edward’s removal would assure the survival of Warwick’s line. Nevertheless, support is minimal and only two peers, the Earl of Oxford and Lord Fitzhugh, offer active backing. Nothing daunted, Warwick looks around for a suitable starting point and finds it in the county of Lincolnshire. A prominent local Lancastrian, Lord Welles, has been locked in a feud with the Yorkist Sir Thomas Burgh of Gainsborough. Burgh is seen as a parvenu and owes his prosperity to grants of land given him by the king from attainted Lancastrians. That February, Welles attacks Burgh’s manor house at Gainsborough, strips it of valuables and partly demolishes it.
What makes this more than a local squabble is the fact that Burgh is Master of the King’s Horse and thus one of the King’s household. Burgh complains to the king, who orders Welles and his son-in-law Sir Thomas Dymmoke to appear before him. Both are heavily fined and the matter is deemed (by King Edward at least) to be closed. Nothing could be further from the truth.
February In order to boost his standing nationally, Edward decides on a progress northwards.
March Word of the royal progress reaches Lincolnshire and is used by agents of Warwick and Clarence to thoroughly stir things up.
4 March Welles names himself ‘Great Captain of the Commons of Lincolnshire’ and orders a proclamation placed on the doors of every church in the county to the effect that the king is marching north to punish the common people of the county. He orders all able bodied men to meet him ‘defensibly arrayed’ on Ranby Hawe in two days’ time.
8 March News of this reaches Edward as he prepares to stop for the night near Royston in Hertfordshire. He also receives a soothingly worded missive from Warwick and Clarence promising their full support against the rebellion. Encouraged by this, Edward issues them both commissions of array for the surrounding counties, authorising them to raise troops to help squash the rebels.
9 March Edward reaches Huntingdon and at this point seems to have fresh suspicions about Lord Welles and son. Lord Welles is questioned and reveals everything – notably the fact that the rebellion is in fact a Warwick/Clarence inspired plot. Welles is ordered to write to Clarence and his (Welles’) son with the instruction that both submit to the king’s mercy. Edward instructs him to deliver the letter to Clarence personally.
12 March Battle of Empingham (Loosecoate Field)
Edward finally confronts the rebel army near Stamford and soon puts it to flight. Clarence and Warwick hear of the defeat the following day and flee northwards towards the West Midlands in a pious hope that the Stanleys may be prepared to help them.
14-20 March Both Warwick and Clarence continue to evade capture, whilst simultaneously trying to negotiate their way towards some kind of deal. Edward reaches York and thus cuts them off from any northern support. A furious Warwick, with Clarence in tow flees to Calais and thence to the Lancastrian court in exile in Normandy.
PART SEVEN – SWINGS OF FORTUNE II: MAY 1470-MAY 1471
May 1470 An alliance between Warwick and the exiled Lancastrians is seriously proposed.
July 1470 Louis XI of France brokers talks between Warwick and Margaret of Anjou. Margaret reluctantly agrees to pardon Warwick, although some observers claim that she kept him kneeling in front of her for half an hour before she could bring herself to speak to him. Nevertheless, a deal is hammered out. Warwick’s daughter Anne will marry Margaret’s son Edward and Warwick will be given ships and men to mount an invasion of England. To say that Margaret is suspicious of her former chief enemy’s motives is something of an understatement. Warwick’s suggestion of a joint invasion is rejected and it is made clear that he must prove his new loyalties before expecting any help.
13 September Clarence and Warwick land 2,000 men at Plymouth and Dartmouth. Discontented old Lancastrians from the west country soon flock to their banners.
15 September Edward hears of the invasion and appoints John Neville, the Marquis of Montagu chief commissioner of array to deal with the rebels. John Neville quickly gathers 6,000 troops and appears to be moving to crush the rebels with his usual efficiency. In reality though, John Neville is having a major crisis of loyalties. He forgets how much he owes to Edward and recalls instead how the king removed the earldom of Northumberland from him in favour of the hated Percies. The fact that Edward later gave him numerous manors and titles in compensation is wiped from John Neville’s mind as he realises that he will be taking the field against his own brother. Family loyalty wins out and Neville declares for his brother while only a mile away from Edward’s smaller force. Edward’s men are in no shape to withstand a battle and he orders them to scatter. The king, his brother Richard Duke of Gloucester, Lord Hastings and a small band of followers manage to take ship at Kings Lynn for exile in Bruges.
1 October Henry VI is released from the Tower of London and restored to the throne, although true power resides in the hands of one man – the Earl of Warwick. Many exiled Lancastrians (eg the Dukes of Somerset and Exeter) gleefully return to England and take possession of their lands. A parliament reverses all Yorkist attainders and a panic-stricken Queen Elizabeth flees for sanctuary in Westminster Abbey. The Lancastrian triumph appears complete.
January The open French support for the invasion of England finally forces the Duke of Burgandy’s hand and he agrees to assist Edward in the recovery of his kingdom.
11 March Edward sails from Flushing with three ships and a maximum of 2,000 men. (Some historians estimate that it may have been as few as 1,200). It seems a pitifully small force for the job and as one French chronicler points out, ‘Once a king has been thrown out of his kingdom by the door, it is very hard to come in again by the windows’.
14 March Edward’s ships are separated by severe weather just outside the Humber estuary and hence make a widely dispersed landfall. Edward, together with around 500 men, comes ashore at Ravenspur on the Holderness coast.
15 March Edward’s tiny force links up and takes stock of its situation. Few people rally to their side. An advance on London is out of the question and so Edward determines to march instead on York. As he does so, he craftily orders his men to tell those they meet that his claim is only for the dukedom of York – a title which he holds by right from his late father. Opposing forces are taken in by this ruse, as are potentially hostile elements within York, which opens its gates to him the following day.
17 March Reinforced by local supporters, Edwards army passes near Pontefract. Here, John Neville makes no move to intercept him – an action which historians still debate today.
23 March Edward is reinforced by some three thousand men and now openly proclaims his intention of retaking the throne. Marching via Leicester, he makes for where he knows the Earl of Warwick to be – the town of Coventry.
29 March Edward arrives outside the walls of Coventry. Warwick refuses Edward’s attempts at negotiation, yet also declines to take the field and offer battle. Meanwhile, Clarence is urgently considering his position and comes to the conclusion that this might be the last chance to seek his brother’s mercy. Clarence brings 4,000 men over to the Yorkist side and is reconciled with both his brothers on the road between Coventry and Banbury.
5 April Clarence attempts to reconcile Warwick and the king – however Edward coldly points out the reinforcements streaming into Warwick at Coventry – magnates such as the Duke of Exeter and the Earl of Oxford. Furthermore, it is increasingly essential that Edward takes charge of the centre of his realm – London.
11 April Edward enters London in triumph. The wretched Henry VI is once more confined to the Tower and the Yorkists swiftly reassert their control over the city. Meanwhile, Warwick marches south from Coventry towards St Albans with an army of around 12,000 men.
12 April Edward is warned of Warwick’s advance and his army begins to assemble. Warwick meanwhile reaches St Albans.
13 April Edward’s army marches north from London and encamps for the night a mile or so beyond the village of Barnet on a wide swathe of open land known as Hadley Common.