This book portrays Edward, duke of York, as one of Henry’s four closest friends, and thus one of his closest companions, along with his younger brothers and uncles. The relationships between Henry and his three other closest friends – Richard Courtenay, Richard Beauchamp and Thomas Fitzalan – are relatively straightforward and unambiguous. This is not the case with Edward. His entire relationship with the house of Lancaster was complicated to begin with – and grew more so after Henry IV’s return to England in 1399. This, for example, is one eighteenth-century verdict on Edward’s historical reputation:
This infamous man … had been instrumental in the murder of his uncle the duke of Gloucester, had then deserted [King] Richard by whom he was trusted; had conspired against the life of [King] Henry to whom he had sworn allegiance; had betrayed his associates, whom he had seduced into this enterprise; and now displayed in the face of the world these badges of his multiplied dishonour.1
For this reason, he has normally been assigned a more distant position in the post-1399 royal circle. But Henry did not regard Edward with such diffidence. In fact, he almost always included him alongside his own brothers as one of the most trusted members of the royal family. Thus a note explaining his apparent shifts of loyalty prior to 1415, which have led some writers mistakenly to portray him as a disloyal or unreliable man, is necessary.
Edward was born in about 1373. He was the eldest son of Edmund of Langley (d. 1402), duke of York, the fifth son of Edward III. His mother was Isabella of Castile (d. 1393), the daughter of Pedro the Cruel, the ousted king of Castile. Publicly, there were two other children of the union: Constance, who married Thomas Despenser (d. 1400), earl of Gloucester; and Richard of Conisborough (d. 1415), earl of Cambridge. However, as noted in the text, it is possible that Richard of Conisborough was the product of an adulterous liaison between John Holland and the duchess of York in the 1380s.
Edward of York was not born high in the order of succession. According to Edward III’s entail of October 1376, ahead of him stood Richard II, John of Gaunt, and Henry of Bolingbroke, as well as his own father.2 His position was made potentially even lower in 1386 when Richard declared that the earl of March and his younger brother, Roger Mortimer, were next-inline to the throne (these boys being Edward III’s descendants through his second son’s only daughter, Philippa).3 However, by 1393 at the latest, Richard had changed his mind and set the earl of March back on the lowest rung of the royal family.4 In that year he began to see Edmund of Langley as his heir and, as Edmund was old, his son Edward was the man most likely to be the next king. That Richard was able to overlook John of Gaunt and Henry of Bolingbroke in this reckoning was due to John’s age and Richard’s personal antipathy to Henry which caused him to plot how to remove Henry from the succession.
Richard II liked Edward. In 1390 he created him earl of Rutland. In 1395 he created him earl of Cork and in 1397 he raised him to a dukedom, creating him duke of Aumale. The following year he went so far as to adopt him as his brother, and suggested to William Bagot that he might resign the throne in Edward’s favour. (Richard seems to have imagined a future in which he was the Holy Roman Emperor and Edward of York king of England.) When John of Gaunt died in February 1399 and Henry of Bolingbroke was exiled for life two months later, it looked as if old Edmund of Langley was indeed next in line to the throne, and that Edward would follow him. That same month Richard II drew up a will in which he made it clear that this was the order of succession. It seems likely that he drew up an entailment at the same time settling the throne on Edmund and then his sons Edward and Richard of Conisborough. Edward went to Ireland with the king shortly afterwards, and his father was guardian of the realm when Henry of Bolingbroke landed at Ravenspur at the beginning of July 1399. Also in Ireland with him and the king was the young Henry of Monmouth – the future Henry V – of whom Richard II was fond.
As is well known, Duke Edmund offered no opposition to the return of Henry IV. In so doing he abdicated any right to inherit the throne. In line with his father’s acquiescence, Edward also abandoned the king, despite being his adopted brother, and accepted the loss of his title of duke of Aumale in the subsequent parliament. Also in that parliament he defended himself against accusations of complicity in the murder of his uncle, Thomas, duke of Gloucester. As became clear from John Hall’s confession in that same parliament, two of Edward of York’s valets had been present and one named Francis had helped with the actual killing – but that did not equate to Edward’s guilt. The duke of Norfolk had also been present and yet he had clearly tried to stop the murder. It was Richard II’s own instructions which were to blame, not the valets who carried them out.5Edward may not even have known of the king’s order in this regard. He certainly knew he could do nothing to stop him.
It is at this point that traditional readings of Edward tend to go awry. The problem is a general failure to examine the man from a biographical point of view. Edward has always been seen in relation to Richard II or Henry IV – as if the kings’ points of view were the only ones which needed to be understood. But Edward’s key relationship after Richard II’s fall was not with the new king, Henry IV, but with his son, Henry V. The two men were friends. They were closely related and shared a passion for the English language and hunting: Edward wrote a version of Gaston Phoebus’sBook of the Chase in English and added various chapters of his own composition, and dedicated the whole finished work to Henry. They were also both deeply religious. So when the old duke of York allowed Henry of Bolingbroke to march against Richard II in 1399 on the grounds of justice, Edward was inclined to support this not only out of loyalty to his father, and probably a sense that he was right with regard to the question of justice, but also out of loyalty to his friend, Henry of Monmouth, the future Henry V.
Edward’s shift of trust was only a betrayal with respect to Richard II. There were earlier personal ties with the Lancastrians. These he reinforced in January 1400. According to the Chronicque de la Traïson et Mort de Richart Deux Roy Dengleterre, Edward was at the meeting on 17 December 1399 in the abbot’s lodging at Westminster Abbey, on which occasion five lords, three churchmen, one knight, Richard II’s physician and an esquire planned to assassinate Henry IV and his sons in the plot which became known as the Epiphany Rising. However, Edward’s role at that meeting was almost certainly nothing more than gathering information. This he divulged to Henry IV, allowing the king to save his own and his sons’ lives.6
Edward inherited the dukedom of York on the death of his father in 1402. The following year he joined the prince in fighting in Wales against Glendower, racking up large sums in unpaid wages. He did not fight for the Percy family at Shrewsbury in 1403, even though they too were complaining bitterly about unpaid wages. But despite this loyalty, it is widely accepted that he betrayed the Lancastrians in 1405. In February of that year his sister Constance accused him of being the instigator of the plot to remove the Mortimer heirs from Windsor Castle. Immediately afterwards she declared that he had tried to murder the king at Eltham, either by scaling the walls or attacking him on the road. Far from acknowledging either of these accusations (as his entry in ODNB claims), the duke is said to have immediately thrown down his hood in acceptance of the challenge by his sister’s champion, to prove his innocence. However, he was arrested on the king’s order and locked up in Pevensey Castle while the king decided what to do with him. He petitioned for his release but was not set free until October 1405. After being freed, he remained unswervingly loyal, fighting in Wales again with Henry and doing so much to inspire the troops that Henry made a special mention in parliament of his great service.
Was there any wavering of his loyalty to the Lancastrians in 1399–1400 or in 1405? As neither Henry IV nor Henry V ever held Edward guilty of complicity in the Epiphany Rising, it is likely that he was indeed their agent amidst the plotters, and far from wishing to punish him they owed him their lives. In 1405 his supposed wavering of loyalty was almost entirely the result of his sister’s accusations, and there is a high probability that these were groundless.7 The instigator seems to have been Constance all along. She was the widow of Thomas Despenser, who had been killed for his part in the Epiphany Rising; it would be understandable if she felt a grudge against her brother, especially if we are right in saying that Edward had betrayed that plot and indirectly caused her husband’s death.
Henry IV’s release of the duke shows that he did not seriously believe that the duke had plotted against his life; he would have had him executed if that was the case. Nor did Edward think he deserved such harsh treatment – he was confident enough to petition for his release after four months. But the king did have personal doubts about Edward for a time. In 1407, after Edward had been released, the council appointed him constable of the Tower, where the king was keeping two of his most valuable prisoners, namely the king of Scotland and Owen Glendower’s son. Henry IV decided he should move them. The council over-ruled him, not placing any credibility in his doubts about Edward. That same year, Prince Henry declared in parliament what an inspiring leader Edward had been in Wales. After that Edward became quickly rehabilitated. By early 1409 he was sufficiently restored to Henry IV’s favour that he witnessed the king’s will.
All this leads us to believe that the reasons for doubting Edward’s loyalty were nothing more than the accusations of his undeniably traitorous sister, coupled with the king’s lingering doubts about his loyalty (probably due to his earlier closeness to Richard II). Prince Henry, who knew Edward better than his father did, found it easier to see the loyal man he was, and was better placed to appreciate his friendship. Edward had given up a great deal when he had betrayed Richard II. If we lay aside his sister’s accusations, his integrity and devotion to the Lancastrian cause were consistent from 1399. He was too close to Richard II through family connections to be a Lancastrian supporter before that time, and after 1399 he was compromised by those same family connections, especially by his sister. But by 1409, he was firmly in favour with both Henry IV and Henry V, and remained one of Henry V’s closest friends, having shown he would stick by the Lancastrians in adversity as well as in victory.