Post-classical history

The Third Period


The third period of conflict was brief and demonstrated both the dominance of the Yorkist King Edward and the desperation of his Lancastrian opponents. In April 1464, three years into his rule, Edward sent Warwick's brother John Neville to negotiate peace with Scottish envoys on the border. On the way, Neville was ambushed by a force of around 5,000 Lancastrians led by Somerset. At the Battle of Hedgeley Moor on 25th April 1464, the forces were of equal size but both Lancastrian wings, commanded by Lords Hungerford and Roos, fled during the battle and the remaining force was quickly defeated. Somerset escaped and led what was left of his army south to Hexham.

At Hexham, Somerset was rejoined by Hungerford and Roos and his force again numbered around 5,000 men. After the completion of his diplomatic mission, John marched on Hexham to deal with the Lancastrians. On 15th May, taking the high ground, Neville's forces charged head long down the hill and swept away the Lancastrian force. Somerset, Hungerford and Roos were all captured and executed. Thus at the Battle of Hexham armed resistance to Edward was eradicated and, although still at large, Henry and Margaret were isolated and without support.

The kingdom settled into relative peace. Edward was young, athletic and tall. At 6'4" he is the tallest King of England known to date, an inch taller than his grandson, Henry VIII. With harmony came prosperity. Trade improved and Edward worked hard to reconcile former Lancastrians to his rule. The next phase of trouble was to tear the kingdom apart afresh, exposing enemies Edward could not have expected.

Perhaps the primary cause of the troubles to come was King Edward's new queen. On 14th September 1464 Edward announced to a meeting of his Council that he had, a few months previously, married in secret. Furthermore, he had married a commoner, a widow four years his elder who had two sons from her first marriage. That first marriage also happened to have been to a prominent Lancastrian knight who had been killed at the Second Battle of St Albans. The Council could scarcely have imagined a worse match. French chronicler Jean de Waurin wrote that the Council told Edward 'he must know she was no wife for a prince such as himself'.

One man took particular offence at the match. The Earl of Warwick was close to concluding negotiations with France for Edward to marry the king's daughter, bringing peace between the countries. Edward's announcement caused him embarrassment at home and abroad that he would not bear lightly. The Earl would earn his title Kingmaker soon, primarily because of the king's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville.

The Woodvilles

There is a reason that the Woodville family were not included with the great families of the day at the beginning of this book. That reason is simple. They were not a great family. Neither, though, were they commoners in the sense that the accusation is usually levelled at them. Sir Richard Woodville (or Wydeville as it is sometimes spelt) was chamberlain to John, Duke of Bedford, the brother of King Henry V who acted as Regent of France whilst Henry VI was a child. After John died in 1435, Sir Richard's son, another Richard, married the widowed duchess. This Richard had been born in 1405 and had fought in France for the Duke of Bedford, serving under Somerset and York.

The marriage of the widowed Duchess Jacquetta of Luxembourg to a man of such comparatively low birth was a scandal at the time. The couple kept their relationship secret for a while but were fined when it came to light. In order to make the match more palatable, Richard was created Baron Rivers by Henry VI in 1448. In 1450 he was made a Knight of the Garter and in 1459 was appointed Warden of the Cinque Ports. A Lancastrian at the outbreak of fighting, Rivers was captured by Warwick and hauled to Calais. There, William Paston wrote, before Warwick, Salisbury and March he was publically berated 'that his father was but a squire'. Apparently 'my Lord of March rated him in like wise'. Awkward as an introduction to a future father-in-law.

Baron Rivers and his wife had 13 children in total. Elizabeth was the eldest and in 1452 she married Sir John Grey of Groby, heir to the Barony of Groby. The couple had two sons before Sir John's death, Thomas Grey, later Marquess of Dorset (from who Lady Jane Grey, the Nine Days Queen was descended) and Richard Grey. Elizabeth was widowed after the Second Battle of St Albans in 1461 but three years later caught the eye of the king and the couple married in secret.

The nature of their courtship is unclear. It has been speculated that Elizabeth refused the king's advances in order to preserve her reputation. She supposedly told Edward that if she was too lowly to be his wife, she was too high to be his mistress. Whether she did or not, Edward was so infatuated that he asked her to become his wife, not his mistress. Doubtless aware of the reaction they could expect, the union was kept secret for several months. When exposed, the political establishment reacted badly.

Nevertheless, Elizabeth went on to provide the king with several children, including two sons. Her siblings were given advantageous marriages by virtue of their sister's new position. Her brother Anthony succeeded his father, becoming the 2nd Earl Rivers. He was a learned man who performed very well in tournaments to the pleasure of his brother-in-law. Her sister Catherine married Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, Mary married into the Herbert family becoming Countess of Pembroke and her brother Lionel became Bishop of Salisbury to name but three.

The Woodvilles were viewed with distain by the nobility. They were seen as social pariahs, collecting the most profitable unions and offices at court. No doubt much of this dislike stemmed from jealousy. The Woodvilles held great influence and that was to the detriment of others. Their thrust for position and possession is, however, entirely to be expected and is indeed justified as the family of the Queen of England. Yet they certainly made enemies that would never be reconciled.

Kingmaker, Kingbreaker

The emergence of the Woodville family not only embarrassed Warwick as he sought a French marriage but also threatened his position as the king's senior subject. Warwick had secured the north, ending Percy dominance and quieting the Scottish borders. He disliked the way in which Edward had treated him, excluding him from such a vital decision, embarrassing him, creasing his honour and providing an unspoken yet clear threat to the Neville family's ascendancy. Warwick felt that he, in no small way, had made Edward king and he did not appreciate the way in which he was being repaid. In something of a sulk, Warwick retreated to his estates.

In 1465, Henry, who had been on the run since the Battle of Hexham, was discovered in the home of a Lancastrian sympathiser. Taken to London, he was paraded through the streets on 24th June as proof of his capture. He was then securely installed within the Tower of London where he was to spend the next five years as a comfortable, possibly bewildered, prisoner. Margaret and their son Edward were still at large and Edward possibly preferred to keep Henry alive as a limp Lancastrian figurehead rather than reinvigorate the line by removing Henry and making his son, the young and fit Edward, the new Lancastrian hope.

Warwick still seethed. He began to throw ostentatious parties, banquets that were always one course longer and more extravagant than the king's. He was flexing his muscles in response to Edward's treatment of him. Warwick favoured an allegiance with France but the Woodvilles preferred a Burgundian treaty. Edward tended to agree, marrying his sister Margaret to the widowed Charles of Burgundy, heir to Duke Philip. As part of the negotiations, Edward also sought to marry his brother George, Duke of Clarence to Charles's daughter Mary. Warwick had already sought to arrange a marriage between George and his own eldest daughter, Isabel. Edward forbade the union on the grounds that the couple were first cousins once removed and would hear no more on the matter. Warwick was being squeezed further from influence.

When a Burgundian delegation arrived in 1467 for a tournament to decide the Champion of Europe between Anthony Woodville and Antony, Bastard of Burgundy, Warwick's brother George Neville, Chancellor and Archbishop of York refused to attend. In response to the snub, Edward stripped George of his office. Warwick, who had been on a diplomatic mission to France, returned with a French delegation, which was roundly ignored, to learn of his brother's disgrace.

In Wales, an insurrection flared in 1468, funded by the affronted and mischievous King Louis of France. Jasper Tudor led the assault in the name of Henry's son, the Prince of Wales. William, Lord Herbert led King Edward's response, crushing the rebellion and forcing Jasper to flee disguised as a peasant. Lord Herbert's reward was the grant of Jasper’s own title, Earl of Pembroke. Herbert was a staunch Yorkist loyalist. From an established Welsh family, he had married Mary Woodville, one of the queen's sisters, and began to accrue lands in England now too. Another upon whom Edward came to rely and to lavish patronage, Warwick felt his previously short path to the heart of power extending beyond his reach.

It is hard to pinpoint the precise reason that Warwick's disenchantment evolved into opposition. It is most likely the steady accumulation of snubs and knock-backs along with watching his own hard won influence wane. During 1468, a series of Lancastrian plots were exposed seeking to reinstate Henry VI and Warwick perhaps saw this willing opposition to the charismatic king as his opportunity. On 11th July 1469, Warwick married his eldest daughter Isabel to George, Duke of Clarence. Although Edward had forbidden the union and consanguinity required Papal dispensation, the match was made, with Warwick's brother, the Archbishop of York presiding. It is interesting that the marriage took place with the necessary permission from Rome. After Edward had prohibited the match, Warwick had secretly continued to lobby in Rome for the dispensation; an early suggestion that dissent was on his mind.

Almost immediately after the wedding, Warwick issued a list of complaints aimed at the king's advisors, a now ominously familiar ploy. He had seen a chink and meant to exploit it. Edward had dared to underestimate Warwick's worth, he had forgotten who had put him upon his throne and the earl was going to remind him. Although he would not acquire the Kingmaker epithet until long after his death, Warwick was playing the part again. Spreading rumours about Edward's legitimacy, Warwick's aim was to place George upon the throne, with his own daughter Isabel as queen.

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