Post-classical history

Protector and Defender of the Realm

Margaret gave birth to a son on 13th October 1453. Edward was named after his father's favourite saint, Edward the Confessor, but his birth, rather than resolving any burning issues, poured fuel upon the fire. First the Duke of Buckingham and then Queen Margaret herself presented the baby to the king. According to the Paston letters, Henry did not offer 'any answer or countenance, saving only that he looked on the Prince and cast his eyes down again without any more'. This was a serious development. By law, the baby was not Henry's legitimate son nor his heir until the king acknowledged him officially. Without Henry's acceptance of his son, there was still no heir, nothing to fill the vacuum. Worse still, rumour sprang up that the king had not accepted the child because it was, in fact, Somerset's child with Margaret. All of this had to end.

In January 1454, Queen Margaret made an audacious play to secure the position of her son. John Paston recorded that Margaret informed Council that she 'desireth to have the whole rule of this land'. Doubtless a bid to protect the positions of herself, her son and her favourite Somerset, her demands were a step too far for the misogynistic ruling class. If they would not tolerate Margaret to hold the king's power, they had only one other choice. Support and power trickled through the fingers of Queen Margaret and into the hands of the Duke of York. In February, Council nominated York as King's Lieutenant so that he could call a meeting of Parliament. Lines were drawn with Somerset frantically trying to assemble support on one side and York attracting powerful men to the other. The Earl of Warwick and his large private army were now firmly on the side of York. The king had seen to that before becoming incapacitated.

On 22th March, John Kemp died. He was the Archbishop of Canterbury and a new appointment to this vital role could only be made by the king. Members of Council visited the king to measure his condition. Finding him unchanged, they sent for the Duke of York. On 27th March 1454, Richard, Duke of York was created Protector and Defender of the Realm to act much as Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester had done during Henry's minority. Somerset was arrested and taken to the Tower. Margaret was placed under house arrest at Windsor. Some of the nobility waited in fear of the vengeance York was likely to unleash.

It is perhaps therefore remarkable that York's protectorate is generally considered a success. He greatly reduced the size of the royal household and their expenditure. With a decisive show of force he ended the Neville-Percy feud that was raging in the north. Although he did make key appointments within his own supporters, that is perhaps to be expected. In all other matters, he acted with equity and honour. The terms of his Protectorate made him subordinate still to King Henry and provided for him to exercise power until Henry's (still unrecognised) son was of age; potentially fourteen years ahead.

If King Henry's illness was a national crisis, his recovery was to prove a catastrophe. On 25th December 1454, Henry was restored as swiftly as he had been struck down. There was rejoicing. A few days later, when it seemed Henry had truly returned to himself, he was to provide an insight into the extent of his detachment over the past eighteen months. He had no recollection of his son, or of even having a son, yet in finally acknowledging young Edward, at a stroke he demonstrated his recovery and settled the long standing issue of the succession. On 30th December, York handed back all of his authority. Henry revoked many of York's appointments. Margaret was freed, along with Somerset who was restored as Captain of Calais (a vital title York had taken for his own) and Constable of England. York, along with Salisbury and Warwick, retired once more to his estates and pondered Somerset's treatment of the last Protector, the king's uncle Humphrey. Henry's return favoured the Percy family again, causing Warwick to consider his family's position. His father, Salisbury, was removed from his offices at court and must have known that the political wilderness beckoned for as long as Henry was king. Tension was tighter than a drawn bow string and conflict all but inevitable.

Civil War

England was doomed to what was to become over thirty years of strife and open warfare that fluctuated yet was rarely far from the surface. For the purposes of this book, the Wars of the Roses are separated into five key periods of conflict, but in reality the tensions, family loyalties and personal animosities that towed the nation from battlefield to battlefield for three decades were always at play. Dynastic conflict on a national scale was often the scene for the settling of personal, local disputes.

Ancient families had more to consider than who was king. They had proud traditions and a great deal to lose, beyond even their lives, by making a decision that would prove less than fortuitous. The choice between honour and right, loyalty and survival was stark and constantly being forced upon them.

For ordinary men and women, it is hard to measure the impact of conflicts such as the Wars of the Roses upon them. Those who served a lord heavily involved may have lived for years in constant fear of being called to battle. Families deprived of a husband and father would no doubt have struggled to make ends meet. If an army of either side was in the area, they would most likely devour food and drink on an unsustainable scale, threatening local supplies. They may, if in a hurry or even just unconcerned, march through fields of crops destroying harvests. Henry Tudor, once king, paid substantial compensation to regions his army marched through, ruining crops.

For the most part, though, assuming conflict remained at a distance, it is likely that most were primarily concerned with securing enough food and money for them and their families, a more immediate concern than the disputes of great men.

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