Post-classical history




No one can have expected that King Edward IV was going to lose his throne during the autumn of 1470. Save for Warwick’s abortive coup, he had faced no serious challenge since that shattering victory at Towton, by then over nine years earlier. He was young, vigorous and impressive, still a magnificent figure of a man. His queen had already given birth to three fine daughters and there was every prospect of her bearing him a son and heir. In addition he had two brothers, so that the dynasty had every appearance of being solidly established. The Yorkist court was one of the most glittering and imposing in Europe, while among its courtiers were such loyal and able henchmen as William Hastings. Although the King was a realist, extremely shrewd and suspicious by nature, it is perhaps understandable that he had not realized how brittle were his regime’s foundations.

Yet the Yorkist regime had forfeited most if not all of the heady popularity it had enjoyed at the beginning of the reign. Taxation had been too heavy, with too little to show for it. In fact Edward IV was proving to be a sad disappointment, so Dr Warkworth informs us. Everyone had hoped that he would ‘amend all manner of things that was amiss, and bring the realm of England in great prosperity and rest’. Instead, there had been ‘one battle after another, and much trouble, and great loss of goods among the common people . . . and King Edward had much blame for hurting merchandise’.

Many of the magnates who supported him were allowed to go on bullying neighbours and cowing juries just as they had under King Henry. ‘They will not suffer the king’s laws to be executed upon whom they owed favour unto,’ the rebels had complained in their manifesto the previous year, ‘by the which great murder, rapes, oppressions and extortions, as well by them, as by their great maintenances of their servants, to us daily be done and remain unpunished to the great hurt and grudge of all this land.’ The countryside still swarmed with robbers. Merchants were worried by Edward’s commercial policies, so much so that the City of London was no longer Yorkist to a man. Also, it is too easily forgotten that even if Warwick’s coup had quickly collapsed, it had humiliated the King, seriously weakening his authority.

Even so, Jane’s father had a very strong reason for wanting Edward IV to stay on the throne. On 17 January 1470 the King formally acknowledged that as a former Collector of the Customs at Southampton, John Lambert was owed the sum of £418 16s 2d, besides another £191 13s 4d which he had lent in 1469. The King therefore, in recompense and as repayment, granted ‘the said John and his heirs’ over 2,000 acres in the West Country. Much of this was good farmland, though a certain amount was moor or heath. It included three manors ‘by Chittlehampton’ near Molton in Devon, together with the manor of Puriton in Somerset and other lands in that county. There were houses and gardens in Exeter, one ‘with shops, solars and cellars annexed in the parish of St Petroc, Exeter, in which Joan Quyk lately dwelt’.1

Every fifteenth-century merchant hoped to advance his family’s social standing. Here was a glittering chance for Mr Lambert’s descendants to rise in the world. Even though he himself would always remain a tradesman in the eyes of Devon and Somerset landowners, such an estate would enable his son to enter the ranks of the gentry and add the magic word ‘gentleman’ after his name; he might marry the daughter of some neighbouring squire. The snag was that the property had been confiscated from the Lancastrian Courtenays. Should Henry VI and the Courtenays come back, then Mr Lambert would lose it all.

Meanwhile there had been dramatic developments across the Channel. When the Earl of Warwick’s ships arrived off Calais after his flight from Kent, far from welcoming the flotilla the Earl’s lieutenant, Lord Wenlock, greeted it with cannon fire. Although the Duchess of Clarence was in labour with her first child on board Warwick’s flagship, Wenlock refused to let the party land. In reality he was a secret supporter of the Earl and sent a messenger warning him not to enter what he called ‘the mousetrap’ where the garrison was still loyal to Edward. He advised Warwick to land at a French port instead.

After increasing his fleet by the simple expedient of piracy – seizing some sixty Dutch or Flemish ships whose crews would have been thrown overboard – the Earl of Warwick put in at Honfleur at the end of April. King Louis XI saw at once that he could be used as a tool with which to restore the House of Lancaster; he could then forge an alliance with a suitably grateful English dynasty against the Duke of Burgundy. It did not take Warwick very long to agree with Louis. By now the Earl had obviously come to the conclusion that very few people in England wished to see the Duke of Clarence as their king in place of Edward IV.

Lord Oxford had already gone to see Queen Margaret. In July of the previous year he had brought his affinity to the aid of Warwick and Clarence, just before the Battle of Edgecote, having commissioned John Paston to buy him three sets of horse armour together with two banner staves; he had ended his letter to Paston ‘I trust to God we shall do right well.’ However, he had not been in Lincolnshire in March 1470, nor had he ridden with the Earl and the Duke on their recent disastrous campaign. He was nonetheless a marked man in King Edward’s eyes and had prudently fled for his life. Instead of joining his friends, he crossed the North Sea discreetly from the Essex coast and went straight to the Lancastrian court. Since both his father and his brother had lost their lives because of their loyalty to the House of Lancaster, he was well suited to act as an envoy for Warwick.

The Earl of Warwick had figured in Lancastrian demonology ever since those ruthless murders at the first Battle of St Albans in 1455. From the very beginning of the Wars of the Roses, he had been the second man in the Yorkist camp, responsible not only for countless Lancastrian deaths on the battlefield or the scaffold but for the ruin of many families. Both he and Queen Margaret would have to swallow their pride in order to reach a political realignment. Clearly, it was an extremely painful process for each of them. Lord Oxford began the negotiations with the Queen, which went very badly at first.

Finally, in Angers at the end of July, Warwick – proudest, most arrogant of noblemen – was forced to kneel in front of Queen Margaret for a quarter of an hour and beg her to forgive him. Only with the utmost reluctance did she agree to do so, at the insistence of King Louis and of her father’s household men.2 (Born in 1408, the ‘bon roi Réné’ was too old to take much interest in his daughter’s affairs, devoting himself to books and music at his château in Anjou.) Another eloquent advocate of reconciliation was Dr Morton, who caught the eye of the French King – with whom he was going to do a great deal of business in future years. ‘And after that, they pardoned th’earl of Oxford being with th’earl of Warwick; to whom the queen said that his pardon was easy to purchase, for she knew that he and his friends had suffered much thing for King Henry’s quarrels.’ So we are informed by an anonymous contemporary account.

Despite Queen Margaret’s initial indignation at the very idea of the match, her son Edward of Lancaster – not yet seventeen – was betrothed to the Earl of Warwick’s younger daughter, Lady Anne Nevill. ‘That was a strange marriage,’ Commynes observes. ‘Warwick had defeated and ruined the Prince’s father, and now he made him marry his daughter.’

Then, on 1 August 1470 in Angers Cathedral, the Earl swore an oath on a fragment of the True Cross that he would ‘hold the party and quarrel of King Henry’. The Queen also took an oath, promising she would never reproach Warwick for his past misdeeds and would always treat him as a true and faithful subject.

On the other side of the Channel, King Edward was well aware that Warwick’s fleet lay off Barfleur, and that the Earl and Clarence were waiting at Valognes to launch an invasion. The King’s ships, supported by a Burgundian flotilla under the Seigneur de Gruuthuse, patrolled the mouth of the Seine, ready to intercept them. Edward had sent out commissions of array in Kent and the West Country as early as 2 June. Lord FitzHugh, a brother-in-law of both Warwick and Oxford, rose in Yorkshire towards the end of July, as did Richard Salkeld (the Constable of Carlisle Castle who had arrested Morton in 1461) over in Cumberland. They must have expected the invasion to come at any moment, but it had been delayed by the Anglo-Burgundian blockade. Edward’s lieutenants in the north, the Marquess Montagu and Henry Percy (the recently restored Earl of Northumberland), were quite capable of dealing with them, but the King insisted on going up to York where he stayed in case of further trouble. Although both rebellions quickly collapsed, it was a disastrous miscalculation on Edward’s part. While FitzHugh and Salkeld had failed to raise the north against him, they had nonetheless ensured that he would be away from the south when Warwick and Clarence landed after a storm scattered the blockade, enabling their fleet to set sail.

From London during the first week in August John Paston informed his brother, ‘it is said Courtenays be landed in Devonshire . . .’ (Mr Alderman Lambert must have trembled for his West Country properties when he heard this particular rumour.) Sir John adds how it was also being said in London that ‘the Lords Clarence and Warwick will assay to land in England every day, as folks fear’.

‘We be credibly informed that our ancient enemies of France and our outward rebels and traitors be drawn together in accord and intend hastily to land in our county of Kent, or in the parts there adjoining, with great might and power of Frenchmen, utterly to destroy us and our true subjects,’ Edward proclaimed from York at the beginning of September. When the invasion came at last on 13 September, however, it was not in Kent but in Devon, and there were no French troops. As expected, it was led by Warwick and Clarence, assisted by Oxford and Jasper Tudor. On Margaret’s insistence, Edward of Lancaster was to stay in France until Warwick had conquered England.

Once again, there was panic in the City. Like every other Londoner, the Shores and the Lamberts had been thoroughly unsettled by the disturbances of the past year, which were very bad for business. Now, their worst fears were coming true. As soon as the Kentishmen heard that their old hero Warwick had landed, they came up from the Weald and began pillaging the London suburbs; the Duke of Burgundy was married to Edward’s sister and a known enemy of the Earl, so his subjects were fair game – Dutch brewers of the new-fangled beer with hops suffering in particular. In response the aldermen mounted cannon at all gates and on London Bridge, while the City companies sent 3,000 armed men to the Guildhall.

Apparently John Lambert caused uproar at a meeting of the Mayor and aldermen at the Guildhall on 15 September. In consequence the Mayor ‘exonerated’ him – removed him from office as an alderman – besides fining him 200 marks for disobedience and contempt.3 One can only speculate as to what he had said, though it must have concerned the political crisis. As a committed Yorkist, favoured by the King and with a stake in the regime, obviously he would have resisted any suggestions of compromise by his fellow aldermen – he would have no truck with the Earl of Warwick.

Mr Lambert paid dear for his loyalty. The loss of his ‘cloak’ was a crushing blow in terms of prestige and influence. No longer would he automatically fill a prominent place at all the City functions; no longer could his wife Amy call herself ‘Lady’ Lambert. Just what the office had meant to John may be guessed from his describing himself as ‘alderman of London’ on his tomb.

* * *

Meanwhile, the invaders marched up to the Midlands, gathering support until it was claimed their numbers reached ‘30,000’. King Edward was coming south with 2,000 men, to confront them; en route he intended to join forces with Marquess Montagu, who was bringing another 6,000. But at Doncaster the King was woken during the night – presumably with the permission of his chamberlain, Hastings – by the sergeant of the minstrels, Alexander Carlisle, who warned him that his enemies were only a few miles away and ‘coming for to take him’. They were led by Montagu. Angered at having his earldom of Northumberland removed and restored to Henry Percy – and at being given what he called ‘a magpie’s nest’ in compensation – the Marquess had gone over to his brother Warwick. As a Nevill he was not prepared to accept the revival of the old Percy domination in the North Country.

King Edward realized at once that he was hopelessly outnumbered by Montagu’s troops, and that in any case he had no chance of assembling a proper army before Warwick and Clarence joined forces with the Marquess. There is a tradition that Lord Hastings guarded the front door of the house at Doncaster in which his master had been staying while he escaped from the back. Followed by Hastings, Edward made for the Lincolnshire coast and then crossed the sands of the treacherous Wash estuary by night, some of his men being drowned during the crossing.

Reaching the port of King’s Lynn on 28 September, he embarked hastily for the Low Countries with about 800 followers in a small English ship and in two ‘hulks of Holland’ – Burgundian merchantmen. There was not enough room on board for everyone, so Hastings told those who were left behind to make their peace with Warwick but to stay faithful to the King. (During the Wars of the Roses, unlike the gentry the rank and file were seldom imprisoned, let alone killed in cold blood when they were off the battlefield.)

The King and his party set sail just in time.

‘Less than a fortnight before, he would have been astounded if anyone had said to him “The earl of Warwick will drive you out of England and make himself her master in eleven days”.’ This is the comment of Commynes – who had spoken with many of his courtiers – on the deposition of the former King Edward IV. The Burgundian adds, ‘what excuse could he find after suffering this great loss through his own fault, except to say “I didn’t think that such a thing could possibly happen?”’

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