King Edward IV ruled for almost twelve more years, for the most part in peace and prosperity. Christine Carpenter has concluded, in her recent survey of Edward’s ‘second’ reign, that he was ‘one of the greatest of medieval kings’.1 Mancini, who was writing shortly after Edward’s death, suggested that he perfected the crucial balance between ‘dread’ and ‘love’:
Edward was of a gentle nature and cheerful aspect: nevertheless should he assume an angry countenance he should appear very terrible to beholders.2
For Carpenter, this sense of balance was an essential aspect of Edward’s management of the nobility and gentry, in which he excelled.3 Edward was willing to be flexible, to act impartially, and he continued to delegate to able lieutenants. His brother, Richard of Gloucester, following his sterling service in 1471, became the greatest man after the King.4 Gloucester married Warwick’s daughter, Anne, in the teeth of resistance from Clarence, which allowed him to succeed to Warwick’s power and influence in the north. Richard also led an English invasion of Scotland in 1482 which resulted in the recapture of Berwick.5 Edward’s relationship with George of Clarence was very different though, and ultimately showed Edward at his most ruthless. In 1478 Clarence’s loyalty was again called into question. Edward ordered his brother’s execution. Was this another cruel necessity?6 The second Crowland Continuator believed that Edward afterwards ‘repented of the deed’, although he also notes that ‘thereafter […] he appeared to be feared by all his subjects while he himself stood in fear of no one’.7 Perhaps something of this fear lingered even after Edward’s death, although some chroniclers did express reservations about Edward’s character. Mancini, for example, was scandalised by Edward’s decadent lifestyle, notwithstanding his acknowledgement of Edward’s strengths. He also notes Edward’s growing reputation for avarice, although he adds a subtle nuance:
Though not rapacious for other men’s goods, he was yet so eager for money that in pursuing it he acquired a reputation for avarice.8
Most of Mancini’s comments are echoed by the second Crowland Continuator, including the criticisms of Edward’s personal morality, although the latter’s overall assessment of Edward is positive.
Of course, Edward’s reign will always be overshadowed by the events that followed his sudden death in April 1483. It is unclear why Edward died. Mancini believed his fatal illness originated in a chill that Edward caught on the river, although other possibilities, including poison, have been put forward.9 Edward IV’s heir was his son, Prince Edward, still only twelve years old but a youth of great promise.10 He was briefly acknowledged as King Edward V. However, the young King was quickly deposed, on the grounds that Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was invalid, and Richard of Gloucester took the throne in his stead. Edward V and his younger brother, Richard Duke of York, were last seen shooting in the grounds of the Tower: their subsequent fate is unknown. On 22 August 1485, on the field of Bosworth, barely two years after Edward IV’s death, the Yorkist dynasty came to an end. Some historians have held Edward to be personally responsible for all these events, through a lack of foresight, although he can scarcely have expected to die aged barely forty.11 It is my own view that Richard of Gloucester was a brave, charismatic and intelligent man, but his actions in 1483 defy easy analysis. There are more questions than answers – which lie beyond the scope of this book –and readers are encouraged to explore the debate for themselves.12
But there is one aspect of Edward IV s later reign that cannot be so easily passed over, in a study of his military career, and that is his expedition to France in 1475.13 Edward himself took ship from England on 4 July, landing at Calais. Calais was to be the base for the invasion. Preparations had been thorough, although not without some frustrations. In particular, although Parliament had reacted enthusiastically to Edward’s appeal for support, the taxes granted were hedged around with caveats and proved difficult to collect. Nevertheless, Edward managed to raise a substantial army. The expedition was well supported by the peerage, including Edward’s two brothers. Clarence brought 120 men-at-arms and 1,200 archers; Gloucester brought even more. Edward’s army, of at least 11, 451 men, was probably the largest medieval English army ever to invade France, although such a size was not impressive by Continental standards. Opinions were also divided about the quality of Edward’s army. Serious efforts had been made, however, to ensure that a formidable artillery train would be available, which demonstrates the seriousness of Edward’s intent.14 William Rosse was charged with the task of modernising the royal ordnance. A foundry was established at Calais, where old and damaged guns were melted down and new ones forged. The most impressive new gun was the Great Edward of Calais, an iron bombard made in 1474. Rosse also commissioned guns from specialists in Flanders, including a ‘long iron serpentine’ that was made by John van Meighlyn of Brussels.15 Vast sums were expended, although Rosse carried out his duties effectively. Writing in March 1475, an impressed Italian observer considered Edward’s artillery train more impressive than the Duke of Burgundy’s. Another Italian noted Edward’s interest in artillery and his personal supervision of its production and maintenance.16
Yet of course Edward did not expect to fight alone. Once again the ground had been prepared by careful diplomacy. The Dukes of Brittany and Burgundy were expected to provide support, as was the count of St Pol. But in the event, the Duke of Brittany did not stir, the count of St Pol betrayed Edward, and even the Duke of Burgundy let Edward down. Naturally the actions of Duke Charles were most crucial, but they are hard to explain. Obviously Charles was privy to all Edward’s plans, but instead of preparing for war with France Charles allowed himself to become embroiled in a minor war in Germany. Charles attempted to gain control of the archbishopric of Cologne, in the Rhineland, and in July 1474 Charles laid siege to the town of Neuss. Matters quickly escalated and Charles found himself opposed by a formidable coalition including the Emperor Frederick III, the Duke of Lorraine and the Swiss. The Swiss defeated a Burgundian army in November, and the siege of Neuss continued into the winter months. As the year 1475 progressed Charles stubbornly persisted with the siege, while Edward began to grow alarmed. Charles was still at Neuss in April, when English preparations were nearing completion. Earl Rivers was sent to implore the Burgundians to abandon the siege, but Charles did not agree to raise the siege until June, when Louis XI launched raids into Burgundy – even then, his army moved slowly. When Charles eventually joined Edward at Calais, in mid July, he was accompanied by a small bodyguard only: the Burgundian army remained to the east in distant Lorraine.
Charles’s arrival without his army caused consternation, and some of the English leaders counselled Edward to withdraw immediately. But Edward consented to Duke Charles’s proposal that the English should march east towards Péronne, and then into France proper. It had been agreed that the Count of St Pol would provide a base at St Quentin. Louis had been expecting an attack on Normandy, and so he had concentrated most of his own forces in that area. Charles counselled Edward that St Quentin would therefore allow control of Champagne, and hence of Rheims, where Edward would be crowned. Then, argued Charles, Edward would surely be accepted as King of France. But in the event the plan failed, notably through the treachery of St Pol. When the English reached St Quentin they were greeted with gunfire and some English soldiers were killed. Charles of Burgundy inexplicably barred the gates of his own towns to the English. Louis was now aware of the Anglo-Burgundian strategy, and French troops were burning Picardy and Artois to the English rear. This was designed to deny Edward’s army supplies. The French commanders of towns in Champagne were now ready and prepared. What was Edward to do? It seemed clear that Edward would be left to fight the French alone. By the middle of August Edward was still denied access to the bases he had been promised, and the English position was becoming precarious. Without active support from his ‘allies’ Edward’s forces were heavily outnumbered by the French. Edward took counsel with his lords, and the decision was taken to make peace. Much to the chagrin of Charles of Burgundy, Louis was happy to accept. According to the terms of the Treaty of Picquigny (29 August 1475) Edward and Louis agreed to a truce for seven years. Louis was to pay Edward 75,000 crowns immediately, followed by an annual pension of 50,000 crowns (the English referred to this as tribute). It was also agreed that a marriage would take place between the Dauphin Charles and Edward’s eldest daughter Elizabeth, as soon as both parties reached marriageable age (if Elizabeth died then Edward’s next daughter, Mary, would take her place).
The second Crowland Continuator tells us that Edward returned home ‘with honourable terms of peace’.17 For Commynes, however, Edward’s policy was the result of physical decline and moral degeneracy, not political or military calculation.18 Apparently Edward was still ‘a very good-looking, tall prince’, but ‘he was beginning to get fat’. Louis XI, it is said, astutely realised that ‘the King of England was more inclined to make peace and to take his gifts’ than to fight.19 This was because Edward ‘was addicted to his pleasures. He had not known how to endure the rigours of war in this country [France], and having seen himself escape from great difficulties he had no wish to return to them’. Did others share this view? Indeed, David Grummitt and Michael K. Jones have recently written eloquently of the disappointment of‘chivalric expectation’ during Edward’s last years. It is well known, for example, that Louis de Bretelles, a Gascon in the retinue of Earl Rivers, told Commynes that the peace at Picquigny was shameful; the shame had outweighed the honour Edward had won by all his victories.20 Some Englishmen might well have echoed such sentiments,21 perhaps even members of Edward’s inner circle. Notable ‘hawks’ at the English court included William Lord Hastings and possibly Duke Richard of Gloucester. Grummitt and Jones both offer persuasive ideas, based on thorough study of the mentality of late medieval warriors. Grummitt cites the letters of Sir John Paston and the modern work of Catherine Nall to suggest that ‘chivalric expectation’ was relatively widespread throughout Yorkist England.22 Nevertheless, it would be something of a leap to argue that this evidence completely validates Commynes’ criticisms of Edward, because it is possible to offer a more positive interpretation of Edward’s policy.
Edward was justly proud of his victories but he does not appear to have been driven by the pursuit of martial glory. Although by no means a saint, he was indeed a man who was temperamentally inclined to peace. His capacity for forgiveness was remarkable, even though he did not always forget – as Clarence discovered to his cost. This book has shown much of Edward’s ‘dread’, although there were times when Edward would seek ‘comfort and joy’ in simple, quiet pleasures.23 But Edward’s nature was not always ‘gentle’. A common feature of medieval thought was that peace at home, within the realm, depended on foreign war: Edward was no less competitive and aggressive in foreign relations than the other princes of his age. J.R. Lander’s argument that Edward’s campaign in 1475 was ‘defensive’ is unconvincing, but the flexibility that was an essential part of his nature allowed Edward to adapt his strategy. Edward understood better than most men how important is the role of chance in warfare. Although Edward was clearly prepared to fight when he invaded France, the peculiar circumstances of the 1475 campaign quickly appeared inauspicious. Perhaps, like Malory’s King Arthur, Edward concluded that he had already spilt enough blood:
enough is as good as a feast, for to attempt God overmuch I hold it not wisdom.24
King Arthur had already conquered Rome though, in Malory’s reworking of the legend, whereas Edward did not conquer France. Circumstantial evidence exists, however, to suggest that Edward regarded the bloodless French campaign as a great achievement. The Treaty of Picquigny was commemorated on the misericord of the King’s personal stall in St George’s Chapel.25 Clearly this was not ‘propaganda’ designed for a public audience: does this offer a brief glimpse into Edward’s private world?
The Treaty of Picquigny was not the only example of Edward’s willingness to eschew violence in favour of more peaceful achievements, although it was not ultimately successful. In 1477 Charles the Bold was killed in battle against the Swiss. The death of his heir, Mary, in 1482, shifted the balance of power inexorably towards the French. Mary’s husband, Maximilian, was unpopular in Burgundy and unable to assert active leadership. The estates of Flanders and Brabant gained custody of Mary’s infant daughter, Margaret, and opened negotiations with Louis. The Dauphin was betrothed to Margaret – in contempt of the Treaty of Picquigny – and Louis swallowed up much of Burgundy. No further instalments of Edward’s pension were ever paid. Naturally Commynes, who considered Edward dissolute and indolent, felt that Edward only had himself to blame. He interpreted Edward’s response as melancholy, which hastened his early death,26 although English sources describe Edward’s response as rage. When his blood was truly stirred, Edward would fight like a lion to assert his rights. In 1461 and 1471 Edward waged two ferocious campaigns. Perhaps it was fortunate for France, and for Louis XI’s reputation, that Louis outlived Edward. At a distance of over 500 years it is impossible to read Edward’s character with certainty, although Commynes surely underestimated him.
Edward was a courageous and talented soldier, but his reluctance to fight in France has denied him a place in history as one of England’s greatest warrior kings. Edward IV’s military reputation will always be overshadowed by that of Edward III and Henry V. For an Englishman, at least, the names Barnet, Tewkesbury and (above all) Towton will call to mind the tragedies of civil war. In contrast, the names Crécy, Poitiers and Agincourt may provide inspiration and evoke national pride. Although the second Crowland Continuator, for one, understood and approved of Edward’s decision, which was soundly based, it is clear the Treaty of Picquigny disappointed some of Edward’s subjects. War with France, the ‘ancient enemy’, had popular appeal. The chivalric code encouraged men to seek honour eagerly on the battlefield, to seize every opportunity to demonstrate their prowess. Yet perhaps there were still others, whose voices remain unheard, who were grateful that Edward was not such a man.