Edward Plantagenet was born at Rouen, in Normandy, on 28 April 1442. His father was Richard Duke of York, the greatest English nobleman after the King. York was a ‘prince of the blood’, descended from King Edward III on both sides of his family. Edward’s mother, Duchess Cecily, was a member of the powerful Neville family, who had steadily increased their influence throughout the century. Cecily herself, traditionally known as ‘Proud Cis’ and ‘The Rose of Raby’, gained a reputation as a beautiful and formidable woman. The duke and duchess were rarely parted, and yet, as we shall see, rumours were later to emerge that Edward was not York’s son.1 Of course, it is now impossible to resolve the question of York’s paternity either way, although there is little evidence to suggest that Duke Richard treated Edward any differently from the rest of his children. An elder boy, Henry, died as an infant, so Edward became York’s heir. Over the next few years, more children would join Edward and his older sister, Anne, and the duke and duchess produced a large family; Edward had three brothers and four sisters. Edward’s three younger brothers – Edmund, George and Richard – will all feature prominently in our story.
At this time, the Duke of York was King Henry Vl’s lieutenant-general, responsible for the direction of England’s war with France. By 1442 the English and French had been at war, intermittently, for more than a hundred years.2 The war was reopened in earnest in 1413, by Henry V, who had recently attained the throne. Henry V, the victor of Agincourt, was a great military commander but he was aided by internal divisions within France. The ageing French King, Charles VI, suffered from mental illness (he sometimes believed himself to be made of glass). The French political community struggled to cope with the effects of their King’s incapacity; eventually this led to feuding between the highest nobility. The culmination, in 1419, was the murder of Duke John ofBurgundy in the presence of the Dauphin, Prince Charles. This pushed Duke John’s young son, Duke Philip, into an alliance with the English. By 1420 Henry had conquered much of Northern France. He must have appeared invincible, and so the French came to terms. Henry married Charles VI’s daughter, Katherine. The Treaty of Troyes disinherited the Dauphin, making Henry heir to the French throne in his stead. But in 1422 Henry contracted dysentery. The King died on 31 August, only thirty-five years old, at the height of his powers. Henry’s son, Henry VI, succeeded to the English throne unchallenged but he was still an infant. All Henry V’s achievements were therefore placed in jeopardy, although the English cause in France continued to prosper. Effective leadership was provided by Henry V’s brother, John Duke of Bedford. But then, in 1429, everything changed. A small French force, ostensibly under the command of the remarkable Joan of Arc, broke the English siege of Orléans. Later that year, the Dauphin was crowned King Charles VII at Rheims, while Joan looked on in rapture.3 Joan’s ‘ministry’ was shortlived though: she was captured by the Burgundians the following year, and the English burned her alive as a witch. In 1431, Henry VI, although still a small child, was in turn crowned King of France at Paris. Yet Joan’s intervention had turned the tide of the war. In 1435 the English received a crushing blow when Duke Philip formally repudiated the Anglo-Burgundian alliance.4
By the early 1440s, therefore, the English were very much on the defensive. Charles VII surprised his subjects (and perhaps himself) by proving to be an effective king,5 and France’s superior resources now began to tell. But the English resisted bitterly, and there were some victories in these years. The Duke of York himself led a particularly successful expedition in 1441, the year before Edward’s birth. York’s main purpose was to relieve the town of Pontoise, which had been besieged by Charles VII’s army.6During this campaign York exhibited dynamic leadership, and his audacious conduct – including night marches and surprise river crossings – so discomfited the French that every time the English appeared ‘they ran hard in the other direction’. On one occasion York almost captured Charles, finding the King’s bed still warm. Such successes were rare though, and much of York’s time in France was spent in a grim struggle to hold the line. Moreover, it was also clear by now that Henry VI was unlikely to follow in his father’s illustrious footsteps. Henry had achieved his majority in 1437, but he left most affairs in the hands of his chief minister, the Duke of Suffolk. Henry showed no inclination to lead an army in person. Insofar as he was interested in the war at all, he was inclined towards peace.
Suffolk also wanted peace, although perhaps on more pragmatic grounds. In 1445 Henry married Margaret, the daughter of Count René of Anjou, and this was the price of a truce. Henry’s government also ceded the territory of Maine. This was done in the teeth of ‘hawks’ such as the Duke of Gloucester, who was now Henry V’s only surviving brother. In the years after Henry V’s death Gloucester had played a prominent role, although by this time he was effectively marginalised. Gloucester’s downfall was completed in February 1447, when he was arrested and charged with treason. He was never tried, but died shortly afterwards in mysterious circumstances. Suffolk’s major rival had been removed, although his dominance would soon come to an end. A series of diplomatic blunders, which culminated in the English sack of Fougères, gave Charles a pretext to reopen the war.7 York had been succeeded as lieutenant by another kinsman of King Henry, Edmund Beaufort Duke of Somerset. Somerset had a distinguished war record but proved a disaster as lieutenant. In October 1449 Somerset was compelled to surrender Rouen; English Normandy was overrun. The loss of Normandy was a national disgrace, for which Suffolk paid the price. He was impeached by Parliament, although the death sentence that was sought was commuted to banishment. But Suffolk’s ship was intercepted – it remains unclear on whose orders – and Suffolk was brutally put to death. Worse was to follow for King Henry when the commons of the south-east rose in rebellion under an Irish soldier, Jack Cade. The revolt was eventually suppressed with great cruelty, although not until some of Henry’s ministers had been captured and murdered.
Thus it was a troubled kingdom to which Richard Duke of York returned in September 1450. Following the end of his tenure in France he had been appointed Lieutenant of Ireland, where he had enjoyed some success. But he now considered his presence in England to be essential. First, because he was enraged by the conduct of Somerset. York was vexed by a matter of honour: he believed that Somerset’s actions in France had breached the chivalric code.8 Nevertheless, Somerset remained in favour at court. He had replaced Suffolk as Henry’s principal counsellor, notwithstanding his miserable failure in France. Second, York wished to disassociate himself from Cade’s revolt, because the rebels had called for him to be given a greater place in government. Suspicions of York were particularly aroused at court because Cade, posing as a kinsman of the Duke, referred to himself as ‘John Mortimer’. In order to understand the significance of Cade’s claims we need to go back to 1399, when Richard II was deposed by his cousin Henry Bolingbroke. Bolingbroke, who was Henry VI’s grandfather, took the throne as King Henry IV. But a claim to the throne on behalf of Edmund Mortimer, the young Earl of March, which was arguably stronger than Henry’s, had been passed over.9 The House of Mortimer and their descendants therefore acted as a magnet for anyone with a grievance against the Lancastrian kings. York was now the Mortimers’ heir.10 York’s father had been executed for his part in a rebellion against Henry V, but Duke Richard himself had been conspicuously loyal. Gloucester’s death had brought the Duke of York a step closer to the throne, although it is unlikely that he could have contemplated the removal of Henry at this stage.11 York’s motives remain opaque, although he was now to devote the rest of his life to high politics in England.
But there were no simple remedies. Late medieval England was a mature political society.12 Its institutions, including Parliament, were of long standing. It was, moreover, a complex society, which combined political, cultural, religious and economic factors within a continued state of flux. However, the position of the monarchy was unchallenged: even the most radical political thinkers of the time could not conceive of a state which had no king. The King’s role was complex and multi-faceted. He was administrator, war leader and judge – the ‘chief executive’ of the realm – although this does no justice to the awesome majesty of kingship as it was perceived by medieval people. A medieval ruler was rex et sacerdus, king and priest. He ruled through hereditary right, but also because he was thought to be ordained by God. The King’s link with the divine did not mean, though, that his powers were completely unchecked. In his coronation oath the King swore to rule for the benefit of his subjects. It was also crucial that a king maintained good relations with his magnates, who expected the right to offer counsel and that their advice would be duly considered. Indeed, much of the political power in the country rested with the aristocracy – the peers, lords and gentry – the few hundred families, whose authority was derived from ownership of land and hereditary right.13 Yet if the King was considered to be divinely ordained, then how could he be compelled to act in the best interests of his realm?
It is clear that the political system depended heavily on the personal attributes of the King. One of the most difficult dilemmas that faced the political community during the later Middle Ages, therefore, was how to proceed when the King was unable, or unwilling, to provide effective leadership. Deposition, the ultimate solution, was never taken lightly, although it was now accepted that a king who ruled as a tyrant could be justifiably removed. Two medieval English kings had been deposed: Edward II, in 1327, and Richard II, in 1399, as we have seen. Henry VI’s minority – another hazard of medieval politics – had been navigated without the system breaking down, but as an adult king, at least until 1453, Henry posed a different set of problems. Henry was not actively malign, but he largely abdicated responsibility, first to Suffolk, and then to Somerset. Why he did so remains a matter of debate.14 Many contemporary writers believed Henry to be a good, simple and pious man: according to his chaplain, John Blacman, he was ‘like a second Job’. These are not necessarily negative qualities, of course, but the implication was that Henry was better suited to life in a monastery than to kingship. More seriously, however, Henry was also thought to be naïve and lacking in judgement. Abbot Whethamstede of St Albans, for example (albeit writing with hindsight), described him as ‘a mild-spoken, pious king, but halfwitted in affairs of state’.
The Duke of York launched an energetic campaign aimed at removing the Duke of Somerset from power. But he made little progress – and obviously the King would not act against Somerset in person – so he retired to his castle of Ludlow, in the Welsh Marches. York held lands throughout England, Ireland and, until 1449 of course, in France, but his greatest power lay in the Marches, the Mortimers’ patrimony. The duke’s marcher lordships brought him great wealth and here, like other marcher lords, he enjoyed quasi-regal powers. Ludlow, then a large and impressive castle, was the Duke of York’s principal seat. We may assume that York was reunited with his young son, Edward, because it was here, rather than in the household of another great noble, that Edward was destined to grow up. Edward would never forget his youth at Ludlow, nor the town’s long-standing loyalty to the House of York.15 The Duke of York’s power in the Marches brought him little comfort though. His sense of frustration grew, and York’s self-imposed exile from court gave his enemies the chance to brief against him. In February 1452 York, supported by the Earl of Devon and Lord Cobham, resorted to arms for the first time. By the end of the month York, denied entry to London, had taken up a strongly fortified position at Dartford, in north-west Kent. Here, he awaited the arrival of the King’s forces. This was not a course to be taken lightly. Theoretically, only the sovereign had the right to levy war, and to defy the King openly was treason. Nevertheless, on this occasion both sides were reluctant to engage in bloodshed. A series of noble emissaries, including York’s kinsmen, the Nevilles, were sent to persuade York to disarm. Eventually, York agreed to disband his army on the understanding that the King would hear his petition against Somerset; this was agreed. However, after presenting his case to the King, York was taken into custody. He was compelled to renew his oath of allegiance publicly, and also to swear that he would eschew ‘the way of feat’ [arms] thereafter.16 Further reprisals against York may have been planned, although it was now that Edward made his debut on the public stage, and thereby saved his father from further humiliation. It was said that Edward, now Earl of March, had raised an army, although he was still only ten years old, and was coming to York’s aid.17
During the next year it must be said that Henry’s government was energetic, particularly in the field of law and order, although the King’s own role is unclear. Henry’s councillors also turned their attention to the war in France. An expeditionary force was despatched to Aquitaine, under the redoubtable John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury. The English enjoyed initial success but Charles VII reacted swiftly and despatched a powerful force. On 17 July 1453, Talbot, aggressive as usual, attacked the French at Castillon, near Bordeaux, where they had fortified their encampment. The French were well supplied with artillery, which was expertly deployed, and the English attackers were blown to pieces; Talbot himself was slain. The Battle of Castillon has traditionally been regarded as the end of the Hundred Years’ War, and the English ‘Empire’ in France would henceforth be limited to the Calais Pale. The disaster at Castillon had further repercussions. Up to this point, Henry had given no indication that he wanted to follow his father’s martial example, but he had shown no clear signs of mental illness. But the news of Shrewsbury’s death had a catastrophic effect. When word of the English defeat was brought to Henry at Clarendon he suffered a breakdown.18 Henry was completely incapacitated. Even when Queen Margaret bore Henry a son, Edward, their first and only child, he remained oblivious.
At Dartford York had been left isolated by a lack of support from the nobility, but now he forged a valuable alliance with the Nevilles. The family included Richard Earl of Salisbury, his brother – the veteran William Lord Fauconberg – and Salisbury’s brood of able sons. The eldest of Salisbury’s sons, also named Richard, held the title Earl of Warwick through his marriage to Anne Beauchamp. Warwick’s brothers included John, who was destined to become a great warrior, and George, who was destined for a career in the Church. The Nevilles were motivated purely by self-interest: they needed support to help them in their feud with the Percys, who held much influence at court. Acrimony between the two great northern families was long-standing, dating back to the late fourteenth century, but their quarrel had become increasingly bitter as Henry VI’s reign progressed. Matters came to a head in August 1453. The wedding party of Salisbury’s other son, Thomas, traversing Heworth Moor, was attacked by a Percy force under Lord Egremont.19 In these testing times York also won the support of other lords. An attempt by Queen Margaret to claim the regency was rebuffed, and on 27 March 1454 York was accepted as Lord Protector by his peers. Unsurprisingly, York’s supporters were rewarded and his enemies were excluded from government. Salisbury, for instance, became Chancellor, an office that was usually held by a churchman; Somerset was imprisoned in the Tower, although he was never brought to trial. However, having opposed government by a court clique for so long, York did not wish to appear to be the prisoner of a faction. Intriguingly, York displayed his impartiality through a rebuke to his own son, Edward.20 In a letter of May 1454 York upbraids Edward, ‘lamenting your misgovernance to my great sorrow’. York expresses concern that Edward was raising an army, ‘to what intent it is not known, but marvelled […] whereof’. It is difficult to know what to make of this document: Edward was still only twelve years old. Even though the lines between childhood and adulthood were not as distinct as they are today, it seems unlikely that Edward would have taken the initiative to raise troops at this time. However, Edward had already accompanied his father to London in 1454, riding at the head of ‘cleanly beseen [equipped] and likely men’,21 which suggests he could easily have acted as a figurehead for a recruiting drive in the Marches; this would also explain the reports of Edward’s earlier activities in 1452. Perhaps York had feared that he might need to call on troops, but now that his position was secure there was no need for a show of armed force. It is therefore likely that York’s letter was really a propagandist text, designed to reassure those who were concerned about his motives.22
York’s authority appeared to be well established, but at Christmas of 1454 King Henry suddenly recovered his reason. The results were predictable. By February 1455 Somerset was released from prison and restored to his offices; in March, Salisbury was compelled to resign as Chancellor. Understandably, now that Somerset was restored to favour, York and his supporters considered their position to be precarious. York and the Nevilles retired from London to the north. But shortly afterwards they were summoned to a Great Council, at Leicester, where they feared there would be further reprisals. Notwithstanding York’s oath to forgo ‘the way of feat’, to which he considered he had been unduly constrained, he and the Nevilles quickly raised an army. This time Edward did come to join his father, riding at the head of a force from the Marches. Edward had now just reached his teens, but it was common for youths to join a military campaign in order to gain experience, even if they were not actually expected to fight.23An embassy despatched by Somerset was ignored and York’s army moved rapidly south. On 22 May 1455 York encountered Henry and his entourage at St Albans. Once again there would be negotiations, but this time they were destined to fail. The Wars of the Roses were about to begin.
Henry, en route to the Midlands as planned, arrived at St Albans in the morning.24 The Yorkist army was already nearby, encamped in Key Field to the south-east of the town. The Yorkist forces were markedly superior to Henry’s own. Somerset had envisaged a political solution to his struggle with York, so there had been no time to raise a significant force on Henry’s behalf. Few of the lords who had responded to Henry’s summons would have been truly prepared for war, and others, such as the Earl of Oxford, did not arrive in time. Presumably many of the lords still hoped to avoid bloodshed: could York be persuaded to disarm? Henry took up a position in the town centre, by the Market Cross, and the Duke of Buckingham was sent to negotiate on the King’s behalf. No compromise could be reached, however, because York insisted that Somerset should be given up for judgement. The royal banner was raised, which signified a state of war, and the Yorkists moved to the attack.25 Despite their inferior numbers, the royalists’ position was relatively strong. St Albans had no walls, but the houses grouped around the market square provided fortifications of a kind; the roads into the town were barred. The Earl of Northumberland and his ally, Lord Clifford, were in command at the barricades. For an hour, the royal army put up a stout defence, but then Warwick finally discovered a way into the town. Accompanied by Sir Robert Ogle, with 600 men from the Scottish Marches, Warwick bypassed the barricades, making his way into the gardens behind Holywell Hill. From here, Warwick’s men burst into the market square:
They ferociously broke in by the garden sides between the sign of The Key and the sign of The Chequer in Holywell Street, and immediately they were within the town, suddenly they blew up trumpets, and set a cry with a shout and a great voice ‘A Warwick! A Warwick!’26
Northumberland and Clifford despatched many of their troops to defend King Henry, so eventually their forces were overwhelmed. Both lords were killed, to the Nevilles’ great satisfaction. The Yorkists rained arrows into the market square and the royalists were routed. Henry took shelter in a tanner’s cottage, while Somerset sought refuge in the Castle Inn. Once he was aware the battle was won, York gave orders that King Henry – who had been wounded by an arrow – should be conveyed to the safety of the Abbey. Now York’s thoughts turned to his great rival, Somerset. Yorkist soldiers surrounded the inn and battered down the doors. With no hope of escape or mercy, Somerset resolved to die fighting. According to one report he killed four men before he was cut down. Somerset’s body was left lying in the street, until York was prompted by Abbot Whethamstede to allow an honourable burial. Did Edward witness Somerset’s death? Edward must have seen something of war at St Albans, although whether he was traumatised or exhilarated is impossible to say.
On 23 May Richard Duke of York entered London in triumph, riding at the right hand of Henry VI. Henry had pardoned York: what else could he have done? Shortly afterwards York would once again receive the protectorate – possibly the shock of St Albans had caused Henry to suffer another mental collapse. But Edward returned to Ludlow, to complete his education. By the age of fourteen this would have certainly included training in arms. Edward would have become accustomed to wearing ‘harness’ – armour – and would have learned to handle weapons. Edward would have learned to use the sword, which remained the weapon most associated with nobility, although we have seen that the nobility also favoured the poleaxe. Fighting with an axe did not only require brute strength: a surviving fifteenth-century French treatise is solely devoted to using an axe in combat.27 It encourages warriors to consider, for example, the problems associated with fighting a left-handed opponent, and to master feints. It also teaches more underhand methods, such as jamming the haft of the axe between an opponent’s thighs. But of course physical attributes were also important. The biography of the French nobleman Jean le Meingre (1366–1415), better known as ‘Boucicaut’, provides an idealised account of the training regime of a youth.28 Boucicaut, it is said, ran for miles in full armour. He put in hours of practice with his axe, to strengthen his arms. Boucicaut also took pains to improve his agility: he did gymnastics, including somersaults, again fully armed, and could jump onto his horse without touching the stirrups. Yet few youths could ever have lived up to Boucicaut’s discipline, and his biographer is obliged to end his account with the phrase ‘and these things are true’. Indeed, William Worcester, who presented hisBoke of Noblesse to Edward in 1475, was rather scathing of the English aristocracy’s readiness for war:
Of late days, the greater pity is, many one that is descended of noble blood and born to arms, as knights’ sons, esquires, and of other gentle blood, set himself to singular practice, strange from that feat, as to learn the practice of law or custom of land, or of civil matters, and so wasting greatly their time on such needless business…29
But Worcester was writing a polemic. It was designed to exalt the experience of veterans of the Hundred Years’ War, and pour encourager les autres.30 We may assume the reality lay somewhere between these two extremes. Noble education was designed to be holistic, in that it would incorporate physical training and book learning.
The education of a noble youth was overseen by a ‘master’. In Edward’s case this was almost certainly a man of knightly rank, although he could also have been a cleric. Edward shared his education with his younger brother Edmund, to whom he was closest in age. A great noble’s son would usually be joined by a number of aristocratic youths, forming a household in miniature. Edward was no exception, although not all of his companions were to his liking. Edward was particularly vexed by the behaviour of two local boys, the Crofts.31 The group of boys would have spent the morning learning grammar and languages. Some relief might have come in the form of romance literature. It was hoped that tales of ‘knights and chivalry’ would inspire youths to carry out deeds of arms. Edward’s youngest brother, Richard, was the scholar of the family, but Edward appears to have learnt his lessons well enough. In 1454 Edward and Edmund assured their father in a letter that ‘we have attended our learning sith [until] we come hither, and shall hereafter’.32 Edward was evidently literate and, according to Commynes, he spoke ‘quite good French’.33 As a youth, he also owned a well-known Latin text, the Secreta Secretorum.34 It is possible that the lessons contained within this work – a classic of the pervasive ‘Mirrors for Princes’ genre – were to inform his conduct as king. Scholastic learning was therefore encouraged and valued, although the boys would have been released from their books relatively early each day. It would then fall on the master to supervise knightly training. According to the Liber Niger, which stipulated the routine of Edward IV’s household as King, the master of the ‘henchmen’ – noble pages – was expected to ‘learn them to wear their harness’ and to teach them ‘to ride cleanly and surely, to draw them also to jousts’.35 Mock tournaments could be dangerous, and were evidently not taken lightly. In 1389 John Hastings, Earl of Pembroke, then in his late teens, was accidentally killed by his jousting partner.
In many respects Edward’s education would have resembled that of his son, also named Edward, who was sent to be educated at Ludlow in his turn. Prince Edward, it is often suggested, was a frail, scholarly youth, with a ‘special knowledge of literature’ but it is frequently overlooked that he also ‘devoted himself to horses and dogs and other youthful exercises to invigorate his body’.36 His father, as a boy, would have done the same. The active pursuits of the aristocracy, just as much as swordplay, could also be regarded as military training. Archery, for example, was a popular pastime among noblemen of all ages, even though they did not use bows in battle.37 But the most significant activity was hunting. In the woods of the Marches there was much good hunting to be found. Deer and fox, and perhaps also boar, would have been plentiful. The Mortimer stronghold of Wigmore, a castle Edward would have known well, derives its name from the Welsh Guig Mawr – Great Forest. Edward enjoyed hunting throughout his life, and his delight in the chase was surely fostered as a youth. The aristocracy hunted on horseback, with hounds. It was regarded as a noble pursuit in itself, and to know the technical terms associated with hunting was seen as a mark of good breeding.38 However, medieval writers also described hunting specifically as training for war. The poet and historian John Hardyng, writing in the 1450s, advocated that youths should learn to hunt as the stage of their education prior to training in arms. They were:
For deer to hunt and slay and see them bleed,
And hardiment giveth to his courage,
And also in his wit he taketh heed,
Imagining to take them at advantage.39
Above all, therefore, Hardyng saw the hunt as mental training. The hunt encouraged strategic and tactical thinking, as well as spatial awareness, and also exposed the youth to the psychological trauma of shedding blood. It would also have given him experience of the emotional ‘rush’ experienced in combat, or at least something close to it.
It is easy to imagine that Edward enjoyed an idyllic time at Ludlow. Yet as Edward studied, hunted, and learned the martial arts, England once again followed the path towards civil war. Duke Richard’s victory proved short-lived: in February 1456 he was once again compelled to resign the protectorate. York had a new rival. The removal of Somerset had led to the emergence of Margaret of Anjou as a real political force. After her marriage to Henry, Margaret had quickly mastered English, but her political role remained limited. As we have seen, her first significant attempt to assert herself politically, in 1453, was a failure. Now, though, Margaret revealed herself clearly to be a ‘great and strong-laboured woman’.40 For the rest of the 1450s Margaret largely withdrew from London to the Midlands, at Coventry, where she was frequently joined by her husband. As Margaret’s influence grew, the great offices of state were given to her allies. But Margaret also made an original claim to political authority, which was based on her position as mother to the Prince of Wales.41 The result, unsurprisingly, was a clear polarisation in English politics, even though few of the lords were firmly committed to York’s or Margaret’s cause.42 This was not the only cause of division. The young heirs of the dead at St Albans, namely Somerset, Clifford and Northumberland, had their own agenda – vengeance – which Queen Margaret did nothing to discourage. Somerset had been seriously wounded at St Albans and had watched his father die. The volatile Duke of Exeter also became associated with the young lords, and they appeared at court accompanied by unruly retinues. On one occasion Somerset and Sir John Neville, Warwick’s younger brother, had ‘great visaging [sic] together and mustered for to bicker in Chepe’.43 The Duke of York was threatened several times; in October 1456, for instance, Somerset had to be restrained from attacking York at Coventry.
In some respects the late 1450s may be seen as a ‘phoney war’. It is striking, for example, that in 1456 the Lancastrian government began to assemble artillery at Kenilworth Castle, under the supervision of a London merchant, John Judde.44 An opportunity was also taken to diminish York’s influence in the Marches, when several of his adherents were punished for their role in disturbances in South Wales. These included Sir William Herbert, of whom more shall be heard. However, although York’s power had been curtailed once again, his young ally, Richard Earl of Warwick, was growing in strength. Warwick has acquired a mythic reputation, and it was at this time that his legend was born. One of the few acts of York’s second protectorate that was allowed to stand was the appointment of Warwick as Captain of Calais. Warwick’s lands and affinity brought him great power, but it was the Captaincy of Calais that would allow him to become such a force during the coming years. Unusually, Warwick resided in person, which allowed him fully to exploit the advantages of this office. Most notably, Warwick came to understand the value of seapower: if Warwick was ‘overmighty’ anywhere, it was on the sea.45 Henry VI’s government had neglected naval defence. This meant that, as the war turned against the English, French squadrons began to menace English ships and even the south coast of England itself. And then, on 28 August 1457, the celebrated French warrior Pierre de Brézé raided Sandwich, a key English port at this time. Warwick’s response was to assemble an impressive fleet, but this was done at his own cost, and its loyalty was to him alone. Furthermore, Warwick’s subsequent success at sea – including blatant acts of piracy – won him popular renown, especially in the south-east of England. According to Bale’s Chronicle, ‘he was named and taken in all places for the most courageous and manliest knight living’.46 To some extent, though, Warwick’s reputation was his own creation. His most recent biographer has noted that a chivalric’ reputation entailed a certain amount of self-fashioning’, and Warwick sponsored the dissemination of propagandist texts.47 Warwick also won support through his liberality: according to the Great Chronicle Warwick ‘was ever had in great favour of the commons of this land, by reason of the exceeding household which he daily kept in all countries’.48
With political tensions rising, King Henry intervened in person, in one of his few kingly acts. In March 1458 Henry brokered an agreement designed to bring peace.49 Talks – which we must assume were difficult and fractious – took place in London. All of the nobles present were accompanied by substantial retinues, and serious precautions were necessary to keep peace in the streets.50 Yet, eventually, all parties were compelled to accept Henry’s arbitration. York and the Nevilles were to pay compensation to the heirs of the dead Somerset and Clifford, and a chantry was to be endowed at St Albans.51 A further series of agreements bound the Percys and Nevilles to keep the peace, and all parties were liable to pay large fines if the terms of the agreement were breached. On 25 March, the feast of the Annunciation, a solemn ritual took place to consecrate the settlement. Henry led a procession to St Paul’s, where a Mass was celebrated. York walked hand in hand with Queen Margaret, Salisbury walked beside Somerset, and Warwick walked with Exeter.
Many historians have been contemptuous of Henry’s achievement, and some contemporaries, too, were scathing: one preacher at Coventry, William Ive, claimed Henry had ‘made lovedays as Judas made with a kiss with Christ’. But the ‘Love Day’ should not be so easily dismissed; both sides made real concessions. Leaving aside the material reparations, the Yorkists were forced to accept a share of responsibility for the events at St Albans, and the young Lancastrian lords were expected to forgo vengeance. Moreover, public expressions of intimacy were a crucial part of any political reconciliation.52 For medieval people, such rituals did not merely reflect or even reinforce political realities, they were supposed to create them too. Yet, ultimately, it does seem clear that reconciliation on Henry’s authority could not hold. Sadly, Henry’s intervention had come too late, for both himself and his realm. In autumn 1458, Warwick was summoned to London, presumably to account for his piratical activities. Warwick obeyed the summons, although somewhat tardily, and arrived in November. But there was a brawl at Westminster Palace – said to have begun when one of Warwick’s men trod on the foot of a royal servant –and Warwick was lucky to escape alive. Warwick was convinced that a plan had been made in advance to murder him, and he withdrew in fury to Calais. By the spring of 1459 Queen Margaret and her allies, notably the Earl of Wiltshire and Viscount Beaumont, were ready to strike against their enemies. A great council was convened to meet at Coventry, but the Yorkist lords were pointedly excluded. According to Benet’s Chronicle, they were indicted there for treason.53 York and the Nevilles once again resorted to arms.
At Middleham, the Earl of Salisbury mustered his tough northern affinity; Warwick sailed from Calais with a veteran force from the garrison.54 At Ludlow, however, the Duke of York raised fewer men than he had hoped. Some of his adherents had been cowed by their punishment in 1456; of the powerful Devereux family only the young Walter joined the duke. Others, including Sir William Herbert, had received royal pardons and were not willing to risk all in rebellion. Nevertheless, York’s morale would have been improved by the presence of his two eldest sons, Edward and Edmund, who were now both old enough to fight. Edward, in particular, must have looked every inch the young warrior, like a hero of romance. Many contemporary writers commented on Edward’s good looks.55 After the German visitor Gabriel Tetzel met Edward in 1466, for example, he described him as a ‘handsome upstanding man’. Philippe de Commynes was often critical of Edward, and considered him to be unduly obsessed with women, but he was nevertheless impressed by Edward’s appearance. Commynes met Edward in Burgundy in 1470, and he could ‘not recall ever having seen such a fine looking man’. Perhaps surviving portraits do not do Edward justice, although observers were often impressed by his physique as much as his face. When Edward’s coffin was opened in the eighteenth century his skeleton was measured at 6 feet 3½inches and it was broadly proportioned. Edward had a tremendous presence, of which he was keenly aware. Even later in life, when his looks had faded and he had put on weight, the Italian observer Mancini records that Edward ‘was wont to show himself to those who wished to watch him, and seized any opportunity occasion offered of revealing his fine stature more protractedly and more evidently to onlookers’. In 1459 Edward was still untested, but his potential was clear: Yorkist verses from the following year were to describe him as ‘Edward, Earl of March, whose fame the earth shall spread’.56
The Yorkists hoped to surprise the King at Kenilworth, but the royal forces were well prepared. Warwick made for Warwick Castle, via London, where the Yorkists had intended to gather their forces. But Warwick found the King already on the move, to the north. At Coleshill, near Birmingham, Warwick narrowly escaped an ambush laid by the Duke of Somerset. Warwick moved west, to join with the Duke of York, although the Lancastrians’ strategy was initially focused on the Earl of Salisbury; it was the Yorkists’ northern troops, of course, who had performed so effectively at St Albans. On 23 September Salisbury was intercepted by a strong force under Lord Audley, at Blore Heath in Shropshire, which had been raised in the name of the Prince of Wales. Although Salisbury was heavily outnumbered, Audley was killed and his men put to flight. Salisbury was able to join the other Yorkists at Ludlow. Blore Heath was a blow to Henry’s supporters, although the force defeated by Salisbury was nothing compared to the main royal army. Henry’s army was vast, one of the largest forces ever raised during the Wars of the Roses. Henry was accompanied by at least eighteen peers, together with their ‘fellowships’, although there may have been more, together with arrayed ‘naked [unarmed] men’ who may have numbered thousands. Furthermore, notwithstanding his characteristic offers of pardon, Henry VI was in an unusually determined mood, and this would have given heart to his men.57 The Yorkists advanced to Worcester, but in the face of the royal host the Yorkists retreated first to Tewkesbury, and then to Ludlow. This was presumably a position of last resort, although fortifications, by Ludford Bridge, may have been prepared in advance. The royal army arrived here on the evening of 12 October.
The Yorkists had taken up a strong position and they were well supplied with artillery, but morale within their camp was low. Throughout the night York defiantly fired his guns, to bolster his army’s flagging spirits. But according to Wavrin, it was at this point that a contingent of the Calais garrison, under the veteran Andrew Trollope, defected to the royal army. They were induced by ‘an extremely well written’ letter from the young Duke of Somerset.58 Apparently the Calais men were shocked to learn they were expected to face the King in battle, although it is difficult to believe they could have been so naïve – even if the sight of the royal banner caused them to experience genuine doubts. Whatever their motives, this was a crushing blow, which rendered the Yorkist position untenable. The Duke of York, together with the other leaders, took flight. York would surely have sought counsel from the other lords, including his sons; no accounts survive to suggest the decision caused any debate. However, the debacle at Ludford Bridge was a cruel blow to York’s reputation. His exploits at Pontoise were now almost twenty years in the past and must have seemed a distant memory indeed. Still, the duke remained the head of the House of York, and the Yorkist party’s acknowledged leader. Yet in the following weeks and months Edward was to step out of his father’s shadow, and he would emerge as a powerful and important figure in his own right. Edward Earl of March, at the age of eighteen, was about to prove himself a man.