God had spoken; Edward had been anointed in the blood of Towton. Now – though Henry VI still lived – Edward was truly King. The day after Towton Edward entered York. Henry, Margaret and their son had taken to flight, but Edward captured the Earl of Devon and several others. They had taken refuge in the castle but were not able to offer any meaningful resistance. Devon was executed forthwith and the heads of dead Lancastrians replaced those of Edward’s kinsmen on Micklegate Bar. Edward remained at York for three weeks and celebrated Easter (5 April) with great pomp. Doubtless Edward’s army was exhausted, but many of his lieutenants remained active throughout Yorkshire at this time. They extracted submissions from a number of northern towns. Royal agents were also charged to find men to replace those who had died at Towton.1 Evidently Edward planned to continue the pursuit of the Lancastrians. In the last week of April Edward marched north, to Durham. On 1 May Edward was at Newcastle, where he presided over the execution of the Earl of Wiltshire, whose luck had finally run out.2 By now, however, Edward must have been aware that the Lancastrian royal family was out of his reach. They had sought exile in Scotland, where they were welcomed by Bishop James Kennedy of St Andrews. Henry and Margaret were quickly joined by many of their partisans, including Somerset, Exeter and Sir John Fortescue. Much of Northumberland remained under Lancastrian control, including the great castles of Bamburgh, Dunstanburgh and Alnwick, but Edward decided that the subjugation of the far north could wait. In time, this would be a task for the Nevilles. Warwick was to be assisted by his able younger brother, Lord Montagu, who had been released from captivity after Towton. Newcastle was left in the capable hands of Lord Fauconberg, soon to become Earl of Kent, with a garrison of 120 men. Edward himself turned south, towards his coronation.
Edward’s experience as a leader was still limited, notwithstanding two important victories in the field, but he appears to have understood instinctively that the time had come to delegate. Or was he influenced by others? Surely Edward sought counsel, and it is tempting to conclude that Warwick was guiding the young King. Certainly, Warwick was never slow to offer advice. During the preparations for one campaign, probably in 1463, Warwick lectured Edward about the importance of logistics; he stressed that adequate victuals for the army would need to be purveyed in advance.3 Edward’s response is not recorded. However, Warwick was not the only person in a position to advise Edward. One man who won Edward’s confidence early in the reign was Sir William Hastings, who would become Edward’s intimate companion and one of his most effective servants. He was ennobled shortly after Edward’s coronation, and Hastings’ power would become immense. This was mainly because, as king’s chamberlain, he controlled access to Edward.4 Sir William Herbert was another whose power grew quickly. As early as 8 May 1461 Herbert received important offices in South Wales to reward him for his service.5 Herbert was also ennobled after Edward’s coronation, along with his associate Sir Walter Devereux; the latter became Lord Ferrers of Chartley. Other influential figures included Sir Humphrey Stafford, later Earl of Devon, John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester, and Edward’s kinsmen the Bourchiers. The Bourchiers included Henry, Earl of Essex, and Thomas, Archbishop of Canterbury.
Edward’s coronation, which took place on 28 June 1461, was a spectacular occasion. In his early years as King, Edward was presented as a saviour who would heal the land. Iconography associated with Edward drew on biblical texts, prophecies and other esoteric material, including sources connected with alchemy.6 Edward was compared, for example, to Moses, who led his people out of bondage, and to Joshua, another decisive general whose success was heralded by divine portents. The Italian diplomat Count Dallugo was dazzled by the young King, and came to believe that Edward’s subjects worshipped him like a god.7 Some former Lancastrians, such as the Woodville family, were now glad to take advantage of Edward’s mercy and entered the Yorkist fold. There were still plenty of others, though, who refused to give up the Lancastrian cause, even though their position was now precarious. Many of the Lancastrians’ most able military leaders, such as Clifford and Trollope, had perished in the carnage at Towton. Several of those who had survived, such as Somerset, found themselves in areas where they were strangers, cut off from their spheres of influence. Nevertheless, frequent commissions of array in the spring and summer of 1461 show that Towton had not ended the matter for good. One troublesome area was the March of Calais. Hammes Castle resisted the Yorkists until October. Both sides made use of artillery.8 The garrison finally surrendered to Sir Walter Blount, now Treasurer of Calais, although not until he had given them £250, which he had to borrow from a Florentine merchant.9
In July 1461, even though most of the Lancastrian leaders were in exile in Scotland, both sides turned their attention to Wales. The irrepressible Jasper Tudor was still at large. He had been joined by the Duke of Exeter, and the Lancastrians still held a number of strong castles in the principality. Edward planned to lead an expedition in person to crush the resistance. On 8 July Herbert and Ferrers were commissioned to array the men of the marches, and on 12 July Edward instructed Philip Harveys, his newly appointed Master of the King’s Ordnance, to make ready for the coming campaign.10 The Lancastrians attempted to use diplomacy to counter Edward’s preparations. An embassy was despatched to France from Scotland. Lord Hungerford was officially the leader of the delegation, although Somerset was also in the party.11 The Lancastrians hoped to persuade King Charles to grant them a substantial loan and to send a force of 2,000 men to serve in Wales. Indeed, Charles had already adopted an aggressive policy towards the new Yorkist regime: a French force under Pierre de Brézé had landed on Jersey in May. But Charles died suddenly on 22 July, due to complications following dental surgery, before the Lancastrian embassy arrived. Charles’s son and successor, Louis XI, had been on bad terms with his father and had therefore favoured the Yorkists. The Lancastrian diplomats found themselves in a difficult position. Lord Hungerford’s safe conduct was no longer considered valid because it was in the name of Charles VII, not Louis, and he was arrested at Dieppe. The Duke of Somerset did not carry an official safe conduct; he was taken into custody at the castle of Arques. Moreover, Brézé’s expedition was cancelled and he was out of favour at court. These were serious reverses for the Lancastrians, which improved the mood at the Yorkist court considerably. At the end of August Richard Woodville (Lord Rivers) who had only recently been a Lancastrian himself, told Count Dallugo that Henry VI’s cause was now ‘lost irretrievably’.12
With the risk of foreign intervention receding, this explains why Edward now pursued the planned expedition to Wales with less urgency. By the middle of August Harveys was on his way directly to Hereford; he was accompanied by Richard Garnet, the Sergeant of the King’s Tents. But Edward took a more leisurely route, travelling circuitously via Canterbury, Sandwich, Salisbury and Bristol. Edward reached Bristol on 4 September and here he was ‘full honourably received in as worshipful wise as ever he was in any town or city’.13 Edward spent a week at Bristol, where he enjoyed the hospitality of Mayor William Canynges, in the mayor’s luxurious home. It must be said that not all of Edward’s stay was given up to pleasure: he also presided over the execution of the Lancastrian Sir Baldwin Fulford, and his presence ensured that three of the city’s ships were put at his disposal. Nevertheless, Edward did not arrive at Hereford until 17 September, nine days after his army had been instructed to meet him there. The next day he moved on to Ludlow, where he remained until the 26th. Edward’s priority was the planned Parliament, which began at Westminster in early November, where he would reward his supporters and punish his enemies. Edward was content to delegate the war in Wales to Lord Herbert, assisted by Lord Ferrers, in whom he had the utmost trust. Herbert’s first target was Pembroke Castle. He was supported by a fleet, including the ships from Bristol, to ensure that no assistance could reach the Lancastrians by sea. Pembroke was commanded by the veteran Sir John Scudamore, but Scudamore quickly concluded that his position was hopeless. On 30 September he surrendered the castle ‘without any war or resistance’.14 By 4 October the Paston correspondent Henry Windsor heard that the Yorkists had taken all the castles that had been held against them.15 This was not quite true. Carreg Cennen continued to resist the Yorkists until May 1462, when it was captured by Herbert’s younger brother Richard. Harlech, which could be provisioned by sea, would hold out until 1468. Yet by the middle of October 1461 the Earl of Pembroke and the Duke of Exeter were forced to retreat into the mountains of Snowdonia, like so many insurgents in Wales before them. Perhaps they were planning a guerrilla campaign, but on 16 October they were brought to bay at Twthill near Caernarfon. Although Pembroke and Exeter both escaped, their army was scattered. The Lancastrians in Wales ceased to be a major threat.
But it was in the north where the Lancastrian challenge was strongest. In the summer of 1461 the Lancastrians still controlled much of Northumberland, through their possession of northern castles, although the attitude of the Scots was also crucial. In the late 1450s the Scots, under the warlike James II, had sought to take advantage of English weakness. James raided northern England several times. In July 1460, following the Battle of Northampton, James led a large Scottish army over the border and besieged Roxburgh Castle. The Scots took Roxburgh but at the cost of their king’s life: James was killed when a cannon exploded. For Edward, James’s death was extremely fortunate. If James II had lived it is possible that large swathes of northern England would have fallen under Scottish control, at least temporarily, as had occurred when previous Scottish kings had profited from English civil strife. But James II’s heir, James III, was only eight years old at the time of his father’s death. James II’s widow, Queen Mary, became regent, although her authority was constantly undermined by the powerful Bishop Kennedy. Their respective supporters were referred to (with a degree of simplification) as the ‘young’ and ‘old’ lords. Mary was influenced by her uncle, Duke Philip of Burgundy, who Edward quickly came to regard as a staunch friend.16 She was therefore inclined towards an accommodation with the Yorkists. Kennedy, on the other hand, in the bellicose tradition of Scottish medieval bishops, favoured an aggressive policy towards England. He therefore strongly supported the Lancastrians.
The impasse was broken when Margaret of Anjou offered Berwick to the Scots: the prospect of such a rich prize turned Mary’s reluctant hospitality into active support. The Scots took possession of Berwick on 25 April. Margaret also agreed to cede Carlisle, the gateway to the Western March, although the city was now under Yorkist control. In June the Lancastrians besieged Carlisle with Scottish support. The Duke of Exeter was presumably in command, although Margaret is also said to have been present. Edward was concerned enough to bring forward the date of his coronation, so that he could return to the north, but Carlisle was quickly relieved by Lord Montagu. The besieging forces withdrew. Some of the Lancastrians made their way to the other side of the Pennines, where they joined a small force accompanied by Henry VI. Henry’s standard was raised at Brancepeth, near Durham, but the Lancastrians were put to flight by levies raised by Bishop Laurence Booth.
Although the Lancastrians had failed to make any real progress, even with Scottish support, Yorkist authority in the far north remained limited. However, at the end of July Warwick was appointed Warden of both the East and West Marches, which suggests the subjugation of Northumberland was now considered a priority. In the autumn there were a number of Yorkist successes. The Percy stronghold of Alnwick surrendered, and a Yorkist garrison was put in place. Sir Ralph Percy (the younger brother of the Earl of Northumberland killed at Towton) submitted by the end of September and was received into Edward’s grace. According to John Hardyng’s chronicle, the Percys had ‘the hearts of the people by north’ during the Middle Ages and evidently Edward agreed.17Percy was entrusted with the keeping of the coastal castle of Dunstanburgh. Yet in the winter of 1461–2 it became clear that Yorkist control of Northumberland remained tenuous, notwithstanding Edward’s willingness to come to terms with local men who had fought against him. Sir William Tailboys recaptured Alnwick, and the Lancastrian Lord Dacre took back his ancestral seat of Naworth, near Carlisle.
The ongoing state of affairs in the north did not seriously threaten Edward’s position, but the Lancastrians would continue to drain his resources if they were allowed to maintain a secure base in Scotland. War was expensive and Edward had already accrued considerable debts. Edward therefore began to put more pressure on the Scots. For this he had a useful tool in the person of James Earl of Douglas, who had been an exile in England for over five years. Douglas was encouraged to regain what he saw as his rightful place, and to seek vengeance for his dead brother.18 He sought the support of John MacDonald, Lord of the Isles, who ruled much of north-west Scotland in a state of near autonomy. In March 1462 a triple alliance was sealed between Douglas, MacDonald and MacDonald’s kinsman Donald ‘Balloch’. The Stewarts were to be expelled or destroyed, and Scotland divided between the three lords. Edward was to be acknowledged as overlord in return for his support.
This grand scheme was not as far-fetched as it might appear, although the rebels’ chances were slim without active English help. However, like most other rulers of the period, in diplomacy Edward preferred to keep his options open. The situation at the Scottish court had now started to change in Edward’s favour. Margaret of Anjou, despairing of further support from Mary, sailed to France in April. Mary had paid for Margaret’s passage, although it is possible she was not too disappointed to see Margaret leave. Perhaps other personal relationships had broken down? While he was in France, the Duke of Somerset is said to have revealed that he and Mary had been lovers.19 Shortly after Margaret’s departure Mary agreed to meet Warwick at Dumfries, and Warwick was encouraged by her attitude. He even suggested that Mary could be a suitable bride for Edward, but, unsurprisingly, this proposal was obstructed by Bishop Kennedy. No agreement was reached, so Warwick launched a raid into southern Scotland, where Douglas was also active. At the same time the MacDonalds were wreaking havoc in Atholl. With the Scots under pressure from the north and south, Kennedy and his faction could not object to Mary’s decision to meet Warwick again. This time a short truce was agreed, from June until the end of August, and this gave the Yorkist commanders opportunity to move against the Lancastrian rebels. By the end of the summer Alnwick, Bamburgh and Naworth were once again in Yorkist hands.
Meanwhile, Margaret of Anjou had arrived safely in France, and was attempting to convert her cousin Louis XI to her cause. By now, Edward had realised that Louis XI was not really a ‘Yorkist’: the French King had already begun to weave the political webs for which he became notorious, baffling and infuriating his contemporaries. He earned the soubriquet ‘the universal spider’. His main objective, with regard to England, was to keep her weak and divided. It was therefore little surprise when, on 24 June 1462, Louis and Margaret came to terms at Chinon. At the Truce of Tours (28 June) Louis agreed to release Brézé to lead an expedition, and also to provide funds, in return for the cession of Calais. But Calais was under Yorkist control: a serious French assault on the port was impossible unless the Duke of Burgundy gave Louis’ troops permission to pass through his lands. This, understandably, Duke Philip would not do. Margaret’s concessions, therefore, brought Louis little in practical terms and he consequently reneged on most of his own promises. Brézé’s support was still worth having – he was described by Warkworth as ‘the best warrior of all that time’ – but Margaret’s French army was limited to 800 men.20 Ultimately, much of the cost of the expedition was borne by Brézé, not Louis. Margaret sailed first for Scotland, where she was joined by Henry VI and others. Then the fleet made for Northumberland, landing near Bamburgh. At first, the Lancastrians enjoyed some success. Bamburgh opened its gates and Somerset was placed in command.21Sir Ralph Percy, at Dunstanburgh, quickly reverted to his former allegiance. The Yorkist garrison at Alnwick surrendered after a short siege. Yet when Henry VI’s standard was raised few of the local gentry rallied to his cause.
Edward’s reaction was swift. Perhaps, lacking accurate intelligence, he overestimated the extent of the Lancastrian threat. By 30 October, only five days after the Lancastrian landing at Bamburgh, Warwick was hurrying north. Warwick was commissioned to raise the northern levies; supplies and artillery were despatched by sea to Newcastle. The Earl of Douglas was once again unleashed to raid southern Scotland. By 4 November, Edward himself was moving north, giving every indication that he intended to campaign in person. Edward had formed a great army, possibly one of the largest ever raised by a medieval king. According to one contemporary source he was joined by two dukes, seven earls, thirty–one barons and fifty-nine knights, together with numerous levies.22Alarmed by Edward’s movements, and also by the lukewarm response to their appeals for support, Margaret and her commanders decided she and Henry should return to Scotland. Presumably they intended to regroup, and to solicit Scottish reinforcements. Garrisons were left in the northern castles, including most of the Lancastrian nobles. The castles were ‘victualled and stuffed both [sic] with Englishmen, Frenchmen and Scotsmen’.23 But winter storms scattered Margaret’s fleet. Four ships were wrecked, including Margaret’s own. Margaret, Henry and Bréze reached Berwick in an open boat but many of the French troops were stranded on Lindisfarne. The French were thoroughly demoralised by their experience. They quickly surrendered to a force under two local gentlemen loyal to Edward. Edward himself reached Durham on 16 November but was struck down by illness.24 Evidently Edward’s condition was serious. Although he continued to issue orders from his sickbed he did not take the field. Active command was therefore delegated to Warwick, who supervised simultaneous operations against all three Northumbrian castles from a base at Warkworth Castle.
Edward’s forces quickly achieved an effective blockade of the northern castles but his great guns were silent. It has often been argued that Edward wanted to obtain the northern castles unscathed. This was an issue raised two years later, when these fortresses were once again in Lancastrian hands.25 Nevertheless, during the later Middle Ages, the firing of cannon at a siege was also a symbolic act. Thereafter, if the castle fell, it would be deemed to have succumbed to assault. This meant, according to the laws of war, that once the besieging commander had fired his guns only he had the right to accept or even propose terms. In theory (if not always in practice), if a castle or town was taken by assault, a defeated garrison could then be slaughtered without mercy.26 But until the guns had fired it was possible for the defenders to surrender the castle by an appointement or treaty. The lack of bombardment therefore conveyed a clear message to the garrisons that Edward was willing to come to terms. This may appear a radical departure from the conduct of war during the Towton campaign, but Edward was always keen to pursue a conciliatory policy during the early years of his reign. Moreover, it should be remembered that many of Edward’s enemies during this campaign were foreigners: French and Scots. As we have seen, the distinctions between ‘foreign’ and ‘civil’ war were not as great as sometimes assumed, but it is significant that these men were not Edward’s subjects. Even if they fought under the Lancastrian banner it would be difficult to argue they were traitors, and to justify their treatment accordingly. The French and Scots therefore had less to lose than their English comrades, so we might assume they would be less willing to fight to the death.
John Paston III was present with the Yorkist forces, in the retinue of the Duke of Norfolk. His letters vividly portray the work of the army under Warwick’s command, and also Warwick’s skills as an administrator:
My Lord of Warwick rides daily to all these castles to oversee the sieges. If they need victuals or anything else, he is ready to supply them. The king commanded my Lord of Norfolk to send victuals and the ordnance from Newcastle to Warkworth Castle to my Lord of Warwick; and so my Lord of Norfolk commanded Sir John Howard, Sir William Perche, Sir Robert Chamberlain, Ralph Asheton and me, Calthorpe and Gorge and others to escort the victuals and ordnance; and so yesterday [10 December 1462] we were with my Lord of Norfolk at Newcastle. We have people enough here. In case we stay longer I pray you see that more money is sent here to me by Christmas Eve at the latest, for I cannot obtain leave to send any of my waged men home. No one can depart – unless, of course, they steal away without permission, but if this were to be detected they would be sharply punished.27
Warwick was in his element, although Paston hints at tensions within the Yorkist camp, and also the prospect of desertions. Ironically, it appears likely, in one crucial sense, that Edward’s army was too large, because supplies quickly began to run short. This might explain Warwick’s later concerns about Edward’s logistical preparations, as noted above, although it is unlikely that Edward would have been blind to the problem. Lack of supplies would provide another explanation of why Edward wished to bring matters to a speedy conclusion.
The Yorkist commanders were also aware that a Scottish army, under the Earl of Angus, was gathering across the border. The army included Brézé, who would have been particularly keen to relieve Alnwick because his son was a member of the garrison. But the news of the impending Scottish invasion was concealed from the Lancastrian garrisons at Bamburgh and Dunstanburgh, who were now reduced to eating their horses. On Christmas Eve the commanders of Bamburgh and Dunstanburgh offered their surrender. Their conditions were accepted and the Yorkists took possession of both castles by 27 December. Somerset, Percy and a number of others submitted to Edward. They were taken to the King at Durham, where they swore oaths of allegiance. Somerset was required immediately to prove his loyalty. He therefore joined Edward’s army at Alnwick, where he served with some distinction. Percy was given custody of the two other northern castles, according to the terms that had been agreed. There were others, though, who still refused to accept Edward’s kingship, including Jasper Tudor and Somerset’s kinsman, Lord Roos.28 They were permitted to retire to Scotland under safe conduct.
Now the Yorkists were free to concentrate all their forces against Alnwick, but then, on 5 January, the Scottish army finally arrived. Warwick, still in command of the Yorkist forces, declined to offer battle. According to Warkworth it was an almost farcical situation: Warwick was frightened of the Scots but the Scots feared a trap. The commander of Alnwick, Lord Hungerford, was allowed to march out of the castle while Warwick’s army looked on. The account in Annales suggests the English were outnumbered by the Scots, which is surprising given that Edward had raised such a large army. Is it possible, therefore, that Edward had now dismissed some of his troops, or at least had allowed them to leave? For John Warkworth, though, Warwick’s problem was not one of numbers but morale: the English troops were reluctant to fight because they had ‘lain there so long in the field, and were grieved with cold and rain’.29 Both Warkworth and Annales agree that the Scots missed a chance to strike a significant blow against the English. According to Annales, ‘if the Scots had been bold and wise, they could have destroyed all the nobility of England’.30 But the Scots withdrew across the border and on the next day Alnwick surrendered. All the northern castles were now under Yorkist control, although one clerical chronicler remained unimpressed:
And in all this long time, when almost all the knighthood of England was assembled against our enemies, what, I ask, what action memorable or deserving of praise was done, except the capture of the aforesaid three castles?31
This is surely a harsh judgement. The chronicler underestimates the logistical difficulties of conducting a winter campaign, and Margaret had declined to meet Edward in battle when their troops were fresh. All of the northern castles – some of the strongest in England – had been effectively garrisoned on this occasion. Veteran soldiers were present in the garrisons of each of the castles, led by experienced commanders. To take all these castles without major losses was no small achievement. Furthermore, it must be stressed that much medieval warfare was ‘Vegetian’ in that it hinged on the capture and control of strongpoints and supplies.32 Vegetius advised commanders to avoid battle whenever possible, because of the great risks entailed, and instead to pursue other means to victory. The Wars of the Roses represent a special case because both sides usually sought a decisive encounter – even if there was more variation within the various generals’ strategy than is usually allowed.33 The Lancastrians’ strategy in this campaign was therefore very unusual within the context of the Wars of the Roses, possibly because of the presence of so many foreign troops in their army. The Yorkists adapted their own strategy accordingly.
Nevertheless, the chronicler was surely writing with the benefit of hindsight, in the knowledge that all the good work of the winter was undone shortly afterwards. Warwick had remained in the north after Edward left, to consolidate the Yorkist position, but as soon as he returned south, in March, Sir Ralph Percy once again switched sides. He opened the gates of Bamburgh and Dunstanburgh to a Franco–Scottish force. In May, Alnwick Castle was betrayed by the constable, Sir Ralph Grey, hitherto a committed Yorkist, who was disillusioned because he had been passed over for the command.34 Naturally these events gave Margaret renewed hope and she persuaded the Scots once more to invade England. Again it fell to the Nevilles to conduct the war in the north. On 26 May Montagu was appointed Warden of the East March in his own right, and he was shortly afterwards in the field. He was quickly joined by his brother, Warwick, who retained the wardenship in the west. In early July the Scots invaded England and laid siege to Norham Castle. Margaret, her son Prince Edward, Mary, Brézé and the young James III were all present. But the Scots appear to have had little stomach for a fight. Warwick had recruited troops in Yorkshire and the Nevilles had raised a substantial army. When the Nevilles appeared at Norham, the Scottish army withdrew in panic. The Nevilles took the opportunity to launch a major raid into Southern Scotland, while the Earl of Douglas was active in the West March. Dispirited by this latest failure, Margaret once again sought refuge on the Continent. She was accompanied by her son and Brézé, although her husband remained in Bishop Kennedy’s care. Although she would continue to fight tenaciously on his behalf, Margaret would never see Henry again.
Brézé was embittered by his experience of fighting with the Scots.35 Unsurprisingly, English writers were also scornful of their performance at Norham. According to ‘Gregory’, only one of the Scots had emerged with any credit:
And at the departing of Sir Pierre de Brézé and his fellowship was one manly man that purposed to meet with my Lord of Warwick, that was a taborette, and he stood upon a hill with his tabor and his pipe, taboring and piping as merrily as any man might, standing by himself. Till my lord come unto him he would not lease [release] his ground. And there he became my lord’s man, and yet [still] he is with him full good and to his lord.36
Obviously this passage reflects well on Warwick too, because he is deemed an appropriate lord for such a ‘manly man’. In a letter to the French diplomat Jean de Lannoy, Lord Hastings also praised the deeds of the ‘noble and valiant’ Warwick.37 Edward, on the other hand, wrote Hastings, had continued to pursue the pleasures of the chase. This is often interpreted as implicit criticism of Edward but it seems unlikely. The point Hastings wished to make was that Edward had not needed to concern himself. Hastings notes that Edward’s subjects were also able to go about their business undisturbed, which suggests the Scots were not able to threaten Edward’s position in a significant way. Yet a major expedition against the Scots was then being prepared, in which Edward had promised to take a leading role. On this understanding Edward had received a major taxation grant from Parliament of £37,000, together with a substantial subsidy from the Church. Once Edward himself took the field, Hastings implied, the Scots would ‘repent until the day of judgement’ for their support of the Lancastrian exiles. However, although Edward had reached York in early September, he proceeded no further.
Once again, there was much criticism: ‘Shame and confusion was the wretched outcome of it all.’38 This was understandable. Edward’s subjects had been taxed heavily to pay for his ‘campaign’, although much of the money was used to pay off existing debts. Edward later felt obliged to give his assent to a reduction of the burden. Yet as Edward appeared to be inactive at York, events elsewhere were moving in his favour. Louis XI’s eyes were now fixed on Burgundy, so he was willing to reach a temporary accord with Edward. Duke Philip, who was genuinely committed to the ideal of a crusade against the Turks, was always willing to promote peace. He therefore suggested that diplomats from England, France and Burgundy should convene at St Omer. Although Edward remained suspicious of Louis’ motives, this was agreed. Margaret of Anjou, in desperation, gained an interview with Philip of Burgundy to solicit his support. Duke Philip took pains to protect his chivalrous reputation, and Margaret was treated with courtesy. She received a small sum of money to maintain herself and her household but that was all. Margaret’s worst fears would soon be realised. The conference made little progress at St Omer but when the delegates moved to Hesdin a breakthrough was quickly achieved. On 8 October the English and French agreed to a year’s truce (except at sea) and Edward and Louis were bound not to support each other’s enemies during this time. Louis had separately achieved his main aim – the recovery of the Somme towns, ceded to Burgundy in 1435 – and was in an uncharacteristically generous mood. He is even said to have offered Edward help with the conquest of Scotland.
Crucially, therefore, Edward’s diplomats had isolated the Scots, who had been shaken by Warwick’s recent exploits and were alarmed by Edward’s presence in the north. They now had no alternative but to negotiate. The death of Mary of Guelders, on 1 December 1463, made no difference to the direction of Scottish policy. Envoys were despatched by Bishop Kennedy to meet Edward at York, and on 9 December the terms of a truce were agreed. There was to be peace between England and Scotland until 31 October 1464, and further talks were scheduled to bring about a more lasting treaty. Most significantly, Edward agreed that he would offer no further assistance to the Earl of Douglas. In return the Scots agreed to abandon their support for the Lancastrian exiles. Henry VI was duly removed from the safety of St Andrews and sent to Bamburgh. The Lancastrian cause was now hanging by a thread.
What gave the Lancastrians hope was an astonishing volte face by Henry Duke of Somerset. Somerset had been restored to his lands and appeared to be in favour at the Yorkist court. But in late December 1463 Somerset suddenly appeared in Northumberland at the head of yet another Lancastrian rising. Edward’s relationship with Somerset therefore deserves greater scrutiny.
Henry Duke of Somerset is one of the most intriguing characters of the period. Contemporaries accorded him the ability to influence others and, by implication, to influence events. On the Continent he was regarded, like Warwick, as a ‘prince’. When Somerset was in exile he was able to hold his own with the cultured courtiers of Burgundy. Charles Count of Charolais, the Duke of Burgundy’s son, fell completely under Somerset’s spell. Somerset’s élan was acknowledged by the court chronicler Chastelain, even though he was concerned about Somerset’s influence over Charolais: ‘he was a very great lord, and one of the [most] handsome young knights who came from the realm of England’.39 Even hostile writers acknowledged his military prowess: both ‘Gregory’ and the author of Annales describe his conduct in the field as ‘manly’.40 But it would appear that to trust Somerset was dangerous. At Calais, Somerset had sworn that he would never take up arms against Warwick again, but quickly reneged on the promise.41Edward has been criticised for his decision to pardon Somerset.42 It has been argued that Edward was reckless, that he blithely believed he could charm Somerset into loyalty. However, Somerset’s subsequent attainder implies that his pardon was a carefully considered act: Edward had ‘laboured himself into forget–fulness-.43 It was not easy to forgive the deaths of his father and brother. It was a calculated risk, but Somerset’s reputation was such that his defection offered great benefits to the Yorkist cause. Surely Edward also wished to end the blood feud that had claimed so many lives? Nevertheless, Somerset’s rehabilitation proceeded in stages,44 and there is no evidence to suggest that Edward’s policy was not supported by the Yorkist hierarchy. Oddly enough, it was to Warwick that Somerset first intimated he would be willing to come to terms. This was as early as September 1462.45
Yet Edward’s treatment of Somerset appears to have gone far beyond realpolitik. According to ‘Gregory’ Edward and Somerset became inseparable.46 The two men rode out ‘a-hunting’ accompanied only by a small group of attendants, and Somerset ‘lodged with the king in his own bed many nights’. Edward, inspired by his ‘great love’ for the Duke, organised a tournament at Westminster in Somerset’s honour. In fact, there is nothing here to provide certain evidence of a truly intimate relationship, although it was surely hoped that these acts would lead to a closer relationship. This was an example of what the historian Stephen Jaeger has called ‘ennobling love’.47 An act of sharing, whether this was sharing food, a horse, or even a bed, was a public symbol of reconciliation during the Middle Ages.48 Presumably the tournament referred to by ‘Gregory’ was also symbolic. Like many other medieval kings, although most notably Edward III, Edward consciously sought to imitate King Arthur’s court. For example, membership of the Order of the Garter, with its explicitly Arthurian overtones, was restricted to a select few.49 Edward also sponsored a revival of the tournament.50 Edward’s courtiers began to follow the example of their contemporaries across the Channel, fighting in outlandish disguises like the heroes of romance.51 The tournament organised for Somerset, therefore, is likely to have been a heavily ritualised occasion designed to establish him within Edward’s own ‘circle of honour’. ‘Gregory’ tells us that Somerset jousted in a ‘sorry hat of straw’. The straw hat was probably part of a costume or disguise with allegorical connotations that were missed by the chronicler.52 ‘Gregory’ does go on to say that Somerset was reluctant to joust (or feigned reluctance) until he was persuaded by Edward. But ‘then he [Somerset] ran full justly and merrily […] and then every man marked him well’.
Tensions quickly appeared, however. At Northampton the common people attempted to lynch Somerset, and only Edward’s personal intervention (aided by a barrel of free wine for the people) saved the duke’s life. Somerset was sent to his castle of Chirk, in North Wales, for his own protection. But the problem now was that Somerset’s isolation from court meant that it was easier for Lancastrian sympathisers to approach him, and to draw Somerset back towards his former allegiance. They would have stressed not only Somerset’s prior obligations to Henry VI, but also his ties to Margaret of Anjou and to the men with whom he had fought as brothers in arms. Eventually, we must assume, Somerset was unable to deny the strength of their arguments.53 Presumably Sir Ralph Percy had been placed under similar pressure in Northumberland.54 Jean de Wavrin draws attention to Somerset’s impossible dilemma. Wavrin implies that, even as he became a traitor, Somerset was motivated by honour:
I have learned that he [Somerset] knew well that the said party of King Henry did not have the necessary strength or vigour to oppose the power of King Edward, who had done him great honour. Nevertheless he deserted him to return to King Henry and to join with those who had no power.55
What Somerset’s ‘treachery’ reveals most clearly, therefore, is not Edward’s failure as a statesman, but rather the incredible tenacity of the Lancastrian nobles and, paradoxically, their deep commitment to principle.56
There were also risings in Wales, and disturbances throughout the south, but the Lancastrian plans always hinged on success in the north. Their first aim was control of Newcastle, which would have given them access to a market and supplies. Here, some of Somerset’s most trusted men were members of the garrison, and they had intended to hand over the city to the duke. Fortunately for Edward’s cause, the plot was discovered shortly before Somerset arrived. Most of the conspirators were captured and executed. Somerset himself narrowly avoided capture at Durham, escaping ‘in his shirt and barefoot’.57 Somerset made his way to Bamburgh, where he rejoined Henry VI and his remaining supporters. But on this occasion, the Lancastrians were not prepared to shelter passively behind castle walls. In the early months of 1464 the Lancastrians gained control of much of Northumberland. Further Anglo-Scottish talks had been planned to take place at Newcastle in early March but in the circumstances had to be postponed. The conference was re-scheduled to take place at York on 20 April. Montagu was sent north from York in mid April, to provide an escort for the Scottish delegation but the Lancastrians were waiting for him. On his way to Newcastle he narrowly escaped an ambush laid by Sir Humphrey Neville of Brancepeth. At Newcastle Montagu gathered more troops before continuing north. This did not deter the Lancastrians, however, who were understandably determined to disrupt the Anglo-Scottish negotiations. At Hedgeley Moor, north of Alnwick, Montagu was attacked by a strong Lancastrian force that included Somerset, Percy, Roos, Hungerford and Grey. Initially there was fierce fighting, although the Lancastrians are said to have become dispirited by the death of Sir Ralph Percy.58 They took to flight. Montagu’s mission was completed without further incident and the Scottish envoys were safely conveyed to York.
The Lancastrian rebels were now in a desperate position as the détente between England and Scotland ensured they would receive no support from north of the border. They would also have been aware that Edward was raising a large army at Leicester. Commissions of array had been sent to the sheriffs of thirty counties; the royal ordnance had been mobilised on 16 April for the journey north. The Lancastrians had little left to lose. In early May they decided upon a bold strategy, marching south into the Tyne valley. As John Gillingham explains, ‘their only hope lay in swift and aggressive action before they were crushed by the sheer weight of Edward’s men, carts and guns’.59 Henry VI accompanied his army and was established at Bywell Castle. Once again, the Lancastrians threatened Newcastle, where Montagu was currently based. By now Montagu must have known that support was on its way, but he displayed a verve and decision worthy of Edward himself. He did not wait for the King to reinforce him. On 15 May Montagu fell upon Somerset at Hexham and his forces comprehensively defeated the smaller Lancastrian army. To the evident satisfaction of the chronicler ‘Gregory’:
Lo, so manly a man is this good Earl [sic] Montagu, for he spared not their malice, not their falseness, not guile, nor treason, and took many of men and slew many one [sic] in that journey [battle].60
Somerset was captured immediately after the battle and summarily executed. On the next day Lords Hungerford and Roos were caught hiding in a wood, and Sir William Tailboys was later discovered in a coalpit. £2,000 was found in Tailboys’ possession, which had been intended to pay the Lancastrian army’s wages. Montagu shared this money between his troops. The captured nobles quickly followed Somerset to their deaths: over thirty prominent Lancastrians were executed at this time. The Lancastrian outposts in the Tyne valley fell rapidly, including Bywell, although Henry VI escaped into the Pennines. Henry would survive as a fugitive for another year, but it was only a matter of time before he fell into Yorkist hands.
Edward expressed his gratitude towards Montagu in a way that was truly profound. At York, on 27 May, Edward invested Montagu with the earldom of Northumberland. Now one of the greatest men in England, John Neville rode out of York followed by a formidable host, which included his brother, Warwick, and the royal artillery. The three northern castles that had caused Edward so much trouble were still in Lancastrian hands, but the new Earl of Northumberland was determined to have them at his will. Alnwick, the seat of the Percys, surrendered without a fight, as did Dunstanburgh. But the Lancastrians’ surviving leaders, Sir Ralph Grey and Sir Humphrey Neville, had taken refuge at Bamburgh. The Yorkist army appeared before the castle on 25 June. Heralds were once again despatched to treat with the Lancastrian commanders, although their message was stern:
The king, our most dread sovereign lord, specially desires to have this jewel [Bamburgh] whole and unbroken by artillery, particularly because it stands so close to his ancient enemies the Scots, and if you are the cause that great guns have to be fired against its walls, then it will cost you your head, and for every shot that has to be fired another head, down to the humblest person within the place.61
The heralds offered the garrison a pardon, but it conspicuously excluded Grey and Neville. The Lancastrians defied the royal army to do their worst. And so Edward’s ‘great guns’ – Dijon, London and Newcastle –unleashed their terrible power against Bamburgh’s walls.62 Grey was badly wounded when a cannonball smashed into his chamber, and he was left for dead. As the Yorkists made ready to storm the battered fortress the garrison surrendered to Nevilles’ mercy. Humphrey Neville somehow managed to gain clemency, perhaps by appealing to kinship, and his life was spared. But for Sir Ralph Grey there would now be a reckoning.
Edward’s treatment of Somerset, Percy and others had been that of a merciful and chivalrous prince. Edward, the victor of Mortimer’s Cross and Towton, possessed the ‘dread’ that Henry VI conspicuously lacked, but he also understood the need to temper his justice with ‘love’. He had treated all the Lancastrians who submitted as men of honour, whose oath was their bond. The implication was that he considered them to have been worthy adversaries who deserved respect. But Edward gave scant consideration to their subsequent dilemmas. Thus it was according to the chivalric code that the Lancastrians would now be condemned, even beyond the grave. Edward’s anger comes across strongly in contemporary documents. Somerset’s treachery, we are told, was against the nature of ‘gentleness [nobility] and all humanity’.63 More anger was reserved for Sir Ralph Grey, who, wounded as he was, was dragged to Doncaster to hear Edward’s terrible judgement.64 Sentence was pronounced by the Constable of England, John Tiptoft Earl of Worcester. First, Grey was to be degraded from the order of knighthood: ‘thy spurs struck off by the hard heels with the hand of the master cook’. Then his coat of arms –the most important symbol of his noble lineage and ‘worship’ – was to be publicly torn from him. It would be replaced by ‘another coat, of thine arms reversed’, as a sign of Grey’s disgrace. Then Grey was to be drawn through the streets to a ‘scaffold made for thee’. Only then, finally, would he meet his death. For a medieval aristocrat, this was a peculiarly shameful way to die. In fact, even in this case Edward’s ferocity had its limits, and Grey was spared the degradation from all his honours. But he was not spared execution, and his death marked the end of Lancastrian resistance in the north.
Edward had proved himself a formidable soldier, but since Towton he had done none of the fighting himself. However, as argued by Gillingham, Edward’s main role in the years immediately after Towton was to ‘create the political, financial, administrative and diplomatic circumstances which virtually guaranteed victory in the field’.65 The most crucial military operations were delegated to able lieutenants. Both Montagu and Herbert fully repaid Edward’s trust, notwithstanding the betrayals by others. Warwick was also active in Edward’s service, and at this time all his ambitions were complementary to Edward’s own. There is no doubt that Edward actively pursued pleasures of many kinds – Edward’s personal motto, indeed, was ‘comfort and joy’! – but he also applied himself diligently to the problems of government. Moreover, whether this was by nature or nurture, evidently Edward preferred to operate in the mould of rulers such as Charles V of France. As Christine de Pisan sagely observed, Charles V won victories against the English without leaving his palace.66 At Towton, where everything was at stake, Edward’s presence inspired his men, but it was not politic for a king to risk his life in battle unless absolutely necessary. Having proved himself as a warrior, there could be no suggestion that Edward lacked courage or ability in the field. Now that his throne was secure, doubtless Edward’s subjects hoped that he would turn to other pressing issues, notably the maintenance of law and order. More security would come with an heir, although for this, of course, Edward needed a wife. In early 1464 Edward must have appeared the most eligible bachelor in Europe. The Earl of Warwick, who was growing increasingly close to Louis XI, was keen to promote an Anglo-French alliance. Louis suggested that Edward could marry Louis’ sister-in-law, Bona of Savoy. But Warwick was soon to discover there was a glaring impediment to the match: Edward was already married.