Edward pursued the best option available, to seek shelter at the court of Burgundy, but his voyage across the North Sea was alarming. Not only were his ships blown off course, but he was pursued by a small fleet belonging to the Hanseatic League. The Hansards nursed a grudge against Edward of several years’ standing.1 Forced to make use of the prevailing winds, Edward’s ships made for the northern Netherlands, some way from the Duke of Burgundy’s centre of power in Flanders. Edward’s ships anchored off the island of Texel, but the harbour was shallow and the ships ran aground. The Hanse fleet gathered with menace, waiting for high tide when they planned to board Edward’s ships. Fortunately for Edward, however, the local people helped the English ashore before the Hansards were able to reach them. According to Commynes, the English exiles were in a terrible state: ‘there never was such a beggarly company’.2 Doubtless they were wet, cold and hungry. They had no money or spare clothes, and Edward was forced to pay off the captain of his ship by giving up his fur-lined robe. But for now, at least, Edward was safe.
Edward was accompanied by a small but committed band of supporters.3 The names of the most prominent exiles are recorded in a ducal letter of November 1470, in which Charles of Burgundy was later to grant Edward a modest allowance. They included Anthony Earl Rivers, William Lord Hastings, and William Lord Say and Sele. Four Knights of the Body were with Edward in Burgundy – Sir Robert Chamberlain, Sir Gilbert Debenham, Sir John Middleton and Sir Humphrey Talbot – all tough men who were willing and able to fight. Other exiles included Sir George Derrell, formerly Keeper of the Great Wardrobe, and Sir William Blount, the son of Lord Mountjoy. A notable name missing from this list is Edward’s brother, Richard Duke of Gloucester, who appears to have followed Edward into exile some time later. Edward must have been particularly gratified by the loyalty of his younger brother, who had grown up in Warwick’s household, and who had resisted the blandishments that were surely offered him by Warwick and Clarence. All of Edward’s companions were to do him great service during the coming months; many of them were to give up their lives. Not all of Edward’s company were soldiers, however. He was also accompanied, for example, by Thomas Norton, the famous alchemist and astrologer – although one wonders if Edward’s confidence in Norton had been shaken by the reverses he had suffered!4 Another non-combatant, who offered more obviously practical support, was the Clerk of the Signet, Nicholas Harpisfield. He wrote some of Edward’s correspondence during his exile, and was almost certainly the author of the Arrivall, a crucial source for the events following Edward’s return to England.5
For the next two months Edward was the guest of Louis de Gruuthuse, the Governor of Northern Holland, who had hurried to greet Edward on hearing the news of his landing. While staying at Gruuthuse’s house in Bruges, Edward took the opportunity to sample his host’s impressive library.6 Although Gruuthuse was an attentive host, however, Edward must have been disturbed by the apparent coldness of Duke Charles. Charles did not agree to meet Edward until 2 January 1471, when Edward was finally invited to court at Aire. Here, Commynes tells us that Edward ‘strongly urged him [Charles] to assist his return, assuring him that he had much support in England, and, for God’s sake, not to abandon him, seeing that he had married his sister and they were brothers in each other’s Order [of chivalry]’.7 Presumably Duchess Margaret lobbied hard on Edward’s behalf. However, according to Commynes, Edward’s presence placed Charles in a terrible quandary. Although aware of his obligations to Edward, Charles was still mindful of his kinship to the House of Lancaster, especially to the Beauforts. Edmund Beaufort, titular Duke of Somerset, remained a prominent member of Charles’s court.8 He argued passionately that Edward’s case should be dismissed. Also, although Charles (justly) feared that Louis’ support for Warwick had been won at the cost of a promise to assist the French against Burgundy, he was sceptical that the latest political developments in England could be overturned. Commynes tells us he was therefore despatched to Calais in an attempt to forestall war with England.9 Lord Wenlock had kept his promise to Warwick, and the garrison had now declared for Henry VI. If successful, Commynes’ mission would have left Edward high and dry. Commynes was charged to tell Wenlock that Charles was ‘very happy and content’ that his kinsman had regained his throne, and that Charles continued to desire peace and friendship with England – whoever was to be king.10 But it has been argued that the extent of Charles’s indecision has been exaggerated. Given his subsequent vacillations, Commynes’ word cannot always be trusted.11
It must be stressed that concepts of honour – particularly with regard to kinship and other personal relationships – did matter deeply to medieval people. Nevertheless, beneath the elaborate façade of late-medieval diplomacy there remained a core of hard-headed pragmatism. In December Louis XI repudiated the treaty of Péronne and declared all of Charles’s French lands to be forfeit: evidently this concentrated Charles’s mind. Although nothing of great significance occurred in the resulting ‘war’ until 6 January, when the Burgundian town of St Quentin went over to the French, by the end of December Charles had already offered Edward clear support – even if Commynes is correct to say that this information was not made public. Edward must have been greatly relieved. On 31 December the duke granted Edward £20,000 to aid him in his ‘departure from my lord the duke’s lands to return to England’.12 Troops – perhaps mercenaries – were also provided.13 Edward himself had not passively waited on events, but had taken steps to prepare the ground politically for his return. Edward made contact with the Earl of Northumberland, the Duke of Norfolk, and many others. As we shall see, he also sought to build bridges with his errant brother, Clarence.
By 19 February Edward’s preparations were almost complete, and his fleet made ready to sail from Flushing. It consisted of thirty-six ships painstakingly assembled – as secretly as possible – from a variety of sources. Ironically, fifteen of the vessels were provided by the Hanseatic League, who were now prepared to support Edward in return for a promise of future concessions. On his way to Flushing from Bruges, Edward displayed his usual panache, taking time to walk among the crowds who had gathered to watch him leave. From this point on, faced with a situation in which others might have crumbled, Edward reacted with poise and determination. Burgundian court poets compared Edward to Hercules.14 Nevertheless, some observers gave his expedition little chance of success. In a famous passage one writer remarked that ‘It is a difficult matter to go out by the door and then try to enter by the windows. They think he will leave his skin there.’15
Meanwhile, in England, Warwick had established control. In London, news of Edward’s flight had caused panic. By early October 1470 a motley force of Kentishmen, shipmen and other lawless elements – albeit under the nominal command of Sir Geoffrey Gate – threatened the city. This caused Edward’s queen, Elizabeth, who was heavily pregnant, to flee to sanctuary in Westminster. Other prominent Yorkists followed her lead and on 3 October the Tower was surrendered to the joint custody of Gate and the City Fathers. On 5 October Warwick’s brother, Archbishop Neville, arrived in London: his right to take command of the Tower was not contested. Here, Neville would have found Henry VI, who had been abandoned by his frightened Yorkist attendants: he ‘was not worshipfully arrayed as a prince, and not so cleanly kept as should seem a prince’.16 The next day Warwick himself arrived, riding straight to the Tower. He knelt before Henry, who had been hastily clothed in more fitting garb, and acknowledged him as his king. On 13 October Henry was taken in procession to St Paul’s – Oxford bore the sword of state and Warwick bore his train – where he once again wore the crown. Then he was taken to Westminster, where, doubtless thoroughly bemused, he was to begin a new reign as King Henry VI.
But Warwick was to rule. It must have seemed like a great triumph, although in truth Warwick was in a difficult position. If the so-called ‘Readeption’ of Henry VI was to be successful it would require a delicate balancing act. Of course Warwick could rely on his own supporters, and on committed Lancastrians such as Jasper Tudor, but he also needed to reach out to former supporters of Edward’s regime. A number of prominent Yorkists, including the Duke of Norfolk, the Earl of Essex, Lord Mountjoy and Cardinal Bourchier were initially taken into custody, but they were soon released. Even Sir Richard Woodville, who had not joined his brother Anthony in exile, received a pardon within a few weeks. There were few reprisals against Edward’s supporters. The only significant victim was the hated Earl of Worcester, who met his death in front of a baying crowd on 18 October. Warwick also gave clear orders, in King Henry’s name, that the rights of sanctuaries were to be respected. Warwick chivalrously sent Lady Scrope to assist Queen Elizabeth during her coming labour. It is a mark of Warwick’s restraint that when, on 2 November, Elizabeth gave birth to a son, Elizabeth and Edward’s first, mother and child continued to be left in peace.
There are some indications that Warwick’s regime was popular. Nevertheless, it must be said there were a number of supporters, like the Pastons, who had their own reasons to support the Readeption. The Pastons had been engaged in a long-running land dispute with the Yorkist Duke of Norfolk and others, connected with the ownership of Caister Castle. The return of the Earl of Oxford provided them with a valuable noble ally. It was local politics that ensured the Paston brothers would subsequently fight with Oxford at Barnet, rather than loyalty to Henry VI. But perhaps the old king did retain some sympathy and respect. According to Warkworth’s Chronicle, not only were his ‘good lovers’ ‘full glad’ at his restoration, but also ‘the more part of the people’. 17Warwick himself still enjoyed the support of the common people: once again crowds lined the roads, crying ‘Warwick! Warwick!’18
Among the aristocracy, however, Warwick’s conciliatory gestures did not achieve as much as he must have hoped. The main problem was that the political situation would remain unclear until Margaret and her son returned. Warwick had taken some rewards for himself,19 but as yet there was little available to reward loyal Lancastrians who would expect to receive acknowledgement of their service. Warwick may have been genuinely willing to seek an accommodation with former Yorkists, but could Margaret and Prince Edward be expected to show the same attitude? The return of Somerset and Exeter – who sailed from Burgundy in February – cannot have helped to ease fears. Although he was associated with Warwick in government, and seems to have retained Warwick’s trust, the Duke of Clarence must have felt especially vulnerable. Warwick’s alliance with the House of Lancaster had shattered Clarence’s dreams of becoming king, and the lands and titles he had received from his brother were now under threat. He was forced to give up some of his lands to Queen Margaret and her son, evidently under protest. The presence of the young Henry Tudor at court raised questions over his tenure of the honour of Richmond. According to the Arrivall Clarence was held in ‘great suspicion, despite, disdain and hatred’ and he was afraid, probably with reason, that there were many at court who were plotting to bring about the ‘destruction of him and all his blood’.20
Warwick sent numerous messages to his allies in France. He promised to escort Margaret to England in person. Writing to King Louis, he also restated his personal commitment to war against Burgundy:
As soon as I possibly can, I will come to you to serve you against this accursed Burgundian [Duke Charles] without any default, please God, to whom I pray to grant you all that your heart desires.21
Yet Warwick’s true focus was on Edward’s impending invasion, although his defensive measures reveal that he trusted few of the nobles. As Charles Ross points out, commissions of array had never before been entrusted to so few.22 In the north, only Montagu received a commission – Northumberland was pointedly excluded – and in the rest of the country commissions were given only to Clarence, Oxford, Lord Scrope of Bolton and Warwick himself.
However, given his limited resources, Warwick deserves credit for the thoroughness of his preparations: his agents were active along the length of the east coast. As ever, Warwick relied heavily on sea power, and a powerful fleet under the Bastard of Fauconberg patrolled the Channel. Fauconberg was permitted to indulge in piracy in lieu of wages. He took a number of prizes, including Spanish, Breton and Dutch ships. Help might also have been expected from the French, as Louis XI had made naval preparations for war with Burgundy.
On 2 March 1471 Edward embarked on the Antony, a ship belonging to Henri de Borselle, the Lord of Veere, who was Gruuthuse’s father-in-law. According to the Arrivall he had 2,000 men with him, but there may have been fewer.23 It was but a small force to regain a kingdom! Edward’s ships were kept in port by contrary winds for nine frustrating days, and it was not until 11 March that Edward’s fleet finally set sail. Paradoxically, however, Edward was lucky, because the same bad weather kept Margaret of Anjou and her son from returning to England, and the French fleet remained in the mouth of the Seine. Moreover, the Bastard of Fauconberg’s fleet was distracted by a Breton naval squadron, and the Calais garrison were not able to hinder Edward because they had troubles of their own. A lieutenant of the Woodvilles’ kinsman Jacques de Luxembourg led a raiding party into the Calais Pale and caused serious damage. The turning of fortune’s wheel allowed Edward to enjoy an uneventful journey across the North Sea. His fleet aimed for the coast of Norfolk, where Edward hoped to count on the support of the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk. Edward’s ships dropped anchor off Cromer on 12 March. Sir Robert Chamberlain and Sir Gilbert Debenham, both men with local knowledge, were sent out to reconnoitre. But Chamberlain and Debenham quickly realised that the area was dangerous. Norfolk and other allies had once again been taken into custody, and the Earl of Oxford and his brother had been raising local troops. Edward therefore decided to sail north, making for Yorkshire, but the weather turned again: there were storms and the fleet was scattered. Edward eventually came ashore safely at Ravenspur, a now vanished port at the mouth of the Humber. Ironically, it was here that the first Lancastrian king, Henry IV, had landed when he invaded the country in order to depose Richard II in 1399.
In Yorkshire, Edward quickly discovered new dangers. Large bands of men were in arms and had been waiting for the Yorkists to land. There was a particularly strong force in the area under the command of Martin de la See, a gentleman from Holderness. Edward sought counsel, and various options were debated.24 It was suggested, for example, that Edward should once again take to the water; that he and his army should cross the Humber into Lincolnshire, which would provide them with the shortest road south. This would take them closer to the heart of the kingdom, which was imperative if their enterprise was to succeed. But given their recent experience at sea, the soldiers were reluctant to return to their ships, while the leaders were concerned it would be assumed they had taken flight. It was therefore decided that the army should march inland, towards York. In order to appease the local levies that had been arrayed against them, Edward resorted to the gambit that had served Henry IV well in 1399. It was to be given out that Edward had not returned to claim the throne, but only his duchy of York. On this understanding, but also because Edward was able to show friendly letters from the Earl of Northumberland, Martin de la See’s force allowed the Yorkist army to pass unhindered. The author of the Arrivall makes an interesting attempt to explain how Edward was able to employ this deception without incurring dishonour. The local levies had forgotten, of course, that Richard Duke of York, ‘besides that he was Duke of York, he was also very true and rightwise inheritor to the realm and crown of England’.25 Medieval writers relished arguments of this nature.
Edward’s deception had averted disaster, but it brought him little in terms of active support. Moreover, his army was denied a chance to rest and gain supplies when the burghers of Hull refused to open their gates. Edward received more bad news as he approached York. The Recorder of York, Thomas Conyers, warned Edward that it would not be safe to enter the city. However, Edward had ‘decreed in himself constantly to pursue that [sic] he had begun, and rather to abide what God and good fortune would give him, though it were to him uncertain’. Thus ‘he kept boldly forth his journey’. York refused entry to Edward’s army but agreed to admit Edward himself. Edward went into York with less than twenty attendants. It must have looked like a trap, but if the citizens of York did bear Edward any ill will they were quickly won over by his charm. Edward spent a convivial evening and by nightfall his whole army was admitted within the walls. The events at York provide us with an extraordinary example of Edward’s personal charisma and force of character.26
From York, Edward moved to Sandal, via Wakefield, the castle of the dukes of York, from where his father had met his death.27 Yet even here Edward found little support. There ‘came some folks to him, but not so many as he supposed would have come’, as the Arrivall honestly states. Even so, this latest setback was not critical because everything would ultimately depend on the actions of the great magnates. If the two greatest lords in the region, the Earl of Northumberland and the Marquess of Montagu, had acted against Edward in concert then his army would surely have been destroyed. But neither made any effort to hinder Edward’s progress. At the time Edward left York Montagu was based at Pontefract, well placed to intercept the Yorkist army, but he ‘suffered Edward to pass in peaceful wise’. Why did Montagu fail to move? The author of the Arrivall seems uncertain: ‘Whether it were with good will or no, men may judge at their pleasure; I deem yea.’ As we have seen, Montagu may have been horribly torn between loyalty to Edward on the one hand, and loyalty to his brother on the other. However, Montagu’s passivity can be explained in other ways and these are duly considered in the author’s text. Chief among these is that the northerners were more inclined to follow the Earl of Northumberland, and they ‘would not stir with any lord or noble man other than with the said earl, or at least by his commandment’. Nevertheless, although Northumberland himself would have preferred actively to support Edward – not least because he feared he was about to lose his earldom once again to Montagu – he was reluctant to push his followers too far. Even loyalty to the Percys had its limits, and many northerners refused to fight for Edward because they still remembered Towton, where so many of their kinsmen had been slain. But Northumberland’s inactivity was considered ‘politiquely done’ and ‘did the King [Edward] right good and notable service’.
The failure of Warwick’s supporters to attack Edward when weak was crucial, because Edward now began, at last, to attract significant support. At Doncaster he was joined by a band of 160 men under William Dudley (later to become Dean of the Royal Chapel) and at Nottingham Sir William Parr and Sir James Harrington joined him with 600 men from Lancashire. But the enemy had not been idle. At Nottingham Edward learned that the Lancastrian peers Oxford, Exeter and Beaumont were at Newark with a growing army. The Yorkists made an aggressive move towards them. The Lancastrian lords were not prepared to meet Edward in battle, however, and they fled south in some panic. Edward returned to Nottingham. The events at Newark might have improved his army’s morale, but he remained in a precarious situation. To the north Montagu was now, at last, moving south, Exeter and Oxford were to his flank and Warwick was to his south. He was virtually surrounded: could the ‘Lancastrians’ now have trapped him and destroyed him?28 Perhaps Warwick missed an opportunity through caution, although it is also possible that he had listened to the counsel of Clarence. Clarence had apparently sent messages urging his father-in-law not to risk a battle with Edward until he arrived with his own forces. Edward was allowed to retain the initiative, marching directly towards the Earl of Warwick, who fell back from Leicester towards Coventry. At Leicester Edward received an enormous boost when Sir William Norris and Sir William Stanley rode in followed by 3,000 men.
Edward’s army arrived at Coventry on 29 March, but Warwick withdrew within the walls. Edward repeatedly challenged him to come out and fight. This was a clear challenge to Warwick’s ‘manliness’ but Warwick refused to leave the safety of the city. It was perhaps to goad Warwick further that Edward withdrew several miles to the town of Warwick and ensconced himself in the earl’s own castle. At Warwick Edward was received as King, and proclamations were made to that effect from this point onwards. Remarkably, the Arrivall tells us that ‘certain persons on the said Earl’s behalf’ now came to Edward to negotiate.29 Even more remarkably, it is said that Edward ‘granted the said Earl his life’ on terms that seemed reasonable ‘considering his [Warwick’s] great and heinous offences’. But no deal could be agreed – if we can assume the representations on either side were genuine – so what happened next would depend on Clarence.
Using the commission of array that had been issued in the name of Henry VI, Clarence had raised 4,000 men,30 but where did he intend to lead his army, and in whose interest? Clarence had been under pressure to reconcile with Edward for several months. He had received communications from a number of sources, including his mother Duchess Cecily, but ‘most specially’ his sister the Duchess of Burgundy. As we have seen, Clarence felt his position to be uncertain under the new regime, and by now he was inclined to return to the Yorkist fold. Nevertheless, Clarence did not want to back a hopeless cause. He kept his options open for as long as possible, but by the beginning of April his intelligence had convinced him that Edward’s expedition had every chance of success.31 On 3 April, Edward was informed that Clarence and his army were approaching from Banbury; Edward and his own forces marched towards him. When the armies were about half a mile apart Edward went forward accompanied only by Gloucester, Hastings and Rivers; Clarence went to meet him, also accompanied by only a few attendants. What followed was a spectacular piece of political theatre, which gave both Edward and Clarence a chance to demonstrate their flair for drama.32 As Edward approached, Clarence threw himself on his knees, but Edward hurried to raise up his brother and kissed him many times. Gloucester also embraced Clarence, and then ‘the trumpets and minstrels blew up’. Clarence gave a speech to Edward’s army ‘in his best manner’; Edward spoke to Clarence’s men and promised them his ‘grace and good love’. And so Edward, Clarence and Gloucester ‘made their peace […] with banners displayed’. Thus reunited, the brothers of York made their way to Warwick.
At Coventry, the Earl of Warwick’s position had now been strengthened by the arrival of Oxford, Exeter and Viscount Beaumont, although he must have been enraged by Clarence’s volte face. Clarence was therefore a strange choice of emissary, but on the next day he appeared at the gates of Coventry. He offered himself, as a mediator, to negotiate a ‘good accord’.33 After all, if Edward was prepared to forgive his treacherous brother, then why not also Warwick? However, although Edward might have convinced himself that Clarence had been led astray, surely it would have been impossible to rebuild a mutual sense of trust with Warwick. This was the last chance of reconciliation. Following the failure of these talks Edward once again exhorted Warwick to meet him in the field. But the earl continued to refuse the challenge.
Edward could not remain in the field indefinitely. He lacked the artillery necessary to storm Coventry, and he must have feared that he would become trapped between superior forces. Moreover, Edward was short of supplies and Warwick must have been aware of this. Edward therefore decided that his success would depend, as it had in 1461, on control of the capital. On 5 April Edward’s forces moved south. By Palm Sunday (7 April), Edward had reached Daventry. Here, it is said that God and St Anne showed Edward a ‘fair miracle’.34 Edward led a procession to the parish church, where he heard Mass. As it was Lent all the images in the church were covered, including a small statue of St Anne that was enclosed by wooden boards. Edward had prayed to St Anne in exile and now, as he knelt before the rood screen, there was a ‘great crack’. The boards opened, revealing the image of St Anne for a time, before then closing again ‘without any man’s hand’. Although sceptical readers might discern the intervention of man during this episode,35 once again we can see the power of the supernatural over the medieval mind. As at Mortimer’s Cross, Edward immediately interpreted the ‘miracle’ as a sign of God’s special favour, as did his men, and they left Daventry in good heart. Edward then moved on to Northampton, leaving a small force of archers and ‘spears’ to guard his rear, and continued his march towards London.
Warwick was not as passive as he appeared. Immediately alive to the danger posed by Edward’s move towards London, he and his army set off in pursuit. He also wrote to his brother, Archbishop Neville, urging him to hold London until he could join him. George Neville, a cleric, intellectual and politician – but obviously no soldier – did his best. He summoned anybody who remained loyal to the House of Lancaster to join him at St Paul’s, ‘with as many men in harness of their servants and other as they could make’.36 Between 600 and 700 men answered his appeal. This was surely fewer than he might have wished, but Neville was determined to stage a martial display. Henry’s ‘army’ marched through the city, with the old king himself in their midst. Lord Sudeley, an elderly but distinguished veteran of the Hundred Years’ War, bore Henry’s sword. A horseman rode before him, flourishing the famous foxtail standard of Henry V. Yet Henry had always been a pale shadow of his illustrious father, and now he was a broken man. Neville held his hand all the way. Henry had also reverted to wearing an old blue gown that he had worn previously in the Tower; perhaps Henry would have preferred to return to the solitude and quiet of his cell. What Archbishop Neville had intended to act as a call to arms had the opposite effect. As the author of the Great Chronicle notes, the sight of King Henry had ‘pleased the citizens as a fire painted on a wall warmed the old woman’. 37 With a true warrior king almost at their gates, the London citizens were now even more reluctant to do battle on Henry’s behalf. Indeed, a number of prominent Lancastrians had already concluded that the city could not be held.38 On hearing of the imminent arrival of the Lancastrians’ true leader, Margaret of Anjou, the Duke of Somerset and the Earl of Devon had left London on 8 April. They made for the south coast, taking with them a commission that appointed Prince Edward Lieutenant of the Realm. Henry was abandoned to his fate.
The city council quickly came to the conclusion that ‘as Edward late king of England was hastening towards the city with a powerful army, and as the inhabitants were not sufficiently versed in arms to withstand so large a force, no attempt should be made to resist him’.39 On 11 April Edward and his army swept into London. The army was led by Burgundian troops: a force of ‘black and smoky gunners’, which one chronicler estimated at 500 strong.40 Presumably they were armed with the latest version of the matchlock arquebus. After giving thanks at St Paul’s, Edward’s next priority was to secure the person of Henry VI, who he found at the bishop’s palace. The historian Cora Scofield offers an evocative and convincing reconstruction of their meeting:
to the rival, frail in body and in mind, whose crown he was about to take from him for the second time, Edward extended his hand with cold civility; but Henry, not content with such a greeting, half trustingly, half fearfully offered an embrace with the words: ‘My cousin of York, you are very welcome. I know that in your hands my life will not be in danger.’ Surprised, and perhaps touched, Edward assured Henry that he had nothing to fear …41
Henry was sent back to the Tower; he was joined by Archbishop Neville, who had already submitted to Edward in writing.
Understandably, Edward’s thoughts now turned to his family, from whom he had been separated for nearly six months. From the bishop’s palace Edward hurried to Westminster and, after paying his respects at the Abbey, he was able to enjoy a happy reunion with his wife and daughters. Here, too, Edward was able to meet his newborn son, also called Edward, for the first time. Edward and his family spent the night with his mother at Baynard’s Castle. This was a pleasant interlude, but on the next morning Edward turned his focus back to war. Indeed, London quickly became ablaze with activity, as Yorkists emerged from sanctuary. Commynes, perhaps with some exaggeration, claims that more than 2,000 Yorkists had been in sanctuary during the Readeption, including 300–400 knights and esquires.42 Other supporters came to London from elsewhere. On Good Friday, 12 April, Edward was joined by Sir John, now Lord Howard, and Lord Hastings’ brother, Sir Ralph, who had taken sanctuary in Colchester, and also by Sir Humphrey Bourchier and his brother, Lord Berners’ sons, who brought with them a large number of Kentishmen.
On the same day, Edward learned that Warwick was now approaching London; he had reached St Albans.43 The Arrivall suggests that Warwick hoped to catch the Yorkists unawares, assuming they would be preoccupied with the celebration of Easter. However, Edward reacted immediately. The next day, following a hasty muster, the Yorkist army set out towards St Albans on the Great North Road. Edward arrived at Barnet as darkness was falling, having scattered some of Warwick’s foreriders, and here he learned that Warwick was now camped about half a mile to the north. Von Wesel reports that Warwick had taken up a position ‘just beside the highway to St Albans on a broad green plot’.44 Edward was conscious of the disasters that had befallen the defenders at both battles of St Albans, and did not wish to fight within the town, but he was determined to force a battle on the following day. It was also easier to maintain discipline when the army was camped in the open, under the watchful eyes of their commanders.45Edward therefore advanced just outside Barnet, towards the Lancastrian position. But in the gathering gloom it became difficult to see clearly. This meant that ‘[Edward] took not his ground so even in the front afore them as he would have done if he might better have seen them [the Lancastrians], but somewhat asidehand’. Von Wesel tells us similarly that Warwick and Edward made camp on opposite sides of the road (with Warwick’s army camped on the left of the road coming from Barnet and Edward to the right). This would have serious implications on the next day, but Edward had achieved his main objective: a battle was now certain to occur. Edward and Warwick had spent the last two years fighting through proxies, but now, at last, they would face each other on the field.
It was a strange course of events that had brought Edward and Warwick here, one that must have been unthinkable ten years earlier. There was little time for introspection, however, because, according to Von Wesel, ‘Warwick set up his ordonnance of arquebuses and serpentines up the way towards Barnet and the arquebuses carried over all night long.’ But the bombardment did Edward’s army no harm, and Warwick’s ammunition was expended in vain. Some of Warwick’s guns may have been firing into thin air, although the Arrivall tells us that Warwick’s guns ‘overshot’ Edward’s forces, because they were ‘nearer than they deemed’. Edward ordered silence throughout his army, so as not to give away its true position.46
With the two armies lying so close to each other, their dispositions would have been arranged during the night before battle. But none of the fullest and most contemporary sources – the Arrivall, Warkworth’s Chronicle and Von Wesel’s newsletter – provide any information about how the armies were organised. The Great Chronicle does give details about the various commands, but, as it is reported that the Duke of Somerset was in command of the Lancastrian centre – he cannot have been present – in this case its testimony is dubious.47 We have more information about the numbers involved, although as usual the chroniclers do not agree. The Arrivall tells us that Edward was outnumbered, even after the boost he received from Clarence’s defection. According to this source Edward had 9,000 men, whereas Warwick’s forces ‘numbered themselves’ at 30,000. Other sources give the Yorkists more and the Lancastrians fewer.48 What does seem clear is that both armies were large by the standards of the time.
On the whole, the armies at Barnet would have resembled those deployed in previous battles of the Wars of the Roses. However, an intriguing feature of the battle is the presence of the Burgundian handgunners in Edward’s army. It has been plausibly suggested that the performance of the Burgundians may have encouraged Edward to make further investments in gunpowder technology.49 Apparently Warwick had already used ‘arquebuses’, albeit to little effect, but how might Edward’s handgunners have been deployed on the day of battle? Bert Hall explains why small arms were most effective in defence. The main problem, for a general on the offensive, was the handgun’s slow rate of fire:
soldiers armed with small arms are extremely vulnerable during their reloading cycle; they must be protected either by sufficient numbers of their own kind to maintain a continuous volley of fire or by troops with very different kinds of weapons.50
Even so, it may be interesting to consider the possibility that the handguns were employed in an offensive manner at Barnet, because the arquebus could be devastating at short range. Emerging out of the mist that was to fall, accompanied by the usual war cries, this would have been a terrifying way for Edward’s troops to announce their presence close at hand.
Next morning, 14 April, was Easter Sunday, but Edward showed no reluctance to shed blood on this holiest of days.51 He launched the attack at dawn, around 4am. Dawn attacks are often successful because the aggressor catches his enemies at their worst, hastily aroused from sleep.52 But Warwick knew Edward’s character and we must assume that he had considered the possibility of an early attack. Most likely Warwick and his men were ready and waiting; Warwick may not have slept at all. Indeed, Warwick’s bombardment must have ensured that both armies were deprived of sleep, which can induce erratic behaviour and impair decisionmaking.53 This was surely a significant factor during the battle, not least because both armies were hampered by mistrust within their ranks. How did the Duke of Exeter feel, for example? He had been Warwick’s sworn enemy for over ten years. Even the behaviour of Warwick’s own brother, Montagu, had recently been ambiguous, to say the least. The Yorkist force was more cohesive, but here too there may have been tensions. Could Clarence really be trusted? Another crucial factor was, once again, the weather:
at daybreak, around four o’ clock they [the two armies] became aware of each other, but a thick fog came down as it did, too, in London so that neither side was able to see the other. [Von Wesel, p. 68.]
As we have seen, the two armies were ‘not front to front’, but the fog made this obscure. This meant the Yorkist attackers outflanked the Lancastrians on their right, but their left wing was itself outflanked. Archers and artillery were, of course, employed by both sides – Von Wesel claims 10,000 arrows were expended – but with both sides firing blind the two armies quickly came ‘to hands’. On the right, naturally the Yorkists had some success, but their left wing was shattered. Most of the survivors fled in panic.54Paradoxically, however, the fog now helped the Yorkist cause, because it shielded the remainder of Edward’s army from certain knowledge of the disaster that had engulfed their left flank.55 Yet fighting in the fog must have been a terrifying and confusing experience. We may imagine the Yorkist troops bunching together, peering at ghostly figures ahead of them, trying to determine whether they were friends or foes, straining to interpret horrifying sounds made by men they could not see.
Ignorance of their comrades’ fate therefore cannot solely explain why the Yorkist line did not break; there was another reason why the Yorkists maintained their resolve. At the very heart of the Yorkist ‘battle’ their leader was fighting heroically, in the midst of his household:
he manly, vigorously and valiantly assailed them [Warwick’s army], in the midst and strongest of their battle, where he, with great violence, beat and bore down afore him all that stood in his way, and, then, turned to the range, first on that one hand, and then on that other hand, so that nothing might stand in the sight of him and the well assured fellowship that attended truly on him. [Arrivall, p. 20.]
There is no reason to doubt that Edward was heavily involved in the fighting; it is clear that most of the Yorkist leaders fought ‘manly’. The fighting was fierce and there were many casualties. Lords Cromwell and Say were killed on the field, as was Sir Humphrey Bourchier, and Sir William Blount was later to die of his wounds. Richard of Gloucester, fighting in his first battle, acquitted himself well and was also ‘severely wounded’.56 But Gloucester quickly recovered: he was fit enough to fight at Tewkesbury three weeks later. As we shall see, Edward was to take note of his brother’s now proven courage.
Let us assume that Oxford did lead the Lancastrian van, on the right wing, as the Great Chronicle tells us. If so, Oxford had broken the Yorkist left and pursued the survivors for some distance. He now rallied his men and returned to the battlefield, probably hoping to smash into the Yorkist rear. However, either because Oxford’s men had found it difficult to navigate in the fog, or because the lines of battle had shifted, Oxford found himself confronting not Edward, but Warwick. Warkworth tells us that in the fog Warwick’s men mistook Oxford’s personal emblem of the ‘star with streams’ for Edward’s emblem of the ‘sun with streams’.57 Warwick moved to the attack, causing Oxford and his men to flee the field, crying ‘Treason! Treason!’58 It is said that the Lancastrians had been on the verge of victory several times, during three or four hours of savage fighting, but these events gave the advantage, irrevocably, to the Yorkists. It may even be that barely concealed tensions within the ‘Lancastrian’ army now exploded, and they began to fight amongst themselves. Their leaders fell one by one. Montagu is said to have fought bravely – according to Wavrin he had been cutting off arms and heads like a hero of romance – but he was now overwhelmed and killed. Exeter, too, who also ‘fought manly’, was badly wounded and left for dead.59 And then, finally, the shout went up that Warwick himself had been slain.
How Warwick died is not clear; the Arrivall tells us he was killed ‘somewhat fleeing’. This is not the only time the author glosses over a controversial subject, although the implication of cowardice was seized on with relish by chroniclers in Burgundy, where Warwick was unpopular because of his close connections with King Louis of France.60 But in truth it would be difficult to argue that Warwick was a coward; although he was a cautious commander he had demonstrated personal courage on numerous occasions. What is certain is that Warwick’s death made Edward’s victory complete. Warkworth tells us that Edward tried to save Warwick, although it is impossible to believe there could have been a further reconciliation. If Warwick had survived the battle he would surely have ended his life on the block. Yet, for many, perhaps including Edward, Warwick’s death must have provoked ambivalent feelings. Warwick was an extraordinary man, whose passing would create a great void in English politics. The historian A.J. Pollard has noted that Warwick’s emergence as a great man coincided with sightings of Halley’s Comet; the comet heralded the arrival of another glittering star.61 Perhaps contemporaries drew the same analogy. But this star had now fallen to earth.