Contemporary writers always used superlatives to describe Edward IV. He was "the tallest," "the fairest," "the strongest." When his tomb was opened in 1789, his skeleton was found to measure six feet four inches, tall for a 21st century man, but gigantic for 15th century England. And he knew how to use his height to his advantage. In battle, he was always in the van where he could be seen by all, hammering away at the nearest enemy with mace and battle-axe. As commander, Edward always set an example for his men; inspired by Edward, his troops always tried to give more than their best.
Besides being the strongman of the Yorkist party, Edward also had the ability to outthink the enemy, as well as outfight him. Edward's skill, resourcefulness, and luck combined to make him one of the most successful commanders of his day. Historian Paul Murray Kendall, author of several books on the 15th century, summed up Edward's military career with the statement, "King Edward was the mightiest warrior in Europe".
Edward was acclaimed king by a crowd gathered in St. John's Fields, London, on March 1, 1461, and a resolution embodying this acclamation was presented to him at Baynard's Castle. On March 2 the articles setting forth Edward's title were proclaimed in London and approved by a "Great Council" of the lords spiritual and temporal on March 3. After a solemn ceremony at St. Paul's Cathedral on March 4, Edward moved to Westminster Abbey, where he was acclaimed King Edward IV.
Now Edward had his victory, he could be crowned. Curiously, he did not have an official coronation, but rather a ceremony of investiture which took place on June 28 in Westminster Abbey.
Parliament meanwhile declared Henry a “usurper" (as the Lancastrian line really was, having taken the throne from Richard II) and attainted 112 of his followers. The Lancastrians were not only to be destroyed, they were to be looted. That loot Edward used to reward his own faithful, creating many new titles.
Edward spent the next few years trying to mend the rift of civil war and to consolidate his power. He achieved a signal victory when, in December 1462, Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset yielded Dunstanburgh Castle and submitted to Edward. The king rewarded Somerset handsomely, making him his chamberlain. This was a vote of extraordinary trust, for the chamberlain had personal access to the king, even to his personal bedchamber. This trust was betrayed when Somerset rejoined the Lancastrian side and vengeance went to the Yorkists when Somerset was executed after the 1464 Battle of Hexham.
The Lancastrian cause continued to be championed by Henry VIs determined wife, Margaret of Anjou. She went to France and met with King Louis XI in June 1462, but Edward had in his turn made alliances with Burgundy and Castile. The most Louis would do was give Margaret 1,000 French troops and some ships. Margaret and Henry landed in Northumberland in October with their little army, but achieved nothing. It was the failure of this invasion that had convinced Somerset to abandon Henry.
On May 1, 1464, 22-year-old Edward married Elizabeth Woodville, an older widow with two young sons, Thomas and Richard Grey, in a secret ceremony at her family home of Grafton Regis in Northamptonshire. Her first husband, Sir John Grey, was killed in 1461 at Second St Albans fighting on the Lancastrian side. Edward did not make this marriage public for nearly a year.
Elizabeth, aged 26, was the second of the 16 children of Jacquetta of Luxembourg, daughter of the Count of St Pol and widow of John, Duke of Bedford, Henry's uncle, who had made an astonishing and also secret marriage (as a member of the royal family, she could not remarry without the king's consent), considered a love match, to a simple English knight, Sir Richard Woodville. Her sister Isabella gave Jacquetta another by-marriage tie to the House of Lancaster, as Isabella was wed to Charles of Maine, Margaret's uncle. Jacquetta herself had a drop of royal English blood, as on her mother's side she was a descendent of Simon de Montfort and his wife Princess Eleanor, a daughter of King John; Richard had been the Lord Chamberlain of Bedford's household. As the Dowager Duchess of Bedford, Jacquetta outranked every noblewoman at court, save the queen, and was a particular favorite of Margaret's; the queen is said to have persuaded Henry to go easy on the happy couple for marrying without permission, though a fine was imposed upon them for doing it. The queen had Henry elevate Richard Woodville to the rank of baron, creating him Lord Rivers in 1448. The Woodvilles' two eldest daughters, Jacquetta and Elizabeth, served as maids of honor to Margaret prior to their marriages. The family was firmly entrenched on the Lancastrian side, another cause for concern when Edward's wedding to Elizabeth was revealed.
Most of the Woodville offspring surprisingly lived through the perils of medieval infancy. There were six sons, Anthony, John, Lionel, Edward, Richard, and Thomas, and eight daughters, Jacquetta, Elizabeth, Anne, Mary, Margaret, Eleanor, Martha, and Catherine. Only two sons, Louis and another John, did not survive to maturity (interesting that Jacquetta named two children after her much-older first husband, with whom she had none).
By marrying Elizabeth, Edward had elevated not just one insignificant woman to power, he had raised her entire large family. This could not fail to have unfortunate consequences, as one noble family after another found themselves obliged to forego any other prospects they might have had, to marry a Woodville. By this action, Edward alienated much of the nobility.
Elizabeth's siblings Anthony and Jacquetta were the only ones already wed at the time the secret marriage to the king was revealed, but there were eleven more Woodvilles to settle grandly in life over the years of Edward's reign. Lionel Woodville, who had an inclination toward religious life, was created Bishop of Salisbury, considered an outrage because he was still a teenager who had not yet taken Holy Orders at his appointment. Thomas Woodville married Anne Holland, a descendent of Edward Is son Thomas, Earl of Kent. Anne Woodville married William Bourchier, Viscount Bourchier, son of Richard of York's sister Isabella, Countess of Essex. Margaret Woodville married Thomas FitzAlan, Earl of Arundel, whose mother Joan had been a daughter of Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury. Eleanor Woodville married Sir Anthony Grey; he was another descendent of Thomas of Kent, via his grandmother, Constance Holland, and Grey's mother Catherine was a Percy of the great northern house of Northumberland. Mary Woodville married William Herbert, Earl of Huntingdon and later Earl of Pembroke (Jasper Tudor's title, plucked away and bestowed upon Herbert's father by Edward); he assisted his father in his duties as Chamberlain of South Wales, an important position as it involved overseeing pro-Lancastrian Tudor territory, and William Herbert the elder received Jasper Tudor's title after successfully running the Tudors out of Wales entirely. Martha Woodville married Sir John Bromley, scion of an old Norman family who had come over with William I in the Conquest. Only Edward and Richard Woodville, who were ten and eight when their sister became queen, remained unmarried (though there was a rumor Richard wedded in secret after Richard III took the throne, trying to stay under the radar, and had a son of this marriage that went by the more common surname of Rivers rather than the reviled one of Woodville). Edward's intent was not only to please his bride and elevate her siblings in rank, but also to hopefully bind these great noble houses to the House of York in their loyalties.
This cavalcade of Woodville weddings was bad enough for the nobility to stomach, but the last two caused jaws to drop. Catherine Woodville married Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, not only of the line of Thomas of Woodstock via his father, but of the Beaufort line via his mother and the Neville Salisbury line via his grandmother. His father, Humphrey, Earl of Stafford, had been wounded at First St Albans and died of complications of those wounds four years later, leaving a four- year-old son who would inherit the dukedom upon the death of the child's grandfather the following year. They were both children at the time, the young groom being only ten and his bride just seven, and to the nobility this epitomized the Woodvilles' greedy, grasping nature, the little duke being a ward of the Crown and unable to refuse having a Woodville wife thrust upon him. In an interesting footnote, Catherine would later receive her mother's title of Duchess of Bedford upon her second marriage to Jasper Tudor in 1485, he having been elevated to that dukedom by his nephew, Henry VII.
The marriage of Elizabeth's seventeen-year-old brother John was considered vile and disgusting by the nobility. He married Cecily Neville's older sister Catherine, already a three-time bride. Catherine Neville had first married at fifteen to John Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, bearing him a son of the same name, and continued to be known as Duchess of Norfolk thereafter despite having another pair of husbands. After Norfolk's death in 1432 she wed Sir Thomas Strangeways and had two daughters, Joan (named for her mother Joan Beaufort) and Catherine. Strangeways died in 1442 and Catherine then married John de Beaumont, Viscount Beaumont, who was killed in 1460 at Northampton fighting for Henry. Her son John, Duke of Norfolk, died the following year, succeeded by her grandson, also (tediously) John; the new duke was four years older than his grandmother's fourth spouse.
Catherine was 50 years Sir John Woodville's senior at the time of their wedding. She was also filthy rich, a prime motivator for the union, and not only bestowed a generous marriage settlement upon her toy-boy Woodville, but was said to have included him in her will with equally generous bequests. John Woodville stood to inherit a considerable fortune when his 67-year-old wife demised. Catherine was already old for her times, but she would continue to keep breathing until she had outlived all of her descendents, living into the reign of the Tudors. Her young husband was not so lucky.
At 23 years old, Edward was an eligible bachelor in his prime and his marriage should have been a matter for some sort of significant alliance, either with an English family or, more likely, some foreign power. A royal marriage was a matter for statecraft, not romance, and by keeping it secret Edward demonstrated that he understood this.
Worse yet, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick had been negotiating with foreign powers along these lines, and this marriage behind his back publicly humiliated him. As he was concluding a triumphant alliance with Louis XI to marry Edward to Bona of Savoy, the French king's sister-in-law, Edward announced that he was already married to Elizabeth.
Edward now desired a Burgundian alliance against France (Burgundy would prove to be a successful market for the export of English wool and Edward was never one to sneeze at the prospect of easy money), the Woodvilles received the royal favor, and Warwick was gradually pushed into the background. The Woodvilles, once raised, were not content simply to sit back and enjoy it. They intended to wield power. So the affront of these exalted nobodies could not be endured and then forgotten. Instead, the Woodvilles repeatedly gave cause for hard feelings amongst the nobility by elbowing their way into politics and court life, pushing some of the king's previous advisors and confidantes aside.
The king was especially close with his wife's brother Anthony, Lord Scales by virtue of his second marriage to an heiress; they were the same age and had similar interests, and it was due to Anthony's suggestion that the printer William Caxton was given a royal license and space at Westminster to ply his craft, introducing easy availability of books to the English people. The first book printed in the English language, The Dictes and Sayinges of the Philosophers, was translated by Anthony Woodville and sold successfully.
Elizabeth was given a spectacular coronation at Westminster Abbey on May 26, 1465, attended by her high-ranking mother and sisters rather than the cream of noble ladies, newly pregnant with her first child by Edward. The Woodvilles were riding high and triumphant on the queen's train.
The Woodville union aside, Edward’s fortunes prospered. Henry was finally captured in 1465. He was surprised while at dinner at a house in Lancashire. He escaped into a nearby wood and was there apprehended, with only two priests and a groom remaining to him, and was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Edward's first child by the queen, a daughter born in February 1466, was healthy and thrived, and Elizabeth quickly became pregnant again.
1467 began well, with the fall of Harlech Castle in Wales, the last Lancastrian stronghold. But falling also were the fortunes of the Neville family, Edward’s most powerful supporters. In May 1467, he removed Archbishop George Neville, Warwick's brother, as Lord Chancellor. Elizabeth’s father was made Lord Treasurer. The king and queen's second child, born in August, proved to be another princess, causing a bit of muttering about the succession due to Elizabeth also approaching 30.
By the end of the year, a dangerous conspiracy was taking shape. At its center were two of the Nevilles, John, Earl of Northumberland and Richard, Earl of Warwick. Warwick had been shoved to the sidelines by the introduction of the Woodvilles, while his brother had lost a rich marital plum for his own family. Henry Holland, Duke of Exeter, the husband of Edward's older sister Anne, had been attainted for remaining firmly attached to the Lancastrian cause, and his vast estates were now the property of their only child, twelve-year-old Anne Holland. She had been betrothed to Northumberland's son George, but the queen's elder son, Thomas Grey, also twelve, had married this rich heiress in October by royal decree.
Joining them was John de Vere, Earl of Oxford. His father and older brother had been executed in 1462 for plotting against Edward, though in a conciliatory gesture the king had not attainted the Oxford title and estates. The fourth in the coterie was George, Duke of Clarence and younger brother of the king himself. Clarence was eighteen years old, said to be naïve, gullible, and unfocused, able to enter into enterprises but singularly unable to see them through. Feeling slighted by his big brother's refusal to allow him a role in governing, he eagerly fell in with the Nevilles.
In July 1469, these four met in Calais, which was solidly for Warwick, its captain. There, Clarence was married to Isabel, the elder of Warwick's two daughters and his co-heiress along with her sister, Anne. The pact was sealed.
The queen gave birth to a third daughter in March 1469. Warwick and Clarence landed in Kent in late July. Kent turned out for Warwick. As Captain of Calais, Warwick had cleared the English Channel of French pirates and made the Kentish coast safe, so he was a hero to them. While Northumberland remained cautiously in the North, Oxford, Warwick, and Clarence began marching their forces to meet with those of the king.
Edward was also in the North, where rebellions had broken out; a fellow calling himself Robin of Redesdale (in actuality a Neville supporter, Sir William Conyers) had declared for Lancaster. The king was awaiting reinforcements at Nottingham from William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke and Humphrey Stafford, Earl of Devon (who had recently received the title due to attainder against the Lancastrian Courtnenay family who previously held it), having had word the rebel forces outnumbered his current command. Edward's reinforcements never reached Nottingham, running into the southbound rebels at Edgecote Moor in Oxfordshire.
Unfortunately the Yorkist forces were split in two, reportedly because the two earls had a disagreement about where to make camp and Devon withdrew his forces to a village several miles away. This left Pembroke extremely vulnerable in the July 29 attack because the archers, always the first line of defense in a medieval battle, were under Devon's command.
Despite this lack Pembroke conducted his offensive credibly, with Conyers falling in battle, and was on the verge of victory when reinforcements arrived for the rebels. Thinking this was Warwick's army, Pembroke's men panicked and fled, turning the battle into a rout. Pembroke and his brother Sir Richard Herbert were captured and executed the next day, while Devon met the same fate a few days after that.
Edward found himself cut off and isolated at Nottingham. The Lancastrians captured Elizabeth’s father and her brother John at Chepstow just over the border in Wales. They were marched to Kenilworth in Warwickshire and executed August 12 (making the 72-year-old Duchess of Norfolk a widow for the fourth time with the loss of her 22-year-old husband). Edward was intercepted by Archbishop George Neville and taken into custody. This manoeuver was claimed by the rebels to be for the King's protection. Ironically, this was a tactic used by Edward's father on more than one occasion when the Duke of York sought to overthrow Henry VI, then King of England. Edward was sent under guard to Middleham Castle.
Warwick was now in London, seemingly triumphant. In truth, though, he was in a very awkward spot. He seems to have intended to rule England in Edward’s name. He did not want to reinstate Henry and surrender his nascent power to Margaret. There was some talk about declaring Edward illegitimate and replacing him with George, but the Duke of Clarence had won very few friends and inspired confidence in no one.
Meanwhile, with no one clearly in command, all sorts of feuds and petty battles broke out. The civil war had already produced a good deal of changes in property titles, not to mention wagonloads of grievances from battles lost and executions all around. There was hardly any nobleman who did not have cause for exacting vengeance on another. There were riots and looting in London and a revolt in the Lake District to put Henry back on the throne.
Warwick called for Parliament with the purpose of deposing Edward and placing on the throne the king's easily-led younger brother or, perhaps even, himself. While Warwick waited for Parliament to assemble, the remaining Lancastrian sympathizers decided to take advantage of the confusion with an uprising on the Scots border. Warwick attempted to raise an army to lead against the Lancastrians but could get no support from the lords and populace until they were assured that the popular King Edward was safe and his own master. Warwick was forced to capitulate and place Edward in command.
Edward generously pardoned his brother and Warwick for their actions and then moved to clean up the Lancastrian rebellion. Their forces were led by Sir Robert Welles, Baron Willoughby d'Eresby, marching down the Great North Road. This gentleman's father, Richard, Baron Welles, had run afoul of Edward at Second St Albans, but was pardoned.
Now he was in royal custody, having been summoned to London by the king along with his son-in-law, Sir Thomas Dymock; they became frightened at the last minute before meeting with Edward and bolted into Sanctuary at Westminster Abbey, but were lured out with the promise of another pardon. Edward kept them both prisoner and forced the father to write to his son, telling him to lay down his arms. This had no effect, so Edward then sent word to Welles that he would execute the father if the son persisted in espousing the Lancastrian cause. The son retreated back toward Stamford in Lincolnshire, just over the border of the late Edmund, Earl of Rutland's territory.
Edward set up his battle lines to the north of Welles' troops. Then the king had Dymock and Baron Welles beheaded in the space between the opposing armies in a deliberate act calculated to spur Sir Robert's outrage and fury. This brought about the desired effect of an immediate and disorganized Lancastrian attack that was quickly overwhelmed by Yorkist forces.
Crushing his opponents at the Battle of Losecoat Field (so called because it was said that the fleeing Lancastrians shed jerkins in the livery of Warwick or Clarence so as not to be identified as traitors) on March 12, 1470, Edward then discovered evidence that the rebellion had actually been instigated by Warwick for the purpose of showing that Edward could not control the kingdom. Warwick, cornered, tried to raise an army quickly once this became known but was forced to flee, with his wife, daughters, and Clarence, to France (Isabel gave birth prematurely to a stillborn son aboard ship). Edward immediately declared them outlaws and then mopped up after Losecoat Field with the usual executions of captured Lancastrian leaders, including the unfortunate Welles.
In France, Warwick decided that his best chance lay in reinstating Henry and ruling through him. Supported by Margaret and her French connections, die-hard Lancastrians in England, and his own powerful and extensive family, Warwick made a landing in the West Country in September 1470. Caught entirely by surprise, Edward and his loyal youngest brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester were almost captured before fleeing to Ghent. Warwick marched into London and, releasing a confused Henry from his confinement in the Tower, placed him back on the throne with, of course, Warwick himself as the chief minister of government.
Almost without a blow being struck, Warwick had succeeded in reversing the outcome of the previous wars and the Lancastrian line was again on the throne of England.
For this feat, he acquired the nickname "The Kingmaker".