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Reign of Edward IV. Part 1

Reign of Edward IV. - Edward's Coronation - The Battle of Towton - Henry escapes to Scotland - The Queen seeks aid in France - Battle of Hexham - Henry made Prisoner - Confined in the Tower - Edward marries Lady Elizabeth Gray - Advancement of her Relations - Attacks on the Family of the Nevilles - Warwick negotiates with France - Marriage of Margaret, the King's Sister, to the Duke of Burgundy - Marriage of the Duke of Clarence with a Daughter of Warwick - Battle of Banbury - Rupture between the King and his Brother, the Duke of Clarence - Rebellion of Clarence and Warwick - Clarence and Warwick flee to France - Warwick proposes to restore Henry VI. - Marries Edward Prince of Wales to his Daughter, Lady Ann Neville - Edward IV.'s reckless Dissipation - Warwick and Clarence invade England - Edward expelled.
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Edward IV., at this period of his great success, and his acknowledgment by the people of London and the council as king, was in his twentieth year only. He was not only handsome of person and of popular manners, but bold, impetuous, and withheld by no such conscientious or peaceful scruples as his father. He was fond of pleasure, addicted to gallantry, and at the same time as ready to shed blood as he was to make love and revel in courtly pageants. Those feelings of the heart which might be inferred from his devoted attentions to the ladies, had no existence where his interests or his passions were concerned. He was utterly unscrupulous as to slaying any number of his enemies in battle, or destroying them on the block. Those slow and reluctant approaches to sanguinary measures which had marked the earlier proceedings of his father and his coadjutors, had long since vanished in the heated progress of the strife, and Edward might be regarded as the representative of the leaders how on both sides, with the exception of the gentle and forgiving Henry. All were prepared to hew their way to their object through human lives, as a forester would make his way, by his axe, through a wood. Men's lives had ceased to be regarded with any human feeling. They were destroyed as enemies, whenever they appeared as such, not only without remorse, but with savage exultation. Everything portended a reign of terror. On the royalist side, Henry would, no doubt, have been most happy and thankful to have been allowed to enjoy the quiet of some conventual retreat with his beads and his books; for in this respect the testimony of all history confirms the view of Shakespeare, when he makes him say -

"I'll leave my son my virtuous deeds behind;
And would my father had left me no more!
For all the rest is held at such a rate
As brings a thousand-fold more cares to keep
Than in possession any jot of pleasure."

But on that side Queen Margaret was as energetic, as ambitious, and as resolute as her husband was the contrary. The circumstances into which she had been thrown had roused in her the spirit of a tigress fighting for its young. They had converted her blood into gall, and all those poetical sentiments which her Provencal education had given her, and the wit and vivacity of mind, which might have rendered her a charming and even noble woman in happier scenes, had been crushed by the cruelty of her destiny. In contemplating her astonishing exertions, her fortitude amidst unexampled troubles and humiliations, her perpetual resistance to the most overwhelming disasters, the indomitable courage with which she rose from the most sweeping overthrows, refusing to yield or despair when the very last chance seemed annihilated, and the martial abilities which she displayed, it would be unjust to refuse her a high amount of admiration for such qualities in a woman; qualities which, had it not been for the darker side of her character, would have made her one of the proudest examples of female greatness. But Margaret allowed her enthusiasm in endeavouring to maintain the throne for her husband and her son, a noble ambition, to carry her into the most unfeminine cruelty, and into deeds of national mischief; to say nothing of conjugal failings attributed to her, which marred all her virtues, and still alienate from her the sympathy of posterity.

Still, so long as she could raise a man, there must be war to the death; and in Edward she had now to encounter an antagonist who would give blow for blow, shed blood for blood, without a moment's hesitation or a passing pang. He was just the man calculated to dash onwards through carnage and civil confusion to his object, not merely with indifference, but even with gaiety and pleasure. Woe to those who hoped anything from his compassion, or even ventured to jest, where the most distant circumstance could induce the supposition that the jest was aimed at him. Of this he gave a proof before quitting London to follow up the defeat of his enemies. One Walter Walker, a grocer, who lived at the sign of the crown, had said merrily, when speaking of the passing events, that he would make his son heir to the crown. This was witty enough to reach the court, and Edward had him forthwith arrested and put to death.

Margaret, on the warm reception of Edward by the Londoners, had retired northward with her marauding soldiers, who had so fatally damaged her cause by their outrages. Only three days after his reception in London, Edward dispatched Warwick, the great bulwark of his cause, in pursuit of her, and on the 12th of March, only five days afterwards, he followed himself. On reaching the Earl of Warwick, their combined troops amounted to 40,000. The queen was exerting all her activity and eloquence amongst her northern friends, and lay at York with 60,000 men. Everything denoted the eve of a bloody conflict.

This civil war was now known all over the world as the War of the Roses, a name said to be derived from a circumstance which took place in a dispute in the Temple Gardens betwixt Warwick and Somerset, at an early period of the rival factions. Somerset, in order to collect the suffrages of those on the side of Lancaster, is said to have plucked a red rose from a bush, and called upon every man who held with him to do the like. Warwick, for York, plucked a white rose, and thus the partisans were distinguishable by these differing badges. But in truth these badges were the badges of the two houses as far back as Edward III. Edmund, Earl of Lancaster, son of that king, wore the red rose, and the Black Prince the white. They were now adopted universally by the followers of the two houses, and rosettes of red or white ribbon, or even of paper, were worn by all the soldiers of these wars, red for Lancaster, white for York. They were soon to be equally dyed in a crimson torrent such as had yet rarely flowed in all the wars of England.

The vanguard of the two armies met at Ferrybridge, the passage of the river Ayre. The Duke of Somerset was commander-in-chief of the royal army. The king, queen, and prince remained at York. Lord Clifford led the vanguard, and was opposed by Lord Fitzwalter on the part of the Yorkists. The battle at the bridge was furious; Fitzwalter was killed. Lord Falconbridge was instantly sent forward to replace him, and instead of opposing Clifford in front in his strong position, allowing the troops there to hold him in play, he himself crossed the Ayre some miles above Ferrybridge, and falling unexpectedly on the rear of Clifford, routed his force, and revenged the death of Fitzwalter by that of Clifford himself. The Yorkists poured over the bridge, took possession of the town, and advanced towards Towton. Meantime, Warwick, excited by the temporary repulse at the bridge under Fitzwalter, had theatrically called for his horse, stabbed him in sight of the whole army, and kissing the hilt of his bloody sword, swore that he would fight on foot, and share every fatigue and disadvantage with the common soldiers. He then told them that every man who was not resolved to take a signal vengeance, and to act his part like a man in the battle about to be fought, was at full liberty to retire, but vowing the severest punishment to any one who in the battle itself should show the slightest symptom of yielding.

With minds inflamed to the utmost pitch of animosity, the two armies met on the morning of Palm Sunday, March 29th, in the fields betwixt the villages of Saxton and Towton, about ten miles south of York. Edward issued orders that no quarter should be given, no prisoners should be taken; it was to be a war of extermination - a command in so young a man sufficiently demonstrative of the pitiless severity of his character. The action began at nine o'clock in the morning, under circumstances most unfortunate for the Lancastrians. A snowstorm was blowing full in their faces; and Lord Falcon-bridge seized at once on this circumstance by an adroit stratagem. He ordered the archers to advance, discharge their arrows, and again retire out of the reach of those of the enemy. The Lancastrians, believing themselves within bow-shot of the enemy, whose arrows did great execution amongst them, returned the compliment without being able to see where their arrows reached for the snow-flakes. The Yorkist archers were now out of their reach, and they fell useless, Again the Yorkists advanced and poured in a fresh flight with such effect that the Lancastrians, probably doubting of the success of their own arrows, rushed forward and came hand-to-hand with their opponents. It was now one terrible clash of swords, battleaxes, and spears, amid the thick-falling arid blinding storm; and thus the two infuriated armies continued fighting desperately for nearly five hours. Towards evening the Lancastrians, disheartened by the fall of their principal commanders, broke and fled. They were pursued as far as Tadcaster with the fiercest impetuosity, and a fearful slaughter. It was one of the bloodiest battles ever fought in Britain. According to a contemporary historian, those who were employed to number and bury the dead, declared them to be 38,000.

Amongst persons of rank and fortune who fell were the Earls of Northumberland, Westmoreland, and Shrewsbury; the Lords Clifford, Beaumont, Neville, Willoughby, Wells, Roos, Scales, Gray, Dacres, and Molineux, besides an extraordinary number of knights and gentlemen. Within three months four pitched battles had now been fought, and no less than 60,000 people had perished in this question, which of two families should wear the crown.

The Dukes of Somerset and Exeter, when the battle was lost, rode full speed to York, attended by a considerable number of lords and gentlemen, and, announcing the overthrow, made all haste with the king, queen, and prince to secure themselves in Scotland. Edward, by no means satiated with the blood of 38,000 men, made haste to immolate others who fell into his hands. Amongst these were the Earl of Devonshire and Sir W. Hill, who were executed at York; the Earl of Ormond at Newcastle, and Sir Thomas Fulford at Hexham. The heads of York and Salisbury, which were withering on the walls of York, where Margaret was said to have bid the executioner place them wide apart to receive the heads of Edward and Warwick, which she declared she meant to set there, were now taken down, and those of Devonshire and Hill set up in their places.

After celebrating the feast of Easter at York, Edward marched to Newcastle, and there leaving Warwick to keep the north in order, returned to London on the 26th of June.

On reaching Scotland, Margaret placed Henry in a secure retreat at Kirkcudbright, and then hastened to Edinburgh, to try what could be done there towards renewing the contest, which no dispersion of her friends and forces could ever teach her to relinquish. There she found a boy sovereign, a divided court, and a country which had suffered by factions almost as deadly as her own. James I., who had seemed to return, to his kingdom after his long captivity under such auspicious circumstances, full of intelligence and plans for the improvement of his country, married to the woman of his affections, and courted by both England and France, was soon murdered by the rude and lawless nobles whom he endeavoured to reduce to some degree of order and subordination. His son, James II., when arrived at years of maturity, endeavoured to recover from distracted England some of the places it had left from Scotland formerly, but in besieging Roxburgh, in 1460, he was killed by the bursting of a cannon. His son was at this time a child of only eight years old, and the kingdom was governed by a council of regency; but the care of the king's person was committed to the queen mother, Mary of Guelders, who was ambitious of engrossing not only that duty, but the actual powers of the government. In this she was opposed by the powerful family of Douglas.

Margaret had no willing listeners amongst parties who were occupied with their own schemes and feuds. She had the difficult task of appealing to their various interests; and she found no one thing capable of fixing their attention till she hit on the idea of proposing the surrender of Berwick as the price of Scotland's assistance. That key of the northern frontiers of England, the object for whose possession so much blood had been spilled from age to age, was an object, the recovery of which at once gave her the command of the ears of the whole court. In addition to this, she proposed a marriage betwixt her son Edward, Prince of Wales, and the eldest sister of the young King of Scotland. These treaties were carried into effect, and Berwick was put into the hands of the Scots on the 25th of April, 1461. For the fatal surrender of this important place, England never forgave the fugitive queen. In order to neutralise the effect of these treaties, Edward immediately entered into negotiations with the powerful and turbulent Earl of Ross, the lord of the isles, and commissioned Warwick to treat with Scotland for a truce. By these means he prevented Scotland taking up the cause of the exiled family as a nation, though he could not prevent many persons, of all ranks, embracing it. While Henry and Margaret remained in Scotland, in spite of the pecuniary aid afforded them by the court, they were so hard put to it that they were compelled to pawn such jewels and plate as they had with them.

Edward, on his return to London, was crowned on the 29th of June. He then summoned a Parliament to meet at Westminster on the 6th of July, but an invasion appearing not improbable, he prorogued it till the 4th 01 November. The sword and the scaffold had already so thinned the nobility, that only one duke, four earls, one viscount, and twenty-nine barons were summoned to this Parliament. The great battle of Towton, which had laid so many of them low, had rendered the rest very submissive. There was no longer any hesitating betwixt the two families, or seeking of those compromises which, in the end, only produced more discord. Whatever Edward dictated was accepted as law and constitution. Of course, Henry IV. was declared to have been an arrant usurper; and his posterity were held incapable, not only of wearing the crown, but of enjoying any estate or dignity in any portion of the British dominions for ever. Henry VI., Margaret, Edward, called Prince of Wales, the Dukes of Somerset and Exeter, the Earls of Northumberland, Devonshire, and Pembroke, and a vast number of lords, knights, and gentlemen, were attainted. Edward IV, was declared to be the only rightful king; and all those of the York party who had been declared traitors by the Lancaster party, and expelled from honours and estates, were restored. Edward did not omit to reward his friends out of the forfeited domains of their enemies, and he conferred additional honours on some of them. His eldest brother George was created Duke of Clarence, his youngest brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester; the Lord Falcon-bridge, who had rendered such service at Ferrybridge, was made Earl of Kent; Lord Bouchier, Earl of Essex; and Sir John Neville, brother of Warwick, was made Lord Montacute.

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