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Reign of Edward IV. Part 2


Edward returns to England - Assisted by Burgundy - Edward's Pretended Renunciation of the Crown - His March to London - Again proclaims himself King - Joined by Clarence - Battle of Barnet - Margaret and the Prince of Wales land in England - Battle of Tewkesbury - Death of Henry VI. - Political Calm - Rivalry of Clarence and Gloucester - Edward contemplates an Invasion of France - Deserted by his Allies - Interview with Louis of France - He and his Courtiers become Pensioners of France - Discontent of his Subjects - The King's Dissipated Life - Deaths of the Dukes of Burgundy and St. Pol - Murder of Clarence - War with Scotland - Death of Edward IV.
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The mock restoration of Henry VI. was not destined to be of long continuance. The ups and downs of royalty at this period were as rapid and strange as the shifting scenes of a theatre. There is no part of our history where we are left so much in the dark as to the real moving causes. It is difficult to see how Warwick, with his vast popularity, should, in the course of a single winter, become so unpopular as to render his fall and the success of Edward so easy. "We can well conceive that Edward - cruel and licentious at home, not even respected by his own brother-in-law of Burgundy, and sincerely hated by Louis of France, whom he had so deeply insulted by the rejection of his queen's sister in marriage - should sit on an unstable throne. But how Warwick, so warmly hailed in the autumn, and carried on the shoulders of the Lancastrian party and the people at large to the pinnacle of power, should in the spring be as readily abandoned, is by no means clear. Had ho closed that great source of his popularity, his kitchen? Did the necessity for maintaining a great force, the demands of gifts, estates, and favours by his followers in his enterprise to put down Edward, and his repayment of the advances to the King of France, compel him to contract that lavish hospitality which daily feasted 30,000 people at. his palaces and castles? Probably some such causes were at work, for Warwick does not seem to have exercised any great severity in his triumph, or to have used his power haughtily. Nevertheless, his popularity appeared to thaw and flow away with the snows and frosts of winter. It must be remembered, however, that there was a terrible secret schism in his camp and party. Clarence was only waiting to seize a good opportunity to overthrow his father-in-law, Warwick, and climb the throne himself. Though he was a very weak and by no means high-principled young man, Clarence was not so weak as to build any future hopes on Warwick's having given him the succession in case of the issue of the Prince of Wales failing. Warwick had married another of his daughters to the prince, and it was his strongest interest to maintain that line on the throne.

There can be little doubt that these things were kept alive in Clarence's bosom by the same clever female agency which was employed at Calais. It is fully clear, by the immediately following conduct of the Marquis of Montacute, that there was an understanding between him and Clarence. Here was another blow to the power of Warwick, while Burgundy, however little disposed to esteem Edward, naturally preferred seeing him as his brother-in-law upon the throne of England, than as an exile and a beggar, and his great rival, Louis of France, strengthened by the alliance of Warwick and Margaret.

All these causes undoubtedly co-operated to produce what soon followed. Burgundy determined to assist Edward to regain his throne, and thus destroy the ascendancy of Warwick. While, therefore, issuing a proclamation forbidding any of his subjects to follow Edward in his expedition, he privately sent to him the cross of St. Andrew; and an aid of 50,000 florins furnished him with four large ships, which were fitted up and stored for him at Vere, in Walcheren. Besides these, he hired for him fourteen ships from the merchants of the Hanse Towns, to transport his troops from Flushing to England. These transactions could leave no question in the minds of the subjects of Burgundy which way lay the real feelings of their sovereign. At the same time, the amount of troops embarking with Edward was not such as to give to the enterprise a Burgundian appearance. The soldiers furnished him were only 2,000. Edward undoubtedly relied on information sent him from England as to the forces there ready to join him.

The fleet of Edward steered for the Suffolk coast. It was in the south that the Yorkists' influence lay, and Clarence was posted in that quarter at the head of a considerable force. But Warwick's preparations were too strong in that quarter; an active body of troops, under a brother of the Earl of Oxford, deterred the invaders from, any attempt at landing. They proceeded northward, finding no opportunity of successfully getting on shore till they reached the little port of Ravenspur, in Yorkshire - singularly enough, the very place where Henry IV. landed when he deposed Richard II. From this same port now issued the force which was to terminate his line.

At first, however, the undertaking wore anything but a promising aspect. The north was the very stronghold of the Lancastrian faction; and openly was displayed the hostility of the inhabitants towards the returned Yorkist monarch. But Edward, with that ready dishonesty which is considered defensible in the strife for crowns, solemnly declared that he had abandoned for himself all claims on the throne; that he saw and acknowledged the right of Henry VI. and his line, and for himself only desired the happy security of a private station. His real and most patriotic design, he gave out, was to put down the turbulent and overbearing power of Warwick, and thus give permanent tranquillity to the country, which never could exist so long as Warwick lived. He exhibited a forged safe-conduct from the Earl of Northumberland; he declared that he sought for himself nothing but the possessions of the Duke of York, his father; he mounted in his bonnet an ostrich feather, the device of the Prince of Wales, and ordered his followers to shout "Long live King Henry!" in every place through which they passed.

These exhibitions of his untruth - called by politicians expediency, by men of honour lies - were too barefaced to deceive any one. The people still stood aloof, and on reaching the gates of York, Edward found them closed against him. But by the boldest use of the same lying policy, Edward managed to prevail on the mayor and aldermen to admit him. He swore the most solemn oath that he abjured the crown for ever, and would do all in his power to maintain Henry and his issue upon it. Not satisfied with this, the clergy demanded that he should repeat this oath most emphatically before the high altar in the cathedral. Edward assented with alacrity, and would undoubtedly have sworn anything and any number of oaths to the same effect. He then marched in with that bold precipitance which was the secret of his success, and which, as in the case of Napoleon in our times, always threw his enemies into consternation and confusion. At Pontefract lay the Marquis of Montacute, Warwick's brother, with a force superior to that of Edward, and all the world looked to see him throw himself across the path of the invader, and to set battle against him. Nothing of the kind; Montacute lay still in the fortress, and Edward, marching within four miles of this commander, went on his way without any check from him. This must have convinced every one that there was more beneath the surface of affairs than met the eye. It was not the first time that Montacute had played this equivocal part. Edward, had formerly stripped him of the earldom of Northumberland, for alleged conspiracy with Clarence, and that he was now in league with Clarence, for Edward, and against Warwick, was sufficiently clear.

As Edward approached the midland counties, and especially when he had crossed the Trent, the scene changed rapidly in his favour. He had left the Lancastrian districts behind, and reached those where Yorkism prevailed. People now flocked to his standard. At Nottingham the Lord Stanley, Sir Thomas Parr, Sir James Harrington, Sir Thomas Montgomery, and several other gentlemen, came in with reinforcements. Edward felt himself strong enough to throw off the mask: he assumed the title of king, and marched towards Coventry, where lay Warwick and Clarence with a force sufficient to punish this odious perjury. But a fresh turn of the royal kaleidoscope was here to astonish the public. Edward challenged the united army of Warwick and Clarence on the 29th of March, 1471. In the night, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, paid a visit to his brother Clarence. The two brothers flew into each other's arms with a transport which, if not that of genuine affection, was at least that of successful conspiracy. The morning beheld the army of Clarence, amounting to 12,000 men, arrayed, not on the part of Warwick, but of Edward; the soldiers wearing, not the red, but the white rose over their gorgets.

Here, then, was fully disclosed the secret which had induced Edward to march on so confidently through hostile districts, and people standing aloof from his banners. 1 Tot Montacute only, but Clarence had been won. Clarence, whether in weak simplicity, or under the influence of others, sent to Warwick to apologise for his breach of his most solemn oaths, and offered to become mediator betwixt him, his father-in-law, and Edward his brother. Warwick rejected the offer with disdain, refusing all further intercourse with the perjured Clarence; but he was now too weak to engage him and Edward, and the Yorkist king then boldly advanced towards the capital. The gates of the city, like those of York, he found closed against him, but he possessed sufficient means to unlock the one as he had done the other. There were upwards of 2,000 persons of rank and influence, including no less than 400 knights and gentlemen, crowded into the various sanctuaries of London and Westminster, who were ready not only to declare, but to operate in his favour. The ladies, who were charmed with the gay and gallant disposition of Edward, were all avowed his zealous friends; and, perhaps, still more persuasive was the fact that the jovial monarch owed large sums to the merchants, who saw in his return their only chance of payment. Edward even succeeded in securing the Archbishop of York, who was, in his brother Warwick's absence, the custodian of the city and the person of King Henry. All regard to oaths, and all fidelity to principle or party, seemed to have disappeared at this epoch. By permission of the archbishop, Edward was admitted on Thursday, April 2nd, by a postern into the bishop's palace, where he found the poor and helpless King Henry, and immediately sent him to the Tower.

Warwick hastened after Edward and Clarence, intending to risk an engagement rather than allow them to gain the capital. What was as strange as anything which had gone before, was that Montacute was now marching in conjunction with Warwick. Had Edward shown any distrust of the traitor, or did he mean, like Clarence, to go completely over to the Yorkists, when they came face to face? Both suppositions were entertained by different parties. Which was true never was determined; but there was Montacute.

So confident now was Edward of victory, that he disdained to shelter himself within the walls of the city, but marched out against the enemy. The hostile armies met near Barnet. Here again the weak Clarence made another offer of mediation. No doubt his wife, who was the daughter of Warwick, and her sister the wife of the Prince of Wales, was anxious enough to avert the danger of her father, and, if possible, unite contending relations. But Warwick was too much enraged both against Edward and Clarence to listen to any proposals of reconciliation. The leaders on both sides were now too much embittered against each other, guilty of too many changes and acts of perfidy, ever again to put reliance in each other, much less to cement a genuine friendship. Warwick said indignantly to Clarence's messenger, "Go, and tell your master that Warwick, true to his oath, is a better man than the false and perjured Clarence." Nothing but blood could wash out the enmity of these infuriated parties.

It was late on Easter Eve when the two armies met on Barnet Common. Both had made long marches, Edward having left London that day. Warwick, being first on the ground, had chosen his position. Edward, who came later, had to make his arrangements in the dark, the consequence of which was, that he committed a great error. His right wing, instead of confronting the left wing of Warwick, was opposed to his centre, and the left wing of Edward consequently had no opponents, but stretched far away to the west. Daylight must have discovered this error, and most probably fatally for Edward; but day came accompanied by a dense fog, believed at that day to have been raised by a celebrated magician, Friar Bungy. The left wing of each army advancing through the obscurity of the fog, and finding no enemy, wheeled in the direction of the main body. By this movement the left wing of Warwick trampled down the right wing of Edward, and defeating it, pursued the flying Yorkists through Barnet on the way to London.

Meantime, the left wing of the Yorkists, instead of encountering the right of the Lancastrians, came up so as to strengthen their own centre, where Edward and Warwick were contending with all their might against each other. Both chiefs were in the very front of the battle, which was raging with the utmost fury. Warwick, contrary to his custom, had been persuaded by his brother Montacute to dismount, send away his horse, and fight on foot. Was this an act of bravery on the part of Montacute, or of treason? Such was the ambiguous conduct of this nobleman, that his contemporaries and the historians were again divided on the point. If it were treason, and he meant to take the opportunity of Warwick's personal engagement, in the thick of the melee to draw off to the other side, he paid the penalty of it, for he was speedily slain.

The battle commenced at four o'clock in the morning, and lasted till ten. The rage of the combatants was terrible, and the slaughter was proportionate, for Edward, exasperated at the Commons, who had shown such favour to Warwick on all occasions, had determined no longer to issue orders to spare them, as was his wont, and to kill all the leaders, if possible. It was terminated by a singular mistake. The device of the Earl of Oxford, who was fighting for Warwick, was a star with rays, emblazoned both on the front and back of his soldiers' coats. The device of Edward's own soldiers on this occasion was a sun with rays. Oxford had beaten his opponents in the field, and was returning to assist Warwick, when Warwick's troops, mistaking through the mist the stars of Oxford for the sun of Edward, fell upon Oxford's followers, supposing them to be Yorkists, and put them to flight. Oxford fled with 800 of his soldiers, supposing himself the object of some fatal treachery, while on the other hand, "Warwick, weakened by the apparent defection of Oxford, and his troops thrown into confusion, rushed desperately into the thickest of the enemy, trusting thus to revive the courage of his troops, and was thus slain, fighting.

No sooner was the body of Warwick, stripped of its armour and covered with wounds, discovered on the field, than his forces gave way, and fled again. Thus fell the great king-maker, who so long had kept alive the spirit of contention, placing the crown first on one head and then on another. "With him perished the power of his faction and the prosperity of his family. On the field with him lay all the great lords who fought on his side, except the Earl of Oxford and the Duke of Somerset, who escaped into Wales, and joined Jasper Tudor, the Earl of Pembroke, who was in arms for Henry. The Duke of Exeter was taken up for dead, but being found to be alive, he was conveyed by his servants secretly to the sanctuary at Westminster; but the holiness of the sanctuary does not appear to have proved any defence against the lawless vengeance of Edward, for, some months after, his dead body was found floating in the sea near Dover. On the side of Edward fell the Lords Say and Cromwell, Sir John Lisle, the son of Lord Berners, and many other squires and gentlemen. The soldiers who fell on both sides have been variously stated at from 1,000 to 10,000; the number more commonly credited is about 1,500. The dead were buried on the field, and a chapel erected near the spot for the repose of their souls. The spot is supposed to be at the present time actually marked by a stone column. The bodies of Warwick and Montacute were exposed for three days, naked, on the floor of St. Paul's Church, as a striking warning against subjects interfering with kings and crowns. They were then conveyed to the burial-place of their family in the abbey of Bilsam, in Berkshire.

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Pictures for Reign of Edward IV. Part 2

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