The Short Life of Edward of Westminster

Edward of Westminster, the disputed Prince of Wales, was called by that name because he born at the Palace of Westminster on 13 October 1453. He was the only child of King Henry VI of England and Margaret of Anjou, and his birth infuriated Richard, 3rd Duke of York and plunged England into a civil war for the throne.

Edward of Winchester with Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou

Things were already tense between York and the queen. Poor King Henry VI was mentally ill and York was fighting with Margaret over who got to rule the country while Henry was away with the fairies. As long as Henry was childless, things were somewhat civilized. No matter who ran things in the mean time, in the long run the crown would be inherited by York or one of York’s strapping sons. It was even fair, in a way, since Henry VI was the great-grandson of John of Gaunt, the 3rd surviving son of Edward III, and York was the descendant of Lionel of Antwerp, the 2nd surviving son of Edward III. John of Gaunt’s son, Henry of Bolingbroke, had leap-frogged over Lionel of Antwerp’s heirs to take the throne from Richard II and now the crown would go back to correct chronological lineage.

Then along came Edward. Team York was livid, and claimed the baby was a bastard fathered by someone – ANYONE – other than the king. With a fine young son to act as heir, the crown would no longer pass to the Yorks. Thus, if the Yorks wanted the throne they’d have to fight for it and steal it.

Which is what they did, culminating in the murder of the 17 year old Edward at the Battle of Tewkesbury on 4 May 1471 and the swift “mysterious” death of Henry VI in the Tower where he was being held prisoner.

Since the Yorkists won that particular war, they got to control the narrative of who the “bad guys” were. Since Henry VI was clearly not in a fit state to demonize, they went after Margaret of Anjou and Edward of Westminster. They called Margaret the “She-wolf” (which was the old roman term for prostitute) and painted her as an adulterous trollop trying to keep the crown from the rightful monarchs by placing her French bastard on the throne. Not only was Edward described as a bastard by birth, but he was made out to be a bastard in character as well. He was depicted as a blood-thirsty, nasty, stupid little git and is supposedly who Joffrey Baratheon was modeled after in Game of Thrones.

Ironically, the Tudor PR machine would do the same to York’s last son, Richard III, a few decades later.

As historian and author Susan Higginbotham points out, it is terribly unfair that Edward of Westminster is still being “caricatured by novelists as a bloodthirsty young man with few if any redeeming characteristics; generally, he’s depicted as being indifferent at best, cruel at worst, to his young wife, Anne Neville … Even if he was the bloodthirsty youth depicted … this wouldn’t necessarily preclude him from being a loving husband or from having other good qualities: the example of the fierce Edward I’s great affection for Eleanor of Castile comes to mind … It’s interesting to speculate what type of king Prince Edward would have made had the Lancastrians instead of Edward IV won the battle of Tewkesbury. The circumstances of his youth—growing up in an impoverished exile, dogged by rumors of bastardy, fathered by a man who was insane at his son’s birth and who even after his recovery seems to have been fragile mentally—might have made him into a bitter, cold man, or they might have made him into an attractive figure like Charles II, who grew up in not entirely dissimilar circumstances. We shall never know, but surely that’s no excuse for novelists to keep churning out the same stereotypical picture of a young man whose life was cut tragically short.”

The reality is that Edward was still just a kid when he was slaughtered by the Yorkists, and we’ll never know how he would have been as a grown man.

His only monument is a small plaque on the flood of Twekesbury Abbey. It reads, in Latin, “Here lies Edward, Prince of Wales, cruelly slain whilst but a youth. Anno Domini 1471, May fourth. Alas, the savagery of men. Thou art the sole light of thy Mother, and the last hope of thy race.”

edward of westminster_plaque in abbey

Edward remains the only English Prince of Wales to have died in battle.

       

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