The young usurper was only nineteen years old and had just lost his father, Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York. Nonetheless, Edward was commanding and a consummate leader of men. He was tall and broad and strong and handsome and the devil himself in battle. His men loved him and the ladies loved him more.
Popular with the public, Edward’s bullheadedness would only get him into trouble with those who had the misfortune of trying to change his mind once it was made up. His commitment to his own choices, in love or in war, was both his strength and his greatest weakness. It eventually lost him the support of a man whose support could NOT be lost, Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick.
“the new regime relied heavily on the support of the Nevilles, who held vast estates and had been so instrumental in bringing Edward to the throne. However, the king increasingly became estranged from their leader, the Earl of Warwick, due primarily to his marriage. Warwick, acting on Edward’s behalf, made preliminary arrangements with King Louis XI of France for Edward to marry either Louis’ daughter Anne, or his sister-in-law Bona of Savoy. He was humiliated and enraged to discover that while he was negotiating Edward had secretly married Elizabeth Woodville, the widow of John Grey of Groby, on 1 May 1464 … Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville has been criticised as an impulsive action that did not add anything to the security of England or the York dynasty. A horrified Privy Council, when he announced the marriage to them, told him, with unusual frankness, “that he must know that she was no wife for a prince such as himself, for she was not the daughter of a duke or earl… but a simple knight” … The abrupt rise of the Woodville family created animosity among the nobility of England, above all in the case of Warwick. The offence caused by the circumstances of the marriage itself was magnified as the Woodvilles opposed policies favoured by Warwick and successfully exploited their influence with the king to defeat him”.
Is wasn’t just Warwick who was vexed by Edward’s favoritism toward his wife and her family. The king’s younger brother George, Duke of Clarence, was also irked, and began working with Warwick against the king. They were well aware going up against Edward in battle was futile, because the man did not lose, so Warwick and Clarence attacked the main part of the king’s army when Edward wasn’t present. Edward’s forces – but not Edward himself — were defeated at the Battle of Edgecote Moor on 26 July 1469, leaving Edward vulnerable to capture. Having himself and only a handful of his men, the king had no choice but to allow himself to be taken into Warwick’s custody at Olney.
Warwick quickly discovered he couldn’t rule without the king, and George felt increasingly guilty about betraying his brother, so they released Edward in September. Edward, to his vast credit, didn’t try to punish or revenge himself against Warwick and his brother. Instead, he sought a way to make peace between them all and soothe the rebel’s hurt feelings of consequence. However, Edward would NOT give up his wife and would NOT stop favoring her family for her sake.
He also resisted the marriage between his brother, Richard Duke of York, and Warwick’s daughter Anne. He had no intention of allowing Warwick a chance to become covert king behind his majesty’s back or put a different York on the throne. Therefore, Warwick and Clarence rebelled again in spring of 1470, and after a defeat in the field, Warwick sailed to France to ally himself with the Lancastrians.
With the support of Warwick and the French, King Henry VI was once more ensconced in Westminster on 3 October 1470.
Edward must have really loved his wife, because stubborn refusal to refute her brought him nothing but trouble and briefly cost him is crown. Moreover, the emotionally devoted (although physically philandering) once and future king wasn’t one to go meekly into the annals of history. He went to his former brother-in-law, Charles, Duke of Burgundy, and tried to use their connection to coax Charles into helping him raise and army. Charles was, in spite of his fond memories for Edward’s sister Margaret, unsurprisingly reluctant to get involved in the English mess. Fate intervened in Edward’s favor, though. The French declared war on Burgundy, and Charles gave Edward money and men in order to stick a finger in the royal French eye.
Edward set sail for York, which welcomed him after pulled a Henry Bolingbroke and promised that he was just there to be duke again, not to try to reclaim his throne. Edward lied. He gathered more men and headed toward London, and was joined by allies along the way. He stopped along the way to reconcile with Clarence, then entered London and took the sweet but mentally ill Henry VI as a prisoner once more. Warwick mustered his forces and met Edward at the Battle of Barnet, where he was slain by the king’s troops. Now only Henry VI’s heir, Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales, was left with the ability to raise an army and threaten King Edward’s place on the throne. The only other Lancastrian male of note, Henry Tudor, had too flimsy a claim to the crown to be considered a real threat.
Edward VI met his cousin, Edward of Westminster, at the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471, where Henry VI’s seventeen year old son died in battle. Henry VI died shortly thereafter of what was reported to be a broken heart, but was probably sent to his eternal reward via a feather pillow pressed down over his face by a Yorkist loyalist.
Edward’s brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester (later King Richard III of England), married the dead king’s widowed daughter-in-law, Anne Neville. Wealthy and powerfully placed, Richard served his brother loyally. George, however, couldn’t stop plotting and was finally executed on 18 February 1478. Rumor was put about that he was “drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine”, but that was a tactic to avoid discussion about the fact Edward had chosen to kill his own sibling.
King Edward IV is too often overshadowed by his missing sons and the ascendancy of his brother, Richard III, as figures historical interest, but Edward was a fascinating and able ruler in his own right. He could be unreasonably firm in his resolve and had more faith in the loyalty of his retainers than was wise, but he was very smart and dearly beloved by his subjects. From his reinvestiture in 1471 until his untimely death from natural causes (perhaps pneumonia) on 9 April 1483, he ruled unchallenged and well. He brought peace and stability back to the kingdom, and England flourished.
He should be remembered as more than a stopgap monarch in the Wars of the Roses. Moreover, his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville should, in my opinion, be considered one of the greatest love stories – and subsequent tragedies — in Western history.