Skip to main content
Select Source:

Edward IV

Edward IV (1442–83), king of England (1461–70, 1471–83). The tall and handsome ‘Rose of Rouen’, so nicknamed because he was born in that city, the eldest son of Richard, duke of York, and Cecily Neville, gained the throne of England in March 1461 when he was only 18. Possession confirmed on the field of Towton a few weeks later, he was crowned in June. His reign, however, was interrupted in 1470 by his deposition and the temporary restoration of Henry VI.

During his first reign Edward was never fully secure. It took three years for him to eradicate Lancastrian opposition in England, concentrated in Northumberland, and sustained by Scottish and French help. In these early years he owed much to the earl of Warwick and his kinsmen. No sooner had Lancastrian resistance been brought to an end, however, than his secret marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, the promotion of her family, and a disagreement over foreign policy led to a rift between them. The Lancastrian exiles in France offered a convenient rallying-point for dissidents, the option Warwick finally took in the summer of 1470. When Warwick invaded England, Edward, caught on the wrong foot, fled precipitately to the Netherlands. Here he received the backing of the duke of Burgundy, his brother-in-law, who was also threatened by a Franco-Lancastrian declaration of war. In March 1471 a small fleet put Edward ashore at Ravenspur. Initially claiming only the restoration of his duchy (consciously imitating Henry IV), Edward successfully evaded the forces opposing him in Yorkshire, was reinforced in the midlands, most significantly by his fickle brother George (Clarence), and defeated Warwick at Barnet. He then rapidly marched west to intercept and overwhelm a Lancastrian army at Tewkesbury. With Warwick and Edward of Lancaster dead, and Henry VI promptly murdered on royal orders, he was now secure.

Edward began his second reign with a determination to secure reconciliation through war against the king of France, who had instigated his short-lived deposition. For four years he bent every sinew to achieve this end. Parliament, meeting in six sessions in 1472–5, voted generous taxation; a triple alliance with Brittany and Burgundy was forged and a truce with Scotland concluded. In 1475 the largest army to invade France since the days of Edward III crossed the Channel. But at the eleventh hour, after his allies deserted him, Edward came to terms with Louis XI at Picquigny, accepting a generous pension. For the remainder of his reign Edward sought to enjoy the fruits of success. In 1477, however, he turned on and destroyed his brother Clarence, who was executed in 1478. Two years later, largely through the pressure of his younger brother Richard of Gloucester, he became embroiled in war with Scotland. Moreover, the treaty of Arras, concluded between France and Burgundy in 1483, left his foreign policy in tatters.

Edward died peacefully in his bed after a short illness on 9 April 1483, having apparently secured his dynasty and ended the Wars of the Roses. Yet immediately his body was buried, a fierce competition for power during the minority of Edward V ensued, leading to the seizure of the throne by his brother Richard, the renewal of civil war, and the ultimate destruction of the dynasty: a pattern of events in stark contrast to the minority of Henry VI. Thus historians have always found it hard to judge his achievement. The earliest admired the manner in which he restored peace and prosperity in his second reign, but admiration gave way to disapproval in the 19th cent. when his personal morals and political failures coloured interpretation. More recently his star has risen again. Impressed by innovations in government, the recovery of royal finances, and the determination with which he imposed his will after 1471, he has been seen as the progenitor of the revival of royal authority, developed further by Henry VII, and known as ‘New Monarchy’; the disaster that followed his death has been placed firmly at the feet of Richard III.

But it is a misjudgement to see novelty in Edward's kingship. Indeed it was backward-looking. His reliance on a small circle of trusted intimates, most marked after 1471, has an Arthurian ring to it; and his knights were collectively as reliable and loyal as Arthur's fabled round-tablers. Rule through a band of mighty subjects was no foundation upon which to lay a permanent recovery of the monarchy. The use of members of his household to manage finances and sustain the administration was factional in genesis, the easiest way to survive from day to day in a kingdom over which he did not at first exercise full control. Edward IV aimed low: like Charles II two centuries later, his principal objective after 1471 was never to go on his travels again. In this he succeeded. And had he lived but four years longer his son would have succeeded him without challenge.

Contemporaries attested to Edward's personal charm and ease of manner. He could, when resolved, be decisive, authoritative, even ruthless. He was a brilliant general, victorious in all his battles, who preferred to avoid war against France. In his youth he was callow and inexperienced. He was excessively generous to Warwick; his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, its manner as much as its fact, was ill judged. Even when he was older, he was not capable of sustained attention to business. He maintained a magnificent court, influenced by the Burgundians. He was a notorious philanderer, whose last mistress, Jane Shore, was shamefully victimized by Richard III; his over-indulgence in food and drink made him in his later years, like his grandson Henry VIII, ‘fat in the loins’. It is probable that his excessive life-style contributed to his early death. He devoted himself to the completion of St George's chapel, Windsor, which he turned into his mausoleum and where he lies buried.

Anthony James Pollard

Bibliography

Lander, J. R. , Government and Community: England 1450–1509 (1980);
Ross, C. D. , Edward IV (1974);
Scofield, C. L. , The Life and Reign of Edward the Fourth (2 vols., 1923).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Edward IV." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Edward IV." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/edward-iv

"Edward IV." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Retrieved October 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/edward-iv

Edward IV

Edward IV

Edward IV (1442-1483) was the first Yorkist king of England. His reforms and innovations invigorated 15th-century English government.

Born at Rouen on April 28, 1442, Edward IV was the son of Richard, Duke of York, and Cecily Neville. He took part in the Wars of the Roses from the first battle at St. Albans (1455), and in 1460 he accompanied Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick (the "Kingmaker"), and the Calais garrison when Warwick invaded England and raised rebels in Kent and in the north demanding "good government." The success of this uprising established Richard of York as regent and heir of the ineffective Henry VI of Lancaster, but Henry's queen, Margaret of Anjou, did not accept this political disinheritance of their son, Prince Edward of Lancaster. Her Army of the North defeated and killed Richard of York at Wakefield (Dec. 30, 1460). Margaret's success in liberating Henry VI and her failure to attack London simplified Edward's position. The 6-foot teenager entered the capital and claimed the crown.

Edward's popular election by crowds at St. John's Field (March 1, 1461) and at St. Paul's, Westminster Hall, and the Abbey (March 4, 1461) was a constitutional novelty. Of at least equal importance was the march north and the 10-hour battle at Towton (March 29, 1461), which left the Lancastrians scattered fugitives. The June 28 coronation followed a Parliament that voted attainders but no funds, and it reminded the new king of his promise of better government.

Early Reign

In 1461 Edward's government was more Neville than Yorkist. The 33-year-old Warwick ruled the north, installed his brother George as chancellor, and corresponded with foreign rulers as a national spokesman. However, Edward's 1464 marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, widow of John Grey of Groby, crossed Warwick's plan for the King to marry Bona of Savoy, sister-in-law of Louis XI of France. The numerous Woodvilles advanced rapidly, and inevitably they quarreled with the Nevilles. In 1467 Edward sent Warwick to parley with the diplomats of Burgundy, France, and Brittany. Then he struck his own bargain with Burgundy, dismissed George Neville as chancellor, and crowned the effect by marrying Warwick's wealthy 79-year-old aunt to a 19-year-old Woodville.

Warwick retaliated forcefully. With Edward's brother George of Clarence as his new candidate, the Kingmaker used the Calais garrison to capture Edward in 1469. However, this time the earl's "good government" slogans failed to win broad support, and Edward regained power. Driving Warwick and Clarence to France was a doubtful success for Edward, for with the help of Louis XI and in the cause of "Lancaster and the Old Families" they returned in 1470. Unarmed and unsupported, Edward fled to Burgundy, and Henry VI was restored.

With help and soldiers from Burgundy, Edward returned to England in 1471. Warwick was slain at Barnet (April 14), Prince Edward was killed at Tewkesbury (May 4), Margaret of Anjou was captured, and Henry VI died the night of the army's return to London (May 21). The lack of a standing army had made the English crown the prize of foreign-sponsored expeditions.

Invasion of France

Alliance with Burgundy and hostility to France was Edward's policy from 1471 to 1475, but it was difficult to coordinate a body as slow as Parliament with a man as unstable as Charles the Bold against an intriguer as seasoned as Louis XI. In 1473 Parliament voted funds for a campaign, but by the time Edward had transported his army to Europe, Charles was distracted by imperial ambitions. Edward conducted his own invasion but only for a price. At Picquigny on Aug. 29, 1475, Edward agreed to give up the expedition and Margaret of Anjou. Louis agreed to pay Edward 75,000 crowns within 15 days and thereafter a secret pension totaling 50,000 crowns per year.

Financially, this settlement turned the tide for Edward. He paid his debts and amassed a comfortable fortune, thus indirectly relieving the pressure on his government's Exchequer. However, even the public form of this treaty was unpopular in England as marking an "inglorious" episode. Edward may have considered England well out of the rivalry that Louis waged against Charles until the latter's death in battle against the Swiss in 1477. Yet the French king's diplomatic net extended to Edward's family, finding a ready dupe in George of Clarence. Edward's patience with his brother's repeated betrayals was exhausted when George reportedly gossiped about the legitimacy of Edward and his children. Clarence was attainted in Parliament and executed in 1478.

Louis's 1482 publication of the secret pension seems to have alarmed Edward into searching for new diplomatic alternatives at the time of his sudden illness and death at Westminster on April 9, 1483. Edward's 12-year-old son was proclaimed Edward V, with his uncle, Richard of Gloucester, as regent.

Further Reading

Cora Scofield, The Life and Reign of Edward the Fourth (2 vols., 1923), is a comprehensive biography. Useful background information is supplied in E. F. Jacob, The Fifteenth Century, 1399-1485 (1961); S. B. Chrimes, Lancastrians, Yorkists, and Henry VII (1964; 2d ed. 1966); and J. R. Lander, The Wars of the Roses (1965). On constitutional developments of the period, S. B. Chrimes, English Constitutional Ideas in the Fifteenth Century (1936), presents a useful commentary, while B. Wilkinson, Constitutional History of England in the Fifteenth Century, 1399-1485 (1964), excerpts documents and chronicles on major events.

Additional Sources

Clive, Mary, Lady, This sun of York; a biography of Edward IV, 1st American ed., New York, Knopf, 1974.

Falkus, Gila, The life and times of Edward IV, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1981.

Ross, Charles Derek, Edward IV, London: Eyre Methuen, 1974. □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Edward IV." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Edward IV." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/edward-iv-0

"Edward IV." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved October 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/edward-iv-0

Edward IV

Edward IV, 1442–83, king of England (1461–70, 1471–83), son of Richard, duke of York. He succeeded to the leadership of the Yorkist party (see Roses, Wars of the) after the death of his father in Wakefield in 1460. Edward defeated the Lancastrians at Mortimer's Cross in 1461, entered London shortly thereafter, and was proclaimed king. Later in the year he won another victory over the Lancastrians at Towton Field, after which the deposed Henry VI fled the country. Edward's secret marriage (1464) to Elizabeth Woodville and subsequent favoritism to his wife's family angered his cousin, the able and ambitious Richard Neville, earl of Warwick. At the same time severe reprisals taken by Edward's constable, John Tiptoft, earl of Worcester, against the Lancastrian party alienated many nobles. Warwick made a marriage alliance between his daughter and Edward's rebellious brother, George, duke of Clarence, and openly revolted in 1469. Although Warwick defeated Edward's forces at Edgecote, the king soon regained his strength, and Warwick fled (1470) to France. There he formed an alliance with Margaret of Anjou, wife of Henry VI. He returned to England with an army, and Edward, who lacked the forces to fight, fled to Holland. Warwick then restored Henry VI to the throne. Edward, however, gathered an army and returned in 1471 to defeat and kill Warwick at Barnet and rout the Lancastrians at Tewkesbury. In the latter battle Margaret was captured and her son, Edward, prince of Wales, killed. After the death of Henry VI in the Tower of London later in the year, Edward's position was secure. The remainder of his reign was a peaceful one. Edward invaded France in 1475 but allowed himself to be bought off without actual fighting. He reorganized the revenues of the crown lands (now greatly expanded by the addition of the Yorkist estates) and promoted trade, benefiting from the increased customs revenues. His resulting wealth allowed him to be largely independent of Parliament, and he developed many of the absolutist precedents inherited and utilized by the Tudor monarchs.

See C. L. Scofield, The Life and Reign of Edward IV (2 vol., 1923; repr. 1967); E. F. Jacob, The Fifteenth Century (1961); C. Ross, Edward IV (1974).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Edward IV." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Edward IV." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/edward-iv

"Edward IV." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved October 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/edward-iv

Edward IV

Edward IV (1442–83) King of England (1461–70, 1471–83). On the death (1460) of his father, Richard, Duke of York, in the Wars of the Roses, Edward became the Yorkist candidate for the throne. He became king after the defeat of the Lancastrians at Towton. When the powerful Earl of Warwick changed sides, Edward was forced into exile, but returned to defeat Warwick at Barnet (1471). Edward accepted a subsidy to withdraw from a French campaign, encouraged trade, restored order, and enforced royal absolutism. He died leaving two young sons, ‘the Princes in the Tower’, but the throne was usurped by his brother, Richard III.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Edward IV." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Edward IV." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/edward-iv

"Edward IV." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved October 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/edward-iv