Edward IV

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Edward IV (1442-1483) king of England (1461-70, 1471-83) was the son of Richard, duke of York. He was thus the great grandson of both Lionel, the third son, and Edmund, the fifth son, of king Edward III. Through his mother he was a direct descendant of John of Gaunt, the eldest son to survive Edward III.

That said, he owed his seizing of the throne from the mentally unstable and politically unpopular Henry VI more to his cousin, the powerful Richard Neville, earl of Warwick - known to history as “Warwick the kingmaker” - than to any hereditary right. Agitation by a powerful group of barons to replace the inept Henry and his overbearing queen Margaret and her favourites with Edward’s father had broken into open conflict in St. Albans in 1455 (considered the first battle of the “Wars of the Roses”) then again in 1459, continuing until the Lancastrian forces were defeated at Towton in 1461, Henry captured, and he and his queen forced into exile. Richard of York had died in battle the previous year and Edward took the throne. Henry was caught in northern England in 1465 and imprisoned in the Tower of London.

In 1464 Edward secretly married a Lancastrian widow, Elizabeth Woodville. His desire for this lady perverted his political sense. He not only showered her family with estates and favours but changed foreign policy to form an alliance with Burgundy when the kingdom’s prosperity would have been better ensured by friendship with France. When all this came to light Richard Neville was furious and changed sides. In 1469 he and Margaret forced Edward to flee to Holland and the reign of Henry VI was re-established.

He was back in England the following year, though, with a powerful force that defeated the Lancastrians in battles near Barnet - where Richard Neville was killed - then Tewkesbury where Henry’s son and heir died and Margaret captured. Henry was returned to the Tower and put to death shortly after. Edward resumed his reign.

Edward died unexpectedly in 1483, probably partly due to over-indulgence. The years of relative peace at home and abroad since Henry’s death (in no small way attributable to his own diplomatic efforts in the first four years of his “second” reign) had given the realm every chance to prosper; however, although he was intelligent, of forceful character when needed, a good commander, at home with the merchant class in an age when trade was burgeoning, a patron and friend of those in the arts, handsome, affable and generally popular, his love of display, lack of purpose, a reliance on a closed circle of loyal supporters and a certain laziness prevented the establishment of good government, and the country would once more descend into dynastic hostilities immediately after his death.

He was succeeded by his 12 year-old son Edward who would remain uncrowned.


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