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).
With the support of his cousin, Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick ("The Kingmaker"), Edward defeated the Lancastrians in a succession of battles. And whilst Henry VI and his militaristic queen, Margaret of Anjou, were campaigning in the north of England, Warwick gained control of the capital and had Edward declared king in London in 1461. Edward strengthened his claim with a decisive victory at the Battle of Towton in the same year, in the course of which the Lancastrian army was virtually wiped out.
The main part of the king's army (without Edward) was defeated at the Battle of Edgecote Moor in 1469, and Edward was subsequently captured at Olney. Warwick then attempted to rule in Edward's name, but the nobility, many of whom owed their preferments to the king, were restive and with the emergence of a counter rebellion, Warwick was forced to release Edward. At this point Edward did not seek to destroy either Warwick or Clarence, instead he sought reconciliation with them.
In 1470, Warwick and Clarence rebelled again. This time they were defeated and forced to flee to France. There, they made an alliance with Margaret of Anjou, and Warwick agreed to restore Henry VI in return for French support in an invasion which took place in late 1470. This time, Edward was forced to flee when he learned Warwick's brother, John Neville, 1st Marquess of Montagu, had also switched to the Lancastrian side, making his military position untenable.
When he returned to England with a relatively small force he avoided capture by potentially hostile forces by stating his claim, just as Henry Bolingbroke had done seventy years earlier, that he merely desired to reclaim his dukedom. The city of York however closed its gates to him, but as he marched southwards he began to gather support, and Clarence (who had realised that his fortunes would be better off as brother to a king than under Henry VI) reunited with him. Edward and his brothers then defeated Warwick at the Battle of Barnet and with Warwick dead, he eliminated the remaining Lancastrian resistance at the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471. The Lancastrian heir, Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales, was killed either on the battlefield or shortly afterwards, and a few days later, on the night that Edward re-entered London, Henry VI, who was being held prisoner, was murdered in order to completely remove the Lancastrian opposition.
Edward's two younger brothers, George, Duke of Clarence, and Richard, Duke of Gloucester (later King Richard III of England) were married to Isabella Neville and Anne Neville. They were both daughters of Warwick by Anne Beauchamp and rival heirs to the considerable inheritance of their still-living mother. Clarence and Gloucester were at loggerheads for much of the rest of his reign. Clarence was eventually found guilty of plotting against Edward and was imprisoned in the Tower of London. He was "privately executed" (Shakespearean tradition states he was drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine) on February 18, 1478.
In 1475, Edward declared war on France and came to terms with the Treaty of Picquigny which provided him with an immediate payment of 75,000 crowns and a yearly pension thereafter of 50,000 crowns. He also backed an attempt by Alexander Stewart, 1st Duke of Albany, brother of the Scottish king James III to take the Scottish throne in 1482, and despite the fact that when Gloucester invaded he was able to capture Edinburgh and James III, Albany reneged on his agreement with Edward, and Gloucester decided to withdraw from his position of strength in Edinburgh. However, Gloucester did recover Berwick-upon-Tweed.
Edward's health begain to fail and he became subject to an increasing number of ailments. Edward fell fatally ill at Easter 1483, but lingered on long enough to add some codicils to his will, the most important being his naming of his brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester as Protector after his death. He died on 9 April 1483 and is buried in St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle. He was succeeded by his twelve-year-old son, Edward V of England.
Just which of Edward's ailments actually caused his death has never been satisfactorily resolved. He probably died of pneumonia, though it has been conjectured that he had contracted typhoid or may even have been poisoned. Some even attributed his death to a surfeit of food. What is known is that Edward had fallen victim to his own love of food, eventually becoming stout and inactive. This most probably contributed, in large part, to the ailments which plagued him, and eventually to his death at such a young age.
Domestically, Edward's reign saw the restoration of law and order in England (indeed, his royal motto was modus et ordo, or method and order). The latter days of Henry VI's government had been marked by a general breakdown in law and order, as well as a sizable increase in both piracy and banditry. Interestingly, Edward was also a shrewd and successful businessman and merchant, heavily investing in several corporations within the City of London.
Ultimately, despite his military and administrative genius, Edward's dynasty survived him by little more than two years. Edward also holds the tragic accolade of being one of the few male members of his dynasty to die of natural causes. Both Edward's father and brother were killed at the Battle of Wakefield, whilst his grandfather and another brother were executed for treason. Edward's two sons were imprisoned and disappeared (presumed killed) within a year of Edward's death. The king's youngest brother, Richard, was famously killed in battle against Henry Tudor at Bosworth Field.
Edward had numerous mistresses, the best known of whom is Jane Shore (whose name in actuality was Elizabeth).
He reportedly had several illegitimate children:
Perkin Warbeck, an impostor claimant to the English throne, who claimed to be Edward's son Richard of Shrewsbury, reportedly resembled Edward. There is unconfirmed speculation that Warbeck could have been another of Edward's illegitimate sons.
Although his son was quickly barred from the throne and replaced by Richard of Gloucester, Edward IV's daughter, Elizabeth of York, later became the Queen consort of Henry VII of England. (Elizabeth's son was Henry VIII of England.) The grounds for Titulus Regius, passed to justify the accession of Richard III, were that Edward had been contracted to marry another woman prior to his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville. Lady Eleanor Butler (a young widow, daughter of John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury) and Edward were alleged to have been precontracted; both parties were dead by this time, but a clergyman (named only by Philippe de Commines as Robert Stillington, Bishop of Bath and Wells), claimed to have carried out the ceremony. The declaration was repealed shortly after Henry VII assumed the throne, because it illegimitized Elizabeth of York, who was to be his queen.
The final fate of Edward IV's legitimate sons, Edward V and Richard, Duke of York, is unknown. Speculation on the subject has given rise to the "Princes in the Tower" mystery.
Evidence of Edward's illegitimacy remains subjective and disputed amongst modern historians. Despite some concerns raised by some scholars, it was, and still essentially is, generally accepted that the issue was raised as propaganda to support Richard III.
In his time, it was noted that Edward IV resembled his father little, especially in terms of his (then) exceptional height of 6 feet 4 inches when compared to the other members of the House of York, who were not well known for their height. Questions about his paternity were raised during Edward's own reign, for example by Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick in 1469, and repeated by Edward's brother, George, shortly before his execution in 1478, but with no evidence; it must be noted that in propaganda wars, such as these, many statements were used that perhaps had no basis in truth (for example, Henry VI's heir, Edward of Westminster, was purported to have been a bastard of Margaret of Anjou and the Duke of Somerset). It was suggested that the real father may have been an archer called Blaybourne.
Prior to his succession, on June 22, 1483, Richard III declared that Edward was illegitimate, and three days later the matter was addressed by parliament. In Titulus Regius (the text of which is believed to come word-for-word from the petition presented by Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham to the assembly which met on June 25 1483, to decide on the future of the monarchy), Richard III is described as "the undoubted son and heir" of Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York and "born in this land" — an oblique reference to his brother's birth at Rouen and baptism in circumstances which could have been considered questionable. Dominic Mancini says that Cecily Neville, mother of both Edward IV and Richard III, was herself the basis for the story: when she found out about Edward's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, in 1464, "Proud Cis" flew into a rage. Mancini reported that the Duchess, in her anger, offered to declare him a bastard. However, this is not supported in contemporary sources, but is most likely reflective of contemporary opinion. According to Polydore Vergil, Duchess Cecily, "being falsely accused of adultery, complained afterwards in sundry places to right many noble men, whereof some yet live, of that great injury which her son Richard had done her." If she had indeed complained — as would befit a high-ranking lady of renowned piety, as she had been regarded — these petitions may have had some effect: the allegations were dropped and never again pursued. Richard III's claim to the throne is generally believed to be based upon his claim that Edward IV's children were illegitimate.
It should be remembered that Shakespeare's drama is a work of fiction.
In a 2004 television documentary, it was noted that, from 14 July to 21 August 1441 (the approximate time of conception for Edward, who was born in April 1442), Edward's father was on campaign at Pontoise, several days march from Rouen (where Cecily of York was based). This was taken to suggest that the Duke of York could not have been available to conceive Edward. Furthermore, the christening celebration of Edmund, Earl of Rutland, the second son of Richard and Cecily, was a lavish and expensive affair, while the christening of the couple's firstborn son Edward was a low key and private affair in a small chapel in Rouen. This could be interpreted as indicating that the couple had more to celebrate together at the birth of Edmund. For more details about this theory, see the TV programme Britain's Real Monarch.
A counter-arguments to this theory is that the Duke could have returned to Rouen from Pontoise, or Edward could have been premature. It has also been pointed out that:
Edward IV features as a character in:
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