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Edward IV, the Warrior King of England, and his battles in the War of the Roses
In 1458 Henry VI called a peace conference to be attended by his quarrelling nobles, the Lancastrians versus the Yorkists; they marched arm in arm to St Paul's Church, but nobody was convinced that the problems would cease, except possibly the naive king. Distrustful of Henry, the Yorkist lords returned home: York went back to Ireland, Salisbury went to Yorkshire, and Warwick went to Calais.
As conditions got worse, Warwick landed at Sandwich and headed for Ludford to meet with York and March; Salisbury headed for Ludford, but the Lancastrians intercepted at Blore Heath, where Salisbury defeated the Lancastrian Baron Audley. The Yorkists joined together at Ludford Bridge, to face the royal army, but many soldiers would not fight against Henry VI and deserted. The Yorkist leaders decided that battle was pointless and fled the scene; York went back to Ireland, while the earls of Warwick, Salisbury and March (Edward) went to Calais. Ludford was not a battle, but a mild skirmish with the royalists sacking the town of Ludford. The event was called the" Flight of the Earls."
From Calais, the earls of Warwick, Salisbury and March landed at Sandwich, recruited considerable forces, and set out into the midlands in search of the Lancastrian king. The battle of Northampton was fought in heavy rain against defensive earthworks constructed by the Lancastrians. Warwick was overall Yorkist field commander. Edward earl of March, leading the left division, advanced through mud and water. Ahead of Edward many Lancastrians surrendered; their cannons would not operate because their gunpowder was soaked by rain. The Yorkists climbed over the earthworks and put the Lancastrians to flight. Buckingham, Shrewsbury and Egremont lay dead at the king's tent; Henry VI was taken back to London and lodged in the Tower, probably in the Palace, not in the prison. The new royal government was more Yorkist and less Lancastrian. This Yorkist victory owed much to the military skills of Edward. In the Act of Accord Parliament allowed Henry to remain king, but removed his heirs from the line of succession in favour of the Yorkists, and made York the Lord Protector.
Wakefield (the last day of the year 1460):
The Lancastrians mustered near Sandal Castle near Wakefield in the North Country, while Henry's queen, Margaret of Anjou, negotiated with the Scots for military support. At Sandal, York was safe in the castle, but he did not put out scouts to discover the lie of the land, and did not detect Lancastrian forces in the surrounding forest. When he attacked out of the castle he was overwhelmed by superior forces. York, his second son Rutland, and his father Salisbury, were killed; their severed heads were displayed at the town of York nearby.
Second St Albans (1461):
Queen Margaret, accompanied by marauding Scots, joined the victorious Lancastrian forces under Somerset, and together they advanced south, causing much destruction. Warwick advanced north to defend London, but was defeated at St Albans. Warwick was a somewhat defensive tactician; he gathered his forces in the north end of town, but the Lancastrians rounded to the west and attacked him from the south end of town. Warwick, badly defeated, withdrew his forces to the west, attempting to join with Edward earl of March, who was near Wales. The Lancastrians advanced south on London, but the gates were closed.
Mortimer's Cross (1461):
Edward in the Welsh Marches, had scouts in the countryside, and detected large Lancastrian forces advancing east to join Margaret and Somerset as they advanced on London. Before the battle, there appeared three suns in the sky; Edward said they represented God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, a tremendous favourable omen for the Yorkist forces. Mortimer's Cross was the classic battle fought with Welsh archers. Edward unleashed a massive long bow arrow storm attack; the Lancastrians had to advance under the storm and close with hand to hand combat. It was a disastrous defeat for Lancaster; thousands lay dead on the field. The Lancastrian leader, Jasper Tudor, escaped, but his father, Owen Tudor, was captured and executed. This was a major battle and a spectacular victory for Edward. The three suns were caused by refraction of light by ice crystals in the atmosphere, a phenomenon known as a parhelion. Edward, joined by Warwick, set out for London, intent on claiming the throne. At Clerkenwell, Parliament ruled that the Lancastrians had broken the terms of the Act of Accord; they asked Edward earl of March to be king, and the London crowd, who loved the handsome prince, proclaimed him as King Edward IV (1461).
This was a huge battle with massive forces on each side, 40000 for Lancaster and 30000 for York, but these figures are likely to be exaggerations; more likely the figures were about half those suggested, but this was the biggest battle ever fought on English soil up until that time. The weather was atrocious with snow and fog. The wind blew behind Edward IV so the Yorkist arrows reached their target, whereas the Lancastrian arrows could not reach into the wind. Vicious hand to hand combat ensued, the bodies piled up, and the Lancastrians were defeated; thousands were killed during the cavalry pursuit and the west side creek ran thick with blood. It is frequently claimed that the Lancastrians were nearly destroyed, and certainly this battle was remembered with horror for a long time in the Lancastrian North Country. Henry VI escaped to Scotland; this was good for Parliament which had declared him no longer king.
The North Country Castles (1461-1464):
It took a while, but Warwick and his brother Montagu eventually succeeded in controlling the castles on the east coast of Northumberland. When Edward IV married the commoner Queen Elizabeth Woodville in 1464, Warwick was progressively alienated from Edward IV, and by 1469 he was in open rebellion against his Yorkist King.
Edgecote Moor (1469):
Neither Warwick nor Edward was present at this battle. The Yorkists managed to quarrel among themselves, and half arrived late for the battle without their Welsh archers. Nevertheless the battle was hard fought and the Yorkists under Pembroke might have won, but Warwick sent reinforcements late in the day and that made the difference. Pembroke and his brother were executed. Later Edward was captured and for a short time Warwick ruled England, but without success.
After Edward escaped and reclaimed his kingdom, there were more rebellions fostered by Warwick and Edward's brother, Clarence, who thought he should be king. The forces on each side at Empingham were large; the rebels were mostly Lancastrian. But the Yorkist cannonade was ferocious and badly battered the rebels; then Edward's well trained forces put the Lancastrians to flight. Warwick fled the country and Edward took his lands. In France Warwick plotted with Louis XI, invaded England, and, assisted by his brother Montagu, forced Edward to flee to Bruges in the Low Countries. Warwick restored Henry VI and ruled England briefly as Lord Protector.
Edward invaded England, advanced to London, and went north to fight Warwick and Montagu, who advanced south. In darkness, Edward advanced very close to Warwick, lay quiet in battle array overnight, while cannonballs flew overhead. Then in the morning, in heavy fog, with loud trumpets, Edward attacked. His left battle was overlapped by the rebels and fled defeated towards the town of Barnet, but nobody noticed in the fog. When the rebels returned to the field they were attacked by their own side; their flags were misidentified in the fog. In the meantime, Edward and his younger brother Gloucester pushed the attack and routed the main Lancastrian force. In the meantime Queen Margaret landed on the south coast and headed for Wales to recruit more forces.
Edward followed Margaret across south England at a forced march, and in hot weather, confronted her at Tewkesbury before she could cross the Severn River. Edward used his cannon with telling effect, and his Welsh archers were again very effective. The Lancastrians under Somerset made a valiant effort by attempting to get behind Edward's left battle division. But they emerged from the trees too soon, found themselves in front of the left division, not behind, and attacked on three sides by Edward on the east, Gloucester on the south, and reserves on the west. The Lancastrian destruction was nearly complete, and the meadow on the left side of the Avon River ran with Lancastrian blood, the so-called Bloody Meadow. Henry VI's son, Edward Prince of Wales, was killed during the flight. The fighting continued into Tewkesbury Abbey with many Lancastrians hauled out at dagger point, despite efforts by the monks to preserve the sanctity of the church. Margaret was captured; when taken before Edward she loudly condemned him, but Edward remained polite and respectful. Many Lancastrians were executed in the market square two days later, including Somerset, but those who had remained steadfast to Henry VI were pardoned. On the way back to London Margaret was roundly condemned by the crowd, who threw stones at her carriage.
After Tewkesbury, the triumphant Edward IV reigned with another 12 years of peace and prosperity, until his untimely death in 1483.
Dr. Anthony Corbet
Dr. Anthony Corbet grew up in Adelaide, Australia with a passion for English history. While in high school, he won the Annie Montgomerie Martin prize for history. In 1963, Corbet graduated from the Adelaide Medical School. After training in Pediatrics and Neonatology in Sydney and Montreal, Corbet taught and researched at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. He practiced at the Children's Hospital in San Antonio until he retired. For more information, visit http://www.edwardiv.com/.
"Edward IV, England's Forgotten Warrior King"
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