Edward IV

Edward IV was the first monarch from the House of York. He ruled England twice, From March 1461 to October 1470 and again from April 1471 until his death in 1483. Edward IVs reign was during the Wars of the Roses, during which he claimed the throne on both occasions.

Edward IV

Edward IVs claim to the throne

Edward’s claim to the throne was through his father. His father, Richard, Duke of York, had been named as heir to the throne by Parliament in 1460. This Act of Accord was the result of the early stages of the War of the Roses. It sought to prevent further bloodshed by designating Richard of York as heir.

Act of Accord to the Battle of Wakefield

However, with Henry VI still alive and a young son in situ, the Act of Accord was challenged by Queen Margaret. She and her allies wished for the succession to pass to the son of Henry VI, Prince Edward. They also wanted to regain the authority that they had once had within court and Parliament.

Margaret raised an army to confront the Duke of York. On December 30th 1460, her force met the Yorkists at the Battle of Wakefield. Margaret’s army won and in doing so killed the Duke of York and one of his sons, Edmund. This made Edward the new Duke of York but reopened questions about succession.

Edward IV: THe Sun in Splendour

Edward decided to take decisive action. He proclaimed himself to be the King and took the war to the Lancastrians. First, he defeated Jasper Tudor at the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross. In March 1461 his army engaged the Lancastrians at Towton. The Battle of Towton was one of the bloodiest that there has been in English military history. It was a huge victory for Edward and a devastating blow to King Henry VI and the Lancastrians. King Henry VI had fled the scene of the battle, found a year later. Queen Margaret took her entourage and the young Prince Edward into exile in France. The pockets of resistance to Edward in the north were easily quashed after this massive victory. The crown was his.

Edward travelled south to have himself crowned. He chose the route of reconciliation with most of the people he had defeated. The house of Lancaster had seen several of it’s most members killed at Towton. Edward listed a further group of knights as attainders, a name for people who commit treason. However to preserve the peace he pardoned many after they submitted to him. He was crowned king on June 28th 1461.

Edward IV Roll
Edward IV Roll: Section 1

Edward IV, Elizabeth Woodville and the Earl of Warwick

The security of Edward IV’s throne lay very much in the hands of the Earl of Warwick. The support of the Neville family had enabled him to press home his claim. They were the dominant family in his court and the wealthiest landowners in the country. In government, Warwick set about the important task of arranging a marriage for the new king. He negotiated to have Edward married to one of the daughters of the King of France. It would be a politically savvy move that would not only create an alliance but limit the overseas support for Henry VI should there be another fight for the crown.

Edward, however, had other ideas. He secretly married Elizabeth Woodville. Elizabeth brought with her no military support, wealth or political advantage. The Privy council castigated Edward on his actions. They were detrimental to England’s security. As soon as the marriage became public knowledge, in October 1464, the unmarried siblings of Elizabeth Woodville became attractive propositions for courtiers. Soon, the Woodville family was represented at court through marriage. This posed a challenge to the many nobles who had remained indifferent to the claims of either York or Lancaster. It also challenged the supremacy of the Neville family in court.

Clarence and Warwick rebel against King Edward IV

Warwick left the court in late 1467 to tend to his estates in Yorkshire. While he was there he met with the younger brother of King Edward IV, the Duke of Clarence. Clarence was also disaffected. Together they plotted a revolt. In July 1469 their forces attacked the main body of the royal army and defeated them at the Battle of Edgecote Moor. Edward IV had not been present but was soon found and detained by Warwick’s men. Warwick now decided to try and rule through the king. He could assert his will in the Kings name. The nobility however did not accept this. Edward was released from Warwick’s custody. The feuding continued though and Warwick was forced to flee to France on 1st May 1470.

Edward’s position suddenly became quite weak. Warwick allied himself with Queen Margaret. Neville’s brother also switched allegiance to the Lancastrian cause. Margaret had also secured the support of the new King of France, Louis XI. The alliance landed in England and, with no military backing, Edward IV himself was now forced to flee into exile. He made for Burgundy and the protection of Duke Charles, his brother-in-law.


Burgundy had been uninvolved in the fight for the throne of England. However, learning that Edward had travelled there, Louis XI of France declared war on the Burgundians. In doing so, Louis XI handed Edward the military backing that he had lacked. A small force sailed to Yorkshire and managed to get to York without being detected. Edward gained support from the City as he stated he was simply claiming his dukedom. Edward gained support from some local nobles. He reconciled himself with his brother. He had a small but effective army. He marched south.

The Battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury

When he arrived in London, Edward’s men entered unopposed. Here they found Henry VI and took him, prisoner. Edward and his brothers, including Richard of Gloucester, the future Richard III, then sought out Warwick. They engaged him in the Battle of Barnet on 14th April 1471. Warwick and his brother were killed. One major stumbling block in the way of Edward’s rule was eliminated. However, on the very same day, Queen Margaret landed an army at Weymouth.

Edward took his army to meet the invaders. A decisive battle took place at Tewkesbury. In the course of the fighting the Prince of Wales was found and executed on the spot. The Marquess of Dorset, John Beaufort was killed in the fighting. A number of Lancastrian leaders, including Somerset, were captured, put on trial and executed. Only a few, including Margaret and Jasper Tudor, remained uncaptured. Edward had secured his crown.

Edward IV was able to rule without any rebellion. The only claimant against his throne was Henry Tudor, who was in exile. The younger brothers of Edward, the Dukes of Clarence and Gloucester, married daughters of Neville. This further consolidated Edward’s position.

Edward IVs campaigns in France and Scotland

In 1475 Edward felt secure enough to declare war on France. He landed a force at Calais and was able to extract a peace settlement from the French, without fighting, that secured him an annual pension and a lump sum payment of 75000 crowns upfront. In doing so, Edward had eased the burden on the Treasury.

Edward also backed an invasion of Scotland in 1482. This campaign was designed to replace the Scottish King with Alexander Stewart. The campaigning in Scotland was not completed before Edward’s death.

Politically within England, Edward IV did lots to secure peace. He had been conciliatory towards those he had fought against and accepted the homage of most of them: the Lancastrian leadership had already been wiped out.

The Duke of Clarence

The major set back was with his brother, the Duke of Clarence. Clarence had changed sides several times during the War of the Roses and he once again upset Edward. In 1478, Clarence was arrested on charges of treason. Found guilty, he was executed in private. Legend has it that he was drowned in a vat of wine.

Edward IVs death and legacy

As Edward’s health deteriorated he made arrangements via his will for his brother, Richard of Gloucester, to act as Lord Protector of England whilst his heir, Edward, was in his minority. Edward IV died shortly after these arrangements were made.

Edward had seized power in a period of great turmoil. His claim was as strong as that of anybody else’s but he did so at the expense of a living, anointed king. He was an able military leader, winning numerous battles against the house of Lancaster to take and keep his crown. As King, he faced an opposition that was supported by Louis XI of France. He managed to overcome these rivals in a manner that was ruthless but not untypical of the time. His court was described as being one of the most splendid in England. His government was strong and fair. After the death of Henry VI, he brought about a stability in the country that had been lacking throughout his predecessors reign.

Edward IV was succeeded by his 12 year old son, Edward V, who was never crowned. His brother, Richard of Gloucester, then became King Richard III.

Was Edward IV illegitimate?

6th August 1442: Siege of Pointoise is broken for a second time by the Duke of York. Richard had been at Pointoise from 14th July. This is significant as it raises questions about the legitimacy of Edward IV. The argument is quite simple, if Richard, Duke of York were in Pointoise for a sustained period of time he could not, therefore, have been the father of a child conceived, elsewhere, during the campaign.

Possible explanations

It is of course quite usual for military commanders to retire from the front from time to time, so the rumour about legitimacy is entirely conjecture. So too is it the case that either a late or premature birth could explain this, or simple poor record-keeping: Richard was not expected to be heir to the throne, or his sons inherit a claim to it.

The claims

Legitimacy was raised by the Earl of Warwick as the readeption took place to discredit Edward and assert Henry’s claim to the crown.  Edward’s legitimacy was again questioned, not as directly, in the language used in Titulus Regis. Questioning legitimacy was a relatively common way of discrediting people during this period.  The case of the children of Edward IV is testament to that.

A Level Teaching Resources

Edward and Elizabeth

Edward IV Roll. Source analysis.

How did Edward Earl of March take the throne of England?

The Wars of the Roses

Causes of the Wars of the Roses – Course of the War of the Roses – Events of the War of the Roses

Battles in the Wars of the Roses

First Battle of St. Albans  – Battle of Blore Heath – Battle of Ludford Bridge – Battle of Northampton – Battle of Wakefield – Battle of Mortimer’s Cross – Second Battle of St. Albans Battle of Ferrybridge – Battle of Towton – Battle of Hedgeley Moor – Battle of Hexham – Battle of Edgecote Moor – Battle of Losecote Field – Battle of Barnet – Battle of Tewkesbury – Battle of Bosworth – Battle of Stoke Field

Documents, Maps and Evidence

The Rous Rolls – Paston Letters – Edward IV Roll

People and periods

British History – The Wars of the Roses – The Plantagenets – The Tudors – King Henry IV – King Henry V – King Henry VI – King Edward IV – King Edward V – King Richard III – King Henry VII – Margaret of Anjou

Schoolshistory – teaching resources for Key Stage 3, GCSE and A Level history

The Plantagenets
Henry IIRichard IKing John
Henry IIIEdward IEdward II
Edward IIIRichard II
House of Lancaster
Henry IVHenry VHenry VI
House of York
Edward IVEdward VRichard III
Murder of Thomas BecketMagna CartaTen Facts about the Black Death
Edward I's Conquest of WalesMadog ap LlywelynCauses of the Peasants Revolt
Timeline of the Peasants Revolt
Sources and Interpretations
Paston LettersJohn Rous


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