Richard Duke of York 1411-1460

Richard Duke of York was a leading figure in the events leading up to and in the early stages of the Wars of the Roses. His links to the crown were strong, being the great grandson of Edward III on his fathers line and also a great great grandson of the same king through his mothers line. The events of the 15th century led to him to gain significant political roles and a claim to the throne. As the Hundred Years War came to an end Richard of York became the leader of opposition to the Kings Government. The clashes between those supportive of Richard’s views and those of the Kings Government culminated in the outbreak of the Wars of the Roses. Richard Duke of York was killed in one of the Wars earliest battles, the Battle of Wakefield, on 30 December 1460.

Banner of Richard of York

Born on 22nd September 1411, Richard’s infancy was one of turmoil. His mother, Anne Mortimer died shortly after his birth. His father, Richard of Cambridge, remarried in 1414. That potentially stable family upbringing was shattered the following year. As a leading member of the Mortimer-Clarence claim to the throne Richard’s father was implicated in a plot to overthrow King Henry V. As a result, he was executed and stripped of his title. Orphaned aged 4, Richard became a ward of the Royal Court.

Wardship of Richard of York

Even though he was an infant, Richard was a potential threat to the crown. There was a strong counterclaim to the throne that stemmed back to the usurping of King Richard II and the young Richard was in line to be the claimant. Richard’s significance grew quite quickly. His uncle, Edward 2nd Duke of York, was killed at the Battle of Agincourt. Childless, his heir was Richard. The Lancastrian response to this threat was to place Richard into the care of Sir Robert Waterton. Waterton was Henry V’s senior gaoler, the infant would be closely watched and his upbringing carefully managed.

Ralph Neville and the Wardship of Richard of York

Shortly after the accession of King Henry VI in 1422, Ralph Neville purchased the wardship and marriage arrangements of Richard from the regency council for a sum of 3000 marks. The Neville family were staunch supporters of the regime. This was an arrangement that provided the treasury with an injection of funds, ensured that Richard would be raised by loyal subjects and for Neville ensured that he could engineer a marriage for Richard that was to his families advantage.

The political nature of Neville’s move soon bore fruit. In 1425, Edmund Earl of March passed away. Richard now stood to inherit the Mortimer titles, land, wealth and status. Around the same time, Neville arranged the marriage of his daughter Cecily Neville to Richard of York. Now the young Duke of York was married into the powerful Neville family, heir to a substantial amount of land and due in time to become a significant magnate. Neville’s investment in the infant Richard of York was paying off.

Coming of age

Knighted in 1426, Richard was soon resident in the Kings Household. From that point, in 1428, there was a concerted effort to bind him closer to the king not only through blood but through loyalty. This saw Richard Plantagenet, as he called himself by this point, travelling to France in 1430 as part of the King’s expedition for the coronation of Henry in Paris. His continued service and loyalty led to the granting of livery to his estates in 1432. This allowed Richard to manage his estates himself, essentially acknowledging that he was a capable adult. The estates that Richard inherited at this point were second only in size and importance to the lands held by the King himself. However, they were in debt and much land was held by dowers (widows) or feofees. By 1434 Richard and his appointees had made satisfactory financial arrangements throughout most of these estates, aided by the passing away of some of the dowers. Now Richard of York had significant lands, held many castles, controlled the rule of these vast areas and the bonds of feofees. In short, he was at this point capable of raising significant amounts of money from his estates.

Richard of York as Lieutenant of France

Richard’s rise to the upper echelons of government was cemented by his appointment to the Order of the Garter in 1433. This marked his standing and was, perhaps, also intended to further bind him to the crown. When the Lieutenancy of France became vacant soon after, he was a standout candidate for the role. A senior member of the royal household, a powerful magnate and symbolically important, of royal blood. Richard agreed to travel to France in February 1436. His appointment was confirmed on 8th May of the same year. His expedition arrived in France in June of 1436. The delay in departure, a common feature of expeditions during the Hundred Years War, meant that he arrived after the French had advanced on and taken Paris.

Richard assumed a style of leadership that saw him play a limited military role. Whilst he retained overall control of strategy and managed the affairs of the council, the execution of the war was largely placed into the hands of trusted captains, John Talbot – who held Rouen and halted the French advance – and his nephew, Richard Neville. Richard himself became known more for his administrative skills. He assessed garrisons, dealt with grievances and developed diplomatic ties with a range of princes and magnates on the continent. This was a feature of both his first (1436-7) Lieutenancy and his second appointment (1440-45).

Richard returns to France (1440-45)

Richard’s first spell as Lieutenant of France lasted a year. He requested a return to England which was granted. He was replaced by the Earl of Warwick. However, this appointment was not the long term one that had been intended. Warwick died in April of 1439. The situation in France demanded strong leadership at this time. King Henry, the Normans and the barons with significant interests in English held parts of France all wanted a prince of royal blood to take command. It was a hugely symbolic requirement, it demonstrated to the French that sovereignty was held by England, it was a Royal domain.

The Kings Uncle, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, pressed for his own appointment to the Lieutenancy. Whilst of royal blood this appointment was opposed by many on the king’s council. Humphrey was a divisive figure who had caused friction during the infancy of Henry VI through his views on strategy in France and for his political stance on domestic issues. It is possible that Cardinal Beaufort suggested the appointment of his nephew, John Beaufort. This would have been a loose connection to the crown but perhaps enough to satisfy some. Richard of York, however, stood out.

Whilst he had not distinguished himself on the battlefield, Richard had governed well, established a network of contacts and had the support of the Neville’s and the ear of the Beaufort’s. Furthermore and crucially he was a royal prince.

Friction over policy in France?

Upon his return to France, Richard immediately sought to aid Talbot at the siege of Pontoise. This action is successful but is followed by a cautious policy. Talbot was denied the opportunity to carry out a daring plot to capture the French King, Charles VII. Thereafter the policy was one of consolidation and diplomacy. This policy divided opinion in England and Normandy. Many had expected and hoped for a more aggressive policy, one of regaining lost ground. Subsequently, a decision was made by the royal council to support a plan to invade Brittany. This invasion was led by John, Earl of Somerset. It led to a diversion of funds and supplies.

Richard of York complained bitterly about this new approach. He had been using diplomatic means to build an alliance with French Dukes and the sudden invasion of Brittany brought these plans to an abrupt end. A truce in May of 1444 alleviated Richard’s problems with supply and finance. Richard was perhaps placated by a grant of land in the south of Normandy and the issuing of titles to his sons. However, funding for the army he oversaw dried up. One payment was made upon his initial complaint in 1444, no further funds for pay were received by the time Richard returned to England in September 1445 (Funds were sent to pay the army in 1446).

However, at the same time as bemoaning the reallocation of funds, Richard was involved in some of the actions that ultimately led to the agreement for the marriage of King Henry VI to Margaret of Anjou. It appears that he was, publicly at least, neutral on issues such as the redistribution of lands. In that respect, he played an important diplomatic role on behalf of the crown.

Richard as Lieutenant of Ireland

It is quite possible that Richard of York expected to be reappointed as Lieutenant of France. He was the only prince of royal blood and had laid the foundations upon which the truces and marriage treaty for the King could be negotiated. Instead, he was appointed as Lieutenant of Ireland.

Whilst in Ireland Richard led campaigns that led to most Irish lords submitting to the crown. This led to an Act of Resumption in 1450 that in essence showed that law and order were secured and governance of the Irish was stable. It was a case of job done. It was also quite fortuitous for Richard. As he won victories in Ireland his stock rose in some quarters. This was enhanced by the fact that the English were suffering defeats, notably the humiliating surrender at Le Mans in 1448, in France.

Some historians interpret the appointment to Ireland as an exile, though this view has been challenged. Whilst it was perhaps not seen as an appointment of the same stature of France it was a significant one. If the idea was to isolate Richard, it can be countered with the facts that whilst Lieutenant of Ireland he was granted lands and titles previously held by Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester; granted Waltham to enable him to attend court and council with ease and that he is listed as having attended the council. Hardly signs of someone who is being pushed away by the King.

1450: Return from Ireland

In 1450 Richard returned from Ireland. He wrote to the King promising three things:

  1. Loyalty
  2. To seek justice against those who accused him of maladministration
  3. To bring to justice those who were breaking the Kings law with impunity

The first two of these are far from controversial. To reaffirm loyalty upon return from an overseas posting is common. Affirming your right to defend yourself against allegations is also hardly controversial. The third though signals a change in Richard’s political activity. It addresses a complaint that had support in the commons that the clique around the King were governing for their own good, rather than that of the King or country. It was to lead to conflict.

In these recent times sprang up between our lord, king Henry the Sixth and Richard, the most illustrious duke of York, those dissensions, never sufficiently to be regretted, and never henceforth allayed: dissensions indeed, which were only to be atoned for by the deaths of nearly all the nobles of the realm. For there were certain persons enjoying the royal intimacy, who were rivals of the said duke, and who brought serious accusations against him of treason, and made him to stink in the king’s nostrils even unto the death; as they insisted that he was endeavouring to gain the kingdom into his own hands, and was planning how to secure the sceptre of the realm for himself and his successors.

Second Continuation of the History of Croyland Abbey: 1453-1462

1450: Challenge to the council

Richard’s promises were largely ignored by those appointed to positions close to the King. They stood to gain nothing and lose much if they reacted to the suggestion that the government was ineffective, or as it was alleged, run by traitors. As Council ignored him, the MPs of the Commons offered support. They appointed Richard’s Chamberlain as Speaker of the House. The commons was effectively controlled by Richard as soon as this happened. Politically this creates an impasse. The government cannot function at all with the two key bodies pulling in different directions. Uncharacteristically, Richard acted decisively. Backed by an army he entered Council with his sword drawn and raised.

With an army at the door and Richard brandishing a sword Council had little choice but to succumb to Richard’s demands. Somerset was imprisoned, removing the leader of the group held responsible for the poor state of the country. The commons began to enact some reforms.

Then, very little happened. The machinery of government which had been deemed to be failing was not changed. Only Somerset of the main officers of government was removed from his post. Henry VI remained surrounded by his favourites.

Humiliation at Dartford

Over the course of 1451, the balance of power swung away from Richard. Historians debate the reasons why he did not act more decisively when removing Somerset. Perhaps his intention had simply been to remove someone who he viewed as the root cause of the problem. It’s possible he refrained from the further dismantling of the officers of state through his loyalty to the King. Whatever the reason, by the end of 1451 the position of ascendancy had swung dramatically from him to those loyal to Somerset. Parliament began to move against Oldhall, the speaker, Council grew in confidence. An example of the shift in opinion is the response to Thomas Younge calling in Parliament for Richard to be named as heir. In December 1450 such a call would likely have had support as a stabilising move. By late 1451 it was rebuffed.

By the end of the year, Richard was in a position where he felt the need to intervene again. Again he raised an army. The result was humiliation. Instead of marching unopposed and forcing his demands onto council, he faced opposition. Only two Lords, Thomas Courtenay and Lord Cobham, offered him any support. Richard’s band of men moves around the south until in March of 1452 he is met at Dartford. Here, politically outwitted, he is forced to concede. Somerset, by now released, acting for Henry VI, forces Richard to sign an Oath of Submission. Further to this, a series of judicial commissions were established. With law and order seemingly stable and a victory over the French in Gascony to celebrate, the King and his counsellors held all of the cards. Richard, it seemed, was a spent force.

A change in fortune

Richard may have appeared to have been permanently isolated from the centre of English politics after his disastrous attempts of 1452. 1453, however, saw his fortunes totally transformed. A series of events combined to lead to counsellors calling for Richard to return to London.

The victories in Gascony had done a great deal to lift spirits and bolster support for the government of Somerset. In the summer of 1453, the French overturned these victories. The restoration of law and order that had been sought by all parties but achieved under the governance of the Council suddenly collapsed. In the North of England the Neville’s and Percy’s relationship broke down and a state of war existed between them. Most crucially, Henry VI entered a catatonic state which rendered him incapable of any form of decision making.

With feuding in the country, the war in France going badly and the King incapacitated, the country was in a state of crisis. In this unprecedented set of circumstances, there was a need for leadership from somebody who if not from recent actions but from stature, commanded respect. Richard as a prince of royal blood, or Margaret of Anjou as Queen Consort, were the only people with sufficient royal ties to command such loyalty.

In March 1454 Richard was appointed as protector and defender of the realm. In effect, he was standing in for the King during his incapacity. Government would run through him as it would through a monarch.

Richard of York as protector and defender of the realm

In this role, Richard sought to bring about peace and to restore order to a fractured government. He did not use it as an opportunity to attack those who had opposed him in the previous few years. His rule was based on consultation with the council and as a result, the decisions made were largely well received.

Howe be it that y am not sufficiant of my self, of wysdome, connyng nor habilite, to take uppon me that wurthy name of protectour and defensour of this land, ner the charge therto apperteinyng, wherunto hit hath liked you my lordes to calle, name and desire me, unwurthy therunto, under protestation if y shall applie me to the parfourmyng of your said desire, and at your instance take uppon me with your supportation the seid name and charge; I desire and pray you, that in this present parlement, and by auctorite therof, hit be enacted, that of your selfe and of your free and mere disposition, ye desire, name and calle me, to the seid name and charge, and that of eny presumption of my self, < I take þaym not > uppon me, but onely of the due and humble obeissaunce that I owe to doo unto the kyng, our most dradde and souveraine lord, and to you the perage of this lande, in whom by thoccasion of thenfirmite of our said souveraine lord restethe thexercice of his auctoritee, whoos noble commaundementes y am as redy to parfourme and obey, as eny his liege man olyve: and that at suche tyme as it shall please our blessed creatour, to restore his most noble persone to helthfull disposition, hit shall lyke you so to declare and notifie to his good grace.

Richard, 3rd Duke of York speaking to Parliament upon being appointed protector. Translation follows.

Although I myself am insufficient in wisdom, learning or ability to assume that worthy name of protector and defender of this land, or the charge appertaining to it, to which it has pleased you, my lords, to summon, name and wish me to apply myself to the carrying out of your said desire, although I am unworthy, under protestation and at your request, assume the said name and charge with your support; I desire and pray you that in this present parliament, and by the authority of it, it be enacted that for yourselves and of your free and absolute disposition you wish, name and summon me to the said name and charge, and that I do not assume them from any presumption on my part but only from the due and humble obedience that I ought to give to the king, our most dread and sovereign lord, and to you, the peerage of this land, in whom, by reason of the infirmity of our said sovereign lord, rests the exercise of his authority, whose noble commands I am as willing to perform and obey as any of his liegemen alive: and that at such time as it shall please our blessed creator to restore his most noble person to a healthy disposition it shall please you so to declare and notify this to his good grace.

‘Henry VI: March 1453’, in Parliament Rolls of Medieval England, ed. Chris Given-Wilson, Paul Brand, Seymour Phillips, Mark Ormrod, Geoffrey Martin, Anne Curry and Rosemary Horrox (Woodbridge, 2005), British History Online [accessed 6 June 2019].

However though he enjoyed some successes in bringing Lords into line and helped to stabilise government, this was a period in which divisions ran deep and in some cases grew deeper.

Richard’s role as protector and defender of the realm had not been universally approved. Queen Margaret had gathered around her a group of courtiers and had made pleas for herself to be appointed to the role. This was in part due to the birth of an heir, in part due to a distrust of Richard and his intentions. As Richard governed she continued to muster support and strengthened areas loyal to the King and the newborn Prince.

These divisions were dealt with in a diplomatic manner by Richard at this point. No longer was he next in line to the throne, it was a change in circumstance that, for now, he accepted.

Richard of York, stained glass window in Ludlow

The King recovers

Christmas 1454, King Henry suddenly regains his senses. In February of 1455, Richard is relieved of his position as defender and protector of the realm: Henry was sufficiently recovered to resume his Kingship. Changes in government were swift. The coalition that had ruled under Richard quickly found itself replaced by one that was partisan and entirely loyal to Margaret’s ambitious plans. Richard and his supporters, the Neville’s, found themselves ostracised and subjected to taunts and talk of them being traitors.

The divisions that had been bubbling away under the surface erupted.

St. Albans and the second protectorate

As political divisions had emerged and widened the two factions had begun arming themselves. Queen Margaret had formed a stronghold in the Midlands. Richard and the Neville’s had similarly ensured they were prepared. The shift in power at court was increasingly clear. Richard, despite his willingness to work with all parties whilst protector, found himself isolated. Rhetoric from those at the heart of Government started to talk of treason. Tensions rose and political society was once again fractured.

This was a similar, though more dangerous, situation to the one in which Richard had found himself upon his return from Ireland. Once more, he chose to act.

The challenge to the King was made in force. Along with Richard, 16th Earl of Warwick and his father the Earl of Salisbury (both members of the Neville family), Richard raised an army. It marched to challenge the King with the intention of forcing political change. On 22nd May 1455 this Yorkist army met the forces of King Henry VI that had been assembled by Queen Margaret. Our account of the First Battle of St. Albans can be read here. The battle was a Yorkist victory. Though small it was significant: Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset and the main political rival to Richard until this date, was killed in the battle. So too was Henry Percy, 2nd Earl of Northumberland and Thomas Clifford, 8th Baron de Clifford, resulting in a much stronger position in the North for the Yorkists. It is widely viewed as the first battle of the Wars of the Roses, though it was several years before warfare broke out again.

The aftermath of St. Albans

With Henry as a prisoner, the victory at St. Albans allowed Richard to push through changes at the heart of Government. In November 1455 he was again appointed as protector. Soon after the King was denied rule by personal authority. It created a state in which there was a King denied of power and a powerful Duke taking control of the day to day running of affairs. However, Richard did not question Henry’s sovereignty. To challenge that would be a step too far for many nobles. For all his weaknesses, Henry had been anointed and that was highly important at this period of time.

To the right reverend fadre in God, right worshipfull and with all oure hertes right entierly welbelovyd cousyn, Thomas archiebishop of Caunterbury, and chaunceller of Englond. Right reverend fader in God, right worshipfull and with all oure hertes right entierly welbelovyd cousin, we recommaunde us unto you. And for somuche as we here that a greet rumour and wondre is hadde of oure commyng, and of the manere therof, toward the most noble presence of the kyng oure moost doubted soverain lord, and that by diverse persones such as of approved experience have not put thaim in such devoir to that that might have avaunced the honour and prosperite of him, of this his noble reaume, and his people of the same, as accorded with theire trouthe and duetee, many doubtes and ambiguitees be thrawen to his magestee roiall, < and amonge > the peeple, of oure trouth and duetee unto his highnesse: we < havyng > consideracion unto thoffice the heed of justice of this lande that ye occupie, notifie unto youre worthy faderhood and cousinage, that of oure said commyng, ner of the manere therof, we entende not with Goddes grace to procede to any matier or thyng, other than with Goddes mercy shalbe to his plesire, the honour, prosperite and wele of oure said soveraine lord, his said land and people. Alwey kepyng oure trouthe to his said highnesse unspotted and unbrused, entendyng to drawe directly to gidres with you, and all other lordes of this lande, that be of such tendre zele and affeccion to the honour, prosperite and wele of oure said soveraine lord, his said reaume and people, as we hold undoubted ye bee, and as blissed be God ye approve youre self to youre grete laude and worship, to the profite and uncolored groundes and conclusions of suche thinges as of reason mowe most spedely growe to the said honour and wele, and the good publique, restfull and politique rule and governaunce of his said lande and people, withoute any thyng takyng or presumyng upon oure self, withoute thavis and assent of < you, and of the > said lordes; leiyng therefore a part oure owne particuler quarels, which we shall never preferre afore the duetee, trouth, love and affeccion, that we owne unto oure said soveraine lord, his said reaume and people. Over this like it you to wite, that we understond the callyng and stablisshyng of the kynges counsail at his towne of Leycestre, toke the grounde by such as we conceyve caused thappointement therof there, for suertee of his moost noble persone, which of commun presumpcion implieth a mistrust to somme persones: we therfore his true and humble liegemen, have accompaigned us the better, to thentent to emploie us in such devoir as accordeth with oure duetee, to that that may be the suertee of his said most [p. v-281][col. a] noble persone, wherin we woll neither spare our bodies ner goodes; and also to knowe whoo be had in jelosy of such mistrust, to the entent that we mowe procede to the subduyng of thaim beyng culpables of the thyng causyng such mistrust; or elles by the avis of your said faderhood and the said lordes, to remove the ambiguitee and the occasion of the same mistrust. We also understond what colerable and subtile meanes be made by oure enemies, holdyng thaim colorably aboute the seid moost noble persone of oure said soveraine lord, of might of men and habilementes of werre have the more surely accompaigned us, to thentent that at oure commyng to his most high presence, we mowe be of power to kepe oureself oute of the daungier whereunto oure said enemies have not ceessed to studie, labour and compasse to bryng us, such as in allewise we will eschewe with Goddes grace.

Letter written by Richard, 3rd Duke of York to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Recorded on the Parliamentary Roll for Henry VI, July 1455.

‘Henry VI: July 1455’, in Parliament Rolls of Medieval England, ed. Chris Given-Wilson, Paul Brand, Seymour Phillips, Mark Ormrod, Geoffrey Martin, Anne Curry and Rosemary Horrox (Woodbridge, 2005), British History Online [accessed 6 June 2019].

The second protectorate did not last long. In February of 1456, Henry resumed his powers. As Queen Margaret grew in influence, the court was moved from London to Coventry, in the heart of Lancastrian lands.

From this point to 1458 Richard resumed his role as Lieutenant of Ireland. He remained close to the Earls of Warwick and Salisbury. Tensions continued between the Court and Richard and his supporters. Initially, it appeared that the Yorkists would continue to hold positions of power. York, Warwick and Salisbury continued to attend council. Richard was dispatched to lead forces against James II of Scotland.

However, the court was increasingly dominated by the Queen and she did not trust Richard. He had raised arms against the king on more than one occasion; he was a potential threat to the succession of Prince Edward; a marriage contract for his son, Edward, Earl of March, to the house of Burgundy, was a threat to her policies and the Yorkists posed a threat to the Percy dominance of the North East which was hugely important politically.


As the factions once again became polarised, Henry VI made a desperate attempt to bring about peace. He called a Loveday, a traditional medieval practice of settling differences, making solemn promises and making amends for any wrongdoings. Held at St. Paul’s Cathedral it saw the two factions entering the ceremonial event hand in hand. Richard entered holding the hand of the Queen. Though Henry’s intention may have been to build bridges and start bringing the two factions closer together, it turned out rather differently.

Neither side trusted the other, so both parties arrived backed by armed retinues. The agreements, whilst publicly stated and seemingly amicable, were largely aimed at retribution for the Yorkists previous actions. Though peaceful on the day, there was little love between the two sides.


In June 1459 a Great Council was called. Richard of York, Salisbury and Warwick did not attend. As tensions had continued to mount there was fear of arrest. Instead, they stayed in positions of strength and remained vigilant. A Parliament was then called for November of 1459, now known as The Parliament of Devils. No invite was sent to any of the Yorkist leaders, a clear sign that they were not welcome and an indication that they were most likely to be attained.

the moost diabolique unkyndnesse and wrecched envye in theym, and moost unresonable appetite of such estate as of reason ought not to be desired nor had by noon of theym

Charge laid against the Yorkists at the ‘Parliament of Devils’ in Coventry.

The three main Yorkist forces were separated at the time. As they attempted to unite under the banner of the House of York, the Earl of Salisbury was attacked. He beat back a Lancastrian assault at the Battle of Blore Heath on 23rd September 1459. Shortly after, with the three together, they moved south. They were met by a Lancastrian force at Ludlow. The King was present. Warwick’s forces from Calais saw the Kings banner and refused to fight. Faced with a stronger foe, the Yorkists fled.

Richard fled to Ireland. Cecily and two of their children, George and Richard, were captured and held in captivity. Edward, Earl of March, Salisbury and Warwick evaded capture and made their way to the safety of Calais which remained loyal to Warwick.

Regrouping, Attainder and Invasion

Richard was still Lieutenant of Ireland and the parliament there welcomed him. He was able to secure financial and military support. This was achieved at the February 1460 Drogheda Parliament in which Richard promised independent rule of law, currency and governance in return for financing an invasion of England backed by an army of Irish archers.

He was able to communicate with his son Edward and the Neville’s as the English Channel was almost entirely controlled by the Calais fleet. This allowed the Yorkists to formulate plans, raise finance and to spread propaganda along the coast.

Such plans and propaganda were necessary. The parliament of November 1459 had indeed attained the Yorkists. They had two choices, remain in exile, or fight. They chose to fight.

The invasion came in two stages. First, the Yorkists based in Calais landed at Sandwich on 26th June 1460. They gained support in Kent and marched on London. London opened its gates to them and so the city was in Yorkist hands unopposed.

They then marched north and, partly due to treachery among the Kings troops, captured the King at the Battle of Northampton (10th July). Henry VI was then taken back to London and imprisoned in the Tower of London.

Richard had been expected to invade at a similar time but did not make a landing until early September. He marched to London bearing regal banners. This was to pose a problem. The men of the south had joined the forces of Edward, Earl of March, Salisbury and Warwick, believing that they were fighting to restore a stable government in London. Nor were the Lords impressed with the notion of usurping the King. They dispatched the Earl of March to his father with the intention of getting Richard to withdraw his immediate claim to the throne.

The result was an abandonment of Richard’s plan for an immediate coronation. By the end of October Parliament had overturned the attainders of the Coventry parliament and a compromise Act of Accord was passed. This Act allowed Henry to remain as King but made Richard and his sons the heirs, thus disinheriting the Prince of Wales. Richard was granted that title, along with the Duchy of Cornwall and the right to act as protector once more. With all positions of Government now held by Richard or leading Yorkists, and with Henry imprisoned, the Yorkists were in control.

To the kyng oure soverayne lord prayen the commens in this present parlement assembled that where dyvers sedicious and evill disposed persones, noo regard havyng to the drede of God, ne to the hurt of the prosperous estate of youre moost noble persone, ne of this youre realme, synesterly and ymportunely laboured youre highnes to somon and calle a parlement to be holden at youre citee of Coventre, the .xx. day of Novembre, the yere of youre noble reigne .xxxviij. ti , oonly to thentent to distroy certayne of the grete, noble and faithfull true lordes and estates of youre blode, and other of youre true liege people of this youre realme, for the grete rancour, hate and malice, that the seid sedicious persones of long tyme had ayenst theym, and of their insaciable covetyse to have the landes, enheritaunces, possessions, offices and goodes of the seid lordis, and true lieges; by which labour, certain actes, statutes and ordenauncez, ayenst all good feith and conscience, were made in the seid last parlement, to destroy fynally youre seid true lordes, states and liege people, and their issuez, aswell innocents as other, and their heires perpetuelly; which parlement was unduely sommoned, and a grete parte of the knyghts for dyvers shyres of this youre realme, and many citezeins and burgeys for dyvers citees and burghes apperyng in the same, were named, retourned and accepted, som of theym without dieu and free election, and som of theym withoute any election, ayenst the cours of youre lawes and the libertees of the commens of this youre realme, by the mean and labour of the seid sedicious persones; wheruppon hath ensued many grete jeoperdies and inconveniences, full nere to [col. b]the ruyne and universall subversion of this youre seid realme. Please it youre highnes to considre the premisses and that the seid lordes, states and other youre lieges, ayenst whome the seid acts, statutis and ordenaunces were made, have ever had grete and feithfull love to the preferryng and suertee of the welfare of youre moost roiall persoon, accordyng to their duetee; and that there were fewe acts or ordynaunce in the seid last parlement holden at Coventre, made for the wele of you, ne of youre seid realme, but the more parte of the actis, statutes and ordynauncez made in the same were laboured by the conspiryng, procuryng and excitacion of the seid evill disposed persones for […] the introduction and accomplisshement of their rancour, and inordinate covetyse; to ordeyne, enacte and establissh, by thavis and assent of the lordes spirituell and temporell in this present parlement assembled, and by auctorite of the same, that the said parlement holden at youre seid citee of Coventre be voide and taken for noo parlement; and that all acts, statutis and ordenaunces, by the auctorite of the same made, be reversed, adnulled, cassed, irrite, repeled, revoked, voide and of noo force ne effect.

Parliament Roll entry revoking the Coventry Parliament’s attainders.

‘Henry VI: October 1460’, in Parliament Rolls of Medieval England, ed. Chris Given-Wilson, Paul Brand, Seymour Phillips, Mark Ormrod, Geoffrey Martin, Anne Curry and Rosemary Horrox (Woodbridge, 2005), British History Online [accessed 6 June 2019].

Related: See ‘A Paper Crown‘ and ‘Richard Duke of York’s Claim to the throne in 1460’.

The threat from the North and Richard of York’s death

Following the events at Northampton, the Queen had moved further North. In November 1460 it became apparent that she was trying to form an alliance with the Scots. A combination of the nobles loyal to Henry, those tied to the Queen, the Percy’s and the Scots would be a formidable force for the Yorkists to tackle.

To prevent this scenario Richard, his son Edmund and the Earl of Salisbury led a Yorkist army north. By late December they had reached Sandal Castle. Sandal was one of Richard’s castles but it was bordered by areas loyal to the cause of the House of Lancaster. On 30th December 1460, the Yorkists sortied from the castle. In the ensuing Battle of Wakefield the Yorkists suffered a heavy loss. Richard of York was slain during the fighting. His eldest son Edmund was captured and executed as he tried to flee. The Earl of Salisbury was found hiding the following day and also executed. All three men had their heads severed and placed on a pike above Mickelgate Bar in York. As a final humiliation, a paper crown was placed on Richard’s head.

Richard of York's head was placed on a pike above Mickelgate Bar following his death


Richard’s death was soon avenged by the Yorkists. His eldest remaining son, Edward, brought his army north. First defeating a Lancastrian force at the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross he made his way towards York. The Earl of Warwick was caught out by a surprise advance south by an army led by Queen Margaret. The two armies fought the Second Battle of St. Albans which led to Warwick retreating to the safety of London. With the Queen returning North, Warwick followed with a view to joining forces with Edward and his brother and the Duke of Norfolk. The forces of Edward and Warwick made first contact with the Lancastrian army at the Battle of Ferrybridge. A smaller encounter followed at Dintingdale. Victory in both of these clashes led to the Yorkists meeting the Queen just south of York. At the Battle of Towton, the Yorkists won a resounding victory, after which Edward was proclaimed to be King of England.


British History Online

The Wars of the Roses: Politics and the Constitution in England, C.1437-1509 (Cambridge Medieval Textbooks)

Croyland Chronicles

M Hicks, The Wars of the Roses


Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

AJ Pollard, The Wars of the Roses (British History in Perspective)

AJ Pollard, Northern England in the Wars of the Roses

Alison Weir, Lancaster and York





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