Consummate Politician? Assessing Warwick the Kingmaker – A-Level History

Was Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick “The Kingmaker” a consummate politician who read situations cleverly? Or a power-hungry man, possed by greed and willing to perform acts of treason to get his own way? This A-Level History Lesson explores the nature of Warwick’s responses to situations to determine if he was proactive in his dealings, forcing agendas that led to further conflict, or rather a reactionary man, wanting law and order for the good of the realm.

Coat of Arms of Warwick the Kingmaker. By Rs-nourse - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Coat of Arms of Warwick the Kingmaker. By Rs-nourse – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Lesson Introduction

There are several points of view held by historians over the years about Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick. Students may stumble across these as they try to comprehend the changing political landscape of England in the 1450s through to the death of Warwick the Kingmaker at the Battle of Barnet in 1471. For example:

  • Warwick was an opportunist, out only to better the standing of himself and his family
  • Warwick was a proud noble, loyal to the concept of good governance which he always sought to uphold
  • Warwick was a ‘loose cannon’ whose behaviour was erratic, illogical, and out of control
  • Warwick is a classic example of the proverb “Power corrupts absolute power corrupts absolutely”
  • Warwick was a traitor

The reality is that Warwick was a complex individual. In some respects, he was all those things at various times and to a greater or lesser degree. Within the context of the time and place, many of his actions are far more understandable and forgivable than they would be if assessed against modern standards.

Teaching issues:

When we teach the role of Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, in the causes or course of the War of the Roses we must address:

  • Chronology
  • Causation and links of causes
  • Significance
  • Consequences
  • Interpretations

This activity is designed to provide an overview that addresses all but the Interpretations. It can be used to give the big picture prior to depth learning, or as a tool to revise key issues in relation to the Earl of Warwick’s role in the Wars of the Roses.

Activity Introduction

This exercise uses a Living Timeline approach. Exemplification of this approach and a wide range of examples can be found on Ian Dawson’s website.


Students will be able to understand:

  • The context in which actions were taken
  • The basic chronology of events that relate specifically to the Earl of Warwick

Setting up the activity

If conducting this activity as a whole class active learning exercise you will need a lot of space. It is possible in a standard-sized classroom, but you may wish to use the school hall/gym if they are available.

For the graph create a horizontal axis labelled with dates from 1450 to 1471. You can make these highly visible by printing the years onto A4 and laying them out where all of the class can see.

The vertical axis needs both + and – with ratings of 0-5. The axis can be labelled as +1-5 Proactive and -1-5 Reactive. (See example graph below in the individual learner’s route to completing the activity)

Give each student ranking cards:

+5 Warwick’s own initiative

+4 Warwick and his family’s initiative

+3 Warwick and other notable figures, outside his family, taking the initiative

+2 Opportunism

+1 Proactive reaction to minor events

0 no reaction to an event

-1 Reactive to minor events

-2 Reacts alone or with others but not with decisive deeds

-3 Warwick and other notable figures responding to deeds of others

-4 Warwick and his family’s reactive actions

-5 Warwick’s own reaction and subsequent actions

As an active learning exercise, you can provide students with one or more events from the ones included in the activity (below). If using a more traditional approach, the attached PowerPoint (coming soon) works through the events in chronological order.


Look at Slide 1.

It combines some events with some responses. The two go hand in hand, they are cause and consequence. Ask students to look at the responses to the events. Is the forcing of the Protectorship and arming of factions proactive, or reactive? Is it significant? How does the first bullet point lead to Warwick siding with York? Are there any other issues that need to be considered? 9There are, such as why the Council wanted Somerset replacing with York).

As a class discuss where the reactions would go on the graph. Forcing the change in Protector is clearly reactive. Students may wish to establish whether the Yorkists or Lancastrians began to arm first: Warwick was already arming before this point so for him, its proactive.

Repeat for the remaining events/slides. If doing this as an active learning exercise the students can explain their reasoning to the rest of the group. This may lead to a discussion around core issues that emerge on the course.

If students are undertaking the task individually, compare the judgements made of each action.

Slide 1: The problem with Somerset

  • In June 1453, Edmund Beaufort Duke of Somerset is granted lands in Glamorgan. These lands had been part of the Earl of Warwick’s inheritance from the Despenser line.
  • September 1453. As King Henry Vs health fails, the Duke of Somerset takes effective control of the government, with the support of the Queen.
  • On 27th March 1454 Council forces a change of leadership, giving the protectorship of England to Richard 3rd Duke of York.
  • Tension rises between supporters of Somerset and York; they and their allies begin to raise armies.

Slide 2 – Victory at St. Albans

  • At St. Alban’s on 22nd May 1455 the armies of York and Somerset clash at St. Albans. Somerset and the Earl of Northumberland lead an army in the king’s name, York, Warwick and the Earl of Salisbury lead an army of ‘loyal opposition’.
  • Somerset is killed in the fighting.
  • King Henry VI is captured by Yorkist forces.
  • Richard 3rd Duke of York is now firmly in control of Government.
Assessing the decision making of Warwick the Kingmaker: An A-Level activity
Warwick the Kingmaker, from the Rous Roll

Slide 3 – Captain of Calais

  • Warwick is given the post of Captain of Calais for his services to Richard Duke of York.
  • Henry VI resumes personal rule as he has recovered from his illness.
  • Warwick attacks a Spanish fleet on 28th May 1457.
  • Warwick attacks a German fleet in the Autumn of 1457.
  • Late in 1457, Warwick is summoned to Parliament to explain his attacks on vessels flying the flags of Spain and Germany. England was not at war with either nation.

Slide 4 – Loveday to the rout at Ludford Bridge

  • A ‘Loveday’ is held to try and reconcile factions.
  • In 1458 Warwick’s men become involved in a brawl with the Duke of Somerset (son of Edmund). Somerset narrowly avoids assassination. Warwick is forced to flee to the safety of Calais.
  • The Earl of Salisbury’s army is intercepted and attacked at Blore Heath. Salisbury’s Yorkist force wins the battle and proceeds to meet with York and Warwick at Ludlow.
  • Summons to Parliament issued. It is to be held in Coventry. York is not invited.
  • In October of 1459, a Yorkist Army prepared to take the field against Somerset’s army. However, some key men changed camps during the night and the Yorkists fled. Richard went to Ireland. Warwick, Salisbury, and the Earl of March to Calais.

Slide 5 – Parliament of Devils

  • The Coventry Parliament (Parliament of Devils) attains all the leading Yorkists.
  • Somerset lay siege to Calais but is successfully repelled.
  • Warwick sails to Ireland for meetings with York.
  • Warwick, Salisbury, and the Earl of March land at Sandwich on 26th June 1460 with an army.

Slide 6 – Act of Accord

  • The Earls of Warwick and March engage the Kings army and defeat it at Northampton.
  • Richard 3rd Duke of York returns from Ireland and makes a claim for the throne.
  • The Council are unwilling to support a usurpation.
  • The Act of Accord is passed by Parliament.

Slide 7 – Wakefield to St. Albans

  • At Wakefield, a Yorkist army including the Duke of York and Earl of Salisbury is defeated by Queen Margaret. Both York and Salisbury are killed.
  • Queen Margaret’s army marches on London. Warwick meets them at St. Albans, where he is outflanked and forced to flee. King Henry VI is abandoned on the battlefield by the defeated Yorkists.
  • The Earl of March joins with Warwick, who proclaims Edward, now Duke of York, as rightful King.

Slide 8 – The Towton Campaign

Slide 9 – Warwick in the ascendancy as Chief Minister

  • Warwick created High Admiral of England and Steward of the Duchy of Lancaster (1462)
  • A truce is negotiated with Scotland by Warwick in 1462.
  • In December 1462, Warwick’s mother, the Countess of Salisbury dies. His inheritance makes him the second richest person in England behind only the King.
  • In 1462 Margaret of Anjou lands in Northumberland with French support and that of the Earl of Northumberland. They capture several Castles including Alnwick and Bamburgh.
  • In 1463, Warwick begins negotiating a truce with the French. It would see Edward IV marry the sister of the French King and an end to any French involvement in English wars: which would end Margaret of Anjou’s chances of regaining the crown.

Slide 10 – Edward’s Marriage and the Woodville ‘Problem’

  • Edward IV secretly marries Elizabeth Woodville, on 1st May 1464.
  • Warwick and Council are told, months after the event in September 1464, of Edward’s marriage.
  • Warwick is sent in Spring 1466 to negotiate a truce with France. The Kings sister is offered in marriage. Warwick remains in favour of an agreement with France.
  • Whilst Warwick is negotiating with France, the Queen’s father Baron Rivers is appointed treasurer. He presses for an alliance with Burgundy against the French.
  • In October 1467 Warwick discovers that Edward has signed a Treaty with Burgundy without consulting him.

Slide 11 – Warwick’s Rebellion

  • Late October 1467, Warwick is summoned to court to answer charges that he is plotting against the king with a view to reinstating Henry VI. (He sends a letter, which was accepted, refuting the charge).
  • During 1469 Warwick begins to ally with the Kings brother, George Duke of Clarence.
  • April 1469, a rebellion in the north, instigated by Warwick, is easily dealt with by the Yorkist regime.
  • 26th July 1469, at Edgecote Moor, an army of Warwick’s men led by Sir John Conyers (King Edward’s cousin!) defeats an army of Welsh loyalists.
  • Queen Elizabeth’s father, Earl Rivers and one of her brothers were captured by Warwick’s men in late July 1468. After a short show trial, they were both beheaded.

Slide 12 – Edward freed then forced to flee

  • July-September 1469, Warwick attempts to rule in Edward’s name but has little support from the nobility.
  • Edward is released from house arrest at Middleham Castle and Warwick attempts to work with him. It is a short-lived arrangement, Edward soon restored Henry Percy to his title of Earl of Northumberland.
  • 12th March 1470. With it clear that it was impossible to work together, the armies of Warwick and Edward met in battle at Losecoat Field. Edward’s army was victorious, and Warwick and the Duke of Clarence were forced to flee to France.

Slide 13 – Readeption of Henry VI

  • Sensing an opportunity to oust Edward, the French facilitate an agreement between Warwick and Margaret of Anjou. The Angers Agreement, signed 1st May 1470, would see Prince Edward (of Westminster) marry Anne Neville, daughter of Warwick. This marriage took place the same year, on 13th December at Angers Cathedral.
  • 13th September 1470, Clarence lands at Plymouth with an invasion force.
  • 2nd October 1470, Edward flees to Burgundy as the pressure on him intensifies.
  • 3rd October 1470. Readeption of Henry VI. Warwick is named Chief Minister.
  • 13th December 1470. Anne Neville, daughter of Warwick, marries Edward, Prince of Wales at Angers Cathedral.

Slide 14 – Endgame. Edward’s ‘Arrivall’ and Warwick’s death at Barnet

  • November 1470, Parliament attains Edward IV and strips him of his land and titles.
  • March 1471, Edward lands at Ravenspur on the Yorkshire Coast at the head of an army of Yorkists and Burgundians. The Earl of Northumberland joins with Edward bringing his own force. They are soon joined by Clarence who has changed sides in the conflict.
  • 14th April 1471. The armies of Edward and Warwick meet at Barnet. The Battle is won by the Yorkists. As Warwick tries to flee the battlefield he is knocked from his horse and killed.

Debriefing / Plenary Session

Asking students to judge whether an act was reactive or proactive is a means of getting the to think about whether decisions were forced onto Warwick or other people for that matter. The events range in nature enough to show that a range of issues came to bear on that decision-making process. Reference can be made to the earlier events such as the grant of Despenser lands to Somerset as a cause of factionalism. So too can the dynastic ambitions of the nobility. Warwick himself had benefitted from wise and upwardly mobile marriages: he wanted the same for his children. Combined these events and the reaction to them give an insight into the character of Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick. Questioning in the debrief could, therefore, be along the lines of:

  • What recurrent themes are there in the politics in which Warwick was involved?
  • Can Warwick be ‘blamed’ for his actions?
  • What were Warwick’s motives and did these change over time? If so, why?

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