This is the third part of my exploration into the notion that Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, deserves the epithet of “kingmaker”. When I sat down to write Part 3, I quickly realised that, to avoid oversimplifying the story, I would need to deal with King Edward IV’s mid-reign crisis of 1468-71 in two separate posts. So basically this is now Part 3 of 4!
There are two stages to the crisis and the first involves Warwick’s attempt to hitch his wagon, or more accurately his elder daughter, to the runaway horse called George, Duke of Clarence – the king’s younger brother.
Much has been made by historians of Warwick’s growing frustration during the 1460s, especially over the king’s secret marriage to Elizabeth Woodville in 1464. We are told that Warwick was ‘disappointed’ that Edward did not give him the influence over policy that he believed he deserved. Yes, you’re right: he had an ego to die for – and sooner or later he would…
In his ‘disappointment’ Warwick began to consider an alternative to Edward. After all, if one powerful duke could seize the throne, why not another? His attentions were therefore focused on Edward’s younger brother, George, who seemed an obvious choice because his claim to the throne was as good as Edward’s – especially if Edward was without Warwick’s support. An obvious choice, except George was not the man Edward was and no-one would seek to supplant the king with his younger brother unless he was desperate.
Why then was Warwick beginning to feel desperate by 1468?
Well folks, it’s mainly about sons and daughters – Warwick had no sons and two daughters.
A favourable marriage was a major tool in noble advancement. Warwick himself made a spectacular one which added enormously to his power and wealth. At least one of his daughters would have to secure a great marriage and the best – perhaps the only – option amongst the nobility would have been Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, since he had royal lineage and large landholdings. Buckingham, however, was swiftly married off to one of the new queen’s Woodville relatives and was thus unavailable. So, if the noble line of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, was not to be subsumed into a lesser noble house, his daughters must marry up – i.e. into royalty.Enter George, Duke of Clarence: available, eligible and royal. This would be the perfect match to secure the future of the Neville family.
King Edward, however, dismissed out of hand the idea of a Neville marriage to either of his brothers. Perhaps Warwick did have a genuine cause for complaint since, in his eyes, the king had denied him Buckingham and was now ruling out the two royal dukes as well. But from Edward’s point of view: by 1468 he, like Warwick, also had two daughters and no sons. How dangerous would it be if the heir presumptive, his brother George, married into the most powerful noble family in England while Edward still had no male heir of his own? A further hurdle was that a papal dispensation would be required since George and Warwick’s daughters were cousins. In spite of the king’s opposition, Warwick persisted with the project through 1467 and at some point began secret negotiations with Rome for the necessary papal dispensation.
The summer of 1467 marks the first really low point in the relationship between the king and Warwick. By the end of that summer, Warwick’s favoured foreign policy of an alliance with France was demolished when Edward opted for a counter alliance with the enemy of France: Burgundy. Here is not the place to discuss the relative merits of the two policies but it was this humiliation of Warwick that set the earl on a collision course with the king.
Warwick went home to his estates to lick his wounds. That does not mean that he had already decided upon rebellion, but it does mean that he was considering his options. Apart from the French fiasco, he was also resentful of the rise of other men at court, notably the Queen’s father, Earl Rivers, and brother, Lord Scales, but especially William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke. Herbert was a rising star in the Yorkist firmament and his growing power in Wales set him against Warwick who had longstanding interests there. Herbert also appeared to be spreading rumours – also going around the French court at the time – that the disaffected Warwick was now in league with the deposed Lancastrian queen, Margaret of Anjou.
Privately, King Edward must have dismissed this notion as laughable but he could not completely ignore it. When he asked Warwick to come to answer the rumours, the earl was reluctant. In the end, early in 1468, he did so but only in the most grudging and unbending manner. Despite Warwick’s unhelpful attitude, the king continued to reward him with lands and income – as if he was short of such things!
It has been noted before that Edward preferred conciliation to confrontation with his leading subjects – sometimes at very great risk to himself. Here again we see the king trying hard to win over Warwick rather than drive him away, but it became increasingly obvious during 1468 that Warwick would not accept being merely one of a number of royal advisers. The earl did not really buy into the concept of ‘first among equals.’
Whilst his leading magnate was sulking, Edward had more pressing problems: there had been a notable increase in lawlessness during 1466, 1467 and into 1468. One of the most enduring planks of any Yorkist manifesto was to reduce corruption and restore law and order, but it appeared that Edward had failed to do so. Part of the renewed unrest was down to an increase in the activities of Lancastrian loyalists. It seemed that every time Edward thought he had restored control, new pockets of rebellion popped up. Whilst none of these was large-scale, taken together they were certainly worrying.
During 1468 Warwick returned to London and the documentary evidence tells us that he and his brothers, George – lately removed as Chancellor – and John, Lord Montagu, were all prominently involved in government. So, to judge from appearances, the Nevilles were back on board the good ship Edward. But all was not quite as it seemed…
By 1469, Warwick was actively pursuing two converging policies against Edward. The first was the alliance with Clarence through marriage to his daughter, Isabel, for which Warwick still awaited a papal dispensation.
Why did Clarence go along with this? Basically because, whilst he was handsome and charming like his brother, he lacked several of Edward’s other, better, qualities. Despite the immense rewards showered upon him since the victory of 1461, Clarence was dissatisfied. He was ambitious and viewed a marriage to the elder Neville heiress as an excellent way of increasing his already large land holdings and power.
Warwick’s second policy was to exploit and focus the growing disaffection of the commons against Edward’s government. In the spring of 1469 he used his men in the north to encourage rebellion. Though it is certain that the commons had legitimate grievances, it is unlikely they would have risen in such numbers without the promise of support from some local members of the gentry committed to the earl. Warwick also promoted his own image through propaganda and his generosity to all and sundry. Then – as now – folk are easily swayed by rich men who promise the poor better times…
Between April and July 1469 there were several risings in the north. It’s almost unbelievable how little we know about these revolts, but we do know one thing: Warwick was behind the largest one and helped to direct its manifesto.
[See an earlier post on my blog for the complexities of these risings: http://bit.ly/2zAdpFq]
King Edward reacted very slowly to the threat of rebellion in the north, making a laboured progress to Nottingham to raise troops to counter the rebels. While he was doing that, Warwick was elsewhere. At the end of June the earl announced the Clarence-Neville marriage in a letter to his supporters in Coventry and almost at once, in early July, he departed with his brother Archbishop George Neville, along with Clarence and Isabel, to Calais where the marriage took place. After that, Warwick made his intentions crystal clear, directly associating himself with the northern rebels and issuing a statement which notably compared the ills of the present regime with the failures of Edward II, Richard II and Henry VI – all of whom had of course been deposed.
Warwick then returned to England as the northern rebels swept into the midlands opposed only by the armies of William Herbert and another upstart – from Warwick’s perspective – Humphrey Stafford, Earl of Devon.
Warwick arrived in time to condemn the royal commanders and anyone else he cared to – notably a few of the Woodvilles. He then took possession of the king, moving him first to Warwick and then into the Neville heartland at Middleham. Next he summoned parliament – perhaps to garner support for his actions and perhaps also to legitimise the elevation of Clarence over his older brother.
By the middle of August 1469, Warwick appeared to be in command of both the king and the kingdom.At this critical moment in his reign, Edward was slow to grasp what was happening: perhaps the betrayal by Warwick, but also by his own brother, still seemed unthinkable. His inactivity did not help his allies, Herbert and Stafford; on the other hand these two bullish men did not help each other much either. They managed to snatch oblivion from the jaws of victory at the battle of Edgecote in July 1469.
Sadly for Warwick, it was all an illusion. The conundrum for us is that we don’t really know what Warwick intended. Surely he intended to be the ‘kingmaker’ here. Clarence must have been promised the throne; otherwise what was the point of drawing any comparison with previously deposed kings?
It is possible, of course, that the more Warwick got to know Clarence the less convinced he was that the king’s flawed brother was the answer to his problems. Hence the earl ended up trying to rule through Edward as a ‘puppet king’ and it just did not work.
Here’s why. Though Warwick had some popular support in the north, hardly any of the ruling classes supported his coup. He was almost completely isolated amongst the nobility and the king’s council. Plans for a parliament were quickly shelved amid governmental chaos and yet another Lancastrian rising. It did not help Warwick that there was even more disorder after he took over than before: local feuds abounded and the earl could offer no answer without the authority of the king. Ironically therefore, he was forced to release the king in order to suppress the Lancastrian rising and restore confidence in the government.
By October, King Edward was back in London in the bosom of his allies. Publicly, he declared his goodwill towards both Warwick and Clarence, but no-one was fooled. Though the king did not punish Warwick, he was unlikely to forget the earl’s savage execution of his rivals – especially since one of them was the queen’s father! He began to limit Neville power and influence whilst allowing them to retain some pride. Men such as Edward’s youngest brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, Thomas, Lord Stanley, and Henry Percy, newly restored to his earldom of Northumberland, were given more influence at Neville expense. Edward hoped for reconciliation, but did not expect it. His brother, George, might be forgiven but not the Earl of Warwick.
Over the winter of 1469-70, the earl chewed over his failure. True, he had achieved the marriage he intended and had removed some rivals, but his position in the state was now perilous. Yet, the king still had no son, so perhaps Warwick’s only way out was to think the unthinkable… as many desperate men do…
In the final part I shall look at Warwick’s final throw of the dice: the readeption of Henry VI.
[Note: This post was first published on the blog of the English Historical Fiction Authors]
If you have yet to read the earlier posts in this series, you can find them here: