Review: Silk and the Sword by Sharon Bennett Connelly

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

The Norman Conquest is, I suppose, a period about which we all know at least a little bit. We have heard of Harold Godwinson, William the Conqueror and perhaps Harald Hardrada of Norway – the three men who contribute most to the story of 1066. Some of us who have studied the period a little more closely will be aware of the exploits and influence of other men. We may even know something of several women of the period, but to be honest we won’t know very much. What this book does – and does very effectively – is to give the women of the conquest centre stage.

I think it is exceptionally difficult to look at the events of the 11th century through the eyes of a woman, but Ms Bennett Connolly teases every last detail out of the few tenuous threads of evidence that the women have left us. She does it in a very measured way, for at no point does the reader feel that his credulity is being overstretched. There is always a balance in what is said and how it is expressed. One should not underestimate the skill required to strike such a balance between understating and overstating the role of any individual – male or female – when the evidence is so sparse. This fine judgement is one reason why the book is so effective.

You would think that, with such limited raw material, all we would end up with is a procession of clone women all doing much the same thing in much the same way. But the writer manages to create distinct individuals and set them in the context of both the events and the society of the 11th century. But she does more than that; she manages to focus in on their individual lives. So, not only do we get a sense of their roles in the state, but we also have an insight into their personal lives in their relationships with their husbands or children in their own households.

Permeating through this book is a recurrent theme of the perilous position of high born women in this period. Often they are merely bargaining counters in the marriage game; frequently a woman of royal or noble birth was married several times and each time was expected to produce a brood of heirs. But we also read of their important role in administration, negotiation and the church.

Perhaps the most difficult task attempted by the author is to lead the reader through the sometimes labyrinthine genealogies of the Saxons – amongst others. The problem is that to have any hope of grasping who a particular woman is, we have to see how she is connected to others. But how do you do that with clarity? The solution in this book is a lot of repetition: rather like saying to the reader this is the sister of ‘so and so’ – you’ll remember ‘so and so’ he was the one who… etc, etc.

The first couple of times that I encountered this repetition I was unsure about it, but then I saw that it was essential in a book of this scope. Without this ‘hand rail’ of constant reminders, I would have fallen off the mountain of detail because every page brings new characters to the story. The way the book is written enabled me to understand the connections – which are numerous – between the women of the time.

Two women stand out in the book for me: Emma of Normandy and Gytha of Wessex – those two I found especially interesting, but the strength of the book is also in the other little gems that I was completely unaware of, such as Judith of Flanders and St Margaret of Scotland.

Ms Bennett Connolly writes in a clear and interesting style that made the book a pleasure to read, but I also learned an enormous amount about both the women and the events they witnessed and I regard myself as fortunate to have received an advance review copy.

December 2018

Posted in Book Reviews, History, Medieval History, Norman Conquest, Reviews, Saxon England, Women's history | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Competition Time!

Over on my Facebook author page it’s giveaway time to celebrate the new audiobook version of Feud! 


Click here to win a chance of a free download of Feud on the Audible site – open to both UK and US readers – but hurry because you’ve only got until 11.30 pm on Sunday 18th November [UK time!]

Posted in Competition, Historical Fiction, New release, Wars of the Roses | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Storming the conventions of historical fiction

I came late to writing historical fiction – in fact late to writing altogether.

History was what I knew best but there were a number of conventions associated with historical fiction that I did not like very much.

The idea of fictional history where one twisted the events and timeline to suit the story really didn’t appeal to me at all. The history was just too important to me. So if I was going to write historical fiction at all then whatever history I included would have to be as accurate as possible.

Another, equally important consideration on my mind was readership. When I started writing, historical fiction tended to fall into one of two categories: historical romance, often written by women for women, and historical action, often written by men for men. Now I know this was not exclusively the case but it was pretty much so, as is evidenced by the number of female writers who used only their initials when writing books with a lot of action in them to disguise the fact that they were women. Obviously the publishing premise was that none of us have the remotest idea about the opposite sex!

I found this convention rather irritating and I set out to write a book with three main protagonists: two women and one man. There would be plenty of action – no holds barred – but it wasn’t only the men who took part in it. There was some romance – in fact several love stories; but though romance might sometimes drive the story along, it was not the main theme.

Overall there were as many female characters as male since my observation is that there are a lot of both in the world.

There was another historical social convention I wanted to attack: the belief that women in the middle ages had no power, no influence and were simply there to have children – and obviously the bit before that…  Now, whilst that might accurately represent the view of the medieval church, it is not in fact how life was. There were plenty of exceptions where women had considerable influence, ran their own businesses, and even commanded men. It seemed important to me that women were given a variety of roles in my stories: most had to conventional to be authentic, but some could be less conventional.

Finally, I wanted to challenge the notion of the lower classes only ever acting in a supporting role. There is a place in the story for the plucky, loyal servant who sacrifices himself in order that the hero can survive but they weren’t all like that!  I included the usual suspects: servants, innkeepers, whores, blacksmiths, yes – but I wanted them to have their own stories too, interwoven with their social superiors rather than just acting as stereotypes.

I wanted therefore at least a little bit of social depth. How did the actions of the powerful impact on the lives of the not so powerful? I wanted subplots which dealt with their concerns – often very different from their masters – or mistresses! Some were loyal but others were grumpy and uncooperative despite – or because of – their lowly station in life. In fact the whole idea of characters being completely ‘good’ or ‘bad’ was something I was keen to move away from.

Feud-Cover-August-2018-Final-Front-onlyThe period covered by my first book Feud, 1459-61, was by far the bloodiest time of the Wars of the Roses and I felt that the reader needed to grasp exactly what that meant, so there is full-on action in several battles. But there were also the effects of battles which are less frequently dealt with.

At the time I was writing Feud, I was intrigued by the discovery of some skeletons near the site of the battle of Towton. In itself, I suppose, it is not that surprising to find some corpses near an old battlefield but it was one skeleton in particular that interested me. One of the corpses revealed that this particular soldier, though he died at Towton, had received a grievous facial injury at some time well before that. It set me to thinking about battlefield surgery and how injured combatants dealt with life afterwards – and clearly, in some cases, continued to be soldiers.

One consequence of all my good intentions was that I ended up with a legion of characters. With hindsight, I might have reduced the cast list a bit… but fortunately during the Wars of the Roses I could indulge in quite a few casualties…

The danger in writing a story to appeal to both sexes was that I would alienate all readers: perhaps there was not enough romance, or too much action, or simply too many characters! My antidote for all of that was to make the pace of the story as fast as possible with a lot of dialogue and very few lengthy descriptions. I wanted the reader to keep reading – to be prepared to wade through the carnage – or the tender embraces – to find out what happened to the characters next.

I am not suggesting that my series of books will appeal to everyone because I’m certain they will not – and that is as it should be. However, I have had enough direct contact with readers now – six years after I first published Feud – to be sure that, whatever flaws my debut novel had, it does have thousands of readers of both sexes who have enjoyed it.

Since I began writing – some ten to twelve years ago now – the face of historical fiction has changed, as society has changed. But, more importantly, publishing has changed too. The books ‘out there’ for readers now are no longer channelled only through traditional publishing and so there is a much greater variety of stories and sub-genres available.

TheBloodOfPrinces-FrontMy sixth, and most recent, Wars of the Roses novel, The Blood of Princes, is set in one of the most turbulent years in the whole of English history – 1483. And yes, it deals with Richard III and the Princes in the Tower, but, like all the books which preceded it, it is a story of a family and its men, women, children, servants, men at arms, etc. They are thrust into a time of crisis and each is trying, in his own way, to emerge from it unscathed.

As the blurb tells you:  “… members of the battle-scarred Elder family are drawn, one by one, into his conspiracy. Soon they are mired so deep in the murky underbelly of London society, that there seems no hope of escape from the tangle of intrigue and murder.”

But don’t worry, they’re getting used to it!

I’m not claiming here to have single-handedly broken any mould, just explaining what inspired me to write in the way I have.  Now, as I write my seventh book, Echoes of Treason, the principles I adopted at the start are still there – though hopefully my writing has improved over the years.

[Note: This post first appeared in September 2018 as a guest post on Mary Anne Yarde’s popular blog: Myths, Legends, Books & Coffee Pots which you can find here.]

Posted in Historical Fiction, Historical Romance, History, Medieval History, The Writing Process, Wars of the Roses, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Dodging Arrows Podcasts: The Wars of the Roses!

Podcasting the Wars of the Roses!


Always been confused by the Wars of the Roses? Hardly dared ask a question in case you get a three hour long answer? Well, help is at hand!

Over on my website I’m running a series of history podcasts tracing the origins, nature and extent of the Wars of the Roses – the period during which my novels are set. Each podcast is between 10 and 15 minutes in length – so easy to find time for!

My object in creating these podcasts is purely educational – free from fictional influences and facebook rants!

Though I’ve studied this period for many years – more than I care to recall! – I don’t claim to know everything and it’s perfectly possible that other students of this controversial period will disagree with some of my conclusions. All I hope to do is give those who are interested a few basic handholds from which to explore further.

The podcasts are hosted on Soundcloud and the music on the podcasts is “Never Tell Me The Odds” composed by Johannes Bornlöf and licensed for use by courtesy of

To listen to the podcasts, click here

You can also find them on iTunes by searching for Wars of the Roses Podcasts. Feel free to give a rating or review.

You can also leave a comment on individual podcasts if you wish – be polite!

If you’re interested, and you’ve not yet sampled my historical fiction books, you might want to see how I’ve woven the history into the fiction by having a look at my first book, Feud,  which is also available as an audiobook on Audible UK or or indeed Amazon or iTunes…


Posted in History, Medieval History, Plantagenets, Richard III, Uncategorized, Wars of the Roses | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Common Myths of the Wars of the Roses: Richard III: Victim of Tudor Propaganda? Part 1

In the past year, while writing my sixth novel set during the Wars of the Roses, I’ve had to confront directly in my research the legend that is Richard III. So much has been written about this king that it is in danger of simply deteriorating into ‘white noise’. Over a period of decades of examining the sources and reading the historians, I am still astonished not only by what is said but also the vehemence with which many assertions are made.


Richard III [Wikimedia Commons]

There are so many myths about Richard that it’s difficult to know where to start, but one view which endures is that Richard’s reputation was destroyed by Tudor propaganda.

The fragmentary evidence we have about Richard is often seriously flawed. So when we talk glibly about Richard, or Henry Tudor for that matter, being ‘popular’ or ‘unpopular’ we are basing our assessment on tiny shards of evidence. That alone is reason enough to question our conclusions.

In this post, I am focusing on how Richard’s actions were perceived by others in 1483.

Before 1483, even most of the political classes would never have met Richard, Duke of Gloucester – or any other important lord. Their world was their manor, or perhaps at most, their county. They would know the leading men of the land only by reputation – by stories of what they were said to have done. It was wholly subjective and unreliable, but it was pretty much all they had.

There were no newspapers or social media, so they must glean snippets out of personal letters from friends at court, or others they knew. Everything was hearsay – informed hearsay – from the tiny few who witnessed any events of importance. News was spread by word of mouth and opinion filtered downwards since every lord in each stratum of society would have his own clients – his political, social and economic dependents.

You can imagine how the information received – and passed on – by these clients, changed with the telling and retelling. What started out as: “did Richard have a hand in the death of the ‘Princes’?” might well end up as: “Richard murdered them!”

But surely this is a case of a man whose reputation was tarnished after his fall by a vengeful victor?

There is no question that before the summer of 1483, Richard was generally held in high regard as: the loyal brother of the late king, a brave soldier, the successful general of the recent Scottish war, the good lord and supporter of his clients and tenants.

That Richard was still revered even at the end of his reign by many in the north is suggested by an entry in the York Records for 23rd August 1485 – the day after Bosworth: “King Richard, late lawfully reigning over us, was… piteously slain and murdered to the great heaviness of this city.”

Nevertheless, the battle over Richard III’s reputation began well before 1485. 

Richard’s image with some folk was pretty tarnished long before Bosworth. In a matter of months during summer 1483, the good opinion of Richard changed drastically. By October 1483 there was an unsuccessful rebellion against Richard which alone is evidence of discontent among at least some the ruling classes of the southern counties. Since it also involved the betrayal of Richard by his closest ally, the Duke of Buckingham, it could not have given people much confidence.

More striking still is that those who supported Henry Tudor’s first bid for the throne formed a rather unholy alliance of die-hard Lancastrian exiles and loyal servants of the Yorkist Edward IV. In fact most came from the latter group who should have been Richard’s natural supporters.

Such a significant shift in opinion could not have been caused by Henry Tudor alone – or his mother, Lady Margaret Stanley, née Beaufort. Indeed few men in England were in direct contact with Henry when the first rebellion occurred.

So, why did some Yorkists choose to support Henry Tudor rather than Richard III? The answer lies not in Tudor propaganda, but in the events between April and July 1483.

In April 1483, en route to the coronation in London, Richard arrested Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers, and several other members of Edward V’s household. This caused some political shockwaves and did not promote an atmosphere of calm. Though the Woodvilles are usually presented, rightly or wrongly, as unpopular, Anthony Woodville, the queen’s brother, might be seen as among the best of them.

I have seen it written countless times that Rivers “hated” Gloucester, so let me be clear on this point: there is no evidence whatsoever that Rivers and Gloucester resented, or disagreed with, or were hostile to – each other before the moment of Rivers’ arrest.

Nor is there any credible evidence that Rivers was plotting against Gloucester, who expected to be confirmed as Protector by the King’s Council when he arrived in London. As the maternal uncle and governor of the Prince of Wales, Rivers was closer to the new boy king than any other leading nobleman. Rivers was not arrested because of what he had done, but because of what he might do. It was a pre-emptive strike and pre-emptive strikes unsettle people.

Gloucester might, in part at least, have been responding to letters from Lord Hastings – the close ally of young Edward’s father – urging him to weaken the power of the queen’s family lest they should dominate the new reign. Hastings, though rightly viewed by many – both then and since – as a ‘reliable pair of hands’, panicked in April 1483. Why? Because he, unlike Gloucester, was wary of the queen and especially hostile to her eldest son, Thomas, Marquis of Dorset.

All the same, when Gloucester arrested Rivers and the others, many in the Council, and beyond, accepted his explanation that there was a Woodville plot against him, though they had no intention of allowing Gloucester to take complete control of the government. In the ensuing weeks councillors worked in two groups: one discussed arrangements for the coronation, while another met separately with Gloucester.

What little evidence we have hints that this division of the council caused mutterings. What, some wondered, was Gloucester discussing with his small group of councillors? Though such thoughts do not constitute opposition to the Protector, they do at least suggest some unease.

Few could have been aware that in mid- June Richard sent letters north calling urgently for troops. If they had been, they might have been more concerned, because in London they would have seen little evidence of the continuing plot which Richard claimed as the justification for it. The queen was in sanctuary at Westminster, so hardly ‘on side’ but she had little opportunity and no resources to challenge Gloucester.

Then, on 13th June 1483, a singular event occurred: Lord Hastings, loyal stalwart of the previous regime, and apparent ally of the Protector, was dragged from the council chamber and brutally beheaded at Gloucester’s command.

Also, John Morton, Bishop of Ely and Lord Thomas Stanley, among others, were summarily arrested. Lord Stanley, like Hastings, was a key figure in the kingdom and not to be trifled with lightly.

It is often suggested that opinion hostile to Richard was confined to the southern counties where the October rebellion broke out, but the power base of Lord Thomas Stanley – released by Gloucester on good behaviour – was in the north-west. Whatever views Lord Stanley, or his many clients, held about Gloucester before 13th June, I doubt he was their best friend afterwards.

This is the pivotal event of the summer. Why? Because if William Hastings, staunch Yorkist and close supporter of Gloucester, could be treated thus, then no man could feel safe.

From that moment on, there was an atmosphere of suspicion and fear at court. When it did become known that Gloucester had sent for a northern army, that only accentuated the alarm. Since the death of Edward IV, Gloucester had imprisoned or executed three of the half dozen most influential magnates in the kingdom and a fourth, Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, appeared to be his most trusted ally. What conclusion would any experienced courtier draw from that?

This, remember, is before any suggestion of Gloucester taking the throne, let alone killing his nephews, but we can be pretty sure that the question on everyone’s mind at court was: what is Gloucester going to do next?

Then, as if by magic, several claims were made questioning the legitimacy of King Edward V. People at court were not stupid – influenced by rumour and self-interest, yes – but not stupid. The fact that these allegations surfaced only days after Hastings’ execution was not lost on anyone. Let us not forget that there were far more men of influence in London than usual because of the impending coronation. Such men wrote letters to their relatives, or to their clients in the country which support the conclusion that opinion of Gloucester was shifting. Where there had been confidence, now there was, at best, confusion and at worst, suspicion.

Then there was the coronation…

RIII_royal arms

The royal arms of Richard III [Creative Commons license in the Public Domain]

Opinion was shifting amongst many who had served Edward IV. When Gloucester first postponed the king’s coronation, most would have agreed with him. Time was too short for the arrangements to be made and a delay until June 22nd seemed sensible. But when the coronation was postponed for a second time, it caused only consternation and confusion. The accusations that the new king was illegitimate might need to be investigated but that did not mean that Richard had to be crowned king at once in his nephew’s stead. But the momentum was with Gloucester and he pushed ahead regardless of opinion amongst the political classes.

Some wondered about the reason for Hastings’ death – few at court could have taken seriously the allegation that he was plotting with the queen against Richard. They watched Richard take the throne and they joined the dots. When the sons of the late king ceased to be seen in the Tower gardens, they joined the dots again.

It matters little now – as it mattered little then – whether Richard was guilty or not. Enough men of substance were incensed by the events of the summer of 1483 and the likelihood [unproven, of course] that the sons of Edward IV were dead.

Many did nothing, preferring – in the light of bitter past experience – to see where events took them – but others wanted action and very likely it was a distraught and embittered dowager queen, Elizabeth Woodville, who fanned the flames.

The strength of their opinion is shown by their willingness to support an exile about whom they knew nothing and whose claim to the throne could not have been weaker.

Their outrage was a lifeline for Henry Tudor languishing, penniless, in Brittany. His mother, Margaret Beaufort, was determined to engineer his return to England and lost no time in apprising him of the changed situation. Thus, even before his 1485 invasion, Henry was referring to Richard as an “unnatural tyrant” and an “enemy of nature”.

Were these phrases propaganda? Yes, for such words made the assumption that Richard was guilty of having the ‘Princes’ killed. But they were also the sort of remarks routinely flung out to rally potential supporters and Richard delivered comparable slurs about Henry as a would-be ‘usurper’.

The shift in opinion in the summer of 1483 did not ensure that Henry Tudor would be successful but it did mean that Richard’s regime, which depended on a small number of very powerful men, lacked a groundswell of support. Rumours circulated – not only in England, but abroad – which undermined Richard’s credibility.

Although many might not, in the end, take up arms against Richard III, they might not fight for him either.

In the next post on this theme, I shall address the issue of Tudor propaganda after 1483.

[N.B. This post appeared first on the English Historical Fiction Authors Blog]

Posted in History, Medieval History, Plantagenets, Richard III, Wars of the Roses | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Common Myths of the Wars of the Roses: Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, the ‘Kingmaker’? Part 4

This is the final part of my exploration into the notion that Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, merits the epithet of “kingmaker”. 

[N.B. All 4 parts were previously published on the English Historical Fiction Authors Blog]

In the winter of 1469-70, despite an apparent rapprochement with the king, Warwick was contemplating open rebellion. Apart from capitulation, it was his only option: he must replace Edward IV with his own son in law, George, Duke of Clarence.

So, in March 1470, Warwick created a crisis by backing Lord Welles in a local feud with one of the king’s household men, Sir Thomas Burgh. At first, the king was unaware of the involvement of Warwick and Clarence, but when he defeated Welles, he discovered plenty of evidence. Though he summoned the earl and the duke to explain, they refused to come and gathered their forces in the midlands. Warwick hoped for support from his brother, John Neville, Earl of Northumberland, and from Lord Thomas Stanley, the most influential lord in the north-west. Both refused to join him and, without them, he knew he was doomed.

Fleeing south, Warwick and Clarence collected their wives and managed – just – to evade the king’s pursuing army at Dartmouth. From there, after attempting to gather more ships and men at Southampton, they sailed to Calais. But King Edward had already written to Calais and the ships were denied entry, though Warwick’s heavily pregnant daughter Isabel was going into labour and subsequently lost her child.

Warwick had little choice but to head for France and hope for a warm welcome. Another attempt at kingmaking had ended in abject failure.

Warwick’s ships continued along the channel, indulging in some gratuitous piracy against Flemish ships on the way. The earl might have seen this as a windfall, or perhaps he reckoned that action against the Burgundians would ease his entry to a French port. My guess is that he thought it couldn’t hurt his reputation with the French king, Louis XI, when he asked for his protection.

Condemned in England as a traitor, Warwick now faced an ignominious end to his illustrious career, but remarkably, in a matter of months, he managed to resurrect his kingmaking ambitions. How did such an unlikely reversal of fortune come about?

Even before this latest disaster, Warwick surely realised that Clarence was a weak reed so, if he really wanted a change of monarch, he needed a better candidate. One of Warwick’s few remaining assets was his daughter, Anne, and now whoever she married would need to bring something special to the family – preferably a touch of royalty. He needed someone whose name alone would attract men to his banner, which brings us to one of the most interesting volte-faces in English history: Warwick’s pact with his most bitter enemy, Margaret of Anjou.

It is a measure of Warwick’s utter desperation that he was willing to fling aside previous loyalties to mount one last attempt at achieving real power.


Source / National Library of France

If Warwick had ever considered the possibility of reconciliation with Queen Margaret, he must have viewed it as a last resort. Well, in May 1470, the last resort had been reached. Yet, how could the former queen be persuaded to agree to a pact with the man she regarded as the architect of her family’s demise? England already had a spare king. The unfortunate Henry VI had been a prisoner of Edward IV since July 1465, but his queen, Margaret of Anjou, had never given up hope of restoring not only her husband but more importantly her son, Edward of Westminster.

Whilst it is true that Margaret would need a lot of persuading, by spring 1470 with no resources left to her, even the indomitable Margaret was low on optimism.

Louis XI, known as ‘the universal spider’, was an expert manipulator of people. He knew from Warwick’s diplomatic missions that the earl favoured a French alliance – a policy over which he fell out with King Edward who instead allied himself to Burgundy, France’s enemy.

This was an alliance King Louis was desperate to break. Thus, between May and July 1470, he brokered negotiations between Warwick and Margaret. He was very persuasive and both parties recognised that it was their last chance. Margaret swallowed her bile and came to terms, doing her best to humiliate the earl in the process; and Warwick, always a better diplomat than soldier, soaked it up on his knees.

At first it was probably just one of many irons in the fire for ‘the spider’, but once it seemed that it might actually happen, he provided money, ships and men – the lifeblood of invasion without which Warwick could have gone nowhere!

One could devote a dozen posts to the subsequent events but since my focus is on the kingmaking, I shall simply note that, against all odds, Warwick succeeded in putting together a coalition of Edward’s enemies, including not only Queen Margaret but the renegade lords: Jasper Tudor – King Henry’s half-brother and John de Vere, Earl of Oxford – a diehard Lancastrian.

Nevertheless, as always, success in England would depend upon the actions of a few key men: his brother John Neville, recently stripped of the earldom of Northumberland; Lord Thomas Stanley and, not least, the Duke of Clarence himself. How would all these individuals react in the crisis that Warwick created?

When Warwick landed in the south-west in September 1470, he proclaimed that he was restoring the rightful king, Henry VI. However dishonest one might feel now that this claim was, there is no doubt that it resonated with some at the time. Bear in mind also that, at this point Edward IV had no male heir whereas Henry VI did. However unlikely it seemed, Warwick had put together what appeared to be an attractive package.

King Edward was in the north stamping out Neville-backed risings, but still confident he could defeat Warwick. However, one by one, his leading nobles joined the rebellion: notably Lord Stanley and the Earl of Shrewsbury – but also crucially, and at the very last minute, Warwick’s brother, John Neville – still smarting from the loss of his earldom. Since he had always remained loyal to Edward, it was a body blow to the king. With Warwick advancing from the south and John Neville close by in the north, the king could only disband his army and flee to his Burgundian ally, Duke Charles. Meanwhile, his pregnant wife, Elizabeth Woodville, took sanctuary with her daughters at Westminster – not for the first, or last, time!

Victorious, Warwick headed for the capital to free a bemused Henry VI and await the return of Queen Margaret and her son, Edward – recently married to Anne Neville. Nevertheless, he faced some tricky problems ahead in managing a hastily-engineered coalition which amounted to an alliance of his enemies. Once Queen Margaret returned, along with some of his most bitter foes, such as Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, he must have feared what would happen. All that though lay in the future, because Queen Margaret was reluctant to take the leap of faith and return to England, beset by her own doubts about the wisdom of trusting Warwick.

Thus, at the heart of Warwick’s alliance lay animosity and mistrust.

His friends too were nervous: some supporters, notably Stanley and Shrewsbury, received little reward for their vital support. His brother John, risking all to support him, must have been uneasy about his rival in the north, Henry Percy, recently restored to the earldom of Northumberland by Edward IV. If these men harboured doubts about what they had done, those with no love at all for Warwick were just biding their time until Queen Margaret arrived. If enough pressure was applied, would the coalition simply splinter?

The sudden return of Edward IV in March 1471 provided the first test for the new regime. Edward landed with perhaps 500 men, professed loyalty to Henry VI and claimed that he wanted only his dukedom of York. With hindsight of course this seems pretty hard to believe, but at the time it created confusion at a critical moment. Edward’s boldness paralysed his enemies, for though both Northumberland and John Neville could have stopped him in his tracks, neither did.


Battle of Barnet via Wikimedia Commons

Edward IV hurried to London where he returned the old king to the Tower and prepared to meet Warwick head on. At the resulting battle of Barnet in April, several key advantages lay with Warwick: better artillery and two reliable commanders in his brother, John, and the Earl of Oxford. However, since it was fought in a fog, the outcome might just as well have been settled by the toss of a coin. Yet perhaps it was a fitting end to the chaotic years of plotting and in-fighting from 1469-71. Even so, Edward gathered only modest support before he reached the midlands. After all, who would risk all by supporting him? Well, as it turned out, his errant brother, George, Duke of Clarence, would.

Clarence was the ‘spare thumb’ of Warwick’s regime and was even more worried about his future than Warwick himself. Though the earl might have foreseen it, Clarence’s sudden defection to Edward, taking all his adherents with him, changed everything.

Warwick not only lost at Barnet, but he was killed, so his kingmaking exploits ended there. Only hours afterwards, Queen Margaret and her son landed at Weymouth.

King Edward’s troubles did not end at Barnet, but Warwick’s ambitions did. Like all his kingmaking attempts, the last was fatally flawed. You could argue that he was unlucky and that, had he won at Barnet, his achievement would have endured. But it was not just bad luck. His last hurrah was built upon a creaking foundation and, in his desperation, Warwick ignored vital flaws – not least the very real problem of what to do with Clarence. Clarence, as they say, ‘voted with his feet’.

If ever there was a tragic figure in English history, it is Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick. One of the great men of his age, he promised much, but was destroyed by his own pride and ambition. He was not the only English nobleman to perish in that way during the medieval period, but he was certainly one of the most notable.

For me, there is no occasion when Warwick justifies the name “kingmaker”, for he made no-one king. In every case, other factors were more important than the role of Warwick himself and even the readeption of Henry VI proved so fragile that it barely lasted a few anxious months. The image of Warwick, the kingmaker, belongs only in the pages of historical fiction.


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Common Myths of the Wars of the Roses – Myth #3: Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, the ‘Kingmaker’? Part 3…

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.


George, Duke of Clarence [from Wikimedia]

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:]

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.


Middleham Castle, Yorkshire

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:

Kingmaker? Part 1

Kingmaker? Part 2

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Scars from the Past – 99p for 5 days only

Scars from the Past, book 1 of The Craft of Kings series is on a Kindle Countdown discount for 5 days – 99p!

The Craft of Kings is the second series describing the world of the fictional Elder family as they try to survive – not always very successfully – the twists and turns of the Wars of the Roses. Book 1 begins in 1481 and focuses on Ludlow where the young Edward, Prince of Wales, is housed.

By 1481, England has been free from civil war for ten years. The Elder family have found a fragile peace after their part in the bloody struggle for the throne, yet the scars remain with them all. And close to home, in Ludlow, trouble is stirring once more.



Born out of the carnage of the Wars of the Roses, young John Elder is now the heir to his father’s legacy, but he finds it a poisonous one. After a brutal fight with an outlaw, John abandons his home and inheritance to become a mercenary in Flanders. But, in his absence, the Elder family must face his ruthless outlaw enemy alone.
When the young Edward, Prince of Wales, is caught up in their bitter struggle, the life of the heir to the throne hangs in the balance. To save the prince, all other lives must be put at risk, but will John Elder return in time to help?

Only if the Elders can leave the scars of the past behind them, is there any hope of survival.

‘As with all good historical fiction, the reader learns fascinating period detail, while being entertained by an experienced author who knows his trade.’ Historical Novels Review

‘Derek Birks has taken his usual high standard of storytelling to a whole new level. Scars From the Past is impossible to put down… I defy you to enjoy this book and not want to go back to Feud, where it all started.’ The Review

Buy on Amazon UK 

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All you thought you knew about the Wars of the Roses, but didn’t… Episode Three: Warwick, the Kingmaker? Part Two…

A month or two ago, after a bit of a rant on Facebook, I started a series of posts to explode a few of the pervasive myths which surround the Wars of the Roses.

Here’s the second part of my exploration into the notion that Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, deserves the epithet of “kingmaker”.

We have seen in Part 1 how Warwick’s role in the events leading up to 1460 was that of a supporter of the Duke of York, but not one who was trying to unseat the lawful king, Henry VI. However, with the disastrous defeat at the battle of Wakefield in December 1460, the political landscape of England was changed utterly. As Christmas presents go, it was to say the least, disappointing for  York’s heir, Edward, Earl of March. The York-Neville alliance was in tatters and a new strategy was required. Now the decisions rested not with York and Salisbury but with their sons: Edward and Richard, Earl of Warwick.

Surely here then is the prime example of Warwick ‘making’ a king – but is it?

If Warwick himself had been writing the script, I have no doubt that it would have read thus:

The Earl of Warwick took the inexperienced 18 year old son of York under his wing and guided him to power. That Warwick believed this to be the case is almost certain, but that doesn’t make it true.

The ‘kingmaker’ version of events does not match what actually happened. 

Though Edward might not have succeeded in taking the throne, without Warwick’s resources, the pivotal events of 1461 were driven by Edward, not by Warwick.

Warwick was important because he drew support for Edward and had enormous resources of men and money, but in 1461 it was young Edward who pulled the strings – both on and off the battlefield. The traditional historical view of Edward was that he was lazy and indecisive – another colossal myth bequeathed to us by the Victorians, but that’s for another day! In fact, especially in his youth, Edward was very decisive indeed and it was his drive and energy which dictated the fast pace of events in the spring of 1461, whereas Warwick was very much on the back foot.

In February, whilst Queen Margaret headed for London with a large northern army, Edward destroyed Jasper and Owen Tudor’s Lancastrian army in the west at Mortimer’s Cross, before marching east to join Warwick. At the very same time, Warwick was making a complete pig’s ear of his attempt to stop Margaret’s advance on London.

The Earl of Warwick was not a great general – nor was he an especially lucky one. His chaotic performance at the second battle of St Albans could have destroyed the Yorkist cause. During the battle, he had no idea what was going on, with the result that most of his army was destroyed or fled. Then afterwards, he contrived to lose the one vital advantage he had which was possession of King Henry VI. Thus, when Warwick dragged the tattered remnant of his army to meet Edward at Chipping Norton, he brought very little to the table.

This, I think, was the moment when young Edward realised that if he was going to be king, he could not rely upon Warwick to deliver the crown to him. Had Margaret decided to unleash her unruly army against London in February 1461 then she might well have secured the throne for her husband, Henry VI. Fortunately for Edward – and Warwick – she did not. Instead, almost inexplicably, she retreated northwards and allowed Edward to enter London in triumph.

In London, often supportive of his father, Edward could use the machinery of government and raise merchant loans to recruit another army with which he would later defeat the queen’s forces at the bloody battle of Towton.

London was therefore vital and there is no doubt that it was Queen Margaret, not Warwick, who handed him the city and all its resources.

The vital occupation of London was thus achieved in spite of, not because of, Warwick’s efforts.

Becoming king in 1461 was not about diplomacy, or having the right policies, it was about winning a bitter and bloody struggle on the field of battle.

Edward IV, St Laurence’s Church, Ludlow


During his reign, as I have said, Edward IV is sometimes accused of lethargy but in 1461 it was his drive and fighting prowess which won the day.

Sometimes it’s as well to step outside the cosy narrative of the history books and see the man as he was perceived by others. Edward was a natural leader and in the heat of battle men saw this giant of a youth – well over six feet tall – always in the forefront of the fight, hacking down his enemies with his fearsome poll axe. Warwick was a brave soldier and indeed fought bravely at Towton, but he could not outshine Edward. It was a truly terrible battle and the outcome was still in doubt quite late on in the day. It was the arrival of reinforcements from the Duke of Norfolk which turned the tide of battle in Edward’s favour. So even then, victory owed little to Warwick.


Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, though he was very important to Edward’s success, did not make Edward king in 1461; Edward did. Warwick was not a king maker.

The earl is rather like a competitor in BBC’s The Apprentice claiming in the boardroom: “I negotiated that deal, or I got that special price, or I made that massive sale that won us the task.”

Warwick ‘talked a good game’ and after the throne was won, he saw himself – perhaps rightly – as the man who should be the king’s chief adviser.  But in the next four or five years, events did not quite follow Warwick’s plan. He hoped to be the guiding hand behind the crown and in his foreign diplomacy he projected exactly such an image.

One of the features of Edward’s kingship, throughout his disjointed reign, is his willingness to give his enemies a second chance. In most cases, this worked well for him and ensured that his government eventually included many who had supported the old king. Though at times this generosity backfired, it did gain him the respect and support of many who had not previously been his allies.

How irritating must Warwick have found it in the 1460s to see his place of prominence being threatened by some who had actually fought against him?

Thus by 1469, Warwick was a very disgruntled nobleman who began to see that his own best interests might lie with an alternative to Edward IV.

But more of that in Part 3…

[Note: This post was first published on the blog of the English Historical Fiction Authors]

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All you thought you knew about the Wars of the Roses, but didn’t… Episode Two: Warwick, the Kingmaker?

Wars of the Roses Myth #3 – Was Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, really a ‘Kingmaker’? 

Part 1…

A month or two ago, I had a bit of a rant on Facebook about the common myths which persist about many aspects of the Wars of the Roses period. I vowed to do something about it, so here’s my second offering which seeks to explode the myth that Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, justified the epithet of “kingmaker”.

History likes important people to have nicknames: Alfred the Great, Ethelred the Unready, William the Conqueror, Edward ‘Longshanks’, or the ‘Hammer of the Scots’, ‘Good Queen Bess’ or ‘Gloriana’, ‘Bloody’ Mary and ‘Bluff’ King Hal. Such nicknames will be familiar but these names are not about history, they are about legend. They are useful handles for us to use to identify a particular figure and they have become part of our collective memory. Unfortunately, they are often wholly, or partly, inaccurate – and frequently based upon the opinions of a few influential early historians.

These nicknames are thus the judgement of one society or culture upon another that came before – and they sometimes come with a fierce perspective! Often it’s worth finding out, if you can, who first used the term and why.

So when was the name ‘Kingmaker’ first used about the Earl of Warwick?

Well, Shakespeare – who else? – gives us a place to start with the character of Warwick in his play Henry VI Part 3. [Please note: Shakespeare wrote fiction!]

In Act 2, scene 3, Warwick is described by the bard as: “thou setter up and plucker down of kings.”


Courtesy of Wikipedia

But the term ‘kingmaker’ actually predates Shakespeare. A Scottish philosopher and intellectual, John Major (or Mair), wrote in 1521 of Warwick in his History of Greater Britain: ‘Of him, it was said that he made kings and at his pleasure cast them down’ and Major used the Latin phrase ‘regum creator’ to describe the earl.

The first known English reference is: ‘That brave Kingmaker, Warwick’ which appears in Samuel Daniel’s poem, The History of the Civil War written in the reign of Elizabeth I.

However, it was not a term in common use for several hundred years until the eighteenth century historian, David Hume, made it more well-known. And of course, for good or ill, the epithet stuck fast.

I have no trouble with using such a tag as an easy handle for recognition purposes. People mostly have some clue to whom you are referring if you say Warwick, the ‘Kingmaker’, to distinguish him from all other Earls of Warwick that existed before or since – and there have been many! That’s fair enough, but when it comes to whether the term is justified, then that’s another matter entirely.

There are probably three distinct occasions when it has been claimed that the Earl of Warwick was a kingmaker:

1) for Richard, Duke of York, in 1455 (or 1460 – take your pick!)

2) for Edward, Earl of March, in 1461

3) for Henry VI upon his readeption in 1470.

Like most things in the Wars of the Roses, these claims are controversial, but the short answer is that Warwick didn’t actually make anyone king!

In Part 1, I shall deal with the myth that he intended to replace Henry VI with Richard, Duke of York.



From the Rous Roll, “Warwick the Kingmaker”, Oman, 1899

Just how powerful and influential was Warwick?

Warwick had immense wealth – he was a ‘billionaire’ for his time by virtue of his massive land holdings which were the fruits of a succession of advantageous Neville marriages. His large family had intermarried with many other noble families and he could thus build alliances to gain the support of other powerful men.

His wealth gave him a sizeable retinue of men at arms, archers, etc. from these vast estates. He was keen to use the latest technology in warfare such as cannons and firearms – and he understood the importance of such new weapons. In the field he was a courageous warrior, capable of inspiring great loyalty amongst his supporters. Unlike many, he understood the value of sea power and was something of a pioneer in its use.

As well as his martial prowess, he had the charm of a smooth-talking diplomat who was able to win many to his banner. Add to that the drive and ruthless determination to succeed and you have a man capable of achieving a great deal.

The historian, Michael Hicks, in his recent authoritative book, Warwick the Kingmaker, concludes: “For twenty years he shaped events, his own career, and indeed history itself.”

So Warwick probably had the means to ‘make’ a king, but did he try to put the Duke of  York on  the throne?

The Duke of York possessed an ancient claim to the throne and he was, in the absence of an heir to Henry VI up to 1453, the heir presumptive – the man most likely to succeed. Nevertheless in the early 1450s Richard of York felt slighted and ill-treated, perhaps with some justification, by Henry VI’s regime. York ended up with almost no major political allies. Then, during the period 1452 to 1455, he began to form an alliance with the powerful Neville family.

Was the alliance with York the work of Warwick? 

Perhaps, but only in part, since his father, the ageing Earl of Salisbury, whose sister, Cicely Neville, was married to York, was the true architect, just as he was the architect of the marriage years earlier that gave Warwick himself such wealth.

How then did Warwick come to support Richard of York against King Henry VI?

Warwick believed that, as a key figure in the realm, he should position himself and his family as close to the centre of power as possible. Since the source of all patronage and advancement was the king, Warwick expected to serve the king in a major capacity and be amply rewarded for doing so. Nothing unusual about that since it was the aspiration of most noblemen in England.

Unfortunately for Warwick, he, and the Neville family in general, had influential rivals at court, notably Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset. They were also embroiled in a bitter feud with the Percy family in their own backyard in the north of England. The usual way to eclipse one’s enemies was to harness more power and wealth from the king, for example: grants of more land, appointment to important offices of state or lucrative customs contracts. Such things were the bread and butter of all noble families at that time. The problem was that there was only so much largesse that a king had to give. A prudent king might spread it around a little to create some balance amongst his most powerful subjects, but sadly, Henry VI was not so discriminating.

Thus, by the mid-1450s, the Earl of Warwick, despite all his power and wealth, did not have the pre-eminent position in the state that he coveted. But on two occasions in the 1450s, Warwick was given a glimpse of an alternative reality – a world where England was ruled by a Protector of the Realm because of the king’s temporary incapacity. That protector was Richard, Duke of York and York did a fair job of ruling. He also rewarded his friends, such as the Nevilles, and punished his enemies, such as Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset.

York gave Warwick the prominent seat at the table of state which he wanted. But, after the king’s recovery, York had to relinquish his role of protector with the result that the York-Neville faction was once again starved of influence over the king and thus out of power. For a time they tried persuasion but then in 1455, at the first Battle of St Albans, they resorted to force.

So, was St Albans in 1455 the first act of the ‘kingmaker’ to replace Henry VI?

Definitely not and any such suggestion is pure fantasy. What Warwick wanted to do in 1455 was forcibly remove the king’s closest advisers such as Somerset. It was no surprise that the chief casualties at St Albans were the leading noblemen against York and Warwick: dead men can’t rule.

York and Warwick also wanted to limit the influence of the Queen, Margaret of Anjou, who was fiercely supportive of her husband and wanted to protect the legacy of her recently born male heir.

But St. Albans was a dangerous gamble that sent shock waves through the English nobility. Because some prominent men were killed, several new and bitter feuds were started which would last for decades. The use of violence was condemned by many, and if York was testing the strength of commitment to Henry VI, he found that, despite his brief and bloody victory, the vast majority of nobles and others saw Henry VI as their lawful king, anointed by God and thus to be obeyed.

Even York’s own supporters, including the Earl of Warwick, accepted that this was so.

When in 1460, York aimed for the throne, Warwick seemed as surprised as most other lords – few of whom showed any enthusiasm for the idea. The best they would accept was the so-called Act of Accord, whereby Henry would live out his life as king but then York would succeed him.

If Warwick played any part at all in this whole episode it was a conciliatory one. 

After all, it did not help Warwick’s aim of political power to become embroiled in a bloody civil war, the outcome of which was by no means certain. A desperate man might do that but Warwick was not so desperate – at least not yet…

Nevertheless, the Act of Accord disinherited the king’s legitimate male offspring and Queen Margaret, for one, was unlikely ever to accept that. Her opposition to York and the Nevilles, once born out of suspicion about their motives, became implacable enmity. And she was not going to give up. Marshalling the loyal nobles, who were still the overwhelming majority, she conjured up, at the Battle of Wakefield in late December 1460, the one thing which could put an end to the struggle: the deaths of both Richard, Duke of York and Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury – Warwick’s father.

Warwick had never intended Richard, Duke of York, to actually take the throne from Henry VI, yet the would-be king and Warwick’s father were now dead and, as a result, the York-Neville alliance lay in tatters. York’s death was a body blow because Warwick had invested so much in the duke’s political success. Not only was Warwick out of power, but he was now at risk of losing everything he had.

Thus early in 1461, Warwick had to decide how he would deal with the fallout from the disaster at Wakefield. But that’s the second part of the myth – and a whole other story…

[N.B. This post first appeared on the English Historical Fiction Authors’ Blog]

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