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The Second War of the Roses

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The Causes of the Wars of the Roses | The First War of the Roses | The Second War of the Roses | The House of York at Peace | The Third War of the Roses

Edward IV was quite secure on his throne at the end of 1465, with the capture of Henry VI. Yet, by that time, relations among his supporters were already creating new problems for him. The problems would ultimately lead to a renewed outbreak of the Wars of the Roses. This article is about why and how the second war happened.

An Unsuitable Marriage

Edward IV knew that marriage would be a crucial diplomatic weapon if used wisely, however he did not so use it. Warwick had been arranging a marriage for Edward with a sister of the French King Louis XI in 1464, and was continuing to arrange it late into the year. Then, in September, Edward announced to his councillors that he had in fact been married since April. His secret marriage was to Elizabeth Woodville, a young widow whose husband had died fighting for the Lancastrians at St Albans, and whose father, Lord Rivers, had been a leading Lancastrian - though nowhere near senior enough for the marriage to be useful as a bridge-building exercise. Elizabeth had no title, and marrying a commoner was downright scandalous. Besides, Edward had wasted any chance of an overseas marriage alliance. It is certain that he knew all of this, or he would not have married her secretly. The first cracks in Edward's relationship with Warwick were sown.

Warwick's resentment did not show at first, and he participated at Elizabeth's coronation. He did not object to other Woodvilles marrying into high office, even though one of these was of his aunt to Elizabeth's younger brother. And he continued to receive favours. But the fact remained that he was not as powerful as before. Louis had, after all, been negotiating with him, not Edward. He did not control the government as he once had.

The Breach with Warwick

In 1465, the Dukes of Burgundy and Brittany rebelled against King Louis. This raised a question for Edward - who to support? France was the traditional enemy, but there was an ongoing trade dispute with Burgundy. Edward kept out of a brief French civil war in 1465, but negotiations continued. Charles of Charolais, the heir of Philip of Burgundy, had recently been widowed, and a promising marriage alliance became possible. Edward was offering his sister, Margaret of York, either to Charles or to a French prince.

It became apparent that Warwick favoured France, and Rivers Burgundy1. In May 1467, Warwick received a generous offer from Louis, with the prospect of a dowry that offered the possibility of regaining Gascony, provided that England and France entered into an offensive alliance against Burgundy. In June, Duke Philip of Burgundy died, and Warwick returned to England. There, he found his French ambassadors ignored. Edward had signed a non-aggression pact with Burgundy. At the end of the month Warwick left court and returned to his estates. The Burgundian marriage alliance was ultimately ratified in 1468.

Warwick had other problems with Edward, notably the King's refusal to allow a marriage between his brother, the Duke of Clarence, and Warwick's daughter, Isabel. Also, a messenger was captured near Harlech castle with a message from the exiled Queen Margaret, trying to get Warwick into an alliance. Edward tried for a war with France to re-unite the court factions, but Louis quickly made treaties with Burgundy and Brittany to prevent this. He now openly supported the exiled Lancastrians.

Also, by 1468, the common people were getting restless. The 'New Yorkist' Woodvilles were unpopular, and riots were breaking out. The general mood was that replacing Henry VI with Edward IV had scarcely been worth doing. Henry VI was still alive, the King of France supported him, and Warwick was totally disgruntled. Add to this the fact that Edward's brother Clarence had no concept of loyalty, and a new war was well on the way.

Warwick and Clarence

In 1468, Warwick had apparently been reconciled with Edward, a pretence he kept up. But in April 1469 rebellions burst out around England, in the name of a 'Robin of Redesdale'. These Robins were Warwick's officers. It amounted to a mobilisation of the Neville family, with Warwick at its head, against Edward.

Warwick, Isabel and Clarence crossed to Calais on 6 July. On the 9th, Edward wrote to Warwick and Clarence - were they behind the risings? Warwick's response was for Isabel and Clarence to marry on the 11th. The next day, they issued a warning, directly comparing Edward to the previously deposed kings. This amounted to a true declaration of war.

Warwick and Clarence invaded. The Neville rising was a huge success. Many New Yorkists, including Rivers, were killed in the rising, and the king himself was captured after battle at Edgecote. But what did Warwick and Clarence intend to do? Control Edward? Or depose him, and replace him with Clarence himself? We will never know, because counter-risings then broke out. Some of the Nevilles were killed, and Warwick was forced to retreat with Edward, who called his own councillors. Warwick had achieved very little.

The Queen and the Kingmaker

By March 1470, Warwick and Clarence were planning further insurrection. England was slipping into anarchy, with many nobles fighting private wars. Edward moved against the rebels, defeating Warwick's supporter, Sir Robert Welles, at what became known as the battle of Lose-Coat field2. Captured, Welles implicated Warwick and Clarence, and evidence was found that they were now intending to make Clarence king. The rebel lords were declared traitors. Edward pursued them, but Warwick, with his wife and daughters, and of course Clarence, escaped to Dartmouth and thence to France. Louis XI was very pleased to see them.

Louis happily arranged a meeting between the Lancastrian Queen Margaret on one side, and Warwick and Clarence on the other. In desperation, Warwick and Clarence agreed. Margaret was more reluctant, but finally agreed to discussions with her old enemy. By 22 July, agreement was reached. Warwick and Clarence would return to England and depose Edward IV in favour of Henry VI, still a prisoner in the Tower. Margaret and Prince Edward would then return to England, and Edward would marry Warwick's daughter, Anne. Warwick now put his plan into action.

The Readeption of Henry VI

Another rising in the north signalled the start of Warwick's attack. Edward was obliged to march against it. On 12 September, 1470, Warwick and Clarence, with the Lancastrian Lords Pembroke and Oxford, landed in Devon. Other lords flocked to their side. The Kentishmen rose in their favour. Edward suddenly found himself deserted. Those who stayed loyal were his youngest brother, Duke Richard of Gloucester, the new Earl Rivers, his brother-in-law, and his ever-loyal friend Lord Hastings. He fled to the East Anglian Coast, and thence to the Netherlands.

London was in turmoil. The Tower was opened, and the bewildered Henry VI, not knowing why, was led out. On 6 October, Warwick swore loyalty to him. Thus did he earn the nickname by which he is known to history - Warwick the Kingmaker. The second reign, or Readeption3, of Henry VI, had begun.

Henry VI could not rule. Warwick was to rule until Margaret and Prince Edward, now seventeen, arrived. Margaret, meanwhile, waited until she was certain of Henry's restoration before returning. The alliance agreed with King Louis stated that both countries would invade Burgundy, with Holland and Zeeland as prizes for Warwick. But Louis could not wait, and invaded Burgundy alone. This rashness, and Margaret's over-cautiousness, would destroy the Readeption.

The Barnet Campaign

Officially neutral, Charles of Burgundy at first merely tolerated Edward IV and his companions in his land. But after the French invasion, knowing that the English were to help, he became much more friendly. Managing to let Warwick believe he was still neutral, he provided Edward with a small fleet, and about 1000 men. Few believed Edward had any chance at all, but on 11 March, he set sail.

Edward managed to land at the mouth of the Humber, claiming only to be after the Duchy of York, a move that got him in to York itself4. England was still full of private feuds, which enabled Edward to call in some support. With 5000 men, he aimed to confront Warwick.

Clarence, meanwhile, found himself in a difficult situation. He had sided with Warwick because of his own ambition for the throne. He did not even seem to be facing a strong position in the Readeption government. On 3 April, he and his troops met Edward and his. The two brothers were immediately reconciled.

On 11th April, the Yorkists entered London. Henry VI surrendered to Edward, and was deposed for a second time, then returned to the Tower. Edward then set off for a showdown with Warwick. Warwick was near the town of Barnet, just north of London, with his allies Montagu, Exeter and Oxford. On the night of the 13th, Edward arrived.

On Easter Sunday, April 14, 1471, the battle of Barnet was fought. The two sides had not properly taken opposite lines, creating confusion among Warwick's men. The decisive moment was when Oxford mistakenly attacked Montagu, who was killed. The Lancastrians were crushed. Oxford and Exeter survived, but Warwick the Kingmaker, attempting to flee, was overtaken and cut down. The career of the Kingmaker was finally over.

Tewkesbury - The Coup de Grace

On the day of Barnet, Margaret of Lancaster and Prince Edward had finally landed in Weymouth. Joined by Somerset, Margaret vowed to fight, even having heard of Barnet. She aimed to get to Pembroke, and join with her half-brother-in-law, but English geography meant for a long round-trip. She had to get to somewhere that she could cross the river Severn. Edward had to stop her crossing.

Edward marched west and met his quarry near the town of Tewkesbury. Gunshots provoked Somerset to attack. But the Yorkist line held, and the Lancastrians pulled back. Then they broke. Edward, Prince of Wales was killed, probably trying to escape. The genetic line of the Lancastrians had lost its heir. Somerset was caught and executed, and two days later Margaret surrendered to Edward. Her father ultimately bought her freedom, but she was finished.

Edward put down a few Lancastrian risings before returning to London on 21 May. He had one nasty job left. When Edward of Lancaster lived, it was wise to keep Henry VI alive. That was no longer the case. Officially, Henry died of grief at hearing of Tewkesbury, but his body was recently examined and found to have a broken skull. There is no doubt that this harmless man had been murdered, which was something Edward needed to do. Lancaster was, it seemed, annihilated, and the House of York could look to a glorious future. Nobody would ever have thought that, fifteen years on, England would be back under Lancastrian rule.

Further Reading:

eHistory on the Wars of the Roses

The Plantagenets from the British Royal website.

eHistory's map of the Wars of the Roses

1Rivers was now very influential, simply as father of the queen and father-in-law of the king. This was a natural development in medieval times.2This is because the rebels quickly shed their armour to flee more easily.3The official term given for 1470 in legal documents was The 49th year of the reign of Henry VI, and the first of his readeption (restoration) to regal power.4He must surely have loved the chance to parody Henry IV, who said something very similar when he landed in the same spot in 1399.

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