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An Analysis of the causes of the Wars and the course which they took.

Michael D. Miller

Chapter 55: Edward wins the Crown


The race for London - February to early-March 1461

The race for London was on through the bitter weather of a harsh winter. Whoever reached the Capital first would gain an inestimable advantage.

The Lancastrian army, which had just won a tremendous success at St Albans, due to the skilful leadership of its commanders and the sheer determination, bravery and hard-fighting abilities of its soldiers, was in the prime position to win this race. Geographically, it stood nearest to the goal and there should have been nothing in its way to a short march and prompt occupation. It is true that there were still other Yorkist armies in the field. There was the force which John Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, had raised in the Eastern Counties. It had played no part in the recent battle, apart perhaps from helping to cover the retreat of Warwick's division from the disastrous field in the immediately succeeding days. There was Warwick's division itself somewhere to the North of St Albans. Supposedly some 4, 000 strong, it was badly demoralised from the recent defeat and desertion. Finally, somewhere in the Midlands, there was Edward, the new Duke of York, with a force that had just won, in tremendous style, the recent battle of Mortimers Cross. Separately, none of these forces was strong enough to engage the victorious Lancastrians. Only if they combined could they risk doing so. Currently they were scattered over a wide area and in some disarray.

Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, did the sensible thing even though it must have been a bitter pill for him to swallow. He immediately marched to join Edward at Chipping Norton. It has been suggested that Edward and Richard disliked one another, and the suspicion must have lurked in Edward's mind that, by engaging the Lancastrians on his own, Warwick had looked to gain some political advantage for himself. Had he won the battle, with the feeble but still lawful King Henry VI in his hands, he would have been in a strong position to frustrate any pretensions of Edward to the Throne. In Edward's eyes, the proper (and loyal) thing to have done was to send him word, bidding him make haste from his success at Mortimers Cross to join up at some meeting place in the Midlands, and together to fight the Lancastrian army. As it was, Warwick had left him in the dark about his intentions, and Edward cannot have found this re-assuring.

What Edward said to Warwick we cannot know, but he must have been withering about the tactics employed at St Albans. The proud and haughty older man must have found this hard to bear from somebody he regarded as a bumptious youngster. 

The City of London

Even without the fragmentary and sometimes contradictory accounts that have come down to us, the state of mind of the City can be imagined on hearing of Warwick's defeat. It was with something close to panic that the City merchants heard the news. Many of them had lent the Yorkists considerable sums of money and it seemed unlikely that they would see either principal or interest again. Moreover, the very fact that they had made loans to the Yorkist faction could mean that shortly their own heads would decorate London Bridge. They had another fear which they shared with the common folk. Several northern and midland towns, including St Albans in the night following the battle, had been pillaged in a wild fashion by the Lancastrian soldiers. It would indeed be a foolish man who would deny that the same could happen to London. Many sent their more valuable moveable property abroad, whilst Cecille, the Dowager Duchess of York, sent her two younger sons, George and Richard, off to the security of the Burgundian Court.

Although the City was generally Yorkist in its sympathies, there were some Lancastrian supporters and some different views on how to deal with the crisis. Worcester seemed to think that if King Henry VI and Queen Margaret were allowed to return to their Capital City, 'all things would have been at their will' with the intimation that they could control their rapacious soldiery and that the Londoners had nothing to fear. The Lord Mayor and the Aldermen told the King and Queen that London would admit them and their Court but not their troops. Eventually seeing the futility of this condition, they then sought a guarantee that London would not be pillaged, and when they had obtained this from the Queen, bade all the citizens to remain indoors when the Lancastrian army marched into the City.

This caused an uproar, and it was lower down the scale of the hierarchy that matters were decided. John Lambert, the father of the courtesan Jane Shore, was a prominent City merchant who had been an Alderman and was now one of the two Sheriffs. They were answerable to the Lord Mayor for the defence of the City, and he and his colleague took their duties very seriously. Besides, John was a prominent Yorkist supporter who had lent large sums to their cause. The sheriffs found a ready response to their call to the citizens to defend the stout City walls, because they put no more faith in Queen Margaret's word than did the Yorkist nobles themselves. Carlo Gigli, an Italian agent living in London, reported to his principal in Italy that the City gates were closed and guarded and that all business was at a standstill. A convoy of food and money which the Lord Mayor attempted to dispatch to the Lancastrians was ambushed by the mob, led by one of Lord Wenlock's cooks, as it was leaving Newgate. The food very rapidly disappeared, and as for the money Gregory, with much obvious amusement, records:-

"....but as for the mony, I wot not howe hit was departyd. I trowe the pursse stale the mony"

The City, although not Westminster, was girdled by strong walls, and whatever the City Fathers might think, do or say, the citizens were resolved to make a fight of it. On the advice of Doctor Morton, the Queen sent small parties of soldiers to the City gates to request admission. They were driven off by a hail of arrows with some loss, as much for their 'cursed tongue' as anything else. The Lancastrian army had no siege equipment and no sappers and miners, and it would take time to repair these deficiencies. Meanwhile,   Edward's and Warwick's combined force was rapidly approaching. There was nothing for it but to retreat.

This retreat from the walls of the City posed some problems for the Lancastrians. Their Scottish mercenaries, which in any case had proved to be of doubtful value in the recent battle, had enlisted for plunder, and now the greatest prize of all, London itself, was to be denied them. The time had come to go home. Some of them already had so much plunder that they could scarcely stand up, and those that did not could look forward to fat and easy pickings on the journey home. Robbed of their services, the Lancastrian commanders decided to retreat to the North, to recruit their strength in their own heartlands, this time from their own more dependable people, and dare Edward, Warwick and their friends to do their worst.

Edward enters London

Edward's and Warwick's joint force was welcomed by the Londoners as deliverers who had just saved the City from the horrors of pillage and all that goes with it. The citizens cheered themselves hoarse as the soldiers marched through the streets, and all were amazed at the God-like appearance of Edward. This they contrasted with the shabby, dejected and vacant-eyed picture commonly presented by King Henry VI. Henry had never taken any care of his appearance, whilst Edward had taken great pains to show himself as everyone's idea of how a medieval King should look. This was not difficult for anybody as outstandingly handsome as he was. Mounted on his huge charger and gorgeously attired, he must have appeared as a paladin, particularly when compared with the woebegone present incumbent of the Throne. He had no difficulty in making a good first impression, and on this he intended to build.

It is not an important matter, but there is some dispute on the precise date of Edward's and Warwick's entry into the City. Gregory states that it took place on 26th February 1461, and Edward and Warwick took up residence in Baynards Castle [a little to the east of where Blackfriars Station now stands] on that date. The "Six Town Chronicles" give the date as Saturday 28th February. Preference must be given to the latter date, because the act of showmanship on which Edward relied depended on keeping events moving at a fast pace without ever allowing for a pause for reflection. It is possible that Edward delayed his entry into London until the Saturday so that the citizens could attend the mass-rally which he had in mind on 1st March, a Sunday when they would be freed of their everyday pre-occupations. It was important that the greatest possible number should be present to give him their support, and it was equally important that they should have an excellent, and recent,  impression clearly in their minds.

Summoned by the City Criers and by word put about by the soldiers, a vast crowd assembled in St John's Fields at Clerkenwell on the Sunday. There, with the soldiers looking on anxiously to prevent any opposition, they were addressed at length , probably by Thomas Bourchier, Archbishop of Canterbury and the Chancellor, George Neville, Bishop of Exeter on the manifold failings of King Henry VI, whose army had just threatened their City with attack. Did they still want him as their King? A huge shout of "Nay" went up. In that case, would they have Edward? There was another huge shout, this time "Aye". The two churchmen then went to Baynards Castle to offer Edward the Crown by the will of the people. They advised him to accept it, as did the Lords who were present, including Warwick and John Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk. Edward, with equal formality, did so.

Thus far, things had gone well, but there were some other things to do to confirm Edward as the people's choice, and these were accompanied by the same showmanship. It was important that the citizens could see for themselves, so far as they had not already done so, that Edward looked every inch a King who was worthy of their trust and that they had made a wise choice. Again the Criers went out to summon the people to assemble on Wednesday 4th March 1461, not in a mere field, but at one of the most hallowed and significant places in the Realm, St Pauls Cathedral itself. There they were to tell Edward himself, to his face, that he was their choice. A solemn and gorgeous procession, complete with all the panoply of medieval pageantry, wound its way to the place outside the cathedral where the people were waiting. Again the Bishop of Exeter preached a sermon, tracing the ancestry and lineage of Edward and his right to the Throne. Would they have him as their King? Yet again there was the huge shout of "Aye", and Edward bowed courteously in reply. When the tumult had died down, the Bishop bade them go with Edward to Westminster and see him take possession of the palace.

The whole mass of people, with this gorgeously clad Adonis riding his huge horse in their midst, trooped through Temple Bar, down the Strand, and towards the Palace of Westminster. Edward had plenty of charm, and this he freely used, speaking in a relaxed and familiar way with those about him. It may be imagined that he had won every female heart already, and if there were any doubters, his easy and genial demeanour won them over too. At Westminster Hall he dismounted, and entered to take the oath where:-

".......he was Sworn afore the bisshop [Archbishop] of Caunterbury and the Chanceller of Englond and the lordis that he shulde truly and justly kepe the realme and the lawes there of mayteyne as a true and Just kyng".

[ Six Town Chronicles MS Gough London 10, ed R. Flenley pp161/2]

After swearing the oath, Edward was helped into the Royal robes and presented himself once more to the people, and once again the shout of "Aye" split the heavens when they were asked if they wanted him as their King. Edward then crossed to the Abbey where the Abbot presented him with King Edward the Confessors sceptre. This he carried to the High Alter and to St Edward's shrine:-

"......wt grett Solempnitee"

These ceremonies over, Edward was rowed slowly to the City by barge, graciously waving to the people who cheered him from the banks of the river. The Lord Mayor and Aldermen entertained him to a sumptuous banquet, and anxiously enquired if he was willing to confirm the City's ancient privileges and rights. He gave a re-assuring answer, but he also found time to hear what other and less exalted persons had to say, and promised to put right any grievances in a proper and just manner. He had done what he had set out to do, to gain the Crown and with it the hearts of the people, both great and low.

Some contrasts

When Henry of Bolingbroke claimed the Crown in 1399, he did so only after the most careful preparation, which included the prior abdication of King Richard II. He too became King by acclaim, this time by Parliament. [Chapter ]

Edward's father, Richard, Duke of York had been most hesitant, being much concerned with the constitutional position and what public opinion would tolerate. When he eventually asserted his rights to the Crown just six months before, Parliament had denied it him in a humiliating rebuff. [Chapter ]

Edward's position and methods were different. He had just saved the City from the ravages of the Royal (Lancastrian) army, with the lawful King (at least nominally) at its head, which was intent on attacking and pillaging it.

This gave him an advantage which the other two had never enjoyed. Edward did not summon Parliament as the people's representatives, but instead made a direct appeal to the people themselves. He understood what his father had never grasped - that public opinion could be moulded to the end which he had in mind. Given the right circumstances, he did not hesitate to mould it in a piece of pure opportunism. By putting every single one of his considerable personal assets into some carefully orchestrated showmanship, accompanied by all that medieval pageantry could offer, he had carried the day and had won the Crown by the people's acclaim. If it had been a piece of pure effrontery with few equals, it was also as daring and as bold as it was brilliant. 

Edward's immediate problems - early March 1461

The ceremonies of 4th March 1461, whilst dignified and solemn, were not a formal coronation. A coronation took time to arrange, and there was currently no time to spare for such an event. As an added difficulty, there was still an anointed King in the land of the living. King Henry VI was somewhere in the North with the Lancastrian army.

Edward knew perfectly well that whilst he had been accepted by the Londoners as King, London was not the entire country. It may have been the Capital and the richest and the most important City in the Realm, indeed one of the foremost cities of Christendom, but this did not mean that London's choice would be acceptable to the country as a whole. The only way to win the hearts and minds of the people at large was to march out in search of the Lancastrian army, and to defeat and destroy it convincingly, finally and utterly. He would have to defeat it anyway, but Edward also knew that he would have to gain not just a mere victory, with the chivalric behaviour normally observed (the recent battles apart) towards a beaten foe. The victory which he needed would have to be a shattering defeat of the enemies force - it would have to amount to total annihilation where there was no enemy left alive to fight another day.

This was not a difficult concept for Edward to grasp, and neither did he lack the confidence that he could do all that was necessary. To the absolutist quarter of his mind, which always came to the fore in military matters, a victory which fell short of the complete annihilation of the enemy was not really a victory at all.

Copyright Michael D. Miller 2003