An Analysis of the causes of the Wars and the course which they took.
Michael D. Miller
|Chapter 61: King Edward IV gets married: 1st May 1464
|The choice of marriage partner
Edward was now 22 years old, and by contemporary standards he should have been married long since. It did not cause him much worry that he did not yet have a Queen. Edward was pleased with his bachelor status, which allowed him to engage in all sorts of liaisons with the fair sex whilst participating in the debauches which his friends, particularly William, Lord Hastings, arranged so well. Mistresses came and went, and Edward found it agreeable that, without fear of reproof or a constitutional crisis, he could discard a lady of whom he had grown tired and take up with another who had just caught his fancy. He felt that the situation had much to recommend it.
Kings however have other obligations, and the succession had to be considered. Only those born in wedlock could succeed to the Throne and the great titles of the Land. He was coy about the illegitimate children he must have fathered by now and we hear little of them, but in this regard they are scarcely important. Yet Edward was in no hurry to marry for political reasons, and enough has been said of the personal ones. He was well aware that he was the most eligible bachelor of Europe; outstandingly handsome, the answer to every maidens prayer, victorious in battle and the monarch of a country which was fast becoming great once again. England now counted for something once more in the comity of nations. Her voice was listened to, and her alliance was sought.
Already, immediately after the battle of Towton 1461, John, Lord Wenlock had been sent to Burgundy to propose that, in the interests of closer unity, Philip-the-Good should consent to the marriage of his niece, Catherine of Bourbon to the new English King. Surprising as it may seem from later developments, this was on the initiative of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick. Philip had not been amenable, preferring that Catherine should be wed to one of the Burgundian nobility. Initially disappointed at Philip's attitude, Edward had not taken umbrage. Many others were put forward, and Edward caused great offence to Castile when he refused the hand of Isabella, the King of Castle's sister.
He was never entirely forgiven by Castile; this seems unreasonable, as Catherine had really been intended for Frederic the Catholic.
Edward favoured a policy of close friendship and alliance with Burgundy, a traditional friend and trading partner, and a much looser friendship with France. A close relationship with France would be seen as threatening by Burgundy, who relied on English support to hold France in check. Edward had a full understanding of the repellent King Louis XI, and did not trust him more than he could avoid. The only thing which would ever impress Louis was superior force, or at least its latent threat, and this was satisfactorily provided by a conjunction of England and Burgundy. Louis would never dare try any action against the one if he thought that the other would enter the lists against him. Friends England and France could certainly be, but never close friends. To Edward, the idea was absurd.
Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick took a different view, favouring a close alliance with France in which he saw many advantages. In early 1464, possibly without Edward's prior approval, he was suggesting to Louis the hand of a French Princess. Formerly sympathetic towards Burgundy, Warwick had by now formed one of his famous and bitter hatreds against
Philip's son and successor, Charles, Compte de Charolais, being unable to forget or forgive his Lancastrians views and sympathies and his friendship with Somerset. Louis had jumped at Warwick's suggestion, and in turn suggested Bonne, the daughter of the Count of Savoy and the sister of his own Queen. Bonne was in every way suitable, but Edward did not favour the idea. There had just been a French Princess as an English Queen, and this had not been a success. Edward was aware that negotiations had been going on between Warwick and Louis, but with Lancaster still unsubdued in the North, he did not feel strong enough to call Warwick to order or even to express disapproval of what he was doing. Warwick was a loose cannon on Edward's deck, but he was also a vital supporter, and in the first half of 1464, the King did not yet know what to do to control him without also offending him.
The necessity of curbing the power of the Nevilles, and Warwick in particular, was fast becoming acute. Edward's policy of winning the friendship of former Lancastrian Lords had met with some success, but not as much as he had hoped or looked for. Whatever he may thought privately about Somerset, his defection to the Lancastrians once again at Christmastime 1463 had been a bitter disappointment which had hurt his pride. [page ] Without Somerset, it could scarcely be said that the counterweight he had hoped to build to the Neville power was a credible one. He was already instinctively and uncomfortably aware that another of the great magnates, John de Vere, Earl of Oxford, was not really grateful for the promotion to which, as a younger son, he would have otherwise had no hope. John enjoyed the fruits of the Earldom and had so far given no cause to suspect him of any treachery, but it was obvious that he bitterly resented the executions of his father, also John, and his brother Aubrey in February 1462. [page ] Edward intended to woo him with further favours, but must have secretly wondered whether these would dispel John's hatred of him.
There was another course, and this was to take to himself an English wife of good if not prominent family, and promote her relations to the nobility where they would have no choice but be loyal to him. This was a very high risk stately, because the ancient nobility of the Land was intensely conservative, and would greatly resent new parvenues as they had many times before. The creation of a brand new nobility was fraught with risk. Edward was a man of such boundless self-confidence that he welcomed rather than shrank from a challenge of this nature, and he intended to use the enormous powers of the Throne, and his own huge popularity with the common people, to stifle any dissent. His eye fixed on Elizabeth Wydeville, and here simple lust played its part in his choice. He had earlier sought the Lady's favours, and had found that she was one of the very few who refused him, even when he had drawn his dagger on her. She had remarked that if she was not good enough to be his Queen, she was still too good to be his whore. This had infuriated him, but his anger had merely stoked his desire.
Jacquette, the daughter of the Compte de St Pol, had married John, Duke of Bedford in 1433 as his second wife when he was still Regent of France. John first wife, the much beloved Anne, and sister of Philip-the-Good, had died in 1431 from a fever which she had contracted when visiting the poor in the Paris hospitals. [page ] John had been inconsolable, but had soon found that the pretty, inconsequential and effervescent Jacquette, 17 years old and many years his junior, could soothe away the pain of the loss of Anne. There had been no prior consultation with Philip-the-Good before he had married into one of the foremost families of Burgundy, and Philip was greatly annoyed by this gross breach of protocol. For some time, two men who had been close friends and comrades-in-arms for many years were not even on speaking terms. [page ]
In 1435, John had died, and Jacquette had become the Dowager Duchess of Bedford, a sonorous title for a 19-year old, who only thought of dancing, seeking fun, and wearing pretty clothes. Looking round for a suitable mate to replace John, her eye had lighted upon Sir Richard Wydeville. A man of outstandingly good looks, he soon captivated the young and feckless Jacquette, and in 1437 they were married. This had caused a great scandal, and the Council was furious; Dowager Duchesses were not supposed to get married without its permission. It could not undo the marriage, which had already been celebrated by the rites of the Church and consummated with tremendous gusto as will shortly appear. Finding unsatisfactory Jacquette's explanation of a young heart stricken with love and desire that could not wait, it had punished her severely with a heavy fine. [page ]
The Council's objections had lain in Richard's humble birth. He had been the Duke of Bedford's steward, John having recognised his abilities at an early age, and he was devoted to John. So much did John trust him that he had been put in charge of the Tower for a brief period during one of the periods when Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, was being a dangerous nuisance, and it was he who had refused Humphrey admission to the fortress in 1425. [page ] Humphrey had been enraged that such an upstart should treat a Royal Duke in so cavalier a manner, and had sworn to be avenged. This did not cause Richard any concern, because Humphrey would not dare to touch him whilst he was under the protection of Humphrey's brother John.
After his marriage to Jacquette, Richard soon made himself intensely unpopular. He was a greedy, grasping and opportunistic courtier in a Court where these attributes were reserved for those who were nobly born. He had used his outstanding good looks with the Young Queen Margaret who was happy to accept him as one of her 'young men.' He traded on this shamelessly, and rapidly acquired the reputation of what would now be called a 'Flash Harry.' Soon promotion came his way, and he was promoted to be Lord Rivers. In spite of his distinguished service in France, where he had shown himself to be a brave soldier and competent commander, Warwick had loathed and despised him as a Court popinjay.
Warwick had shown his contempt when Richard was appointed head of the enquiry to look into Warwick's piracy in 1458. [page ] The great Earl brought the proceedings to nought by disregarding his summons and staying away.
In January 1460, Richard and his son Anthony were dragged from their beds in Sir John Dynham's surprise raid on Sandwich, which they were supposed to be guarding against a Yorkist landing. [page ] They were carried off to Calais where Warwick, with unwonted restraint, was content just to fling them into prison. Anxious enquiries of Edward, then Earl of March, regarding their immediate future elicited the scornful and insulting response that the great Earl of Warwick had more important things to attend to than the execution of somebody who was no more than a mere squire. Father and son had remained in prison during the upheavals and battles of 1460 and 1461, but by early 1461 they had managed to make their peace with King Edward IV. Richard had not been summoned to the 1461 Parliament, and had had to wait until that of 1463.
Richard and Jacquette had produced a large brood, five sons and seven daughters, the eldest being Elizabeth Wydeville.
Elizabeth was their firstborn, and first appeared in this World in 1437, strangely soon after her parents marriage. However that may be, Elizabeth had grown into one of the outstanding beauties of the age. Her portrait in Queen's College Cambridge shows her with long golden hair caught up in a bonnet on the back of her head. The features are firm and regular with brown eyes, a well proportioned nose and a sensual mouth. A long neck leads into fine sloping shoulders. No wonder King Edward IV was captivated. The fact that she was nearly 5 years older than he was did not matter a bit.
Elizabeth had married, probably in 1452, Sir John Grey of Groby, the heir to Lord Ferrers of Groby. Sir John was not rich, but was well enough connected to secure for his young wife the position of junior lady-in-waiting to Queen Margaret. Her beauty and demure manner had excited much admiration around the Court, and there were doubtless many proposals for illicit affairs among that lascivious gathering. The probability is that Lady Elizabeth Grey remained faithful to her staunchly Lancastrian husband, but he had been killed fighting for Lancaster at the 2nd battle of St Albans 1461. There was no place for his widow in the Yorkist Court, and Elizabeth took her two sons to the family home near Grafton. There they eked out a penurious existence
and waited for better times. It was not an entirely bucolic existence. In some way she came to the Edward's attention once more, and he had not forgotten his earlier desire.
Edward marries Elizabeth Wydeville - 1st May 1464
According to Fabyan, King Edward IV was at Stoney Stratford on 1st May 1464, being on his way to meet with the Scots envoys at York. At one time, it had seemed that he might have to take a hand in subduing the remnants of the Lancastrians who were still at large in the North-East, although he felt confident that the two Neville brothers, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick and John Neville, Lord Montague were perfectly capable of disposing of them without his help. He may have heard of the fight at Hedgeley Moor on 25th April (the battle of Hexham still lay a fortnight in the future), and have thought that militarily, all was going very well. There did not seem any need to hurry.
Fabyan's account, hearsay in any event, that Edward wanted to spend the day on his own hunting in the forest around Grafton is not easy to accept in its entirety. Hunting required a considerable number of huntsmen and servants. The King's safety had to be considered, so soldiers of the Royal escort would have to go too. It was usual to take some personal friends, and Edward could not afford to excite speculation by doing anything unusual - medieval Kings were rarely if ever alone other than in their private apartments, and even then there were always soldiers posted just outside the door. A Royal personage would have found it next to impossible to slip off and be on his own, and Edward, because of his unusual height, would have been easily recognised. The likelihood is that the hunting party comprised a considerable number of people, and that a great deal of organisation had gone into an elaborate deception.
Having said all this, it is still possible to accept his account as basically correct. It would have been necessary to lend verisimilitude to the hunting story by bringing back some recently slaughtered game. Hunting meant that there were widely dispersed parties in the forest, and those who did not have the King in sight could have assumed that he was with another party elsewhere. It is also possible to see Edward slipping off, perhaps on the excuse of wanting to pray, to a small church in Grafton where Elizabeth Wydeville, her mother Jacquette, two gentlewomen to act as witnesses, and a priest 'with a boy to help him sing' were waiting for him. The marriage rites of the church could have been performed soon enough so that Edward and Elizabeth were man and wife. Then as now, marriage was not complete until there had been consummation, and Edward was not one to wait. None of this need have taken much time before Edward could resume his hunting, and return with his party to Stoney Stratford in the evening.
The astonishing thing is that, with so many tongues to wag, the secret was very well kept, and no inkling of what had taken place reached other ears that were not intended to hear it, even those of the normally well informed Warwick. No doubt bribes, and perhaps even threats, closed the mouths of those within the church. Others must have known, and here William, Lord Hastings, the King's closest friend and confidante, must have had a hand in the complex arrangements essential to any deception. Elizabeth's entire co-operation in this sudden change in her fortunes was easily obtained, as was that of her mother Jacquette, by now a shrewish pushy 48-year old matron anxious to do the best she could for her children. It is possible to see Hastings standing outside the door of the church to guard against the danger of an accidental intrusion - he was after all the King's closest friend and the very soul of discretion where his friend and master was concerned. It is impossible to think that others were not privy to what had been done, such as Jacquette's husband Richard, Elizabeth's two sons, and possibly others as well. If so, they kept their counsel.
Edward breaks the news of his marriage - 28th September 1464
King Louis XI had responded positively to Warwick's proposals for marriage to a French Princess, being as anxious to cement a close bond with England as Edward was to avoid one. In particular, Louis was keen to win over the great Earl of Warwick without whom nothing could be done in England. A French embassy had come to London in April 1464, and it can be surmised that their main business was discussion of Bonne's marriage to the English King. Edward had been noncommittal, and this had puzzled Warwick who had no idea of what Edward intended and was shortly to do.
There is an indication that the French embassy had other suggestions to make during its visit in April 1464, and if these matters were then raised, they would do much to explain Edward's cool reception. A copy of the instructions to the Breton Ambassadors sent to some French nobles by Francis II, Duke of Brittany in August 1464 has made its way into the State Papers of Milan, doubtless sent there by one of the Milanese ambassadors whose correspondence throws so much light on the doings of the times. If Francis is to be believed, Warwick's negotiations were well on the way to getting England embroiled in a foreign war which the military side of Edward's nature might have welcomed, but his good sense told him was most unwise. Francis may have become badly frightened by August at what King Louis XI was proposing to do, and could well have been exaggerating to persuade others whom he saw as being similarly threatened to form an alliance with him. According to Francis, Louis proposed to give Normandy or Guienne to England as part of Bonne's marriage dowry, and to make good the loss of territory by seizing lands which were not presently in his possession or by forcibly asserting his suzerainty where this was disputed - as it frequently was. English troops were to help in the conquests. The most obvious place for Louis to start was Brittany, hence Francis' concern, but others should also regard themselves as being at risk.
To Edward's pragmatic mind, it would have been a totally preposterous suggestion that English troops should fight to gain territory for Louis, but strange as the whole story seems, it is suggested that it can be given some credence.
Louis' devious mind was often intent on causing harm and confusion to others for their own sake, in which his twisted and malicious nature rejoiced, rather than pursuing a realistic and objective policy. Besides this, there was also the question of trust, neither King feeling much trust for the other. When were Normandy or Guienne to be handed over? Before the English troops had done their work? Edward did not see Louis agreeing to this. Or was it proposed that the hand over would take place after the conquests had been successfully completed? Edward did not see Louis agreeing to this either, whatever prior promises he may have given. It is little wonder that Edward was cool and noncommittal to the French marriage proposal if it was attended by conditions such as these. Privately, Edward may have concluded that Warwick deserved the strictest censure for getting England involved in negotiations of such a bizarre nature; in April 1464 however, he still did not feel that he was in a position to call Warwick to account.
By September 1464, King Edward IV decided that things had changed for the better and he was now in a position to make a move against Warwick. The remaining Lancastrians in the North had been subdued during the summer, and his Kingdom was made secure at last. The time had now come to show Warwick that it was he, and not Warwick, who was the Ruler of England. The Council met in Reading Abbey on 28th September, and one of the main items on its agenda was to press the King to marry at an early date. Warwick was due to cross the Channel once again in early October to take the French negotiations further, and he needed the King's consent. Although he had frequently dispensed with this formality in the past, he confidently assumed that his King's agreement was a foregone conclusion.
At the meeting, Edward dropped his bombshell. He announced that he was already married, and that his wife was Elizabeth Wydeville, who even now was waiting without to be formally introduced.
This announcement was received with a stunned silence.
To say that everyone was dumbfounded would be a triumph of understatement. It was inconceivable that Edward would have wed a mere nobody, and one with a Lancastrian past at that, and not have kept his hand free for one of the Princesses of the ruling Houses of Europe. Warwick was absolutely aghast, and for once was lost for words. To make his humiliation complete, Edward bade him and his brother George, Duke of Clarence to accompany Elizabeth into the Chamber for her formal introduction as England's new Queen. Warwick, not knowing what to say, did as the King commanded.
Reactions to Edward's marriage
Among the nobility, the news of Edward's marriage caused widespread dismay. John, Lord Wenlock told a Burgundian friend that the Lords on the Council were furious, and even among the Lords who did not attend its meetings he could find few who had a good word to say for it. Warwick, when his surprise and anger had abated sufficiently to put his tongue to words once more, was scathing. Having the task of explaining to Louis, with whom he had been negotiating in good faith, that the hand of his sister-in-law Bonne would not be required after all, he gave vent to his fury that the wiles of a woman had infatuated the boy that he had put on the Throne of England. Louis, at first very upset, took refuge in malicious relish that the 'great and over mighty' Earl had been humiliated, and this thought gave him much pleasure. Bonne's reactions are not recorded.
The common people were less disturbed, rejoicing in the thought that peace seemed to have come at last, and wishing the King they adored all good fortune in his marriage. Even here there were doubts. Tales spread that Jacquette had turned the King's mind by sorcery. The night before the wedding - 30th April - was well recognised as one of the four witches Sabbaths. Known as Walpurgisnacht in Germany, it had provided her with a supreme opportunity to bewitch the King which she had not hesitated to use. Edward was said to have met Elizabeth for the first time under an oak tree, and all knew that oaks had sinister properties.
There is an amusing if not well authenticated story that Edward's mother, the formidable Cecille, Dowager Duchess of York, 'Proud Cis' herself, took her son roundly to task. Edward answered his indignant mother lightly that children were necessary for the succession, and Elizabeth had proved by her two sons that she could produce them. For that matter, by his several bastards he had proved the same. Regarding the point that he was said to be betrothed to Elizabeth Lucy, a nobly born young lady, she was indeed carrying his child. When sent for and questioned, the girl had denied that there was any betrothal. 'Proud Cis' had retired in high dudgeon, reflecting there was one good thing to be said for the marriage; her son would not find it so easy to go philandering in future with that dreadful man Hastings and his equally deplorable friends. [The question arises whether Elizabeth Lucy was in fact Eleanor Butler. There has been much confusion between the two ladies which cannot now be unravelled - see page ]
The man with the most cause for concern was Richard, Earl of Warwick. Edward had given an unmistakable sign to all that the Nevilles, and he in particular, were not indispensable. It was true that Warwick was one of the richest, if not the richest, men in England, with manors and possessions scattered all over the country and with a huge affinity at his beck and call. It was also true that his two brothers, John and George, had recently been promoted to the Earldom of Northumberland and the Archbishopric of York, two of the most powerful offices in the Land. It would be very difficult to get rid of the Nevilles by military means, even supposing that Edward was foolish enough to try. There were other means of reducing the Neville power however, and if he did not any longer enjoy the King's favour, could he count on continuing to hold all those offices which brought him such power and profit? He was Captain of Calais, Lord Admiral of England, Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, and Warden of the Eastern Marches. All these offices lay in the gift of the King, and what the King had given he could take away if he so chose. It only needed the stroke of a pen.
Conveniently forgetting that he had been soundly beaten at the 2nd battle of St Albans in February 1461, and that it was Edward himself who had won the battle of Mortimers Cross that same February, and had gone on to win the dazzling victory of the battle of Towton the following March, Warwick was firmly convinced that it was he who had put Edward on the Throne. The term 'Kingmaker' was not coined until Tudor times, but it fitted Warwick's estimation of himself. Gratitude is one of the least exercised of the human emotions, and it has been suggested that Warwick and Edward disliked one another, but Warwick had expected better of Edward. Could he now regard himself as being secure in his wealth, power and position as, only recently, he had appeared to be? There would be rivals for his position and offices, and he could already identify some of them.
All things are transitory, and Warwick began to wonder if his turn had come. It was all very worrying.
|Copyright © Michael D. Miller 2003|