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

Michael D. Miller

Chapter 65: The battle of Edgecote: 26th July 1468

 

January to April 1469

So concerned had King Edward IV been to suppress possible Lancastrian plots and to bring the conspirators to justice that he had completely failed to grasp the capacity for intrigue which Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, undoubtedly possessed. For once his capacity to read the thoughts of others, and his ability to comprehend what they might be up to, in both of which he took a justifiable pride, now deserted him. To Edward, it seemed that he had already dealt with the problem posed by the Nevilles by reducing their power to a sufficient extent. George Neville had been dismissed as Chancellor of the Realm,  [page ] and he seemed perfectly content with his office as Archbishop of York. John Neville was a soldier pure and simple; he was delighted to be Earl of Northumberland and to indulge his passion for fighting far away on the border with Scotland. Edward and John had a considerable regard and liking for one another, and it appeared highly unlikely that this Soldier-Earl would cause any trouble. Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick seemed to have learnt his lesson that he must not engage in intrigues with the French King and, since his reconciliation with the King in January 1468, he had conducted himself as a loyal and efficient Royal Servant. He had served as a judge in the trials of some of the supposed Lancastrian conspirators, and had accompanied Margaret on the first part of the journey to her wedding without any of the histrionics that might have been expected. [pages ] The very humbleness of Warwick should have put the King on his guard; in place of the tempestuous, hot-headed and violent man of earlier years, Edward now found an obedient and conscientious officer who was willing to carry out any task given to him. The King must have concluded that Warwick, now 41 years old, had at last begun to mellow.

In his complacency, Edward did not even know that Warwick and his own brother, George, Duke of Clarence had petitioned the Pope for dispensation so that George could marry Warwick's elder daughter Isabel. Because they were cousins, such dispensation was necessary, and the Pope was, as Popes were apt to do, taking his time. In 1467, Edward had forbidden the marriage, and now thought that was the end of the matter. He was under no illusions about his brother George, now nearly 20 years old. George was impetuous, irrational, untrustworthy, quite unable to carry out any task without close supervision, equally unable to bring anything which he had started to a conclusion and, to cap it all, was a supreme mischief-maker. He seemed to have in his genes something of his remote uncle Thomas of Woodstock, the Duke of Gloucester who had been murdered by King Richard II in 1397,  [page ] and also of another less direct ancestor, Humphrey, 'the Good Duke' of Gloucester who had died in 1447 in the most suspicious circumstances. [pages ] The youngest brother, the 17-year old Richard, the present Duke of Gloucester and the future King Richard III, loathed and distrusted his brother George, and had frequently warned the King to be on his guard. Edward had merely laughed and had taken no notice.

In fact Warwick was biding his time with a patience he had never before displayed. Nothing overt could be done until the Pope's dispensation was given for George and Isabel's marriage, and in the meantime he occupied himself with recruiting to strengthen his affinity. This was not difficult, because many were coming to loath, distrust and fear the Wydevilles, and were readily willing to ally themselves to the Great Earl as John, Lord Wenlock had already done, seeing in him the only feasible opposition to the hated favourites of the King. Some of the documents by which people allied themselves to Warwick have survived, and they show that for a small annual payment, they undertook to answer Warwick's call to arms whenever he might make it. Nobody was in any doubt that he would summon them to fight, and the only question was when this would be.

The dutiful and compliant Warwick had a request to make of the King in April 1469, that he should be allowed to reside in Calais, and use his nautical skills against the Channel pirates. The King gladly gave it. Warwick was as good as his word, and hunted down the pirates, French, Breton, Scottish and English in a most ruthless manner; there had never been much room for mercy towards captured pirates in the 15th-century, and even if there had been, Warwick was not the man to show it. King Edward IV, who had been rather at a loss how to employ this restless and dangerous spirit, was delighted that Warwick was now engaged in an occupation he found so congenial. He was even more delighted when Warwick found time to approach Charles-the-Bold through his new Duchess Margaret, and employing his ample charm, which he could do when he so chose, made himself agreeable to a man who previously had heartily detested him. Even Charles was inclined to believe that Warwick had turned over a new leaf.

Edward overlooked one thing; Warwick had been Captain of Calais for so long that Calais, with England's only standing army, was now one of Warwick's power bases. He could presently turn it to whatever course he chose.

May and June 1469

Lulled into a false sense of security, Edward even employed two of Warwick's particular henchmen, John, Lord Wenlock and Robert Neville, on delicate and confidential missions. The work was well and properly done, and Warwick was glad to see evidence that the King entertained no suspicions on their loyalties. King Edward IV held his Court at Windsor, and on 13th May 1469, he saw Charles-the-Bold accepted into the Order of the Garter. Shortly afterwards, Humphrey, Lord Stafford of Southwick, realised his ambition and became Earl of Devon. There had been some disturbances in East Anglia, and Edward resolved on a Royal Progress as a means of quietening things down, ending in a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. The Wydevilles went with him in force, Richard Wydeville, Earl Rivers and two of his sons, Anthony Wydeville, Lord Scales and Sir John Wydeville.

Also in the party was Richard, Duke of Gloucester, John Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk and John de La Pole, Duke of Suffolk.

It was a happy and relaxed occasion.

Edward knew that he relied on his supporters and could not afford to offend them. The present Sir John Paston had inherited Caister Castle and its surrounding lands from his father, also Sir John. The title was not a good one. The father, one of Sir John Fastolphe's executors, had acquired the property by forgery and breach of trust. The Mowbray Dukes of Norfolk, anxious to possess the estate, produced a counter-title. This too had many defects since they had purchased the lands under a collusive agreement with another executor who had no power to sell. Sir John now approached the Wydevilles, and the King told Sir John that he could not intervene, and that Sir John must take the case to the Courts, with whose exclusive jurisdiction the King could not interfere. This was a very convenient excuse for Edward to avoid offending the Mowbrays, but it did not serve him when Suffolk later sacked Hellesdon Lodge. There the King simply refused to intervene, and turned a blind eye to the doings of the de La Poles. In the case of Caister Castle, the Courts were given no chance to sit in judgement; the Mowbrays laid siege to the Castle and compelled its surrender.

There was some curious trouble in the North. 'Robin of Redesdale' had raised some troops in rebellion. Nobody knew who Robin was, and his identity still escapes us. He could have been Sir John Conyers of Hornby, or his brother Sir William Conyers of Marske, and it is easy to see both of these cousins of Warwick's as part of his affinity. This 'Robin' is not to be confused with 'Robin of Holderness' who, at about this time, lead a band of malcontents, protesting at a new tax on corn to build arms houses and various other local grievances, against the City of York. Unwisely, they also claimed that Henry Percy should be restored to the Earldom of Northumberland, thus incurring the wrath of John Neville, the current Earl. Marching swiftly from Alnwick Castle, John scattered the rabble, hanged the ring-leaders, and returned whence he had come. He had done nothing about 'Robin of Redesdale.' Still, the matter did not seems too serious.

July 1469

In early July 1469, Edward and his Court were at Fotheringhay Castle. There rumours of what was going on in Calais reached Edward. There was immediate alarm, and William Herbert, the new Earl of Pembroke and Humphrey, the even newer Earl of Devon left hurriedly for their estates to raise their troops. Still Edward, with his boundless self-confidence, refused to be concerned.

He was to find that he had badly misjudged the situation, and that events now began to move extremely fast. At last, Pope Pius II had granted the dispensation which allowed the marriage. George, Duke of Clarence and George Neville, Archbishop of York were summoned from London. They rode hard for Dover, and lost no time in sailing across the Narrow Seas. Once in Calais, the Archbishop joined George and Isabel in Holy Matrimony on 11th July. On 9th July, before he knew that the marriage which he had forbidden was about to be celebrated, King Edward IV had written letters to his brother George and the two Neville brothers, and had dispatched them by the hand of Sir Thomas Montgomery. These letters were in friendly terms, giving assurances that the King did not believe the rumours which were rife about their intentions, and bidding them attend Court 'in normal peace-able wise'.

It was too little and too late to forestall the storm which was on the point of breaking about Edward's head. Robin of Redesdale began his march south. Warwick, the Archbishop and Clarence landed in Kent, and bade the Men of Kent who supported them to muster in Canterbury on 16th July. Warwick had always been popular in Kent, and now that he had dealt so effectively with the pirates, a particular pest to a county mostly bounded by the sea, his prestige was immense. Men flocked to join his banner. At the head of a considerable army, Warwick marched to join Robin of Redesdale in the Midlands.

At the same time, a manifesto was issued, describing the causes which Warwick and his faction intended to persue. Although few could read, it immediately struck a chord among the populace, aimed as it was against the Wydevilles. Some writers attribute it to Robin of Redesdale, but it is unlikely that he was its sole author. It was most carefully drafted, and seems to have been the work of many hands over a long period. How the Government's agents, normally so vigilant, could have missed it during the lengthy processes of preparing and agreeing it, sometimes over long distances, and then writing it out in many copies (the art of printing had yet to reach England), remains a mystery. Its terms had a familiar ring. Some people, particularly the Wydevilles, the Herberts and some others had estranged the Great Magnates from the rule of the Land, and were bent on following their own narrow interests regardless of the needs of the Country.

They had impoverished the King by their greed in obtaining possessions 'above their deserts and degrees'. The coinage had been debased,  [page ] and needless taxes were being imposed [page ] to make good the loss to 'the King's own'.

Two facts were carefully ignored. Warwick had been a member of the Council which had devalued the currency, and the taxes had been voted by Parliament. The Treasurer, Richard Wydeville, Earl Rivers, could be made the scapegoat in some untruthful propaganda for doing his duty by collecting taxes which were much resented. All too recent history was about to repeated, and a stop must be put to all this.

The battle

William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke and Humphrey, Earl of Devon had joined forces and were marching to meet the King. On 25th July 1469, they pitched camp at Edgecote Lodge, some north-east of Banbury. Theirs was not a happy union.

Both men were too alike in their violent, haughty and tempestuous natures to agree on anything, and reputedly they now fell out over a lodging and the favours of a fair damsel. In a huff, Devon marched off with his men, leaving the Royal army critically short of archers. This childish behaviour is all the more remarkable since they were aware that Robin's army was in the neighbourhood. The outposts of both forces had already clashed.

Whoever Robin was, he was clearly a skilled soldier. Judging that the combined forces of Pembroke and Devon were too strong to risk a battle, he had carefully side-stepped them with the aim of joining Warwick, and was even now camped in the fields half a mile to the West of Thorpe Mandeville.

On hearing of Devon's defection, he resolved to attack Pembroke on the morrow, the 26th July.

An easy march of 2 1/2 miles brought Robin's force to the battlefield, which lies miles to the north-east of the modern road . He attacked in the same north-easterly direction. Hastily formed up on the ridge above their camp to receive an unexpected attack, Pembroke's force was unable to withstand the onslaught of Robin's archers, and was driven down the slope into Dane's Meadow. Pursuing their enemies too eagerly, Robin's men became disorganised and were almost overwhelmed by the personal courage of Pembroke and his son, Sir Richard Herbert and their Welsh gentlemen. Wielding poleaxes,  [battleaxes] they charged and cut their way through their opponents force. Robin must have concluded that the day was lost, but help was at hand. There now appeared a fresh force from the hill behind Pembroke's position which was advancing to the attack. This was in fact no army, but a motley collection of villagers gathered together by one of Warwick's servants, John Clapham. With a banner at their head which from a distance could have been taken for Warwick's Bear and Ragged Staff, and with whatever other flags they could find, they advanced shouting Warwick's well known battle-cry. Pembroke's men, thinking they were about to be taken in the rear by the Great Earl himself, broke and fled.

Warwick hastened to the scene (it may be concluded that his swift march from Canterbury had already brought him close to Banbury), to take advantage of Robin's triumph. Pembroke and his son were taken prisoner, and were hustled off to Northampton and summary execution. Warwick's pursuit was relentless. Richard Wydeville and his son John were found at Chepstow, brought to Kenilworth, and were beheaded on 12th August, probably in the presence of the King himself. Humphrey, Earl of Devon, was pursued into Somerset, and was beheaded in Bridgewater shortly afterwards. The biggest prize of all was King Edward IV; found near Kenilworth, he was placed in the firm if respectful custody of George Neville.

England now had two living Kings, King Henry VI in the Tower of London, and King Edward IV in the custody of the Archbishop of York. There were two crowned heads, and both were prisoners.

Copyright Michael D. Miller 2003