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

Michael D. Miller

Chapter 66: King Edward IV outwits Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick

 

August to September 1469

In August 1469, all of England seemed to lie at Warwick's feet. Her King Edward IV was his prisoner. The chief of the hated Wydeville family, Richard Wydeville, Earl Rivers, was dead. William Herbert, Earl of Pemboke and Humphrey, Earl of Devon had met with similar fates. Some others of Warwick's enemies were still at large, but they were of lesser degree. By way of contrast, the Nevilles were united and strong. Hatred of the Wydevilles had driven many into Warwick's arms and had strengthened his already numerous affinity. They were now looking to him to give a lead.

Warwick was taken by surprise at his own success. Reconciled as he was to a long and bitter struggle, every-thing had happened so easily and so fast. A combination of his own skilful intrigues, some well kept secrets, the playing upon the unpopularity of the Wydevilles, some fast military action, and the complacency of the King had brought the opposition to him tumbling down like a house of cards.

Now the time had come to make some decisions for the future, and it is really at this moment that Warwick began to earn for himself the name by which he is known to history - Warwick the Kingmaker.

The battle of Edgecote was no victory such as Towton.

It was a scuffle which had probably taken less than three hours to resolve. The successful commander, Robin of Redesdale, had never intended it to be anything else; he had seen, and taken, an important tactical chance to wipe out a small but important element of the Royal army before continuing his march to join Warwick. Yet it presented Warwick with a supreme opportunity which, if he had exploited it to the full, may well have changed the course of history. He did not do so, and it is the purpose of this Chapter to examine why this should have been, and to describe how he was outwitted by the King. King Edward IV was a very clever man; his own mother, 'Proud Cis' had already discovered that her son was far too clever for her, and Warwick was about to learn the same lesson.

If Warwick had continued the relentless pursuit of his enemies, which had already disposed of the chief of the Wydevilles and one of his sons, the Herberts and the Earl of Devon, he could have established himself as the predominant force at the Court of King Edward IV and gained for himself the security from the wiles of his enemies which he wanted above all else. In August and September 1469, it would have comparatively easy to hunt down the remaining Wydevilles, and anybody else who had bound themselves inextricably to their cause, and cut off their heads. He could not have touched the Queen, but then she would not have been in any position to harm him. He could not have beheaded her mother (the beheading of women was a feature reserved for the subsequent Tudor dynasty, it did not belong to the Plantagenet), but no doubt some convent with an austere regime in the North could have been found to take her. The discomforts of monastic life in such an establishment, prayer, cold, fasting and frequent scourging must have had some attraction to him when he thought of the Queen's mother.

As always, it is difficult to see into the mind of another and to explain why that other should fail to take a course of action which seems sensible, and instead persue another which seems bereft of all reason and common sense. Why then did Warwick not persue a course should have been easy of fulfilment? The answer, at least in part, must lie in that person's complex nature and character rather than in the openings offered by the circumstances of the situation.

A description of Warwick's character is given elsewhere, [pages ] and if to our eyes it was not a nice nature, Warwick was a product of his time. The Great Magnates who wished to stay alive and prosper were little different. It was a violent and brutal age, and simple survival required qualities of this kind. Warwick was a violent, head-strong, haughty, arrogant, ruthless and brutal man who would stop at nothing to get his way. He was also a proud man who never forgave a slight or a rebuff. His was a tempestuous nature, given to violent rages, and where others, even at that time, would have merely disliked and distrusted, Warwick was capable of deep and virulent hatreds. It has been remarked that Warwick and the King disliked one another, although Warwick had enough sense not to let his animosity towards King Edward IV descend into one of his notorious hatreds.

He was not interested in promotion - he never became a Duke or even a Marquis, and did not seem to want to be. What interested Warwick was wealth and power. Wealth he had in abundance, although he was never averse to any increase in his vast riches. Power was like a drug to Warwick. He was addicted to it, and he could never have enough, so much so that if a problem could be resolved by a fairly easy course of action, or by another more difficult course which called for the use of power, he would unhesitatingly choose the latter.

Warwick was an astute politician (although he did not always follow the courses which his mind must have told him were the wise ones) and a brave and competent soldier, if not always a successful one. He appears to have been a man of present action rather than a deep thinking and far sighted man who could plan a course of action far into the future, and follow it to a successful conclusion. Like so many generals that we read about in the pages of history, his abilities lay in the tactical rather than the strategic; he could take advantage of an immediate situation, perhaps even create it, and play it with great skill, but he was unable to set for himself a far distant goal, and do all that was necessary to reach it.

Warwick's great mistake was to toy with the idea of displacing King Edward IV and putting his brother, George, Duke of Clarence, on the Throne. With his own daughter Isabel as Queen, this had obvious advantages. How this was to be brought about he had not the slightest idea. He never stopped long enough to think how this might be achieved, and if he had have done, he would have seen the difficulties to be immense, perhaps even insurable. Only Parliament could displace an anointed King and put another in his place, even if it was gently pushed in this direction by the people as King Edward IV had shamelessly arranged in 1461, [Pages ] but it was by no means a foregone conclusion that Parliament would agree to do what was required. Warwick knew well of Richard, Duke of York's failure to persuade Parliament to displace King Henry VI in 1460,  [page ] and this should have told him that Parliament would not necessarily do his bidding simply because he demanded it. Edward was in any case no weak minded ninny such as his predecessor had been, and he would not go quietly. By now Warwick must have known of Clarence's many deficiencies of character, and realised that, once on the Throne, he would cause many severe problems. In his arrogance, Warwick concluded that there was no problem he could not 'fix', or otherwise arrange to his liking. Instead of exploiting to the full the victory which Robin of Redesdale and his soldiers had given him, Warwick let a golden opportunity slip away.

Events now took their own course whilst Warwick had King Edward IV in his custody at Middleham. Some Lancastrian sympathisers saw the chance to exploit Yorkist disarray. Sir Humphrey Neville, a member of the branch of the family who had always sided with Lancaster, had caused trouble in the North and had gone into hiding when Lancaster's hopes had been extinguished at the battle of Hexham 1464. Now he emerged, and with a small band of followers attempted to raise the countryside. Warwick's Men of Kent had long since gone home, and he tried to raise men from the neighbourhood to suppress Sir Humphrey. Few answered his call. Why, they asked, should they turn out to fight at the behest of the Great Earl who did not even have the King's commission to raise troops? Warwick thought that was a difficulty which could be easily resolved, and on his request, Edward gave him the necessary commission. The men were raised, Sir Humphrey and his brother Charles were easily defeated, and of course beheaded, and it was a triumphant band that returned to Middleham.

Then something happened which Warwick should have foreseen, but seems not to have done so. The King announced his intention to leave for London. That, replied Warwick, was not yet to happen; he would say when they should leave for the South. The King smiled, and gently asked Warwick who was a mere Earl to seek to gainsay the King's pleasure to leave for his seat of Government? The men standing in serried ranks outside the window had been called together in his name, and they were the King's men, not Warwick's. Any more of this nonsense and Warwick would find himself under close arrest.

Warwick stared aghast into the face of his King, and saw the gentle mocking smile that played about the eyes and the lips. There was nothing he could do. He had been well and truly outwitted.

[There is an alternative version of Edward's escape; the Milanese Ambassador to the French Court reported to the Duke of Milan that Edward had slipped away whilst out hunting but without giving any sources. This seems most unlikely since the considerable hunting party would have included Warwick's men charged with seeing that this did not happen.]

Copyright Michael D. Miller 2003