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

Michael D. Miller

Chapter 67: Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, changes sides: 1470


October to December 1469

On or about 13th October 1469, King Edward IV reached London. A number of Lords had joined him on his journey south, and by the time he reached the capital, he had a considerable retinue. His ever loyal brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, and his old and faithful friend William, Lord Hastings accompanied him, as did William, Earl of Arundel, John de La Pole, Duke of Suffolk, Henry Bourchier, Earl of Essex, Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, John Neville, Earl of Northumberland, Richard Fenys, Lord Dacre, and John, Lord Mountjoy. No doubt there were many others whose names have not been recorded; now that Richard Wydeville, Earl Rivers was dead, beheaded by Warwick the previous August, they saw no reason for giving their loyalties any further to the Great Earl if he intended to remain in rebellion. He had served his purpose, and now they could rejoin the King and the side of legality. To two Lords, it was made very clear that they would not be welcome. George Neville, Archbishop of York, was told to stay on his estates until he was sent for. John de Vere, Earl of Oxford, had been hurrying to join Edward when he received a message that he was to stay away from the Court. Edward thought that he had some explaining to do, and when he was ready, John would be summoned to hear what he had to say about any possible involvement in the recent upheavals. Whether or not he had taken a hand in them is difficult to say, but Edward clearly did not trust him.

Edward had always been popular in the City, and now he met with a rapturous reception. The Mayor and the Aldermen, accompanied by many of the most prominent citizens, rode out to meet him dressed in their finest robes, and it may have appeared that he was a victorious conqueror returning from a successful campaign rather than a King who had just escaped from captivity. Afterwards, there was a State procession through the City so that the citizens could see for themselves that he was free, and not subject to any man's constraint. According to one report, Warwick was now "hated".

[The Milanese Ambassadors letter from the French Court to the Duke of Milan dated 20th November 1469. The Ambassador quoted no source] This seems to have been an overstatement; Warwick had previously been held in high esteem, and if men were forced to choose between Warwick and the King, they would be certain to come down in the latter's favour, particularly the merchants of the City to whom he owed money. The reins of government were still in the capable hands of the Chancellor, Robert Stillington, Bishop of Bath and Wells, although some changes had to be made to replace the dead Earl Rivers. Sir John Langstrother had his election as Prior to the Hospital accepted; he had been appointed the Treasurer after Rivers death, and now he had to give way to Thomas Gray, Bishop of Ely although there was no complaint about the discharge of his office. For a brief period, Richard, Duke of Gloucester became the Constable. Finally Henry Percy, the son of the Earl of Northumberland killed at the battle of Towton 1461, who had been obliged to exchange an easy life as Pembroke's ward for a cell in the Tower, was released and bidden to attend Court.

Edward made every effort to be conciliatory, and spoke of his brother George, the Archbishop, Warwick and Oxford as his best friends. This prompted a wry comment in Sir John Paston's letter dated October 1469 to Margaret Paston:-

".....but his howselde men have other langage, so that what schall hastely falle I cannot seye."

There was a Council meeting in November, and several churchmen and others urged Warwick and Clarence to appear.

Somewhat apprehensively, they did so. The minutes of the meeting cannot be traced, but we can surmise that there were some plain, and possibly angry, exchanges. The King was prepared to grant pardons for offences which had been committed but there were at least two conditions. Warwick must agree to the issue of warrants to collect the second subsidy voted by the 1468 Parliament, and to the issue of a declaration that the Queen's Mother was not guilty of any sorcery. The accusation that the then Treasurer, Richard Wydeville, Earl Rivers, had collected unnecessary taxes had been part of the July manifesto,  [page ] and the King had guessed, almost certainly correctly, that Warwick intended to neutralise Jacquette in the same way that Eleanor Cobham had come to grief in 1441. [page ] To the original allegation that Jacquette had bewitched the King into marriage, there were now some added and wild stories that she was making leaden images in which to stick pins. The pardon was important (both Warwick and Clarence had committed treason), and the now thoroughly frightened Clarence urged Warwick to accept both conditions. Warwick did so with very ill grace, even though there was now something more which he could regard with satisfaction. The king's eldest daughter Elizabeth, a charming and pretty little girl a mere 4 years old, was betrothed to John Neville's son, thus making up for the disappointment of the King's refusal to allow him to marry Anne Holland. [page ] Furthermore, the boy was to be raised to the Dukedom of Bedford, a title normally reserved for Royalty. [Nothing seems to have come of the match. Elizabeth became the Queen of King Henry VII, and the Queen-Mother of the Tudor dynasty]

However badly he had played his cards in July and August 1469,  [page ] Warwick could, if he had not allowed anger to cloud his judgement, have salvaged much from the wreckage. Now that Richard Wydeville was dead, he could still have established himself as the dominant force at Court. There can be little doubt that the men who had supported him in July, and then had deserted him in October, would have backed him again if he had taken this more peaceful course. He had the name of an astute politician, and it is most surprising that he did not see things in this light. Instead, this proud and head-strong man considered that he had been humiliated by the clever way in which King Edward IV had out-witted him. Further fuel was added to the fire by being made to eat his own words on the taxes issue, and by being forced to abandon a most promising hold over Jacquette. How many were now enjoying jokes behind their hands at his expense, and thinking of him as a laughing- stock? It was all too much to bear. He left the Council seething with rage and more determined than ever to stir up further trouble.

Lose-Coat Field - March 1470

Warwick did not have long to wait for his chance. Early in the new year fresh troubles broke out in Lincolnshire and, although it was not immediately apparent, it later transpired that Warwick had stirred them up. The Willoughby family had given good service in the War in France, although the head of the family Lyon (or Leo), Lord Welles had perished on the battlefield of Towton 1461 fighting for Lancaster. His son Richard, the present Lord Welles, had made his peace with King Edward IV, and had even fought in the Yorkist army at the battle of Hexham 1464; he had brought part of the reinforcements which had assured victory to John Neville, now the Earl of Northumberland. Richard's was one of the Lancastrian families whom King Edward IV had sought to win over as supporters, and in 1467 the Welles title had been restored to him. Now Richard, Lord Welles picked a quarrel with his neighbour, Sir Thomas de Burgh of Gainsborough, and aided by his brother-in-law Sir Thomas Dymoke, the hereditary King's champion, he invaded de Burgh's lands and sacked his house.

De Burgh was a Household man, and he appealed to the King. Thinking that this was no more than yet another of the violent disputes between neighbours which were a frequent, and depressing, feature of 15th-century life, Edward summoned Richard and Sir Thomas Dymoke to come to London to explain themselves. Given a safe conduct, they duly did. When they were in London, Warwick's agents stirred up the people of Lincolnshire with lurid tales of how the King intended to be especially severe. His Judges would come to the County, and no mercy was to be expected at the trials. Guilt or innocence did not concern the King, who was only interested in a large number of hangings. So successful were they in frightening the populace that when Richard's son, Sir Robert Willoughby, called for a muster at Lincoln to defend themselves, he met with a ready answer. Soon he had a sizeable force. [There seems to be a free use by the chroniclers of the Welles name between the real Lord, Richard, and his son Robert. In this work, Robert will be known as Sir Robert Willoughby. Not having succeeded to the title, this seems to be more correct]. Meanwhile King Edward IV in London had no inkling that he was facing an incipient insurrection, and thought he would only have to cope with the sort of minor disturbance of a nature which was all too common. He would only have to show himself and command everybody to keep the King's Peace, order the payment of some damages, maybe punish some of the more riotous, and all would be quiet again. He wished to leave London for this purpose on 4th March 1470, but hearing that his brother, George, Duke of Clarence was going to be in town, he delayed his departure to meet him. Clarence duly arrived, and the two brothers had a friendly meeting at their Mother's house, and later went to pray together in St Paul's Cathedral. Edward left for Lincolnshire on 6th March, giving orders that Richard, Lord Welles and Sir Thomas Dymoke should be sent after him.

What Edward did not know was that Clarence, whilst in London, had a meeting with these two men to co-ordinate activities. He had agreed with Clarence's suggestion that he and Warwick should be given Commissions of Array to raise troops; this would be prudent in case the disturbance should be more serious than presently appeared. From what subsequently happened, it seems that Warwick and Clarence had already begun to assemble their men, and wanted Commissions to give legality to what they were already doing, and to conceal their true purposes for a little while longer.

On 8th March, whilst on the march, Edward received two letters. The first was from the Steward of Humphrey Bourchier, Lord Cromwell who warned him that this was no local trouble; a substantial body of men had gathered in Lincolnshire in rebellion. The second was from his brother Clarence, asking what had happened to the Commissions and urging that they be sent at once. Edward sealed and dispatched them without further delay. The escort with Welles and Dymoke had by now caught up with him, and Edward warned the two men that, if they valued their heads, they would cause this rebellious array in Lincolnshire to disperse at once and go to their homes. If this did not happen, then they would assuredly lose their heads. Facilities for writing letters were put at their disposal, and Lord Welles wrote to his son Sir Robert at once.

By 11th March, Edward was at Fotheringhay Castle. Far from disbanding his men, Sir Robert Willoughby was advancing on Leicester. Edward did not know it at the time, but his intention was to join with Clarence and Warwick, who were proposing to arrive in Leicester on 12th March from Coventry. Warwick was sending the same messages to the King, this time making out that he and Clarence proposed to join the Royal army in that town on the same day.

Warwick had warned Sir Robert not to give battle to the King until the concentration in Leicester was complete. Sir Robert however was consumed with anxiety about his father's and Dymoke's safety. His father's last words to him before he had left for London were to come to his rescue if he appeared to be in danger. Sir Robert seemed to be more concerned with his father's well being than he was about obeying Warwick's injunction.

All appeared to have forgotten Edward's capacity on campaign to move fast and to strike hard at his enemies. Pausing only to behead Richard, Lord Welles and Sir Thomas Dymoke, Edward went in search of his enemy. He found him on 12th March at Lose-Coat Field marching in the direction of Leicester. The Field lies about 4 1/2 miles north-west of Stamford and about 1 mile south-west of the small village of Pickford, well in sight of the modern AI(M). There was no battle, since a few rounds from the Royal guns caused the Lincolnshire men to flee in panic, casting aside weapons, equipment and even their jackets the faster to escape - this accounts for the name of the engagement. One feature appeared to be strange; some men had been seen wearing Warwick's and Clarence's liveries, and some discarded garments were recovered. Still Edward did not see anything sinister, but made a mental note to tell Warwick and Clarence what had happened so that they could suitably punish some of their followers.

Edward wrote to Warwick and Clarence on 13th March to tell them that he had dealt with the Lincolnshire men, and to bid them to disband their own. He still suspected nothing, and was rather surprised to hear that they had marched off in the direction of Burton-on-Trent. This all seemed very odd. Further messages were sent to them in case the first letter had gone astray. On 15th March Edward's eyes were opened, for the first time, to the full horror of the treachery which had been planned against him.

On that day, Sir Robert Willoughby and some of his main ring-leaders were captured and brought before the King. With them came a casket full of letters written by Warwick and Clarence which were very interesting to read. Sir Robert's confession still exists and may be read. [I.D.Thornley - England under the Yorkists pp 46-47; Camden Miscellany 1 pp 21-23] It is seemingly a very full and frank account of all that led to the rebellion. The previous October, John Barnby, a chaplain in Clarence's household and another priest had visited his father and himself and had sounded them out. Finding them receptive to the idea of rebellion (the family had always entertained anti-Yorkist feelings), the two priests had bidden them to wait until Clarence sent them word. When the word arrived, they had invaded Sir Thomas de Burgh's lands. Whilst Richard, Lord Welles and Sir Thomas Dymoke were in London, Warwick's agents had stirred up the countryside with tales of the King's vengeance. This had caused so much fear that men had readily mustered in Lincoln. Events began to move rather more quickly then was intended because their initial request for orders from Warwick were not met, indicating that Warwick himself was not yet ready. They eventually received orders from Warwick to concentrate in Leicester on 12th March, where, with forces from other parts of the country, they would offer battle to the King's army. It was also proposed that:-

"....at such tyme as the matir shuld come nerre the point of batell, they shuld calle upon my Lord of Clarence to be king, and to distroye the king that so was aboute to distroye them and alle the realme......."

Had it not been for:-

"....the said duc and erles provokynges....."

the risings in Lincolnshire would never have taken place.

Edward's first reaction was to laugh at the thought of Clarence as a King. That lame horse would never run far. His next was horror and shock that his own brother should rise in arms against him, the brother who only a fortnight before had had such a friendly conversation with him and had prayed with him. He realised that he was not really surprised that Warwick should have acted as he had done, but that his own brother should thus plot against him was a tremendous blow below the belt. King Edward IV was not the man to brood for long over how badly his brother had treated him, and on the 18th March 1470, the Garter King-at-Arms was dispatched to bid Warwick and Clarence to appear before him at once, assuring them of his "indifference and eqite" [Equity;fairness]. Their answer said it all; they refused to come without a full pardon for themselves and their followers. [Among the Garter King-at-Arms party was John Donne, who later commissioned the famous triptych by Hans memling]

Pausing only to cut off the heads of Sir Robert Willoughby and his fellow ring-leaders, Edward advanced to meet the rebels at Chesterfield. The small force with which he had left London was now augmented by others who would have no truck with Warwick in rebellion:-

......and itt was seid that wer never seyn in Inglond so many goodly men, and so well arreiged in a feld. And my Lord was whorsshupfully accompanyed, no lord ther so well; wherfor the King gaffe my Lord a greate thanke....."

[Paston Letters dated 27th March 1470 ii pp 395-396]

On 20th March 1470, the King's army advanced on Chesterfield in battle array, only to find that Warwick and Clarence had fled to Manchester to seek help from Thomas, Lord Stanley. Lady Eleanor Stanley was another of Warwick's sisters, but that slippery nobleman, whose support and loyalties had always been given to the side most likely to win, and whose successful survival had always depended on an outstanding ability to trim his sails to the prevailing wind, politely regretted that he had no help to give. There was nothing he could (or would) do. The rebels must seek their own salvation elsewhere.

It may seem strange that Edward, with his known capacity to move fast and strike hard when on campaign, should not have moved at once to corner and defeat the rebel force, but there are several possible reasons why he marched to York instead. He felt uncertain of the attitude of the North, where the Nevilles were very strong. It could easily rise when he was occupied elsewhere, and he could not take his eye off this particular ball. Defeating the rebel force, of which there was every reasonable expectation, could have meant killing Warwick and Clarence or at the very least capturing them. If the latter, then he would be hard put to it to justify a decision not to behead them. He probably could not countenance his own brothers death as a traitor, however badly Clarence had behaved, whilst the death of Warwick could inflame the unstable North. It would certain alienate John Neville, Earl of Northumberland who, with his men, was probably with the Royal army. If this was the case, the possibility could not be discounted that John would desert the Royal Colours in any battle and go over to the rebels. This had already happened all too often in the Wars of the Roses, and could well happen again. The risk was just too great.

King Edward IV arrived in York on 21st March and stayed five days. Several Lords were summoned, or of their own accord found it advisable, to come and explain themselves. John, Lord Scrope of Bolton, whose services at the battle of Towton 1461 should have spoken for themselves, felt his close association with Warwick now required further explanation. Sir John Conyers, who may have been Robin of Redesdale, [page ] felt likewise for better reason. John Neville,  Earl of Northumberland, would have been closely examined by his old friend the King whether he had had any hand in recent events. The King accepted their explanations, and sent them away with disquieting suspicions of what he was really thinking.

In the case of John Neville however there were other things to consider. King Edward IV accepted that John may have been approached by his brother Warwick, but had done nothing more than support his King with whom he had the most cordial relations. To deprive him of the Earldom of Northumberland seemed most unfair, but when he was in York Edward did so, restoring Henry Percy to his ancient inheritance and creating him Warden of the Eastern Marches shortly afterwards. Henry had been released from the Tower the previous October and, although he had just served in the Royal army with distinction, the Percies were well known for their Lancastrian sympathies. John was promoted to Marquis Montague (a Marquis stood above an Earl in rank) and given most of the Courtenay lands in Devon. This was not all. The Nevilles had held the Wardenship of the Western Marches of the Scottish border for very many years; in August 1470, this post was given to the King's ever dependable brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester.

At first sight, this was an unwise thing to do, and John, when he heard what the King intended, was deeply mortified. In what way had he offended the King? In no way that he could see. He had yearned to be Earl of Northumberland, and his promotion to the Earldom had delighted him. He had enjoyed living at Alnwick, and had rejoiced whenever the Scots had set foot over the border in one of the countless raids, which gave him the reason to fight. In the remote and desolate Northern area of the Eastern Border, there had been fighting and campaigning enough to satisfy even his bellicose nature. Now he was to have lands in a part of the country where there was no fighting. Possibly he would never don his armour and lead his troops into battle again. John lived for fighting and battle, and he could not imagine the life of country magnate where all was ease and peace, and the very thought of life at Court, with all its intrigues and cabals, appalled him. He did not mind coming to Court in a soldiers dress as the grim faced defender of England's Northern Border to consult with his Commander-in-Chief, to receive his orders, and then to depart for further combat; that was all part of being a soldier. But to be one of the Court popinjays, a breed he despised, and to have to dress in silks and all that foppery, the very thought had scant appeal to such as he. Besides, he loathed the Percies, whom he considered to be traitors to a man.

John's was a soldiers creed. He gave his loyalty to his Commander, and his commander's friends were his friends, and his commander's enemies were his also. To such a direct outlook, the idea of shifting loyalties hither and thither had no place. Such a mind as his could never grasp the essentials which now drove the King. His two brothers were now traitors, a fact he simply refused to accept, and whilst the King could not touch George who was an Archbishop, he could and must take action against Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick. How would John react when Warwick, once captured, was about to be beheaded as a traitor? He would be in an agony of mind whether he supported his King or his brother, and his well known, fixed and fiercely held loyalties would be challenged and might even drive him to rebel in an attempt to save his brother's life. He had the charge of a most sensitive part of the Kingdom, and if he abandoned it to fight his King, what would the Scots then do? They had, in general, observed the truce which still had 10 years to run, but an unguarded border might have tempted them a bit further than they could resist. The risk was too great to leave John where he was. He had to be shifted by an offer which Edward thought he could not refuse.

John, dumbfounded, did as he was told, but he nursed a deep and bitter resentment which was to have grave consequences for Edward.

Warwick and Clarences flight to France

Warwick and Clarence were now ordered to appear before the King by 28th March 1470 or be declared traitors. Instead, they fled down the Severn valley. Edward followed them, reaching Exeter on 14th April to find the birds had flown. They, with a large number of followers, had sailed from Dartmouth in some ships made available by their friends. Many of their womenfolk went with them, including Isabel, Duchess of Clarence who was now in the final stages of her first pregnancy. On their voyage to Calais, they made a daring attempt to cut out of Southampton the "Trinity", a large vessel belonging to Warwick himself. Anthony Wydeville, Lord Scales, managed to prevent this, driving them off with some loss. A grim fate awaited the friends they could not take with them. The common people were allowed to depart for their homes, but some 20 'of the better class' were captured. Edward handed them over to John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester for disposal, ignoring the fact that they had been called to arms by a Royal Commission. Worcester, a man noted for his cruelty, beheaded them and impaled their corpses on spits. This was too much, even for the 15th-century:-

"For the wiche the peple of the londe were gretely displeased"

[J. Warkworth 9;Croylan, Cont 553;Fabyan 658]

A shock awaited the fugitives when they arrived off Calais. They were not allowed to land, and were fired on when they attempted to do so. The King had foreseen that they would make for Calais and had sent orders to John, Lord Wenlock, the senior officer in Warwick's absence, that they were not to be allowed entry to the port. Wenlock, now fully committed to Warwick, would probably have disobeyed the King's orders, but the Captain of the Town, Galhard de Durfort, Seigneur de Duras, a ferocious Gascon Captain who was loyal to King Edward IV, reminded the soldiers of the garrison where their true interests lay. The merchants of the Calais Staple, anxious for their trade with Burgundy, were very loyal to the King who seemed to assure it and, under a previous arrangement sanctioned by Parliament, it was they who paid the soldiers, reimbursing this outlay from the Customs Duties before they paid them to the Treasury. Were they going to jeopardise the regular and punctual payment of their wages, an unusual and rare experience for any medieval soldier, by annoying the King and the merchants? The soldiers saw the point, and the heartless Duras would not even agree to letting Isabel land to have her baby ashore. The baby, a little boy, was born aboard. Medieval ships were not noted for their nursing and obstetric facilities, and the baby died.

It was soon apparent that Duras was not going to relent, and Warwick was not going to be allowed to seek refuge of the town of which he was still Captain. The ships were now getting short of provisions. The small squadron set course for Harfleur where they landed on 5th May. They had been at sea for nearly a month.

[According to Philippe de Commyngs, Wenlock sent a message to Warwick to advise this course]

Copyright Michael D. Miller 2003