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Edward IV

(1442—1483) king of England and lord of Ireland

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king of England (1461–70, 1471–83). The tall and handsome ‘Rose of Rouen’, born in that city, the eldest son of Richard, duke of York, gained the throne of England in March 1461 when he was only 18. Possession confirmed on the field of Towton a few weeks later, he was crowned in June. His reign, however, was interrupted in 1470 by his deposition and the temporary restoration of Henry VI.

During his first reign Edward was never fully secure. It took three years for him to eradicate Lancastrian opposition. In these early years he owed much to the earl of Warwick. No sooner had Lancastrian resistance been brought to an end, however, than his secret marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, and the promotion of her family, led to a rift between them. The Lancastrian exiles in France offered a convenient rallying‐point for dissidents, the option Warwick finally took in the summer of 1470. When Warwick invaded England, Edward fled precipitately to the Netherlands. Here he received the backing of the duke of Burgundy, his brother‐in‐law. In March 1471 a small fleet put Edward ashore at Ravenspur. He successfully evaded the forces opposing him in Yorkshire, and defeated Warwick at Barnet. He then rapidly marched west to intercept and overwhelm a Lancastrian army at Tewkesbury. With Warwick and Edward of Lancaster dead, and Henry VI promptly murdered on royal orders, he was secure.

Edward began his second reign determined to secure reconciliation through war against France. Parliament voted generous taxation; a triple alliance with Brittany and Burgundy was forged and a truce with Scotland concluded. In 1475 a large army crossed the Channel. But at the eleventh hour, Edward came to terms with Louis XI at Picquigny, accepting a generous pension. For the remainder of his reign Edward sought to enjoy the fruits of success. In 1477, however, he turned on and destroyed his brother Clarence, who was executed in 1478. Two years later, largely through the pressure of his younger brother Richard of Gloucester, he became embroiled in war with Scotland. Moreover, the treaty of Arras, concluded between France and Burgundy in 1483, left his foreign policy in tatters.

Edward died peacefully after a short illness on 9 April 1483. Historians have always found it hard to judge his achievement. The earliest admired the manner in which he restored peace and prosperity in his second reign, but admiration gave way to disapproval in the 19th cent. when his personal morals coloured interpretation. Impressed by innovations in government, the recovery of royal finances, and the determination with which he imposed his will after 1471, later historians saw him as the progenitor of the revival of royal authority, developed further by Henry VII, and known as ‘New Monarchy’. But it is a misjudgement to see novelty in Edward's kingship. Indeed it was backward‐looking. Rule through a band of mighty subjects was no foundation upon which to lay a permanent recovery of the monarchy. Edward IV aimed low: like Charles II two centuries later, his principal objective after 1471 was never to go on his travels again. Contemporaries attested to Edward's personal charm and ease of manner. He was a brilliant general, victorious in all his battles. In his youth he was callow and inexperienced, and even when he was older, he was not capable of sustained attention to business. It is probable that his excessive life‐style contributed to his early death.


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