Was Edward IV's first reign a success?

HideShow resource information

Dealing with Lancastrian opposition

The Lancastrian royal family provided a focus for resistance to Edward. Edward had to work hard to overcome opposition. In 1462 he ordered the execution of the Earl of Oxford and his son after new Lancastrian plots were discovered. Then he marched his army north when a Lancastrian-Scottish force invaded England, capturing the formidable castles at Alnick, Dunstanburgh and Bamburgh. The invaders were stopped and Edward's army recaptured the castles. Opposition was also mostly defeated in Wales, with only Harlech Castle in north-west Wales holding out to Lancaster. 

Despite the Lancastrian plots, Edward was generous to Lancastrians whenever possible, aiming to win them over to his side. Two nobles in particular, the Duke of Somerset, and Sir Ralph Percy. Somerset was welcomed at court, joining Edward in hunting, jousting and sharing the same sleeping quarters. Percy was given back Bamburgh and Dustanburgh Castles as a sign of Edward's willingness to trust him. It didn't work, Somerset fled back to Henry and Percy handed over his castles to the Scots. Lancastrian resistance was defeated at the battles of Hedgeley Moor and Hexham in 1464. Somerset, Percy other Lancastrians were executed. Margaret and Prince Edward fled to France while Henry was captured in 1465 and imprisoned. 

1 of 14

Dealing with Lancastrian opposition 2

However, support for Lancaster hadn't ended. In 1668, Louis XI of France seemed about to give aid to Margaret. This encouraged more Lancastrian plots against Edward. There was also increased disorder in a number of counties. This all suggested the threat would continue as long as Henry and Prince Edward were alive. 

Edward had shown determination and flexibility in dealing with Lancastrian opposition yet he hadn't put an end to it. To a large extent this was for reasons related to past events that were outside his control:

1) Continuing loyalty to Henry. Some nobles saw Edward as a usurper; this undermined his authority.

2) Past enmities and death in the battles of 1455-61 meant that some nobles believed they could never be accepted as loyal to Edward, so for them opposition was the only option.

2 of 14

Dealing with Lancastrian opposition 3

This suggests that ending opposition was a very difficult task. 

His actions have been both criticised and favoured:

1) Over-confidence in his ability to win over his enemies. However, conciliation had clear advantages. It was faster and cheaper than fighting and met public expectations that Edward would restore unity.

2) Relying on the Nevilles too much and not doing enough himself militarily increased the perceptuion that Warwick was in charge. However, Edward could not be everywhere and the Nevilles were successful.

3) His failure to execute Henry. Henry was a huge threat but execution may have ended in opposition as Henry was viewed as a harmless religious man. He was seen as innocent and executing him would outrage the nobles and increase support for Henry's son Edward of Lancaster. 

3 of 14

Marriage: a major mistake?

Most English kings married foreign princesses to create alliances and increase diplomatic influence. Edward was meant to marry Bona of Savoy, sister to Louis XI of France. However Edward married Elizabeth Woodville im secret. Lust, maybe love, had decided whom Edward married. Elizabeth had a large family, 10 siblings and 2 sons by her first marriage. The practical problem facing Edward was how to reward Elizabeth's family at a level suitable for royal relatives but not so great that it created resentment among the noble families. For the most part Edward succeeded:

1) Elizabeth was not extravagant and kept a modest household, playing the conventional queenly role. 

2) He did promote the Queen's father Lord Rivers to the rank of Earl and made him constable and treasurer of England, and one of her brothers, Anthony, took a leading role at court; Overall the Woodvilles were not showered in grants of lands and offices. 

The Woodvilles did gain from marriage because nobles wanted to marry into the royal family. Elizabeth's sisters married nobles, raising the Woodvilles status' and making alliances for Edward. Warwick however, lost out:

1) He hoped his daughter would marry the Duke of Buckingham but lost out to Elizabeth's sister. 

4 of 14

Marriage:a major mistake?2

2) He also intended his nephew to marry the Holland family heiress but instead Thomas Grey, the Queen's eldest son, married her. 

3) Finally, Warwick's 65 year old aunt, the widowed Duchess of Norfolk was married off to 18 year old John Woodville. This must have look as if Warwick couldn't even protect his aunt from exploitation. 

The Woodville marriage was not a financial error but it was a problem in other ways:

1) He failed to use his marriage to gain diplomatic advantages

2) It appeared an unkingly marriage. Suggested weakness, lack of judgement and a lack of confidence (through its secrecy). Perhaps even that Edward was afraid of Warwick. 

3) It gave Warwick a powerful propaganda advantage when he rebelled in 1469-70. 

4) He still didn't have a prince, which made him seem more vulnerable for Warwick to attack.

5 of 14

Justice and Order

Edward took his responsibility to the law seriously, promptly visiting troublesome areas early in his reign and showing determination to put an end to disorder. His strength was vital for building confidence in his kingship and showing that he was providing a better government than Henry. 

However, by 1467, disorder and lawlessness was increasing: 

1) Violent feud between Lord Grey of Codnor and the Vernons in Derbyshire. 

2) Percy retainers were causing trouble in Yorkshire

3) The Kent commons rioted against Eark Rivers. 

In response Edward did the right things.

1) He set up commisions to investigate and punish law-breakers. 

2) Made a law to reduce retaining

3) Used bonds to force landowners to obey the law

But disorder continued. Edward found it difficult to live up to the high expectations of 1461.

6 of 14

Royal finances

Today finance is a critical part of government but it was less important to a medieval king. There was a good deal that was successful about Edward's financial policies, despite the economic recession that affected trade and agriculture (the main components of the economy). The result of this recession meant that Edward had less income. Customs revenues fell because there was less trade, partly because of the trade war with Burgundy, which was eventually settled with an alliance.  Edwrad;s policies went some way to making up for this deficit: 

1) he reduced the costs of his household

2) developed a more efficient administration of the royal lands to maximise income

Public awareness of royal finances was greatest when he asked Parliament for taxation for war.Parliament granted Edward two taxes, in 1463 against Scotland and in 1468 against France. Neither war took place because there were Lancasrtrian rebellions that he had to prioritise. Instead, the money went into his pocket to contribute to his household expenses. This was not his intention when asking for taxes but it undoubtedly caused complaint, adding to the sense that he wasn't behaving as a good king should.  

7 of 14

Splendour at court

A king was expected to look as rich as possible, displaying his wealth openly as a sign of England's strength. Edward had natural advantages with height and good looks, enabling him to show off richly embroidered, colourful clothes in the latest fashions. He fully realised the importance of spectacle and his court was a great display of wealth. Lavish tournaments were particuarly important for showing that Edward was a match for any ruler in Europe. 

8 of 14

Foreign Policy

The main decision that faced Edward was whether to ally with France or Burgundy. Tradition suggested enmity towards France and therefore alliance with Burgundy but there was a major trading problem with Burgundy (english cloth was banned from being sold in Burgundy). Edward negotiated with both potential allies. Warwick acted as his chief negotiator in France, and Earl Rivers with Burgundy. 

While Warwick was negotiating with Louis in France, a Burgundian delegation arrived in London and Edward was greeted with great ceremony. Soon afterwards, Edward agreed the first stage of a treaty with Burgundy. This included the marriage of Edward's sister Margaret to Charles of Burgundy and the end of the trade war. 

This decision marks a serious split between Edward and Warwick. Warwick left the court in July 1467, not returning until 68. On top of Warwick's problems in finding husbands for his daughters, the Burgundian alliance was a public demonstration that he did not have as much influence with Edward as everyone had assumed. It was soon afterwards that rumours began circulating that Warwick was contemplating an alliance with Margaret of Anjou. 

Overall, Edward handled foreign policy well but he couldn't control everything. He may have taken the best decisions on behalf of England but this hostility with Warwick led him eventually to rebel against Edward and to depose him. 

9 of 14

Relationship with the nobles

Effective government depended on the quality of the bond between king and nobles. The relationship worked best when the nobles had high respectfor the king and when he listened to their advice and used them to ensure justice and order in their localities and as his leaders in wartime.

This proved difficult as some leading nobles were still Lancastrian, others were young children, making Edward look over-dependent on one noble family, the Nevilles. Edward therefore needed to build up a wider body of supportive noblility, men who controlled every region of the country on his behalf. 

The most important figures amongst the new nobles Edward created were Lord Hastings and Lord Herbert. Edward's attitude to Lancastrians was generous too, sensibly aiming to win over individuals rather than push them into permanent emnity. Formers opponents such as Lord Rivers and Lord Stanley werewelomed to the court and the family of the executed Earl of Oxford was allowed to keep his family lands. Edward was also cautious in the rewards he gave to the Woodvilles, who recieved little power by way of land and posts. He lavished land and titles on his younger brothers George and Richard. 

10 of 14

Relationship with the nobles 2

All this seems straightfoward but the reality of handling individuals was complex. The example of Warwick's brother John, shows how difficult Edward's decisions were. 

In 1461 John was made Lord Montagu. Then in 1464, after he beat the Lancastrians at Hexham, he was made Earl of Northumberland. This was a title held for generations by the Percies and John was given much of their lands. It seemed that Edward had won his loyalty because when Warwick first rebelled, John refused to join him. However after the second rising, Edward decided to give back the title to the Percy heir since the Percy family was most likely to ensure that the north east stayed loyal to Edward. Edward's decision was a blow to John Neville. When Warwick rebelled for the third time, John allied with his brother, so what had seemed a good decision to bring back Percy rebounded on Edward. 

A more general criticism of Edward's handling of the nobility is that he didn't build up enough committed support. Too many stood by and watched in 1470 when Warwick chased him from the throne. We have seen how nobles were prepared to die for Henry VI but far fewer put their lives on the line for Edward. 

11 of 14

Warwick's rebellions

Three times Warwick rebelled:

1) 1469 - Warwick and Clarence defeated Edward's army at Edgecote and executed its commanders. Edward wasn't there but was captured after. Warwick tried to rule with Edward as his prisoner but lawlessness increased and his government was ignored, so he freed Edward.

2) 1470 - Warwick took advantage of a rebellion in Lincolnshire. Attempted to make Clarence king but failed. He fled to France, where he made an alliance with Margaret of Anjou.

3) 1470 - Warwick invaded England with French help, forcing Edward to flee to Burgundy. Henry VI was king again. 

Initially Edward had rewarded Warwick lavishly with important posts such as Great Chamberlain and Admiral of England. Warwick remained Captain of Calais, but their relationship worsened when Edward made decisions that weren't in Warwick's favour. 

1) Warwick was negotiating marriage between Bona of Savoy and Edward, while Edward secretly married Elizabeth. 

2) In 1467, Edward dismissed Warwick's brother George from his post as Chancellor.

12 of 14

Warwick's rebellions 2

3) Warwick had hoped his daughter Isabel would marry Clarence but Edward disagreed.

4) Hastings, Herbert, Stafford and Rivers all gained influence with the King, reducing Warwick's influence. Warwick's execution of all these (except Hastings) suggests he bitterly resented their rise and wanted to eliminate Edward's main support.

5) Edward chose to ally with Burgundy over Warwick's choice of France.

His rebellion in 1469 probably resulted from ambition as well as a need for self-defence. 
Why did he ally with Margaret?

Edward had not punished Warwick immediatly so he was probably anxious. He couldn't be sure Edward would remain forgiving. After his involvement in the Lincolnshire rebellion Warwick knew he was in a lot of danger if he stayed in England and so the onyl way to protect his family and property was to depose Edward by restoring Henry VI and himself as Henry's chief councillor.  

13 of 14

Edward's 1st reign: Success or failure?

Yes, he was deposed and yes, he did make mistakes but Edward faced very considerable problems resulting from the events of the 1450s. These continuing problems twinned with the unpredictable actions of Warwick, made Edward look vulnerable by 1468-69. However, Edward was far better than Henry VI. He had a set of skills, that he just hadn't used much of yet. His military skills as a leader and on the battlefield would manifiest themselves in his second reign. 

14 of 14


No comments have yet been made

Similar History resources:

See all History resources »See all Britain in the Middle Ages resources »