Was Edward IV's second reign a success?

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Edward's style of kingship

Edward was only 29 in 1471, still a young man with an ability to charm his people. 

He also faced a much easier political situation than he had in 1461. The deaths of Henry VI and Prince Edward removed the figureheads for opposition that had plagued him so much in his first reign. The remaining Lancastrian diehards made peace with Edward. He even spared the lives of the Duke of Exeter and the Earl of Oxford. 

However, Edward was not always charming. He was very conscious of his power and prepared to use his anger to over-awe individuals. He was also very knowledgeable about his nobles and gentry. Such knowledge was supremely important as they were the people on whom he depended for good government in every part of his kingdom. 

Overall, Edward combined cleverness and a capacity for hard work with a relaxed exsitence. 

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Dealing with Clarence

Clarence was Edward's treacherous brother:

1) He allied with Warwick against Edward and married Warwick's daughter Isabel against Edward's wishes. He seemingly hoped that Warwick would make him King but Warwick put Henry VI on the throne, and so Clarence begged forgiveness of Edward in 1471.

2) Once Edward was King again, Edward planned to divide Warwick's lands between Clarence and Gloucester. Clarence was not one for sharing; knowing that Gloucester planned to marry Anne Neville, Clarence had her kidnapped.

3) When Isabel died in 1476, Clarence hoped to marry Mary of Burgundy or a Scottish princess but Edward blocked this possibility.

4) Clarence abused power by having one of his wife's innocent former servant hanged. Edward responded by accusing him of treason in what may have been a trumped-up charge. Clarence was put on trial, found guilty and condemned to death. His death shows how determined Edward was to stop threats developing that would endanger his and England's security. 

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Relationship with Gloucester

Gloucester was loyal to Edward. He had gone into exile with him in 1470 and had taken a leading role at Barnet and Teweksbury. His reward was Edward's trust, as well as widespread land and power in the north.

Before 1470 the north had created major problems for Edward because of Lancastrian invasions from Scotland and as the source of Warwick's power. Edward now solved the northern problem by making Gloucester overlord of the region. Through Anne, Gloucester inherited Warwick's affinity, the widespread group of nobles and gentry whose loyalty was needed to defend the north against Scotland and maintain law and justice in the region. Gloucester's own character and treatment of the individuals made that loyalty stronger. 

Richard was also Constable and Admiral of England. Edward and Richard made a powerful partnership, based on mutual support and self-interest. He also showed a ruthless ability to further his own interests, which worked well for Edward as they shared these interests. 

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Edward and the nobility

He understood that the most effective government was based on co-operation between king and nobles, making use of their desire for stability and order. The nobles respected his military skills, shared his enthusiasm for chivalry and appreciated his willingness to trust and involve them in government. Edward continued the policy he'd used before 1469 of using trusted supporters, especially members of the royal family, to control large regions. These nobles were chosen for their effectiveness in maintaining royal control, not just their loyalty. Men such as Henry Duke of Buckingham and William Herbert who lacked ability were excluded from control. 

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Justice and Order

Edward's use of his regional overlords played an important part in delivering justice. Equally important was his use of the network of gentry in every county. The gentry became the eyes and ears of the King in their counties, providing him with information and carrying out his commands. 

However, there were weaknesses in Edward's policies. He was predominantly concerned with disorder that threatened political stability and his hold on the throne and therefore Edward payed less attentionto run-of-the-mill crime or disorder initiated by his trusted nobles.

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Royal Finances

Edward's improving financial situation was one of his successes:

1)He benefited from the upturn in trade and agriculture, thereby gaining greater income from customs duties and from his estates.

2) He also increased income from royal estates through more efficient adminstration by his officials.

3) Edward exploited royal rights more effectively, e.g. increasing income from wardships. 

4) Extraction of benevolences (gifts of money from a subject). Not many people could refuse to make a gift when asked. 

Wealth did not affect Edward's security as king but it did raise his status in the eyes of his people. His wealth created the impression of a king who was financially competent, making the best of his own income and certainly not wasteful. When asking for taxation, Parliament would have been encouraged to agree because they expected it to be used efficiently. 

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Splendour at court

Edward's expenditure was neither frivolous nor selfish. A king needed to look magnificient to embody his kingdom's strength and wealth. Major occassions were celeberated with grand jousts. Edward and his family and courtiers showed off the richest clothes and jewellery, ate off the finest plate, employed the best musicians. Edward also spent lavishly on the finest craftmanship, especially in his rebuilding of his favourite palaces. 

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Foreign Policy in France

Edward led his army across the Channel in July 1475, but there were no battles. Burgundy and Brittany failed to provide the promised support. Thus, Edward met Louis at Picquigny to agree a treaty:

1) A seven year truce

2) marriage between the Dauphin and Edward's eldest daughter

3) a large payment by France to England

Why did Edward agree to peace?

1) He clearly believed a war without Burgundian support was both too risky and expensive. 

2) He gained a good deal financially through the treaty. The invasion was a practical success if not a glorious one. 

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Foreign Policy in Scotland

Scotland in 1480 were attacking over the border, culminating in a large-scale raid into north-east England. In 1481, Edward planned a major campaign to punish the Scots. The aim was to depose King James III, making James brother, the Duke of Albany, king instead. Albany was happy to agree to hand over Scottish territory to England in exchange for the crown. Gloucester captured Berwick before the royal brothers made peace. The campaign was good for Gloucester's rep and his relationship with his affinity. Most importantly, it warned off the Scots from raids in the immediate future.


1) expensive to maintain Berwick

2) When Edward was preoccupied wit hthe Scottish, he could not provide help when Burgundy needed to invade France. This resulted in a treaty between France and Burgundy, where France scrapped her treaty with England. Therefore, by 1483, Edward had protected his northern border but had gained little in Europe. However, Edward's polciies may not have been glorious but neither had they undermined his security. 

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Securing the succession

By March 1483, he appeared to have done everything needed to ensure a smooth succession. He had two sons and although they were young, Edward himself was only 40. What happened next had created one of the major debates about the extent of his success. Edward died, his son was deposed and probably killed and his brother succeeded the throne.  

Was this turmoil Edward's fault?

Yes: Edward had given too much power to Gloucester. He had also allowed enmities to grow, particuarly involving his wife's family. Once Edward was dead, these feuds exploded into violence putting enmities before their loyalty to the young king. 

No: It wasn't his fault . No one could have predicted Gloucester's actions. Enmities between Gloucester and other nobles may not have been visible to Edward before he died. Even after Edward died nobody expected what came. Young Edward's coronation was being planned and therefore it seems very harsh to blame Edward for not forseeing the danger to his son when nobody foresaw it even two weeks before it happened. 

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