The Accession of Edward IV and the usurpation by Richard III


Who was Edward IV?

King of England 1461-1483. Reign largely successful, restoring peace to England following unrest of the Cousins War or War of the Roses. Edward IV proved himself to be a strong king after his 1471 usurpation by Henry VI, but his death opened up factions and feuding within the previously united House of York. Edward IV was a very charismatic King – one reason why he was able to control his nobles when his successors couldn’t – Edward’s court was one of opulence and lavish ceremony, taking inspiration from the Burgundian court. He had a reputation for extravagance as well as sexual immorality. He openly kept a mistress: Lady Elizabeth Shore whom he shared with his best friend Lord Hastings and the Queen’s brother Sir Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers.

Despite displays of great wealth and lavish ceremony, this was all a rouse as Edward was desperately poor. At the time of his death in 1483, he left only £1,200 in the treasury, not enough to even cover the cost of his own funeral; yet alone govern the country. The Royal Family has to sell some royal jewels to pay for the funeral.

His marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was a source of continuing controversy throughout his reign and during the following succession crisis. Edward IV had been due to marry the French Princess Bona of Savoy in order to facilitate a beneficial alliance with the French. This had been orchestrated by the famed ‘king-maker’ of the era Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick (Edward’s uncle). The fact the King married Elizabeth Woodville embarrassed Warwick and is one possible reason why he defected to the House of Lancaster in 1471 in a bid to usurp Edward and replace him with his brother, George, Duke of Clarence. Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth offended many nobles. Not only was she a commoner and a widow of a Lancastrian knight, but her family was large and thus represented a significant drain on royal patronage. Whilst the marriage was controversial it was successful as it produced 7 children, inc. 2 boys: Edward V and Richard, Duke of York.

Why was there a crisis in 1483?

Edward IV died prematurely and suddenly. At the time of Edward IV’s death, his heir, Edward V was only 12 and was a minor. Edward V was at Ludlow Castle in Wales at the time of his father’s death under the guardianship of the Queen’s brother, Sir Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers. Edward IV had made 2 wills, and this was the source of the instability.

·         The first, in 1475, named Queen Elizabeth of one of 8 counsellors to rule the Kingdom in a regency Counsel.

·         The second, on his deathbed, named his brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester as Lord Protector, ruling as long as Edward V was a minor.

Subsequently a power struggle developed between two competing factions: The Yorkists – led by Richard, Duke of Gloucester and Lord Hastings – and the


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