Edward IV

King of England

England's first Yorkist King, Edward IV, was the eldest surviving son of Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York and Cecily Neville and was born on 22nd April, 1442 at Rouen, whilst the Duke was stationed in France.

Edward IVEdward IV

His father, Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, held a strong claim to the English throne. He was the son of Richard, Earl of Cambridge, who himself was the son of Edward III's fourth surviving son, Edmund of Langley, Duke of York. Richard of York's mother Anne Mortimer, was the great grandaughter and heiress of Phillipa Plantagenet, the only child of Lionel, Duke of Clarence, second surviving son of Edward III. Richard II had declared Anne's father, Roger Mortimer, 4th Earl of March, as heir presumptive to the crown. Edward's mother, Cecily Neville, was the daughter of Ralph Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland, and Joan Beaufort, daughter of John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster and his mistress, later wife, Katherine Swynford. The Lancastrian king, Henry VI, was descended from Edward's third son John of Gaunt by a legitimate line from Henry IV

On the death of his father and brother, Edmund, Earl of Rutland, in contest for the throne, at Sandal Castle, Wakefield at Christmas, 1460, Edward inherited from his father the Yorkist claim to England's throne. He acquired the support of his powerful cousin, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, later to be known to history as 'Warwick the Kingmaker'. Edward proved to be an able general, defeating the Lancastrians at Mortimers Cross in February 1461 after which he was proclaimed king in London. He gained a further decisive victory over the Lancastrians at Towton in Yorkshire, on 29th March, Palm Sunday. Fought in a snowstorm, it was to be the bloodiest battle of the Wars of the Roses, with casualties, reported being in the region of 28,000. The victorious Edward made a state entry into London in June and was crowned King of England at Westminster.

Edward's appearance

King Edward IV was a very tall man, his skeleton, exhumed in 1789, measured 6 feet 3-3/4 inches in height.

Edward was well renowned for his fair complexion and good looks. The Croyland Chronicler described Edward as "a person of most elegant appearance and remarkable beyond all others for the attractions of his person."

Thomas More records of Edward ' He was a goodly personage and very princely to behold; of heart courageous, politic in counsel, in adversity nothing abashed, in prosperity rather joyful than proud, in peace just and merciful, in war sharp and fierce, in the field bold and hardy, and nevertheless no further than wisdom would, adventurous.

More goes on to add ' He was of visage lovely; of body mighty, strong and clean made; howbeit in his latter days, with over liberal diet, somewhat corpulent and burly but nevertheless noy uncomely. He was in youth greatly given to fleshy wantoness, from which health of body in great prosperity and fortune, without a special grace, hardly refrains.'

Mancini wrote "he was licentious in the extreme...he pursued with no discrimination the married and the unmarried, the noble and the lowly: however he took none by force.

The extrovert Edward was popular with the people, especially the Londoners and the ladies. Inclined to be lazy and easy going, he could act with alacrity when necessary and was highly efficient, although possessed of the ruthless streak that was inherent in the House of York.

Elizabeth WoodvilleElizabeth Woodville


On becoming king at nineteen years old, Edward met and secretly married Elizabeth Woodville, the widow of Sir John Grey of Groby, a Lancastrian knight had been killed in the Second Battle of St Albans in 1461. Elizabeth was the daughter of Sir Richard Woodville (later Earl Rivers) and Jacquetta of Luxembourg, whose first husband was John of Lancaster, Duke of Bedford, the brother of Henry V. Elizabeth first met Edward when she came to petition him for the restoration of her son's estates, the King had wanted her to become his mistress, but she refused. Bewitched by her beauty, he finally proposed, they were married at the Manor of Grafton in Northamptonshire on 1 May 1464. Elizabeth had two sons from her first marriage, Thomas, later created Marquess of Dorset, and Richard Grey.

Elizabeth, who proved to be avaricious and grasping, quickly persuaded her besotted spouse to arrange advantageous marriages amongst the nobility for her large and needy family. This succeeded in alienating 'the over mighty subject' Warwick, turning him from Edward's supporter to his implacable enemy.

Edward's brother, George, Duke of Clarence also heartily disliked the new Queen. Warwick, who possessed influence over George and under whom he had been brought up, wished to arrange a marriage between him and his eldest daughter and co-heiress, Isabel Neville. The King refused to sanction the match, in defiance of his brother, Clarence married Isabel at Calais.

Warwick 'The Kingmaker'

Further ill-feeling and suspicion being engendered on both sides culminated in Warwick and Clarence's open revolt, Edward's forces were defeated by them at the Battle of Edgecote Moor in 1469, and the king himself captured, Warwick attempted to rule England in Edward's name, but a counter rebellion forced the king's release.

Despite attempts at reconciliation on Edward's part and although pardoned, Warwick and Clarence incited a further rebellion in Lincolnshire under the leadership of Robert Welles, Viscount Welles, which was crushed by Edward at the Battle of Losecote Field. Warwick and Clarence promptly took ship for Calais with the countess of Warwick, and her daughters Anne Neville and the heavily pregnant Isabel, Duchess of Clarence, fleeing the country. Isabel's child was stillborn and buried at sea.

In exile in France, Warwick entered into an alliance with Margaret of Anjou agreeing to restore the deposed Henry VI in exchange for French support. This alliance was sealed by the marriage of Warwick's younger daughter, Anne Neville to Edward, the Lancastrian Prince of Wales. On their subsequent invasion, Warwick's powerful brother, John Neville, the 1st Marquess of Montagu, also switched his allegiance to the Lancastrians. Edward, along with his younger brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, was forced to flee to the continent, taking refuge in Burgundy and Henry VI was briefly restored to the throne in 1470, little more than the puppet of the ambitious Warwick.

During Henry VI's restoration, Queen Elizabeth took sanctuary at Westminster Abbey where she gave birth to the Yorkist Prince of Wales, Edward. Warwick and Clarence had parliament disinherit Edward IV and his heirs, they claimed the king was not the true son of the Duke of York, but the product of Duchess Cecily's liaison with an archer named Blackburn, who was in the employ of the Duke of York when he was stationed in France.

Charles, Duke of BurgundyCharles, Duke of Burgundy

Edward's brother-in-law, Charles, Duke of Burgundy, was initially unwilling to offer him support, however, a French declaration of war on the province forced his hand and Edward was equiped with a small army, in attempt to regain the throne.

Following the example of Henry of Bolingbroke some seventy years previously, Edward, a daring and efficient military commander, at first claimed he had returned to England merely to claim his duchy of York. The city of York, however, refused to admit him, but supporters flocked to his banner as he proceeded to march south. When Clarence, Shakespeare's 'quicksand of deceit', demoted again to second in line to the throne, realised he had gained nothing from his abandonment of his brother, he promptly switched sides, rejoining Edward's forces at the Battle of Barnet. To ensure that he, Clarence, was on the winning side. The Lancastrian forces were defeated in the ensuing battle, which was fought in thick fog and the mighty Warwick himself slain whilst fleeing the battlefield.

The same day Margaret of Anjou and her seventeen-year-old son landed at Weymouth and began recruiting men to the Lancastrian cause. She made for Wales, hoping to join forces with her brother-in-law, Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke. Edward, marching his army hard on her heels caught up with her at Tewkesbury on 4th May 1471. Edward, the Lancastrian Prince of Wales was slain, either during the battle or after and Margaret of Anjou taken prisoner. The Lancastrian cause had reached its nadir. King Henry VI, a prisoner in the Tower of London, met his death there a few days later, on the night of the Vigil of the Ascension, 21st - 22nd May 1471. The demise of his son had sealed his fate. While Edward of Lancaster still lived, he rendered the removal of Henry pointless. The Yorkist version of his end, that he died of pure "melancholy and displeasure" on hearing of his son's death was not much accepted, even at the time. An examination of Henry's skeleton in 1910 confirmed that he had died as a result of violence...

Richard, Duke of Gloucester, the youngest of the Yorkist brothers, wanted to marry Warwick's younger daughter and co-heiress, Anne Neville, the widow of the Lancastrian Prince of Wales. Disputes arose with Clarence, who was married to Warwick's elder daughter, as to the inheritance and division of Warwick's vast lands and property, even though his widow, who held these in her own right, was still alive. A notorious Act of Parliament decreed that the Countess of Warwick should be treated as if she were legally dead, effectively solved the dispute.

St. George's Chapel, WindsorSt. George's Chapel, Windsor

Edward's Achievements as King

An able ruler, Edward IV made an admirable start on reforming royal administration and on improving the machinery of royal finance. Edward embarked on an extensive building scheme, St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle, intended to be the mausoleum of the House of York. He patronised his rival King Henry VI's foundation of Eton College. William Caxton set up England's first printing press during the reign, and also received Edward's patronage.

Edward revived the ancient claim of English Kings to the throne of France and set sail for France in the summer of 1475 with an army of around 10, 000. He possessed a powerful ally in Charles, Duke of Burgundy, the husband of his sister Margaret. The Treaty of Picquigny in 1475 brought the King a pension from Louis XI along with diplomatic benefits. Several of the king's followers, which included his brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, considered the deal inglorious but Edward emerged with credit and had acquired a lucrative pension.

George, Duke of Clarence

The King's untrustworthy brother George, Duke of Clarence (pictured left) remained sullenly dissatisfied, his wife Isabel Neville died shortly after giving birth to a second son, Richard, in December 1476, she was followed to the grave by her baby the following January. The death of women in or after childbirth was a common occurrence of the age, but Clarence, always inclined to be of a suspicious frame of mind and driven by a burning resentment of the Queen and her family, accused Ankarette Twynho, a woman who had waited on his wife, of poisoning her. A jury was bullied into deciding Ankarette guilty and the unfortunate woman was hung.

In retribution and as a warning, two of Clarence's men were executed on a charge of using magical arts against the King and his family. Frustrated but unable to strike directly at the Queen, he burst into the council chamber at Westminster and read aloud a declaration of their innocence. The Duke of Clarence had gone too far.

A rising in Cambridgeshire was believed to have been incited by Clarence and Edward, whose patience had been tried to the limit, accused him of placing himself above the law when he tried and hung Ankarette Twynho. He was found guilty of high treason, attainted and the death sentence passed. At the request of their mother, Cecily Neville, Dowager Duchess of York, the execution was carried out privately in the Tower of London on 18th February 1478. Rumour reported that he had been drowned in a butt of malmsey wine.

George, Duke of ClarenceGeorge, Duke of Clarence

The Death of Edward IV

In his later years, due to overindulgence, Edward IV had put on much weight his once athletic physique had gone downhill and turned to fat, as did that of his formidable grandson, Henry VIII. The French writer Philippe de Commynes recorded that Edward was 'beginning to get fat and I had seen him on previous occasions looking more handsome.' After his return from France, Edward took Jane Shore as his mistress, he called her the merriest of his concubines and described her as 'Merry in company, ready and quick of answer'. She possessed a large amount of influence over the king, which she did not use for her own personal gain, but often used it to bring those out of favour before the king to help them gain pardon. Thomas More later recorded many years later, that she "never abused (her influence) to any man's hurt, but to many a man's comfort and relief." and "where the king took displeasure, she would mitigate and appease his mind; where men were out of favor, she would bring them in his grace; for many that highly offended, she obtained pardon." Edward, a notorious womaniser, did not discard her as he had done with many of his previous mistresses. Their relationship was to last until his death.

In 1483 after catching a cold on a fishing trip on the Thames at Windsor, which is believed to have developed into pneumonia. Edward was aged just 41 at his death which was both sudden and unexpected. The Croyland Chronicler cryptically recorded that "The king took to his bed neither worn out with old age nor yet seized with any known kind of malady, the cure of which would not have appeared easy in the case of a person of more humble rank." The symptoms of Edward’s final illness is largely unrecorded by the chroniclers of the time making it difficult to diagnose his cause of death.

On 9th April he died at Westminster and was buried in his foundation of St. George's Chapel, Windsor, his tomb lies close to that of his victim, the Lancastrian King Henry VI. The tomb of King Edward IV was later destroyed by the Roundheads. He was succeeded by his twelve-year-old son, Edward V.

Questions about Edward's Legitimacy

Questions were raised in his reign concerning Edward's legitimacy, it was noted that he looked nothing like his father, the short and dark Richard Plantagenet. Rumours were promoted by the Earl of Warwick in 1469 and repeated by George, Duke of Clarence shortly before his death in 1478, but with no evidence. It was suggested that the real father may have been an archer called Blaybourne. until recently, the generally accepted view was that issue was a fallacy raised to support both the claims of his brothers George and later Richard III.

Prior to his succession to the throne, on June 22, 1483, Richard III is said to have declared that his older brother was illegitimate. The Act of Titulus Regius describes Richard III as "the undoubted son and heir" of Richard, Duke of York, Mancini states that Edward's mother, Cecily Neville, known as 'Proud Cis' herself began this story, when she was informed of Edward's secret marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, the outraged Cecily is reported to have declared that she was tempted to swear he was illegitimate and thereby have him removed from the throne for his foolishness.

In 2003, Dr Michael Jones disclosed in a Channel 4 documentary by Tony Robinson evidence from Rouen Cathedral. In the cathedral register, an entry in 1441 records that the clergy were paid for a sermon for the safety of the Duke of York, going to Pontoise on campaign. He would have been on campaign from July 14 to August 21, 1441, which was several days' march from Rouen. Unless he was born prematurely, which is not recorded, By counting back from Edward's birth on April 28, it would seem that Richard of York was not present at the time of Edward's conception around the first week of August 1441. Furthermore, the cathedral records reveal that Edward's christening was carried out in private in a side chapel of the Rouen Cathedral, while at the christening of Richard and Cecily's second son, Edmund, Earl of Rutland, the whole cathedral was used for a huge celebration, again suggesting to supporters of the theory that Edward was indeed illegitimate, although the Duke of York never disclaimed his paternity of his eldest son. Some historians have offered criticism of this theory in that it is logistically possible for Richard Duke of York to have returned briefly from battle to Rouen.

The fate of Elizabeth Woodville

Elizabeth Woodville lived on to see further reversals of fortune. The throne of her son Edward V was usurped by her brother-in-law, the Duke of Gloucester, who became Richard III and her marriage to Edward IV declared invalid and her children bastards. Her two young sons, Edward V and Richard, Duke of York, disappeared inside the grim walls of the Tower of London and were never again seen alive.

In an attempt to regain her lost influence, she supported the Lancastrian Henry Tudor, promising him the hand of her eldest daughter, Elizabeth of York. After Henry's defeat of Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, he married Elizabeth of York, Elizabeth was restored to her position as Dowager Queen and stood as godparent to the new Tudor heir to the throne, her grandson, Prince Arthur.

For reasons which remain unclear, Elizabeth quarrelled with her new son-in-law and was confined to a nunnery at Bermondsey in 1487. She died there, penniless on 8th June 1492 and was buried beside her husband, Edward IV, at Windsor.

The Ancestry of Edward IV

Edward IV

Father: Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York

Paternal Grandfather: Richard Plantagenet, Earl of Cambridge

Paternal Great-grandfather: Edmund Plantagenet Duke of York

Paternal Great-grandmother: Isabella of Castile

Paternal Grandmother: Anne Mortimer

Paternal Great-grandfather: Roger Mortimer, 4th Earl of March

Paternal Great-grandmother: Eleanor Holland

Mother: Cecily Neville

Maternal Grandfather: Ralph Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland

Maternal Great-grandfather: John Neville, 3rd Baron Neville de Raby

Maternal Great-grandmother: Maud Percy

Maternal Grandmother: Joan Beaufort

Maternal Great-grandfather: John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster

Maternal Great-grandmother: Katherine Swynford

The children and grandchildren of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville

(1) Elizabeth of York (1466 - 1503) m. HENRY VII

(i) Arthur, Prince of Wales (b. 1486)

(ii) Margaret, Queen of Scotland (b.1489) m. (i)James IV King of Scots

(ii)Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus

(iii) HENRY VIII (b. 1491) m. (i) Catherine of Aragon (ii) Anne Boleyn

(iii) Jane Seymour (iv) Anne of Cleves (v) Catherine Howard (vi) Catherine Parr

(iv) Elizabeth Tudor (died in infancy)

(v) Mary Tudor (b. 1496) m. (i) Louis XII, King of France (ii) Charles Brandon, Duke

of Suffolk

(vi) Edmund Tudor (died in infancy)

(vii) Catherine Tudor (died in infancy)

(2) Mary (1467- 1482)

(3) Cecily (1469 - 1507) m. (i) John, Viscount Welles (ii) William Kyme

(4) EDWARD V (1470 - ?1483)

(5) Margaret (b. & d. 1472)

(6) Richard, Duke of York and Norfolk, Earl of Nottingham (1473 - ?1483) m. Anne Mowbray

(7) Anne (1476 - 1511) m. Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk

(8) George, Duke of Bedford (1477 - 1479)

(9) Catherine (1479 - 1527) m.William Courtenay

(i) Edward Courtenay, Earl of Devon (b. circa 1497 -executed 1539)

(ii) Henry Courtenay, Marquis of Exeter (b. circa 1497- executed 1539)

(i) Elizabeth Grey (ii) Gertrude Blount

(iii) Margaret Courtenay (circa 1499 - 1526) m. Henry Somerset Lord Herbert

(10) Bridget , a nun (1480 - 1537)