Edward IV of England

Edward IV
By the Grace of God, King of England
and France and Lord of Ireland
Reign March 4, 1461 - Oct 31,1470
and April 11, 1471 - April 9, 1483
Coronation June 28, 1461
Queen Elizabeth Woodville (c. 1437-1492)
Issue Elizabeth of York (1466-1503)
Edward V (1470- c. 1483)
Richard, 1st Duke of York
(1473- c. 1483)
Arthur Plantagenet, 1st Viscount
(illeg., d. 1542)
Royal House York
Father Richard, Duke of York (1411-1460)
Mother Cecily Neville (1415-1495)
Born April 28, 1442
Died April 9, 1483
Buried Windsor Castle

Edward IV (April 28, 1442April 9, 1483) was King of England from March 4, 1461 to April 9, 1483, with a break of a few months in the period 14701471.


Edward of York was born on April 28, 1442, at Rouen in France, the second son of Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York (a leading claimant to the throne of England) and Cecily Neville. He was the eldest of the four sons who survived to adulthood. York's challenge to the ruling family marked the beginning of the conflict known as the Wars of the Roses. When his father was killed in 1460, at the Battle of Wakefield, pressing his claim against the Lancastrian king, Henry VI of England, Edward inherited his claim.

With the support of Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick ("The Kingmaker"), Edward, already showing great promise as a leader of men, defeated the Lancastrians in a succession of battles. While Henry and his militant queen, Margaret of Anjou, were campaigning in the north, Warwick gained control of the capital and had Edward declared king in London in 1461. Edward strengthened his claim with a decisive victory at the Battle of Towton in the same year, in the course of which the Lancastrian army was virtually wiped out.

Edward was tall, strong, handsome, affable (even with subjects), generous, and popular. Warwick, believing that he could continue to rule through him, pressed him to enter into a marital alliance with a major European power. Edward, who had appeared to go along with the wishes of his mentor, then alienated Warwick by secretly marrying a widow, Elizabeth Woodville (possibly, as speculated by contemporary rumour, having previously married another widow, Lady Eleanor Talbot, even more secretly). Elizabeth had a large group of relatively poor but very ambitious, and until the Battle of Towton, Lancastrian relations. While it is true that these relations did dominate the marriage market and were given numerous titles, they were given little land which was the true source of power and thus were not a threat to Warwick's own power. However, Warwick resented the influence they had over the King and was angry at the emergence of a rival group for the King's favour, so with the aid of Edward's disaffected younger brother George, Duke of Clarence, the Earl led an army against Edward.

The main part of the king's army (without Edward) was defeated at the Battle of Edgecote Moor, and Edward was subsequently captured at Olney. Warwick's forces did capture Edward's father-in-law Richard Wydeville and brother-in-law John Wydeville after the battle at Chepstow and had them beheaded at Kenilworth on August 12, 1469 on false charges.

Warwick then attempted to rule in Edward's name, but the nobility, many of whom owed their preferments to the king, were restive. With the emergence of a rebellion, Warwick was forced to release Edward. Edward did not seek to destroy either Warwick or Clarence, instead seeking reconciliation with them. However, shortly afterwards Warwick and Clarence rebelled again. After a failed rebellion in 1470, Warwick and Clarence were forced to flee to France. There, they made an alliance with the wife of Henry VI, Margaret of Anjou, and he agreed to restore Henry VI in return for French support in an invasion which took place in 1470. This time, Edward was forced to flee when he learned Warwick's brother, John Neville, 1st Marquess of Montagu, had also switched to the Lancastrian side, making his military position untenable.

Henry VI was briefly restored to the throne in an act known as the Readeption of Henry VI, and Edward took refuge in Burgundy. The rulers of Burgundy were his brother-in-law Charles, Duke of Burgundy and his sister Margaret of Burgundy. Despite the fact that Charles was initially unwilling to help Edward, the French declared war on Burgundy and so Charles decided to give his aid to Edward, and from there he raised an army to win back his kingdom.

When he returned to England with a relatively small force he avoided capture by potentially hostile forces by stating his claim, just as Henry Bolingbroke had done seventy years earlier, that he merely desired to reclaim his dukedom. The city of York however closed its gates to him, but as he marched southwards he began to gather support, and Clarence (who had realised that his fortunes would be better off as brother to a king than under Henry VI) reunited with him. Edward defeated Warwick at the Battle of Barnet. With Warwick dead, he eliminated the remaining Lancastrian resistance at the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471. The Lancastrian heir, Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales, was killed either on the battlefield or shortly afterwards, and a few days later, on the night that Edward re-entered London, Henry VI, who was being held prisoner, was murdered in order to completely remove the Lancastrian opposition.

Edward's two younger brothers, George, Duke of Clarence, and Richard, Duke of Gloucester (later King Richard III of England) were married to Isabella Neville and Anne Neville. They were both daughters of Warwick by Anne Beauchamp and rival heirs to the considerable inheritance of their still-living mother. Clarence and Gloucester were at loggerheads for much of the rest of his reign. Clarence was eventually found guilty of plotting against Edward and was imprisoned in the Tower of London. He was "privately executed" (later tradition states he drowned in a vat of Malmsey wine) on February 18, 1478.

Edward did not face any further rebellions after his restoration, as the Lancastrian line had virtually been extinguished, and the only rival left was Henry Tudor, who was living in exile. Edward declared war on France in 1475, and came to terms with the Treaty of Picquigny which provided him with an immediate payment of 75,000 crowns and a yearly pension thereafter of 50,000 crowns. Edward backed an attempt by Alexander Stewart, 1st Duke of Albany, brother of the Scottish king James III to take the throne in 1482, and despite the fact that when Gloucester invaded he was able to capture Edinburgh and James III, Albany reneged on his agreement with Edward, and Gloucester decided to withdraw from his position of strength in Edinburgh. However, Gloucester did acquire the recovery of Berwick-upon-Tweed.

Edward fell ill at Easter 1483, but lingered on long enough to add some codicils to his will, the most important being his naming of his brother Gloucester as Protector after his death. He died on 9 April 1483 and is buried in St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle. He was succeeded by his twelve-year-old son, Edward V of England. Although his son was quickly barred from the throne and succeeded by Richard of Gloucester, Edward IV's daughter, Elizabeth of York, later became the Queen consort of Henry VII of England.


English Royalty
House of York

Edward IV
   Edward V
   Richard, Duke of York
Edward V
Richard III
   Edward, Prince of Wales

He had ten legitimate children by Elizabeth Woodville, though only seven survived him:

Under an act of Parliament called Titulus Regius, passed to justify the accession of Richard III, all of Edward's children by Elizabeth Woodville were declared illegitimate on the grounds that Edward had been contracted to marry another woman prior to his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville. This declaration claimed Lady Eleanor Boteler (a young widow, daughter of John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury) and Edward had been precontracted; both parties were dead by this time, but there was a witness. The declaration was repealed shortly after King Henry VII assumed the throne; it illegimitated Elizabeth of York, who was to be his queen.

Edward had numerous mistresses, the most well-known of whom is Jane Shore (whose name in actuality was Elizabeth).

He reportedly had several illegitimate children:

Perkin Warbeck, an impostor claimant to the English throne, reportedly resembled Edward. There is unconfirmed speculation that Warbeck could be another illegitimate son to Edward.

Was Edward illegitimate?

Evidence of Edward's illegitimacy remain subjective and disputed amongst modern historians. Despite some concerns raised by some scholars, it was, and still essentially is, generally accepted that the issue was raised as propaganda to support Richard III.

In his time, it was noted that Edward IV resembled his father little. Questions about his paternity were raised during Edward's own reign, for example by Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick in 1469, and repeated by Edward's brother, George, shortly before his execution in 1478, but with no evidence; it must be noted that in propaganda wars, such as these, many statements were used that perhaps had no basis in truth (for example, Henry VI's heir, Edward of Westminster, was purported to have been a bastard of Margaret of Anjou and the Duke of Somerset's). It was suggested that the real father may have been an archer called Blaybourne.

Prior to his succession, on June 22, 1483, Richard III declared that Edward was illegitimate, and three days later the matter was addressed by parliament. In Titulus Regius (the text of which is believed to come word-for-word from the petition presented by Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham to the assembly which met on June 25, 1483, to decide on the future of the monarchy). It describes Richard III as "the undoubted son and heir" of Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York and "born in this land" -- an oblique reference to his brother's birth at Rouen and baptism in circumstances which could have been considered questionable. Dominic Mancini says that Cecily Neville, mother of both Edward IV and Richard III, was herself the basis for the story: When she found out about Edward's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, in 1464, "Proud Cis" flew into a rage. Mancini reported that the Duchess, in her anger, offered to declare him a bastard. However, this is not supported in contemporary sources, but is most likely reflective of contemporary opinion. According to Polydore Vergil, Duchess Cecily, "being falsely accused of adultery, complained afterwards in sundry places to right many noble men, whereof some yet live, of that great injury which her son Richard had done her." If she had indeed complained--as would befit a high-ranking lady of renowned piety, as she had been regarded--these petitions may have had some effect: the allegations were dropped and never again pursued.

Historical novelist Sharon Kay Penman believes paid propagandists for Henry Tudor, after he became Henry VII (and King Richard was dead), concocted out of whole cloth the story that Richard III had said his brother Edward was illegitimate: "Tudor's official historian, Polydore Vergil, . . . contend[ed] that Richard based his claim to the crown upon his brother Edward's illegitimacy. This was, of course, an out-and-out lie." Richard III's claim to the throne is generally believed to be based upon his claim that Edward IV's children were illegitimate.

Additionally, Alexander Canduci, author of "Getting It Right... or Why The World is so Monumentally Screwed: The Manipulation of History" (Publisher: Lulu.com, ISBN 141164249X) makes the case that "...Edward IV was not the son of Richard, Duke of York and thus not one of the Plantagenet descendants. His two brothers were, however. Richard III would have been aware of this, but couldn’t say anything without destroying all that had been gained by the House of York during the wars [of the Roses], and calling into question the legitimacy of their claims as the rightful kings. So this was let go. But, after Edward’s death, Richard would have been all too aware of the children’s unlawful claim to the throne, due their father’s own illegitimacy. To ensure the continuation of the true Plantagenet line, he needed to remove the children and install himself as king, ensuring the true blood succession. (His elder brother George had been killed, and his descendants debarred from the throne). To this end, he probably fabricated the charges against the children and their mother."

The matter is also raised in William Shakespeare's Richard III, in the following lines from Act 3 Scene 5:

Tell them, when that my mother went with child
Of that unsatiate Edward, noble York
My princely father then had wars in France
And, by just computation of the time,
Found that the issue was not his begot

It is to be noted, however, that many of Shakespeare's issues were for the sake of drama, including that of his perception of Richard III himself--that immortalized image of Richard as the "crook-backed monster."

Evidence of illegitimacy

In 2003, historian Dr Michael Jones revealed in a Channel 4 documentary (first broadcast January 3, 2004) previously overlooked evidence from Rouen Cathedral, France, discovered while researching the Hundred Years' War. 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 (near Paris) on campaign. He would have been on campaign from July 14 to August 21, 1441, several days' march from Rouen.

If a child with a claim to the throne was born small or sickly it would normally have been recorded, and there is apparently no such record; consequently, proponents of the theory of illegitimacy claim it is likely that Edward was not born prematurely. By calculating back from Edward's birth on April 28, it seems apparent that Richard was not present at the time of Edward's conception around the first week of August 1441.

Additionally, the cathedral records reveal that Edward's christening took place in private in a side chapel, whereas for the christening of Richard's second son the whole cathedral was used for a huge celebration, again suggesting to proponents of the theory that Edward was indeed illegitimate, although in spite of this, the Duke never disclaimed his paternity of his wife's eldest son.

Some historians have raised the criticism that it is logistically possible for Richard Duke of York to have returned briefly from battle to Rouen because often military leaders led their forces from the rear.

Dr Jones argues that, if it were true that Edward IV was illegitimate, this would have invalidated his claim to the throne of England thus rendering the existing royal family path as illegitimate. Dr Jones argues that tracing through Edward's younger brother, George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence (whom Jones argues was the legitimate heir), the current heir would be Michael Abney-Hastings, 14th Earl of Loudoun who resides in Australia as a rice researcher. However, since King Henry VII claimed the throne of England through right of conquest, it can be argued that Michael Abney-Hastings is no more legitimate to the throne than the blood line of the Saxon kings of England who would have continued if William the Conqueror had not taken over. Furthermore, under English law, the child of a married woman is automatically considered the child of her husband unless he is disclaimed at birth. Since Richard did not do this, Edward remained his legal son and heir, whether or not he was actually Richard's biological son.

Author Alexander Canduci also argues that George, Duke of Clarence and his heirs could not have succeeded to the throne of England, principally as they were barred from the throne by Parliament under a Bill of Attainder, and only another Act of Parliament could ever rescind this. Indeed, it was only this exclusion of George's descendants that allowed Richard III to ascend the throne, and after the death of his son Edward of Middleham, Prince of Wales, Richard considered his nephew John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, to be his heir, again excluding the Clarence branch. In the absence of an Act reversing the attainder, the Plantagenet-Hastings line were in the same situation as the male Stuart line after the overthrow of James II of England with no legal avenue to the throne short of conquest. Supporters of the Hastings claim counter-argue that as Edward IV was not the legitimate king, the attainder passed by his Parliament and given the Royal Assent by him had no legal validity.

Preceded by:
Henry VI
King of England
Succeeded by:
Edward V
Lord of Ireland
Preceded by:
Richard, Duke of York
Duke of York
Succeeded by:
Merged in Crown
Earl of Cambridge
Earl of March
Earl of Ulster
Monarchs of England
Alfred | Edward the Elder | Ethelweard | Athelstan | Edmund I | Edred | Edwy | Edgar I | Edward the Martyr | Ethelred | Sweyn I*† | Edmund II | Canute*† | Harthacanute* | Harold I | Edward the Confessor | Harold II | Edgar II | William I | William II | Henry I | Stephen | Matilda | Henry II | Richard I | John | Henry III | Edward I | Edward II | Edward III | Richard II | Henry IV | Henry V | Henry VI | Edward IV | Edward V | Richard III | Henry VII | Henry VIII‡ | Edward VI‡ | Jane‡ | Mary I‡ | Elizabeth I‡ | James I‡§ | Charles I‡§ | Interregnum | Charles II‡§ | James II‡§ | William III‡§¶ and Mary II‡§ | Anne‡§
* Also Monarch of Denmark | † Also Monarch of Norway | ‡Also Monarch of Ireland | § Also Monarch of Scotland | ¶ Also Stadtholder of Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Gelderland, Overijssel and Drenthe

Most of Wikipedia's text and many of its images are licensed under the
Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (CC BY-SA)

Return to Main Index