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De Re Militari | Book Reviews

David Santiuste

Edward IV and the Wars of the Roses

Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military, 2010. 208pp. £19.99 ISBN: 9781844159307.

King Edward IV of England (reigned 1461-70 and 1471-83) was a highly successful commander during the period of English intermittent politics-by-violence known as the Wars of the Roses, and for Santiuste to have chosen him as the focus of a book is appropriate and understandable. In no battle in which Edward certainly took part was he other than on the side of victory. The basic narrative of the book is the course of the Wars of the Roses during the lifetime of Edward. The book opens with the thirteen-year-old Edward observing at the first Battle of St Albans (22 May 1455) where his father, Duke Richard of York, defeated the supporters of King Henry VI. That Edward was present at St Albans is attested by only one chronicle, and the lack of corroborating evidence makes the acceptance his presence as a battle observer somewhat problematical. Some years later, Edward was in Calais with other opponents of the government of Henry VI, and Edward could possibly have participated in the battle at Newnham Bridge (23 April 1460) in which supporters of King Henry were defeated in their attempt to capture Calais.

How Edward was educated for the military career that lay ahead for him is not known. As the eldest son of an exceedingly important peer of the realm and earl of March in his own right, Edward would assuredly have been provided with the education needed to succeed as the next duke of York. Santiuste comfortably assumes that Edward’s education followed the known pattern for noble youths as described admirably in N. I. Orme, From Childhood to Chivalry: The Education of the English Kings and Aristocracy, 1066-1530 (Methuen, 1984).

By 1460, Edward’s father, Duke Richard, was aiming to usurp the English throne, and he would have to accomplish that goal by military action. Edward participated in a brief military action at Northampton on 10 July 1460 from which the Yorkist forces emerged victorious. King Henry was captured at Northampton, but the actions of Edward in the battle escaped recording. Duke Richard was in Ireland at the time of the battle, but he soon returned to England intent upon replacing the captive Henry VI as king. The supporters of King Henry were not to be pushed aside easily, and a serious battle took place at Wakefield in Yorkshire on 30 December 1460. Duke Richard was killed, as was Edward’s brother, Edmund, earl of Rutland. Edward himself was not present at the battle, but was away recruiting men for his father’s cause. This was truly a time of desperation for Edward. An opposing army intent upon his destruction was in the field, but Edward rose victoriously to the challenge at Mortimer’s Cross near Ludlow in Shropshire on 3 February 1461, which Santiuste identifies as “Edward’s first experience of overall command.” (39) Soon after the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross, Edward’s supporters suffered a defeat at the Second Battle of St Albans on 17 February 1461. Nevertheless, Edward was able to enter London and was acclaimed king by his supporters on 4 March. To make good on his curiously acquired title, Edward needed military success in a fight to the death. His opponents had moved northward and Edward pursued them. A part of Edward’s army forced a crossing of the Aire at Ferrybridge in Yorkshire on 28 March, and a great and hard battle was fought the next day at Towton, where Edward emerged as the victorious commander. The Battle of Towton was fought on Palm Sunday in bitter weather, and was the largest set-piece battle of the Wars of the Roses. Henry VI, his queen, and their son escaped from the battle and fled to Scotland; the royal house of Lancaster would seem to have fallen. Towton set the stage for Edward’s coronation as king on 28 June, although he dated his reign from 4 March. What Michael Hicks terms the First War of the Wars of the Roses (The Wars of the Roses [Yale University Press, 2010], p. 163) was won at Towton by the Yorkists, and Santiuste gives due emphasis to the battle in his book.

Edward’s path to kingship was aided and supported by Richard Neville, earl of Warwick, who has come to be known as the ‘Kingmaker’. Over time, Warwick came to have differences with King Edward, differences that were sufficient by 1469 for Warwick to plot the overthrow of Edward. In the various events of late 1469 and early 1470, Edward did command a military engagement in Lincolnshire against a northern rebellion instigated by his opponents. This was the Battle of Empingham, known also as Losecote Field, fought on 12 March 1470. Warwick fled the kingdom soon after the failure of the northern rebellion, obtained assistance from the king of France, Louis XI, and returned in force to England in September 1470. Edward was inadequately prepared to resist Warwick’s invasion, and in his turn fled the kingdom for the lands of his brother-in-law, Duke Charles of Burgundy. What followed in England is known as the Readeption of Henry VI. Henry, who had been captured in 1465 and placed in the Tower of London, was returned to the throne with real responsibility for government being upon the shoulders of the earl of Warwick.

Edward, meanwhile, was not slow to plan his own return to the throne of England. With Burgundian support, Edward invaded England in March 1471. He was able to enter London where he catured Henry VI. Edward then set out in pursuit of the earl of Warwick. At Barnet, north of London, a battle was fought in the fog of Easter Sunday 14 April. Edward was victorious, and the earl of Warwick was killed. On the same day Henry VI’s queen, Margaret of Anjou, and their son, Edward of Lancaster, arrived in England from France, landing at Weymouth in Dorset. Learning of their landing, Edward set out westward in pursuit. Absolute victory fell to Edward at Tewkesbury on 4 May. Edward of Lancaster was killed and Queen Margaret was captured. With Margaret (who was ultimately ransomed by Louis XI and who lived until 1482) as a prisoner, Edward entered London in triumph on 21 May. Henry VI died the same day.

Santiuste lucidly set the context and laid out the course of events for Edward IV’s involvement in the Wars of the Roses. No effort was made by the author to go beyond what the sources allow concerning Edward’s talents and tactics as a military commander. We should of course like to know much more about how Edward conducted himself in his successes at Northampton, Mortimer’s Cross, Towton, Empingham, Barnet, and Tewkesbury. It is unfortunate that the battles of the Wars of the Roses are not more fully documented. It must be supposed that the end of the title, “and the Wars of the Roses,” made necessary no more than a cursory mention in the epilogue of Edward’s invasion of France in 1476 and the war of 1481-82 against Scotland.

General readers, the presumed audience for this book, would have benefited from further definitions of “chivalric code” (pp. 11, 59, 80, 146), “laws of chivalric combat” (p. 41), “laws of war” (p. 70), and “law of arms” (p. 137), all of which have been the subject of extended scholarly discussion. The Battle of Blore Heath (13 September 1459), a Yorkist victory at which Edward was not present, took place not in Shropshire (p. 23) but in Staffordshire. Santiuste misunderstood the brutally satirical and doubtless imaginary description by a chronicler of Henry VI as he was being led through London during the Readeption of 1470. Henry is not described as kingly, not in his entourage, not in his attire, not in his demeanor. What is described as “the famous foxtail standard of Henry V” (p. 115) was not that, but an additional insult by the author of The Great Chronicle of London, for the foxtail was the emblem of a fool and Henry was being further disparaged (See Malcolm Jones, The Secret Middle Ages [Praeger, 2002], pp. 55-57).

A. Compton Reeves

Ohio University, Emeritus<>

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