PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Earl of Warwick vs. King Edward IV
PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): England
MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: Warwick sought to overthrow the king.
OUTCOME: Warwick’s Rebellion was defeated, Warwick was killed in battle, and Edward IV returned to the throne.
APPROXIMATE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF MEN UNDER ARMS: Unknown
Richard Neville (1428–71), earl of Warwick, was the power behind the throne of England’s Edward IV (1442–83). While he had been negotiating a grand diplomatic marriage between Edward and some French bridal candidates, Warwick discovered that Edward had already secretly wed Elizabeth Woodville (1437–92), an English woman, the widow of a Lancastrian knight, and well outside of the royal circle. She was an extraordinary beauty who refused to be kept as Edward’s mistress; he yielded and married her. Warwick kept his outrage to himself—until Edward dared to replace certain government appointees chosen by Warwick with those nominated by Elizabeth Woodville, who, it was clear, was emerging as a political power. Even worse, in 1467, Edward struck an alliance with Burgundy, the traditional rival of France, thereby wrecking Warwick’s negotiations with that nation. Edward cemented the alliance by marrying his sister Margaret of York (fl. 1470s) to Burgundy’s Charles the Bold (1433–77).
This was the final straw. In 1469, Warwick led an outright rebellion. Warwick defied the king in June 1469 by marrying his eldest daughter, Isobel (fl. 1460s), to the king’s brother, George, duke of Clarence (1449–78). A figure known to history as Robin of Redesdale, and subsequently identified as Sir John Conyers (1433–69), assembled a force of discontented northerners. Edward sent an army against this band. As a battle developed at Edgecote, an army under Warwick suddenly appeared and immediately sided with Conyers’s rebels. Together, Conyers and Warwick defeated the royal army and gave chase to Edward, whom they ran to ground at Coventry and took prisoner. Warwick held Edward for three months, but, finding that he had little support from his fellow nobles, he released the king.
The new-found freedom did not make Edward grateful. In March 1470, with the rebellion renewed, Edward dispatched an army to confront the rebels at Losecoat Field. This time, it was the king’s forces that emerged victorious. Edward declared Warwick a traitor, sending him fleeing to France for his life. There he plotted with Queen Margaret of Anjou (c. 1430–82), the consort of Henry VI (1421–71), the deposed English king who was then languishing in the Tower of London.
After recruiting a French force, Warwick invaded England in 1470, stormed the Tower, and freed Henry. This time, Edward fled—to Burgundy. He returned to England in 1471, however, and fought Warwick at the Battle of Barnet. Warwick was slain in this battle. Henry VI was subsequently recaptured and, once again, sent to the Tower, where he died, leaving Edward IV the undisputed king of England.
Further reading: Andrew Boardman, The Medieval Soldier in the Wars of the Roses (Stroud: Sutton, 1998); Christine Carpenter, The Wars of the Roses: Politics and Constitution in England 1437–1509 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997); Phillip A. Haigh, The Military Campaigns of the Wars of the Roses (Stroud: Sutton, 1999); A. J. Pollard, Richard III and the Princes in the Tower (New York: St. Martin’s, 1991).