The House of York

1461...

Edward’s reign began in a bloodbath. Even at the age of nineteen, Edward had remarkable military knowhow and an outstanding physique. He was in the Welsh marshlands when his father died at Wakefield but instead of mourning, he was energized enough to cross into Herefordshire to fight the Lancastrian army in revenge for his father’s death.

 

The Battle of Mortimer’s Cross is famous for a number of reasons. It was the first major battle of the War of the Roses between the Yorks and the Lancasters fought by the future Edward IV but it was also the first known appearance of a meteorological phenomenon known as the ‘Sun dogs’ or parhelion.

 

Parhelion is an atmospheric phenomenon that consists when a pair of bright spots appear on either horizontal side of the Sun. These red ‘sun dogs’ are created when light interacts with ice crystals in the atmosphere during very cold weather and two subtly coloured patches of light appear when the Sun is close to the horizon, giving the appearance of three suns rising. They can be seen anywhere in the world during any season but they are not always obvious or bright. As dawn broke on 3rd February 1461, the phenomenon appeared over the sky of Wales.

 

Medieval troops had never seen this phenomenon before and as you can imagine, they were terrified. Edward, on the other hand, was jubilant. He saw it as a sign from God and the Holy Trinity. Edward was one of three remaining ‘sons’ of the Duke of York and these three ‘suns’ rising in the sky just as the battle was to begin, symbolised that he and his two brothers would rise up to defeat the enemy. As he held his frozen breath, he was sure it was a sign from God and that He was on their side.

For two hours in the swirling snow, the armies fought as blinding snow turned into red slush beneath their feet. Maddened by a killing rage, men slipped and fell, stabbed, clubbed, kicked and stomped on each other as others blinked snow and blood out of their eyes. As they scrambled, their bodies fell bleeding over their fallen comrades. All around, you would have heard the thumps of arrows on wood, metal and bodies amid chocked screams of confusion.

Nothing had prepared them for the savagery. All day both armies fought, pushing and stabbing each other in the pointless nightmare. It was only as it grew dark in the eerie twilight that the true evidence of the carnage was seen. Four thousand Lancastrians had been killed on that frozen York heartlands as a torrent of arrows hammered them from above. Among the dead was Owen Tudor who did not believe that he would be beheaded until the collar of his red doublet was ripped off. He never even saw the axe coming his way.

 

Edward’s triumph sent him floating on a cloud of confidence only eclipsed on 4th March when he was crowned King of England, fifteen days after a final battle at St Albans. But if he thought he’d put any question of who was going to be the king to rest, he was to find that instead of stopping the Lancastrians in their tracks, it made them even angrier.

 

By then, after decades of fighting, everyone was just so accustomed to warfare, danger and cruelty; the only logical thing for them to do was to fight.

Edward IV

1461 - 1470

1471 - 1483

For two years, Edward’s life as King of England slipped by in relative ease. But always very close was his cousin Warwick, now being called ‘The Kingmaker’, continually reminding him that all the fun had to stop sometime and it was his duty to produce an heir. A legitimate heir, that is. Not that finding a bride for Edward would have been a problem. With his good looks, everyone knew he was a real catch. 

Warwick proposed Mary of Guilders, James II of Scotland’s widow, but Mary’s sudden death put paid to that idea. Another option was 12-year-old Princess Isabella of Castile. Warwick used good arguments involving a bond of peace between the two countries but Edward seemed strangely hesitant to make a commitment. While he dithered, Isabella’s father became impatient and she ended up married to Ferdinand of Aragon instead. Next Warwick suggested the beautiful Bona of Savoy, Louis XI’s sister-in-law, and it finally looked like the deal was done.

It wasn’t until negotiations were being finalised that Edward astonished everyone suddenly by confessing the truth. He was already married. He’d met Elizabeth Woodville as she stood waiting for him beside an oak tree and he was instantly smitten. They had been married secretly for five months and the marriage had been consummated.

There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Elizabeth was a true beauty with her willowy figure, white skin, auburn hair and dark eyes. She could certainly turn heads and it was easy to see why Edward had fallen for her, hook, line and sinker. 

 

But his news caused an uproar for so many reasons. It wasn’t that she didn’t have royal blood, because she did. Elizabeth’s mother Jacquetta of Luxembourg had been a princess in her own right before her marriage to John Duke of Bedford, Henry VI’s uncle, at the age of 15. As was the custom, Jacquetta was not given a choice in her first marriage but four years later, after Bedford’s death, she remedied the situation by marrying the man of her choice, her deceased husband’s squire, Sir Richard Woodville. The marriage to Woodville had not been the wisest or most beneficial of choices she could have made since it relegated her and any subsequent children to the status of a ‘commoner’. But she had been in love and nothing else mattered to her. Together they had produced fourteen children: the eldest child being Elizabeth. 

And it wasn’t just the fact that Elizabeth was five years older than Edward and already the widow of Sir John Grey of Grosby, a staunch Lancastrian who had been killed in the second battle of St Albans fighting on the losing side at Towton. Even her two children from her previous marriage wasn’t the big issue.

 

What had really stung Warwick was the fact that Edward had made him look like a complete fool in front of the French king over the ruined plans for a marriage alliance with Bona of Savoy. Add that to the fact that Edward had overlooked Warwick’s eldest daughter Isabella and you have Warwick seeing it all as a personal insult. 

 

Without even setting eyes on Elizabeth Woodville, Warwick knew she was conniving and he hated her with every fibre of his being.

Edward V

1483...

The young king arrived in London on 4th May for the coronation, which had been fixed for that very date. Unfortunately, Richard declared, it would have to be postponed, temporarily of course, until Edward had settled in to his new home.

With the postponement, apprehension grew.

 Even moving the young Edward to the tower hadn’t been threatening. In those days, it was a safe haven and royal residence after all. The lords of the Council agreed and with much ceremony and protestations of devotion, the child of twelve was conducted to the Tower, and its gates closed firmly behind him. All above board, right?

But something wasn’t right and Londoner’s gazed at each other in doubt and fear.

By the end of the month, Richard turned his attention to Elizabeth and he began to persuade her to leave her sanctuary at Westminster Abbey and bring her youngest son Richard with her to the Tower to join his brother. When she refused, persuasion turned to insistence as Richard quietly but firmly demanded. Turning to the stunned council, he instructed them to have Elizabeth give the young boy up immediately.

England held its breath.

  Richard III

                        1483 - 1485

Richard dressed in blue and gold trimmed with ermine on his way to be crowned King of England. The question on everyone’s lips was ‘But where are the boys?’

Richard’s story is not too different from many of his ancestors. His story is a story of ambition gone awry and the damage it leaves in its wake. He was the twelfth of thirteen children of Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York and Cecily Neville. As a child, Richard showed no sign of the crippling deformity that would mark him later in his life. Richard suffered from scoliosis, a deformity of the spine that was not congenital, but only became apparent when he was between 10 and 13 years old, during his puberty before he had finished growing. It left him 5 foot 7 inches at maturity, slight in body and weak in strength. But if his body was weak, his mind and intellect were as sharp as swords.

Without a doubt, Richard was ruthless and we are led to believe that Richard held his young nephews captive in the Tower. And since they were never seen again, historians have always assumed they were murdered. But why would Richard kill them? He had already dropped the bombshell on Parliament that Elizabeth Woodville had used sorcery on his brother and since the wedding had not been performed on consecrated grounds and had been carried out without witnesses, the marriage was illegal and any children were all bastards, not worthy of the throne. The only one who was worthy enough to assume the throne was he, Richard of Gloucester. And he took it. So the question is, if he already had the throne, why would he have the boys killed as well? There doesn’t seem a need. And here’s another question, was it even Richard who ordered their murder? Weren’t there others who benefited from their death just as much as Richard?

To anyone watching it was a beautiful ceremony with all possible splendour as the crowns were placed on the heads of Richard and his queen, Anne Neville. At this extraordinary ceremony, Anne was transformed into the leading woman in the realm as Richard’s wife but as Warwick’s daughter, she had already been destined for greatness at birth. She was born in Warwick Castle and her childhood was full of opulence and privilege beyond anyone’s dreams. She was the youngest daughter of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, who had been the greatest and wealthiest noble in England with enormous influence over the realm. But for Anne, there was a price to be paid for her luxuries. Her father had wanted her to be as close as she could to the throne and he had pulled it off. As her father’s status rose as ‘Kingmaker’, so did Anne’s status as she became helpless and caught up in the throne war.