The Wars of the Roses: 2
Source text 1
The text on the previous page 'The Wars of the Roses: 1' comes from a Latin treatise (a dissertation or extended essay) written by John Blacman, Henry VI’s confessor (personal chaplain). He knew the king well and was of great importance to him, since Henry VI was deeply pious. In the extract, however, some phrases suggest he knew the king personally and some imply perhaps that he did not. On the basis of this extract it would be reasonable to argue the matter either way. Since Blacman was close to the king, we might expect this work to stress Henry's positive features, as indeed it does. However, it is written entirely about his personal virtues and his simple mode of living; there is little about his role in politics and what there is might not inspire confidence in Henry’s political skill: he gives away his property, he is apt to go into trances without warning, and he lost control both of England and of France. The key lies in the purpose behind Blacman’s writing: he was building a case for Henry’s canonisation, the process by which someone is declared a saint by the Church. It was therefore written not in order to convince nobles that Henry VI was a good king, but to convince the cardinals of the Church and the pope himself that Henry was a saint.
The text comes from: Henry the Sixth: A Reprint of John Blacman’s Memoir, ed. and trans. M.R. James (Cambridge, 1919).
Edward IV and 'The Kingmaker'
The next two sources deal with Henry VI’s rival for the throne, Edward IV. Edward IV (1461-1483) turned out to be a very different kind of king from Henry VI. Edward established his rule by a mixture of force and conciliation, with the assistance of a relatively small number of noble supporters, notably Richard Neville, earl of Warwick.
However, just when Edward’s position seemed secure against challenge by the supporters of Henry VI, it suddenly and unexpectedly collapsed. The earl of Warwick, who had played a major part in putting Edward on the throne, grew increasingly disillusioned with him, especially when in 1464 Edward secretly married Elizabeth Woodville, a member of a recently ennobled family, just as Warwick was about to finalise the details of a diplomatic marriage for Edward with a French princess. In 1469 Warwick, in co-operation with the king’s own brother, George, duke of Clarence, launched a coup against Edward, forcing him to flee the country. Warwick then brought Henry VI out of imprisonment in the Tower and placed him back on the throne. It was Warwick’s role in overthrowing and crowning both Henry and Edward that earned the nickname ‘the Kingmaker’.
The return of Edward IV
Edward, however, was not defeated for long. In 1471 he returned to England in force, defeated and killed Warwick in battle at Barnet, north of London, and had Henry VI overthrown and returned to the Tower. Edward and his youngest brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, then went after the remaining Lancastrian forces, commanded by Queen Margaret of Anjou and the Prince of Wales. At the Battle of Tewkesbury the Yorkists crushed the Lancastrians, killed the Prince of Wales and captured both Queen Margaret and the Princess of Wales, Warwick’s daughter Anne. Edward then had Henry VI murdered in the Tower of London. Tewkesbury seemed to mark the end of the Wars of the Roses. All credible rivals to Edward VI were dead and he was able to set about the business of governing the kingdom. The Lancastrian dynasty had died out and the Lancastrian claim was only kept alive by a distant relative-by-marriage of Henry VI, Henry Tudor, earl of Richmond, who was forced to flee into exile in Brittany.
Edward’s reputation has oscillated between praise and blame. Some historians have regarded him as a lightweight and a playboy, bringing about his own troubles through his sexual adventures and his tendency to forgive his enemies only for them to rebel against him. Others have stressed his active engagement in royal government and have put a positive spin even on his more dubious money-raising schemes.
Perhaps the most damning assessments of Edward’s reign, however, relate to the events which followed his premature death in 1483. Edward bequeathed the throne to his teenage son, Edward V, but in a breathtaking move, the throne was seized by the late king’s youngest brother, Richard, duke of Gloucester, who had previously been Edward IV’s loyal servant in the North.
This picture shows King Edward IV. Look at it carefully, and then try to answer the question that follows.
B) What strikes you interesting about this picture of Edward IV?
Material to help teachers and students develop interests and skills as a historian.