Edward IV of England

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: British History 1500 and before (including Roman Britain); Monarchs of Great Britain

Edward IV
By the Grace of God, King of England
and France and Lord of Ireland.
Reign March 4, 1461 – 31 October, 1470
and April 11, 1471 – April 9, 1483
Coronation June 28, 1461
Born April 28, 1442
Died April 9, 1483 (aged 40)
Buried Windsor Castle
Predecessor Henry VI
Successor Edward V
Consort 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
Lisle (illeg., d. 1542)
Royal House York
Father Richard, Duke of York (1411–1460)
Mother Cecily Neville (1415–1495)

Edward IV ( April 28, 1442 – April 9, 1483) was King of England from March 4, 1461 to April 9, 1483, with a break of a few months in the period 1470–1471.


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 York. 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.

English Royalty
House of York

Armorial of Plantagenet
Edward IV
    Elizabeth of York
   Edward V
    Richard, Duke of York

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.


Edward's ancestors in three generations
Edward IV of England Father:
Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York
Paternal Grandfather:
Richard of Conisburgh, 3rd Earl of Cambridge
Paternal Great-grandfather:
Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York
Paternal Great-grandmother:
Isabella of Castile, Duchess of York
Paternal Grandmother:
Anne de Mortimer
Paternal Great-grandfather:
Roger Mortimer, 4th Earl of March
Paternal Great-grandmother:
Alianore de Holland
Cecily Neville
Maternal Grandfather:
Ralph de Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland
Maternal Great-grandfather:
John Neville, 3rd Baron Neville de Raby
Maternal Great-grandmother:
Maud Percy
Maternal Grandmother:
Joan Beaufort, Countess of Westmorland
Maternal Great-grandfather:
John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster
Maternal Great-grandmother:
Katherine Swynford


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

  • Elizabeth of York, Queen Consort of Henry VII of England ( February 11, 1466 – February 11, 1503).
  • Mary of York ( August 11, 1467 – May 23, 1482).
  • Cecily of York ( March 20, 1469 – August 24, 1507), married first John Welles, 1st Viscount Welles and second, Thomas Kymbe
  • Edward V ( November 4, 1470 – 1483?)
  • Margaret Plantagenet (Princess of York) ( April 10, 1472 – December 11, 1472)
  • Richard of Shrewsbury, 1st Duke of York ( August 17, 1473 – 1483?).
  • Anne of York ( November 2, 1475 – November 23, 1511, married Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk.
  • George Plantagenet, Duke of Bedford (March, 1477 – March, 1479).
  • Catherine of York ( August 14, 1479 – November 15, 1527), married William Courtenay, 1st Earl of Devon.
  • Bridget of York ( November 10, 1480 – 1517), became a nun

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:

  • By Lady Eleanor Talbot
    • Edward de Wigmore (d. 1468). Reportedly died as an infant along with his mother.
  • By Elizabeth Lucy or Elizabeth Waite.
    • Elizabeth Plantagenet. Born circa 1464, married Sir Thomas Lumley in 1477..
    • Arthur Plantagenet, 1st Viscount Lisle (1460s/1470s – March 3, 1542).
  • By unknown mother. Recent speculations suggests them as children by Lucy or Waite.
    • Grace Plantagenet. She is known to have been present at the funeral of her stepmother Elizabeth Woodville in 1492.
    • Mary Plantagenet, married Henry Harman of Ellam, son of Thomas and Elizabeth Harman and widower of Agness.
    • A daughter said to have been the first wife of John Tuchet, 6th Baron Audley.

Perkin Warbeck, an impostor claimant to the English throne, reportedly resembled Edward. There is unconfirmed speculation that Warbeck could have been another of Edward's illegitimate sons.


Edward IV's eldest son was invested with the title of Prince of Wales at the age of seven months. At the age of three, he was sent by his father to Ludlow Castle as nominal head of the Council of Wales and the Marches, a body that had originally been set up to help the future Edward II of England in his duties as Prince of Wales. The prince was accompanied to Ludlow by his mother and by his uncle, Anthony Woodville, 2nd Earl Rivers, who carried out many of the administrative duties associated with the presidency of the Council. The king visited his son occasionally at Ludlow, though, as far as is known, he never ventured into Wales itself. It is clear that he intended this experience of government to prepare his son for the throne.

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. (Elizabeth's son was Henry VIII of England.) The grounds for Titulus Regius, passed to justify the accession of Richard III, were that Edward had been contracted to marry another woman prior to his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville. Lady Eleanor Butler (a young widow, daughter of John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury) and Edward were alleged to have been precontracted; both parties were dead by this time, but a clergyman (named only by Philippe de Commines as Robert Stillington, Bishop of Bath and Wells), claimed to have carried out the ceremony. The declaration was repealed shortly after Henry VII assumed the throne, because it illegimitized Elizabeth of York, who was to be his queen.

The final fate of Edward IV's legitimate sons, Edward V and Richard, Duke of York, is unknown. Speculation on the subject has given rise to the " Princes in the Tower" mystery.

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, especially in terms of his (then) exceptional height of 6 feet 4 inches when compared to the other members of the House of York, who were not well known for their height. 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). 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), Richard III is described 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. Richard III's claim to the throne is generally believed to be based upon his claim that Edward IV's children were illegitimate.

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."

In a 2004 television documentary, it was noted that, from 14 July to 21 August 1441 (the approximate time of conception for Edward, who was born in April 1442), Edward's father was on campaign at Pontoise, several days march from Rouen (where Cecily of York was based). This was taken to suggest that the Duke of York could not have been available to conceive Edward. However, it was countered that the Duke could have returned to Rouen from Pontoise, or that Edward could have been premature. For more details about this theory, see the TV programme Britain's Real Monarch.


  • His Royal Motto was modus et ordo, Method and order

Edward IV in fiction

Edward IV figures richly in an award-winning novel, The Rose of York: Love & War by Sandra Worth. The book has been noted for its meticulous research by the Richard III Society.

Edward IV is also the central male character in The Innocent, The Exiled and The Beloved (released as The Uncrowned Queen) by Australian novelist, Posie Graeme-Evans.

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