The Sons in Splendour: The Golden Age of the House of York Synopsis On the 9th of April 1483, one of the most underrated Kings in English History, Edward IV died. A military man, flower of Chivalry and reformer of Kingship, Edward unexpectedly died at the age of 40; leaving behind a muddled...
On the 9th of April 1483, one of the most underrated Kings in English History, Edward IV died. A military man, flower of Chivalry and reformer of Kingship, Edward unexpectedly died at the age of 40; leaving behind a muddled legacy, a questionable succession and precarious foreign relations. A chaotic usurpation by his brother Richard of Gloucester and the collapse of the Yorkist dynasty would follow within two years.
But what if Edward survived? The nervous and sparse years of Henry VII of the house of Tudor fall away and are replaced with the vibrant, outward-looking and energetic rule of Edward IV’s later years and those of his son and grandsons. The ripples could be massive, in the old world and the new, in the political and the spiritual sphere. This timeline will cover the main events of 1483-1496 including narrative and historiography.
Prelude: The Passover 10th April 1483 Windsor Castle
William, Lord Hastings, hurried through the outer courtyard of Windsor Castle. The weather was unseasonably warm for this time of year and the sun beamed down through the battlements. It matched Hastings’ mood, he thought to himself as he passed into the Chapel cloister. The King was still alive. The last week had seen Edward grow weaker and weaker, to the point that his will had even been altered to reflect his untimely end, but now Hastings had received word that the fever had broken and Edward was slowly recovering. This news spurred him on even quicker as he neared the royal chambers, with his servant trailing in his wake.
Out of the light and into the cool gloom of the great staircase. Hastings hurried upwards to meet his King, and groaned as he neared the bedchamber. The Woodvilles – they really did get everywhere didn’t they? Bishop Salisbury was talking to his nephew Thomas Grey, Marquess of Dorset, outside the royal chamber, a number of other hangers-on and a pair of Royal guards making for a crowded landing. Hastings gave an inward sigh; like a persistent weed the Woodvilles had gotten everywhere in the 20 or so years since Elizabeth had turned the King’s head, it was no surprise to see them here, but why these two? Lionel Woodville, Bishop of Salisbury, saw Hastings approach and his relaxed air changed to an annoyed smirk to a more professional welcome; ‘my Lord Hastings, such joy to see you and on an auspicious morning as this!’
‘Bishop, ‘tiz well met to see you too, the King is well I take it?’ Hastings had little interest in exchanging pleasantries with the man.
‘He is on the mend, God be praised, the Queen is with him just this moment, he is taking some food, I would wait out here if I were you.’
‘Hm’ Hastings murmured ‘I was summonsed immediately, the King requested my presence urgently, I see you were less required my Lord?’
‘We’re here for my mother’ Sneered Dorset, who had remained silent to this point. ‘Your absence was noted Hastings, as has your eagerness to run to the King’s side now.’
‘Well I bid you both good morning gentlemen’ Said Hastings, ignoring the barbed comment from the young up-start. Thomas Grey was a small runt promoted well above his station and Hastings had learned it was pointless engaging with him either. Edward had called them to his bed a week ago and ordered them both to reconcile their differences; both men had reluctantly agreed but Hastings was now relieved that Edward’s recovery had allowed their spat to continue.
Hastings threaded his way between the preening Woodvilles and approached Rook, one of the King’s stewards standing by the door. ‘My Lord Hastings, it is good to see you’ the man said.
‘And you Rook’ replied Hastings ‘He will see me?’
‘Of course my Lord’ Rook responded loudly, with a gleeful glance at the two Woodvilles standing behind Hastings. ‘I was given strict instructions to allow you entry.’
Hastings entered; this room even darker than the previous one. The curtains were pulled tight and the air smelt of bitter herbs, light emitting from the roaring fireplace and a brace of candles beyond the bed. On the far side of the bed sat Queen Elizabeth, her hair tied up, her eyes dark and her face strained, although she still managed a smile when Hastings entered. A maid was leaning over the bed, her back to the door, and Hastings had to manoeuvre around her to see she had a bowl of broth and spoon in hand. In front of her, lying in bed, propped up by a few pillows, his face grey to match the ageing tufts in his otherwise fair beard was the King of England. Edward IV, King of England and France, Lord of Wales and Ireland, Earl of March and the shining light of the Yorkist dynasty, but most of all Hastings’ friend, he was glad to see him well.
‘Ah William’ said Edward as he glanced up from his meal ‘Enough woman, away with you’ this time to the maid.
‘We’re so glad you could come William’ said the Queen rising to greet him, with all the airs and graces you could expect from a Queen of almost 20 years.
‘So am I, your grace, it is good to see you better sire.’ Hastings had been three days earlier and Edward had been even more pale then, his eyes sunken, his breathing laboured, and there certainly had been no broth. Hastings had believed it to be the last time he would see his friend, and he had been wrong, thank God.
Edward turned to his wife ‘Elizabeth would you give us a moment? The Lord Chamberlain and I have some matters to discuss.’ For a moment it looked as if Elizabeth Woodville was about to protest that her husband not discuss affairs of state with death so recently having passed over him, but she thought better of it and with a kiss on his cheek and a nod to William she left the room.
And then they were alone. ‘Do sit’ said the King indicating the chair which Elizabeth had vacated. Hastings sat, turning the chair slightly to see the King.
There was a long pause, as if Edward was unsure of what to say next. Yet this was not illness or malaise, he was calculating, thinking, Hastings had seen that look many times before, the King was back alright, even if he wasn’t quite his old strength. At length he gave a small outward breath. ‘How are things?’
Hastings was slightly wrong-footed by the mundane question. ‘All is well sire, I summoned your brother as you requested, he indicated that he would arrive some time before the end of the month. The Calais garrison and the city guard are at full strength. The Exchequer is humming along nicely. Richard tells me the northern border is quiet and word from the continent is that the French are not taking any action in your absence. I have brought some papers for your chambers’ attention, mostly accounts I’m sure you would rather avoid them.’
‘No that is fine, thank you William.’ Replied the King, who again resumed his awkward, brooding silence. After a few more minutes, he turned and looked William Hastings in the eye. ‘A miracle eh? My recovery? The doctors gave me up for dead, we even had Dean Robert on stand-by, and yet here I am.’ Edward gave a relaxed motion with his arms indicating the bed and its magnificent coverings. ‘Would almost make you believe in the almighty eh?’ he said with a wry smile. It was not common knowledge but Hastings knew Edward intimately enough to be aware that he was not one for the works of the almighty, and especially not the rituals of his acolytes, preferring to rest his faith in ‘a good piece of English steel by my side and Milanese plate on my back’. However now Edward seemed almost open to the idea of divine intervention.
And then he came out with it. ‘I had a vision William’ the King said rather matter of fact. ‘Whilst I was under, it was him, St Peter.’ Lord Hastings could hardly believe his ears but now the King’s almost paradoxical vim and vigour was beginning to make sense. ‘I saw him’ The King continued, almost embarrassed ‘and he gave me a message.’ The King leaned forward now fixing Hastings’ eyes with his ‘You have a second chance Edward of March, a second chance for your dynasty, a second chance to put your house in order. The almighty does not claim you yet. His Angel is passing over you. You have a second chance.’
Then he leaned back, Hastings sat patiently, Edward again seemed lost in thought, the room tense. The King gave a small groan and leaned to one side, Hastings believed another attack of pain was coming on. An almighty fart rumbled throughout the bedchamber. ‘Ha!’ yelled the King his face pained and giddy at the same time, ‘that was a good one!’ He gave a full belly laugh, as he had in days of old, when he was much leaner and fitter. At length Edward IV settled and again transfixed his friend with those blue eyes of his. ‘It’s true William. On my fathers’ bones I know it to be true.’
‘I have a second chance, God does not want me yet, I have a second chance. And I’ve had time to think. I would have made a right mess going off just now.’ Edward continued to talk freely and honestly. ‘Edward is not ready to be King, France and Burgundy are in turmoil, and despite my best efforts my wife’s family is still loathed by most of the realm. The house is unfinished William. And St Peter has sent me back to finish the job. What do you think?’
Hastings was dumbfounded, King Edward IV finding religion and divine direction was about as likely as an Irishman gambling fair or a Scotsman breaking a smile. But he had never seen him like this before, despite his physical weakness his eyes and brain were as sharp as ever and he clearly believed what he had seen. ‘My King what would you have me do?’ Hastings eventually responded.
‘Now that’s the spirit.’ Replied King Edward with a smile. ‘Summon Parliament, with my authority, Westminster, 4 weeks from now. Send word to Richard to see me as soon as he arrives in London, I have a job for him. And summon Rivers and my sons from Ludlow. In fact issue summons to all Lords of the realm, I want them all here for this one. I leave the preparations to you William, arrange lodging and food for as many as you can. And I want you back here in three days our work has just begun.’
‘What work would that be my Lord?
‘William my friend, we are going to finish building the house, I am going to leave this family in a better state than which I found it, and I am going to ensure that the name York is remembered for a thousand years.’
Chapter 1: 1483 Out of the ashes
‘Edward IV: the later years’ Richard Partington in English Historical Review 2005
The King’s recovery around Easter of 1483 was as miraculous as it was welcomed across the realm. With the Lancastrian threat of Henry Tudor not quite snuffed out, Edward’s foreign policy aimless and in tatters, the Woodville family as problematic as ever and the succession not entirely secured Edward’s return to relative health by May was a huge relief for all concerned.
The reinvigorated King spent a summer patching up these shortcomings in his Kingdom. A Parliament was called and assembled by the 7th of May with Richard Ratcliffe as speaker. The King addressed Parliament himself for the first time in over two years and he laid out a broad sweep of legislation designed to strengthen his rule and his succession.
New investitures were made with Edward’s nephew Edward of Middleham being made Constable of Corfe and Lord Dorchester. This supplemented the King’s own son Edward who was given a large share of lands in the south-west adjoining his cousins but also most crucially those of Dorset and Hastings to act as a barrier between further conflict. In Wales Edward sought to balance the power of the Woodvilles by removing Rivers from the Prince of Wales’ Council and handing some of his southern estates to Herbert and Buckingham whilst his lordship in Mold was given to Thomas, Lord Stanley. Rivers was placated with his long-coveted prize of the Captaincy of Calais, a role which gave him prominence on the continent.
But Edward saved his greatest prizes for his two most trust-worthy of companions. Hastings was given the title Constable and Marshall of England, a new role which Edward made clear held responsibility for the defence of the realm and also the primary ambassador with foreign powers. In this role Hastings was immediately dispatched to first Brittany and then Burgundy to strengthen England’s ties there.
Richard of Gloucester became Lord Protector. This was an astonishing move as the King was not in his minority or infirm. Edward used a new legal treatise he had prepared ‘Sommnium Vigilantis’ as basis for his decision. The text stated that the defence of the realm was of such paramount importance, and the contemporary roles of a monarch ever expanding, that eternal vigilance was required and not least great assistance. Gloucester was removed as Warden of the north and replaced by Thomas Stanley and William Catesby in the west and east March respectively. These two men would have chairs on the Council of the North which would be arbitrated by the newly installed Bishop of Durham John Fox.
Gloucester’s role as Lord Protector essentially made him second in England only to the King, whilst Hastings focused on external defence and diplomacy the Lord Protector’s new job was to uphold law and order and the collection of taxes in England itself. Gloucester could not summon Parliament or demand taxation, but he was free to implement any other measures necessary for the defence of the realm including leading judicial tours and mustering yeomanry when needed. It is possible that this was Edward simply rewarding his supremely loyal brother but the timing suggests that Edward was in fact trying a new form of governance; a New Monarchy where supreme power was held by the monarch but delegated to extremely close and trusted nobility. Of course it would also ensure good continuity of government during Edward’s ongoing recovery.
The final icing on the cake was Gloucester’s wardship of the Prince of Wales. Twelve year-old Prince Edward had spent the earlier years of his life in Ludlow with his uncle Rivers learning all the ways of a chivalrous gentleman. Yet his proximity to the Woodville family had caused rumblings of fear during Edward’s illness, and the Prince’s move to London with his Uncle, and the occasional trip with Hastings, was surely deemed necessary to make him into the powerful modern monarch he was destined to be.
These changes may have been unprecedented, but such was the outpouring of goodwill for the King’s recovery that it seems they passed almost without a hitch. The observer Dominic Mancini comments that ‘It astounds me how much his people love him, that his every will be granted in an instant.’ This flurry of activity was capped with the 1483 Ordinance of Accounts and the later Ordinance of Justices in which Edward ordered a review of all the household and exchequer accounts in order to make further savings and a judicial tour of the outlying shires led by Lord Howard and Lord Scales. Such was the feeling of goodwill that Edward was granted a £20,000 tax collected over three years ‘for the maintenance and upkeep of his majesty’s fortresses’ and a further £10,000 in benevolences. In exchange Edward removed all duties on the flourishing book trade and pledged to build a new abbey to St Cornelius at Sandal in Yorkshire.
The Redemption Parliament of May to August 1483, as it became known, was perhaps one of the most accomplished that England had seen in an age. In the space of a few months Edward IV had turned his faltering reign around and with a recently uncharacteristic burst of energy had sought to repair much of the damage from his own neglect over the previous ten years. Gillingham has suggested that this was a mere ‘papering over the cracks’ as the Buckingham and Remnant Rebellions would lay bare in the next few years yet McFarlane remains the final authority in this regard when he states that ‘the Parliament laid nothing short of the foundations of the Yorkist Golden Age.’
‘The life of William, Lord Hastings’ John Watts 1994
The Redemption Parliament threw Lord Hastings into a new chapter of his life. As the newly inaugurated Constable and Marshall of England, Edward charged Hastings with securing England’s alliances across the channel. That Edward himself had neglected such matters in favour of feasting and the naïve and pointless French truce of Picquiny was forgotten.
Hastings’ first port of call was to Brittany. It helped that his arrival came at a good time for the Yorkist dynasty. Henry Tudor, long time exile and ‘last imp’ of the Lancastrian claim had finally accepted a deal to return to England in exchange for an oath of fealty to Edward IV and partial restoration to his earldom of Richmond. Hastings not only took Tudors’ oath as proxy but also confirmed on him the grants of land which the Redemption Parliament had promised. To Tudor’s uncle Jasper, Hastings brought grants of land in Cheshire and Lincolnshire under the title of Lord Moreton.
Yet the Tudors were just a side-show. Hastings met with Duke Francis, who was at the time locked in a struggle with Louis XI for control of his Duchy. By October 1483, with news of Louis’ death having reached Brittany, Hastings and Duke Francis agreed the Treaty of Pontivy. The Treaty finalised a marriage alliance between Francis’ heir Anne of Brittany and Prince Edward, with the Treaty stipulating that Brittany would go to their second son. More importantly for Brittany a free company of English soldiers was to be sent for the Duchy’s defence in exchange for Breton sanctuary for English ships. It is also assumed that Francis gave his tacit support to a more overtly anti-French alliance given the events at Hastings’ next port of call; Burgundy.
By the autumn of 1483 the Anglo-Burgundian situation had become more complicated. A long term feeling of goodwill, culminating in Yorkist sanctuary in Burgundy during the Readeption of 1470-1, had waned thanks to the Treaty of Picquiny. The Burgundian nobility, although still influenced by Edward’s sister Margaret, had become increasingly difficult to convince of the value of an English alliance and in December 1482 they had agreed to the Treaty of Arras; Margaret of Austria, infant heiress to Burgundy, would marry the Dauphin Charles, ties with England were cut and the county of Artois adjoining Calais was to be passed to the French. However with renewed vigour from across the channel and the new king unsettled on the French throne, the Burgundians changed their minds. De facto ruler of Burgundy, Maximillian of Austria, saw his moment to strike and secure his borders more firmly.
In the early months of 1484 the Treaty of Ypern was agreed. Maximillian repudiated the Treaty of Arras on a technicality (the deal was predicated on Margaret marrying the Dauphin, not the new King and so was null and void) and instead pledged his daughter’s hand to Prince Richard of England, then just 10 years old. The treaty also included a cut in English duties on wool exports, a standing force of 1000 men at Calais to assist in Burgundy’s defence and a £3,000 bond to be paid to Burgundy if this deal was broken. It has been possible to deduce, with the benefit of hindsight, that this Treaty also established the groundwork for the later Treaty of Calais and the triumvirate alliance against France given the total pivot and commitment towards Burgundy which the Treaty of Ypern demonstrated.
The End of the House of Lancaster RL Storey 2001
The final genuine claim of the Lancastrian dynasty ended at Christmas 1483. As Henry Tudor ‘the last scraping of the Lancastrian barrel’ (Carpenter) returned to England. The House of Lancaster did not end in blood as it could have so easily done, but in a solemn ceremony and a raucous feast. Henry Tudor rode immediately to London with his uncle Jasper, companion for so many years in exile, and escorted by Lords Lovell and Scrope and the Earl of Shrewsbury, men with a Lancastrian leaning but ones who had proven themselves to the Yorkist cause.
At Westminster Abbey, on Christmas day, Henry and Jasper Tudor bowed before their King Edward and swore an oath of fealty and allegiance to him and were pardoned for their treason in turn. The climax of the ceremony was the unpinning of a broach from Henry Tudor’s cloak; the red rose, which he threw at King Edward’s feet and replaced it with the Son in Splendour of the House of York and the Portcullis of his mothers’ Beaufort house. Henry Tudor was no longer a Lancastrian heir, he was just Henry Tudor, restored to the Earldom of Richmond.
Edward was magnanimous as he had been in the past; Richmond came with an almost total restoration of its lands, although some had been passed to William Catesby the new warden of the East March and newly made Lord Malham. For Jasper Tudor he was less lucky, his lands had been swept into the various marcher lordships and Edward adjudged that he wasn’t trustworthy enough to return to his native south Wales, instead he was granted lands in Cheshire and Flintshire with a few estates in Lincolnshire and the title Lord Moreton. Yet Edward was not naive; both Tudor Lords were bound to a bond with the crown and what is more with Lord Stanley, now Earl Derby, Henry’s stepfather who was made ultimately responsible for their good behaviour.
The Lancastrian cause had been snuffed out, but a smouldering flicker still remained as time would tell.