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Edward IV of England

Edward IV of England
Edward IV of England

Edward IV (April 28, 1442April 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 was born on April 28, 1442, at Rouen in France, the eldest son of Richard, Duke of York (a leading claimant to the throne of England) and Cecily Neville. 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 became his heir.

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, 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 having previously married another widow, Lady Eleanor Talbot, even more secretly). Elizabeth had a large group of relatively poor but very ambitious relations, who soon became powerful at Warwick's expense. The Earl changed sides and 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 attempted to rule in Edward's name, but the nobility, many of whom owed their preferments to the king, were restive. Warwick was forced to release Edward. Neither Warwick nor the king was powerful enough to subdue the other. After a failed rebellion in 1470, Warwick was forced to flee to France. There, he joined forces with the Lancastrians and invaded again. 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, and Edward took refuge in Burgundy. The rulers of Burgundy were his brother-in-law Charles, Duke of Burgundy and his sister Margaret of Burgundy. From there Edward raised an army to win back his kingdom.

Returning to England, he defeated Warwick at the Battle of Barnet. With Warwick dead, he eliminated the remaining Lancastrian resistance at the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471. In that battle, the Lancastrian heir, Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales, was killed.

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" on February 18, 1478.

Edward died suddenly 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. 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.


He had ten legitimate children by Elizabeth Woodville though only seven survived him:

Edward had numerous mistresses, the most well-known of whom is Jane Shore.

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 .
  • 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. No further information.
    • Mary Plantagenet. She 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 be another illegitimate son to Edward.

Was Edward illegitimate?

Until recently, evidence of Edward's illegitimacy was lacking, and it was generally been accepted that the issue was raised as propaganda to support Richard III.

Perhaps because Edward was nothing like his father in looks or height, questions about the paternity of Edward IV had been raised during Edward's reign, for example by Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick in 1469 and repeated by George, Duke of Clarence shortly before his death in 1478, but with no evidence. It is 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). It describes Richard III as "the undoubted son and heir" of Richard, 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. One of the things she is reported to have then said was that she was of a good mind to declare he was illegitimate and so have him kicked off the throne for his foolishness.

As historical novelist Sharon Kay Penman explains, paid propagandists for Henry Tudor, after he became Henry VII (and King Richard was dead), concocted out of whole cloth the story that Richard III had said his brother Edward was illegitimate: "Tudor's official historian, Polydore Vergil, . . . contend[ed] that Richard based his claim to the crown upon his brother Edward's illegitimacy. This was, of course, an out-and-out lie." Richard III's claim to the throne is generally believed to be based on 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

Evidence of illegitimacy

In 2003, Dr Michael Jones revealed in a Channel 4 documentary (first broadcast January 3, 2004) previously overlooked evidence from Rouen, cathedral, France, discovered while researching the Hundred Years' War. In the cathedral register, an entry in 1441 records that the clergy were paid for a sermon for the safety of the Duke of York, going to Pontoise (near Paris) on campaign. He would have been on campaign from July 14 to August 21, 1441, several days' march from Rouen.

If a child with a claim to the throne was born small or sickly it would normally have been recorded, and there is apparently no such record, consequently, proponents of the theory of illegitimacy claim it is likely that Edward was not born prematurely. By calculating back from Edward's birth on April 28, it seems apparent that Richard was not present at the time of Edward's conception around the first week of August 1441.

Additionally, the cathedral records reveal that Edward's christening took place in private in a side chapel, whereas for the christening of Richard's second son the whole cathedral was used for a huge celebration, again suggesting to proponents of the theory that Edward was indeed illegitimate.

One possibility, which the documentary overlooked, is that it is possible that the Duke of York was not leading the fighting the entire time of the Pontoise disruption. It is known throughout history that many military leaders, who are named as leading men into battles, actually led from the rear. While this is possible, it is also possible, and more likely, that the Duke of York, who had been made lieutenant-general of France for Henry VI, was only at the front "on and off", giving him plenty of time to travel back to Rouen, a journey on which he would have been escorted by only a handful of men, wherefore horses would have been used rather than "marching for several days". There was plenty of time for such a visit, as the troops were away at Pontoise for well over a month.

Consequences of illegitimacy

The television documentary claims that if it were true that Edward IV was illegitimate, this would have invalidated his claim to the throne of England. After this claim, the programme suddenly rushes into stating (wrongly) that if Edward IV shouldn't have been king, it means that all kings and queens after him are not entitled to the monarchy and that the "true" king, who is living in another land, is entitled to claim the throne.

Although it is a fascinating study of alternate history, the documentary is factually inaccurate, and we can safely say that as of 2005 the monarch on the English throne is a legitimate ruler.

The reason the makers of the documentary go down the wrong track is that they have a mistaken understanding of "the rules of the game". The presenter is under the belief that to be a king or queen, one must first be of a former monarch's blood and second be of legitimate birth.

Although this is fine for testing claims "within" a royal family, it is not necessary for a person who has gained their crown by conquest. The most obvious example is William the Conqueror, who gained the throne not through inheritance, but by the use of force. (William also had Pope Alexander II's approval for his invasion, which--as in the case of Pepin the Short--added weight to his claim.)

It must also be remembered that as Parliament grew in power, its voice in choosing the succession became more important than the royal pedigree.

This is where the programme appears to neglect important facts. The remark is made that King Henry VII (and therefore all subsequent Kings and Queens) should not have ever been king because

  1. he was born of a line from John of Gaunt, son of Edward III of England, that was illegitimate;
  2. his main claim of entitlement to be king, came from his marriage to Edward IV's daughter Elizabeth (remembering that according to the documentary, her father was not entitled to be King Edward IV in the first place).

It does not actually matter if Henry VII was from a legitimate line or not, for as said previously, a king can be king by conquest. The important fact is that Henry VII did not become King due to his marriage to Elizabeth. Instead, he possessed the crown because he defeated the Yorkists and killed King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field. In this case, it does not matter at all whether Edward IV was entitled to be King or not, as the "peaceful ways of succession" had been bypassed by the use of force.

The documentary went on to ask who would occupy the throne today, if Henry's line had been excluded as illegitimate. The Channel 4 documentary traced the family tree to calculate the "true" heir. Ignoring the fact that the current monarch Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom rules as heir of the Electress Sophia of Hanover, not Edward IV.

Sophia however was:

Thus her right ultimately derived of those of both Edward IV and Henry VII.

Tracing through Edward's younger (legitimate) brother George, Duke of Clarence, they deemed the current heir to be Michael Abney-Hastings, 14th Earl of Loudoun, who works as a Rice Technician in Jerilderie, New South Wales, Australia.

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