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Edward IV of England

Edward IV was King of England 1461-1483, with a break of a few months in the period 1470-1471.

Table of contents
1 Childhood
2 King of England
3 Flight to France
4 Restoration
5 Death and Succession
6 Children
7 Was Edward Illegitimate?


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 Richard was killed in 1460, at the Battle of Wakefield, pressing his claim against the Lancastrian king, Henry VI of England, Edward became his heir.

King of England

With the support of Richard Neville, 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.

Flight to France

Edward was tall, strong, handsome, and popular (and his grandson Henry VIII of England was much like him in these qualities). 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 (having previously married the widow Eleanor Talbot even more secretly). With 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 king's army was defeated at the Battle of Edgecote, and Edward was captured. Warwick attempted to rule in the Edward's name, but the nobility, many of whom owed the preferments to the king, were restive. Warwick was forced to release Edward. Neither Warwick nor the king were powerful enough to subdue the other, until after a failed rebellion in 1470 Warwick was forced to flee to France. There he joined forces with the Lancastrians, invaded again, and this time Edward was forced to flee.

Henry VI was briefly restored to the throne, and Edward took refuge in Burgundy, where he raised an army to win back his kingdom. Philippe de Commines spent time with Edward while he was the guest of Louis de Bruges, sieur de la Gruthuyse, in 1470-1471. Later Commines said of King Edward:

"He had been during the last twelve years more accustomed to his ease and pleasure than any other prince who lived in his time. He had nothing in his thoughts but les dames, and of them more than was reasonable; and hunting-matches, good eating, and great care of his person. . . [I]t is not surprising that his person was as jolly as any one I ever saw. He was then young, and as handsome as any man of his age; but he has since become enormously fat."


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 the course of which the Lancastrian heir, Edward, 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), who were married to Warwick's two daughters, were at loggerheads for much of the rest of his reign. Clarence was eventually imprisoned and executed in the Tower of London.

Commines explained that it was how much Edward owed them that had made Londoners eager to put him back on the throne, along with the fact that he was very popular with the women of that city, and they so nagged their husbands that the menfolk welcomed Edward back just "for the tranquillity of their lives."

Death and Succession

Edward died suddenly in 1483 and is buried in 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 of Henry VII of England.


He left 7 legitimate children that survived to adulthood: Edward had numerous mistresses, the most well-known of whom is Jane Shore.

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 Buckingham to the assembly which met on June 25, 1483, to decide on the future of the monarchy). It describes Edward's brother 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, King Edward's and King Richard's mother, 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 said then 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."

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

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 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 a private in a side chapel whereas, for the christening of Richard's second son, the whole cathedral was used for a huge celebration, suggesting that Edward was indeed illegitimate.

Consequences of Illegitimacy

If it is true that Edward IV was illegitimate, then this invalidates his claim to the throne of England. In 1485, Henry Tudor, who's own claim to the throne was weak, married Elizabeth of York (Edward IV's daughter) in order to strengthen his claim. From Henry (King Henry VII), all the subsequent monarchs are directly descended.

But, if Edward IV had no claim to the throne, then neither did Elizabeth of York and so Henry's marriage did not give him the boost he wanted. So, if Henry's line are not the rightful heirs, then who is? The Channel 4 documentary tracked back the family tree to calculate the true heir. Tracing through King Henry X and Queen Barbara I, they found the current heir to be Michael Hastings, Earl of Loudon, who works as a Rice Technician in a small town in Australia.

Preceded by:
Henry VI
List of British monarchs Succeeded by:
(Edward V)