Lancaster and York. For much of the 15th century, these two armies were locked in a fierce battle for control of the English throne. Kings were murdered and deposed. Armies marched on London. Old noble names were ruined while rising dynasties seized power and lands.
And at the centre of this struggle for power was Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick – the man who would come to be known as ‘the Kingmaker’.
Having seized the crown for the Yorkist king Edward IV in 1461, he later restored to power the deposed Lancastrian monarch Henry VI.
The son of Richard Neville, 5th earl of Salisbury, the younger Richard Neville married Anne, daughter of the Earl of Warwick. When her brother’s daughter died in 1449, Anne brought her husband the title and chief share of the Warwick estates.
He therefore became the premier earl, and in both power and position excelled his father.
Richard, Duke of York, was his uncle, so when in 1453 York became Protector and Salisbury was made Chancellor it was obvious that Warwick should be one of the council. Warwick and his father then took up arms in York’s support when Henry VI recovered in 1455.
Their victory at the Battle of St Albans was due to the fierce energy with which Warwick assaulted and broke the Lancastrian centre.
He was rewarded with the very important office of Captain of Calais. Even when York was displaced at home, Warwick retained this post and in 1457 he was also made admiral.
Making Edward of York into King Edward IV
Warwick crossed from Calais to England in 1460 with Salisbury and Edward of York, defeating and then capturing Henry VI at Northampton. York and Parliament agreed to let Henry keep his crown, probably under the influence of Warwick.
But Richard and Salisbury were defeated and slain at the Battle of Wakefield while Warwick was in charge of London. The Lancastrians won a second victory at St Albans in February 1461.
But in his plans to rectify the situation Warwick showed highly impressive skill and leadership.
He met Edward of York in Oxfordshire, brought him in triumph to London, had him proclaimed King Edward IV, and within a month of his defeat at St Albans was marching north in pursuit of the Lancastrians.
The victory at Towton may have been down to Edward’s leadership rather than to Warwick’s, but the new king was the creation of the powerful earl.
Who is in charge of England?
For 4 years the government was in Warwick and his friends’ hands. Warwick was determining foreign policy on the basis of an alliance with France. His brother John, Lord Montagu, defeated the Lancastrians in skirmishes in the north. His third brother, George, became Archbishop of York.
But in 1464 the king secretly married Elizabeth Woodville, an unsuitable match who also ruined Warwick’s pledge that Edward would marry a French match.
In 1466 Edward made Rivers, the Queen’s father, treasurer, and then frustrated an intended marriage between Warwick’s daughter Isabel and George of Clarence, the king’s own brother.
Warwick returned from France in 1467 to find Edward, under Woodville’s influence, had committed himself to a Burgundian alliance.
In 1469 Warwick went to Calais, where Isabel and Clarence were married without the king knowing. He also stirred up rebellion in Yorkshire and, when Edward was drawn north, Warwick invaded England.
The King, outmarched and outnumbered, yielded to become prisoner, while Rivers and his son – the Queen’s father and brother – were executed.
But in March 1470 Edward gathered an army of his own, and Warwick fled with Clarence to France. There, under the instrumentality of Louis XI, he was reconciled with Margaret of Anjou and agreed to marry his second daughter to her son.
In September Warwick and Lancastrian forces arrived at Dartmouth. Edward fled, and for 6 months Warwick ruled England as Lieutenant for Henry VI, who was restored from prison in the Tower to a nominal throne.
But Clarence was unhappy about the return of Lancastrians to the throne. He started to betray Warwick with his brother and when, in March 1471, Edward landed at Ravenspur, Clarence found an opportunity to join him. Warwick was finally outmanoeuvred, and at Barnet on 14 April he was defeated and slain.
Warwick’s only children were his 2 daughters, the younger of which, Anne, was married to Richard of Gloucester, the future Richard III.