Edward IV: A Perfect Medieval King?

Ellie Webster

To both contemporaries and modern day spectators, King Edward IV was the perfect rendition of an ideal medieval leader.

Upon his ascension to the throne in 1461, the English court witnessed a ‘cultural flowering’ which was consciously modelled after the Court of King Arthur. Men of culture and ability were advanced; his court was surrounded by a welcoming environment integrated with the inspiration of his ally, Burgundy. Upon his victory at Towton in March 1461, Edward was made something of a medieval superhero, winning his victories against all odds. Edward embodied the wisdom and charisma that his predecessor Henry VI failed to incorporate. The people of London adored Edward. He was the ‘flower’ of his age: tall of stature - standing at six foot three and a half, he was a formidable opponent to his enemies who sought not to cross him in battle. Thomas More attested of his ‘just and merciful’ nature in peacetime, but his ‘sharp and fierce’ personage during wartime. The contemporary Milanese state papers describe the failure of words in relation to how well the commons adored him. However, this generous and loving persona was sharply contrasted by his ‘greedy’ and illustrious appetite for the women of his realm. Hardly a new vice for a young and exceedingly handsome king, Edward’s early actions would ultimately resurface to compromise his dynasty. Edward was born in Rouen on the 28th April, 1442. Though his paternity is often contested by historians, it is most likely that he was the son of Richard, Third Duke of York. As Earl of March he was educated at his father's castle of Ludlow, in Shropshire. Although no records of Edward’s educational routine survive, the daily regime set for his own son may indicate similarities. Edward certainly may have been bilingual by a young age, and his chivalric training would’ve been essential to his future military prowess: by the age of 13, Edward had already led his first army. At the Battle of Mortimers Cross in February 1461, Edward provided the Yorkist cause with one of its most significant heraldic symbols. Although the three suns that were witnessed can be now understood as a scientific phenomena called a ‘parhelion’, Edward and his men interpreted this as divine support for their cause. The three suns witnessed at Mortimer's Cross would be subsequently represented as the ‘Sunne in Splendour’. The symbols employed by his cause often evoked enough motivation to come out victorious. However, it was the Battle of Towton in March 1461 that solidified Edward’s claim to the throne as unprecedented. Unlike other significant battles throughout history, Towton fails to be romanticised due to the sheer violence that took place. Situated amongst heavy storms of snow, two thirds of the English peerage were slaughtered. The events of Towton assured the English people of a new age in which rule of the realm was successively consolidated by a young victor who could provide military strength and decisiveness. With his theoretical right to the throne already ensured by the Act of Accord laid out by his father, Edward was indispensable to his enemies. With an undeniably strong claim to the throne, Edward was not seriously challenged until 1470. Upon entering London after his victory at Towton, Gregory's Chronicle describes the readiness of the English people to 'walk in a new vineyard ... with this white rose.' Edward's rise to the throne was undoubtedly met with great enthusiasm: however, it was his choice of bride that led to great internal struggle between himself and his allies who helped him secure the throne.
Edward IV: A Perfect Medieval King?
King Edward IV

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Edward IV: A Perfect Medieval King?
Edward IV meets his wife-to-be Elizabeth Grey

Prior and after his marriage, Edward was disputed to have 'thought of nothing but upon women.'

Mancini documents that Edward 'pursued without no discrimination, but took none by his force.' However, the romanticism surrounding his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville fits that of a medieval fairytale. Contested to have had 'heavy lidded eyes like those of a dragon,' much mystery surrounds the initial meeting of Edward and Elizabeth, though legend suggests that their paths crossed at an oak tree near the forest of Whitterbury to plead for the inheritance of her two sons. Enamoured by Elizabeth, Edward supposedly desired to bed her, but she was determined to die rather than 'live unjustly.' Edward and Elizabeth were subsequently married in May 1464 at her home of Grafton. This scandalous marriage was responded to sourly, namely by Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick. Warwick had sought to ally Edward to France through marriage to Bona of Savoy: his marriage to Elizabeth would ultimately lead to his defection to the Lancastrian side. Warwick's expulsion of Edward in 1470 had been considerably swift. However, Edward's reconquering of his kingdom with 2 glorious battles in only 21 days was extraordinary. The Battle of Tewkesbury signified Edward's ultimate restoration of power: the last direct male heir to the Lancastrians, Edward of Westminster, was defeated. Edward could re-enter London triumphantly, just as he had done ten years previously. Edward's court was said to have 'preserved no other appearance than such that benefits a most mighty kingdom.' Even after a gradual decline in health due to his lavish expense in indulgence, Edward continued to uphold a glorious spectacle of illustrious triumph. However, Edward's comparatively swift death after a fishing trip on the Thames ended a reign forged in unparalleled victories, after showing no signs of previous ill health, England was once again thrown into political turmoil: Edward was only weeks from his forty-first birthday. To modern eyes, the life and legacy of Edward IV is often sidelined. However, Edward’s contemporaries and Tudor commentators recalled Edward's reign as a success, saving England from the miseries of civil war that befell them. For most of his reign, Edward provided his realm with a solution to its internal disputes. Edward was the apex of the ideal medieval king; flanked by loyal knights with a queen disputed for her beauty. Although Edward was not a perfect king by any means, his reign certainly set a standard for success.
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Edward IV: A Perfect Medieval King?

Ellie Webster

Ellie Webster is a current Year 13 student studying History situated in the North East. She has a deep passion for all things history, namely the Wars of the Roses and the Tudors. Heading off to university in September, Ellie enjoys analysing primary sources and forming her own interpretations whilst challenging the everyday assumptions that come with studying history. She has previously written in three of the Historians Magazine’s releases: Key Events That Shaped History, All Things Tudor and Rebellions, Revolutions and Revolts and Ancient History.
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