Edward IV the captive king

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In July 1469 King Edward, caught unaware, was taken captive by the Archbishop of York and conveyed to Warwick Castle. There the Earl of Warwick was awaiting him, along with the Duke of Clarence. By this time Edward would have known that his old friend and most powerful supporter had crossed his personal Rubicon and was in open rebellion, but it must have come as an unpleasant shock to learn that his brother had joined him. Clarence had recently married Warwick’s daughter Isabel in defiance of the king’s order.

Embracing the expedient, Edward and Warwick reached a tacit understanding from the first. Edward was the honoured guest and Warwick was the gracious host. No dungeon and chains for the king. In return for his smiling compliance he was rewarded with comfortable quarters, good food and wine, the run of the castle, and perrhaps a bedmate to keep him happy. This mutually satisfactory relationship must have been strained, at least on the king’s part, when he was taken to Gosforth Green and forced to watch the summary execution of his queen’s father and one of her younger brother’s, 21 year-old John. The three Herbert brothers had been previously executed without trial for no better reason than they were supporters of the king.

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Warwick Castle

Nevertheless, Edward was prepared to do whatever was necessary to survive and gain his freedom. As for Warwick, he was probably the only man in history to hold two kings captive at the same time. Henry of Lancaster would remain in the Tower, but what was he planning to do with Edward of York? My own thought is that Warwick was not a long-range planner, but more impetuous than calculating. He was arrogant enough to believe that once he had obtained his goal, the future would always arrange itself in manner convenient for him. It is possible that he was planning to replace Edward with George of Clarence, but Edward could not be arbitrarily shoved aside to make room for his brother. That option would require Edward’s permanent. Warwick wasn’t prepared to go that far. The ostensible reason for his rebellion was to protect the king from the influence of evil councilors. Despite the unpopularity of the Woodvilles, only the Earl of Oxford joined him in the enterprise.

Edward was transferred to Middleham, Warwick’s great castle in Yorkshire, a safer distance from London and his friends. The countess and her two daughters were in  residence, which must have occasioned some very uncomfortable dinners on their part.

Finally power was in Warwick’s hands. But within thirty days of his astonishing victory, the tide began to turn. As often happened during any disruption of central authority, London was in uproar. Sporadic violence broke out all over the country. In the north, Humphrey Neville, a kinsman of Warwick’s unfurled the banner of Lancaster. Whatever Warwick’s plan was, allowing Neville to resurrect the spectre of Lancaster wasn’t part of it. Not at this time. As it was necessary to wipe his recent activities  clean of the taint of treason and give them the sanctity of law, he had the chancellor send out writs summoning parliament to meet at York. But parliament had to be postponed because the members were unlikely to give him the rubber stamp when it was clear he could not keep order in the land. Then he sent out a call to arms to help him put down the renegade Neville’s revolt and learned that the kingdom wouldn’t support him while he held the king captive. So he rode with the king from Middleham to York – Edward showing by his friendly demeanour that all was well between him and his mighty cousin. And suddenly Warwick had all the men he needed. Humphrey was speedily dealt with.

Perhaps at this time, Warwick began to suspect that his rebellion wasn’t going to have whatever end he had envisaged. That suspicion was confirmed when he was with the Edward at Pontefract and a bevy of loyal lords, including the Duke of Gloucester and Lord Hastings, arrived and convinced him that it was time to release the king. Benevolent as always, Edward assured his treasonous cousins and brother that there would be no repercussions. And there were none.

In October he returned to London to a grieving wife and a joyous welcome by the citizens.

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