Military History

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Book Review of Edward IV and the Wars of the Roses

Posted by William Young on January 26, 2012

David Santiuste. Edward IV and the Wars of the Roses. Barnsley, Engl.: Pen and Sword, 2011. 978-1-84415-930-7. Illustrations. Maps. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xvi, 192. $39.95.

This is a solid academic study of Edward IV’s political struggles and military campaigns against Lancastrian opponents during the first half of the Wars of the Roses (1455-1485). The Wars of the Roses is a complex, confusing subject concerning civil wars in England.  However, David Santiuste, a Tutor at Edinburgh University, provides a readable, easy way to follow the ups and downs of the conflicts, skillfully using academic and contemporary sources, by focusing on the military career of Edward Plantagenet.  The author sees Edward as “a courageous and talented soldier” (p.146), and one of the great medieval warrior kings of England.

Santiuste begins by discussing the first years of the Wars of the Roses.  He then concentrates on Edward’s experiences in warfare starting with his first taste of combat at the Battle of Northampton (1460).  Soon afterwards, Edward, the Earl of March, became the Duke of York and the Yorkist claimant to the English throne following the death of his father at the Battle of Wakefield (1460).  With the support of his cousin Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick (also known as the Kingmaker), the nineteen-year-old Edward of York defeated the Lancastrian armies of Henry VI of England at the battles of Mortimer’s Cross (1461) and Towton (1461), and then took London and claimed the English throne.  Thus ended Edward IV’s first great military campaign.

In the mid-1460s, the relationship between Edward IV and Warwick slowly disintegrated after the king’s secret marriage to Elizabeth Woodville.  The Woodvilles quickly became rivals to Warwick and his Neville relations.  Edward IV and Warwick no longer saw things eye-to-eye, especially over foreign policy with the Duchy of Burgundy and Kingdom of France.  Warwick soon began to sympathize with Lancastrian rebels.  A rebellion by Warwick and his supporters led to the defeat of a Yorkist army commanded by the Earl of Pembroke at the Battle of Edgecote Moor (1469), and the eventual capture of Edward IV.  Before long, however, Warwick and Edward IV established a fragile, short-lived peace.  The author notes the many rebel uprisings of the era, especially in northern England, and the king’s actions to put them down, including his victory at the Battle of Empingham (1470).  Even so, Warwick and the king’s brother, the Duke of Clarence, forced Edward IV to flee overseas to the Duchy of Burgundy in 1470.  This resulted in the restoration of Henry VI, under Warwick’s control, for a brief period.  Edward IV returned to England and began his second great military campaign.  He quickly gained control of London, and then defeated Warwick and the Earl of Oxford in thick fog at the Battle of Barnet (1471), and next the Duke of Somerset and the Lancastrians at the Battle of Tewkesbury (1471).  Edward IV’s victory was complete.  He would rule England for the next twelve years until his sudden death at the age of thirty-nine in 1483, leaving behind a twelve-year-old son, Edward V, to rule England.  The Wars of the Roses would continue until Henry Tudor and the Lancastrians defeated and killed Richard III (Edward IV’s brother) at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485.

Santiuste provides more than a depiction of the military campaigns of the civil wars in England.  He describes the recruitment of soldiers, types and employment of military equipment, motivation of the nobility and soldiers, as well as the military organization of Lancastrian and Yorkist forces.  The importance of the elite English garrison at Calais across the English Channel for both Yorkists and Lancastrians is evident.  He relates foreign influence in the conflicts with discussions of Yorkist and Lancastrian intrigues and alliances with Duke Charles I “the Bold” of Burgundy, Duke Francis II of Brittany, King Louis XI “the Universal Spider” of France, and King James III of Scotland.  Some foreign rulers sought to keep England weak and divided, while others sought English alliances to aid their own personal ambitions on the continent.  Overall, this is a fine study of the Wars of the Roses that focuses on Edward IV and military operations.

Dr William Young
University of North Dakota

Battle of Barnet (1471)

  Battle of Tewkesbury (1471)

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