The ‘My Favourite Monarch’ series is a new sequence of opinion pieces from all of our editors, reporters and bloggers, where they will have the chance to reveal to our readers who their favourite monarch is. From Æthelstan to Elizabeth II, Britain has been ruled by a whole host of different monarchs. With so many possible ‘favourites’ on offer, the decision of choosing your favourite (or at least from your top three favourites) was always going to be a difficult one. During this series, our writers will disclose the history of their chosen monarch, why they have chosen them, and what makes their King or Queen special to them in comparison to all of the others on offer.
To kick off this series, I begin with my favourite monarch: Edward IV.
My interest in Edward IV first came about when I was preparing to begin my AS-Level in History on Henry VII. In order to learn about Henry VII, you must learn about the Kings that predeceased him. With this in mind, Edward IV is a key figure in understanding not just how Henry VII had the chance to usurp the throne in 1485, but also how he controlled, governed and financed the country into solvency.
In my opinion, Edward IV does not get enough recognition as a great King. In many ways he has been overshadowed by his ‘war hero’ predecessor, Henry V, and many skip over him to concentrate on the mysterious legacy of his younger brother, Richard III, and what happened to his sons, Edward V and Richard, Duke of York, in The Tower.
Yet, Edward strove for solvency, peace, and a smooth succession. Although he was brought up at a time when war between the Yorkists and Lancastrians was at its most hostile, and Edward himself becoming a successful war commander and strategist, he also understood the need for reconciliation and allies.
Edward’s father (Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York) had vied for the crown during the 1450s with the help of the infamous Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick (‘The Kingmaker’) against Henry VI and the Lancastrian nobles. This led England into a civil war which would continue for decades, resulting in a great number of decisive battles, bloodshed, murder and depositions.
The Duke of York’s endeavour for the crown was cut short when he was killed at the Battle of Wakefield in 1460, leaving an adolescent Edward as the heir to the dukedom of York. After a number of successive wins over the Lancastrians, Edward’s troops were able to capture Henry VI as a prisoner. By taking London as a stronghold, Edward and the Earl of Warwick were able to secure their influence and announce Edward as the next King of England in March 1461 – he was not yet 20 years old.
Contemporary accounts describe Edward as a talented tactician and strong leader in battle. He has been estimated to have been 6ft 4 in height (making him the tallest British monarch we’ve seen), handsome, sociable and charismatic.
Despite plans for him to marry a princess from a major European family, Edward secretly married Elizabeth Woodville, a widow of a Lancastrian knight with two sons. Although some traditional historians have suggested that this marriage was political act, I agree more with the likes of J. R. Lander and P. M. Kendall who argue that Edward married Elizabeth out of love or, at the very least, lust.
Despite Warwick going against Edward’s rule and siding with Henry VI’s wife, Margaret of Anjou, and Edward’s disloyal brother, George, Duke of Clarence, in a rebellion which temporarily deposed Edward and reinstated Henry VI in 1470, Edward remained dedicated to his cause and the state of his Kingdom.
After defeating and killing Warwick at the Battle of Barnet in 1471, and beating the Lancastrian troops at Tewkesbury in the same year, Edward reclaimed his throne, establishing a time of much needed peace until his premature death in 1483.
During his second reign, Edward created stability, both politically and financially at court, which emulated his motto perfectly – modus et ordo (“method and order”). Edward took control of the crown’s finances and built up the chamber system to oversee royal revenues, and consequently reduced the crown’s debt. He took a particular interest in trade, especially with merchants in the City of London, and therefore promoted wider trade with European countries to boost revenue.
Alongside this, Edward collected a wide variety of books and created a library, reflecting his interest in late medieval chivalric culture. He also established a magnificently decorated court and understood the importance of dress and display, demonstrating his monarchical authority and legitimacy to rule. He also oversaw the rebuilding of St George’s Chapel at Windsor castle, which is where he is buried.
It could be argued that the ‘worst’ thing that Edward did was to die so prematurely – he was only 40. It has been suggested that much of the court did not expect for Edward to die so young, leaving his 12 year-old son to succeed. Had he lived for a few years longer, the crown may have become closer to solvency, and the succession of Prince Edward may have been smoother (and not resulted in his mysterious disappearance and the succession of Richard III).
Edward lived through one of the most tempestuous periods of British history, and for this I think he should be recognised for. He was a renowned military commander, courageous and continuously strove for his crown, despite the challenges and betrayals he experienced from those closest to him – most notably his brother, George, and the Earl of Warwick. He was also a promoter of late medieval culture and emulated chivalric and princely customs, and it is for these reasons, among many others, that Edward IV is one of my favourite monarchs.