Edward IV – no pussycat!

I find it – interesting, shall we say – that some people are so keen to hate Richard III that they tend to play down the fact that his brother, Edward IV, was at least as ruthless, if not more so. This does no service to Edward, who in some narratives seems to be a virtual cipher in the hands of Evil Richard. Edward was no man’s puppet, as a certain Earl of Warwick discovered to his cost.

Some examples of Edward IV’s ruthlessness:

Dragging the Lancastrian leaders out of the sanctuary of Tewkesbury Abbey and having them beheaded. (Oh, sorry, that was Richard, wasn’t it? Edward wanted to let them off with a warning.)

Murdering the anointed king, Henry VI, who was a harmless simpleton. (Oh, sorry, that was Richard again wasn’t it? Silly me. Edward was planning to send Henry to a comfortable retirement home in Bognor Regis.)

Pinching various families lands for the benefit of his own family. (Oh, there I go again! It was Richard who wanted the Countess of Warwick’s land split between Clarence and himself, and I’m sure that, for nefarious reasons of his own, he was behind the grabbing of the Holland (Exeter) and Mowbray inheritances as well, even though these benefited the Woodvilles.) By the way, the last King of England before Edward to do significant land grabs was Richard II, and he gets torn to bits about it by historians.

Throwing the Duke of Exeter overboard. (Though it was probably either an accident or done by Richard.)

Murdering his own brother, Clarence. (Oh sorry, it was either a lawful execution and/or Richard did it anyway.)

Do you see a theme here? Whenever Edward does something ‘bad’, there’s always someone who pops up and puts at least some of the blame on Richard. One is tempted to misquote Charles II. ‘My words are my own, but my deeds are Richard’s.’

Anyway, here is one ruthless deed that no one has pinned on Richard yet. According to Speed, a citizen of Chepe was hanged for treason in Edward’s reign for saying he would make his son heir to the Crown. (He meant the Crown public house, but Edward wasn’t laughing.) Of course, this is an obvious lie. The execution must surely date from 1483-1485 as that sweet fellow Edward would never have done such a thing.

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7 comments

  1. This ‘let’s blame Richard’ thing has become a compulsion, I fear. A set of unreasonable, ill-based prejudices that have to be trumpeted whenever Richard III gets a mention. It’s asinine. I can only conclude that these folk know they’re wrong about him, and so have to perform a song and dance in order to disguise the fact. It’s all to do with not losing face. Well, trying not to. They fail at that, too

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  2. It’s quite amusing to follow the development of “everything was Richard’s fault” narrative and the shifting of blame for many of Edward IV’s actions to Richard in the Tudor times. I’m sure that Henry VII himself liked Edward IV about as much as he liked Richard III, but naturally Richard III had to be demonized to justify Henry. And then in addition, Edward IV was the direct descendant of Henry’s heirs and later of king Henry VIII, while Richard was just an “evil uncle” to be conveniently blamed. So, in time, anything wrong the Yorkists ever did, became Richard’s fault, and then some (anything wrong the Lancastrians ever did was conveniently Margaret of Anjou’s fault), to the point that Shakespeare, working from popular myths and the official histories, saw no problem in making Richard responsible for the things that happened when he was 2 years old.

    But that really did no favors to Edward IV, an interesting and large than life figure of his own, who gets portrayed as an incompetent idiot and a ridiculously weak king and man – something he really doesn’t seem to have been – just to make his little brother look bad.

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  3. Indeed Edward was ruthless; large numbers of executions after Towton, severe action after uprisings in Kent, the luring out of Welles and Dymoke from sanctuary with the promise of a pardon (both were shortly made shorter by a head.) However, these seem to be regarded as something ‘medieval kings do’…unless your name is Richard.
    It actually pains me to see powerful Edward reduced by certain factions to a weak ninny, seemingly unaware of what his brothers were doing, and apparently kowtowing to their every whim.

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  4. Edward was quite clearly ‘in charge’, and indeed there were a couple of times when he actually intervened directly to stop Richard from taking action. One was a military initiative against the Scots, another was his decision to put a stop on Richard and Hastings sending aid to Margaret of York because of the risk to his French pension. These are just two examples.

    So I do find it risible for Richard to be blamed for various initiatives that were (at a minimum) authorised by his brother. The one that really killed me was the Tewkesbury one. There are actually people out there who believe that the executions were done sneakily behind Edward’s back. It’s so silly, especially as (in medieval terms) the executions were justified – most if not all of the men in question were ‘repeat’ offenders. And the Henry VI thing is of course classic More/Shakespeare drivel that people still insist on repeating.

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  5. In my opinion the most dangerous for Richard,s reputation are the popular books written not by any historians but by the emotional and able writers like Alison Weir. I never read any polemics with her and her “Richard III and Princes in Tower”! And yet this disgraceful book is translated to other languages. Between other in Poland where readers know Richard only thanks Shakespeare!

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  6. Barely scratched the surface! I’ve likened Edward and Richard to what we call, over here, as an example of a tandem act of ‘good cop bad cop’ with Edward getting to play the smiling, beneficent golden king and little brother does the grunt dirty work for him, especially in the very early years. Countess Oxford is one of the best examples – utterly botched by ‘historians’ and academics – Edward wanted her punished and isolated because in 1471-2 he couldn’t trust that she wouldn’t use her financial resources to fund her three misfit sons from further acts of piracy and while petty Edward also didn’t know if there wasn’t more to John de Vere’s intentions, cruising around the coast, maybe connecting with Jasper? Whatever it was Edward used the Countess to force de Vere into showing his hand, landing where he could be caught, and duly had all her properties seized and placed under Richard’s control, along with her ‘person’ – she fitfully placed the properties into the hands of feoffees who would have to then sign everything over to Richard – hence the charge of “villainy” from Michael Hicks – we’ll take that up with the golden one – no sooner had she done so than Richard placed them into the hands of lawyers (he never lived or used any of the properties, Edward did however covet many of them) AND within a month of this legal wrangling Edward had the aged (Hicks makes much of her age) Countess summoned to HIS court to answer questions – on pain of very hefty recognizance and sureties – and she remains under his baleful, golden eye for three months. No one ever mentions that part, Edward has her finances locked away, with Richard as the schlump gatekeeper, who makes nothing from it, and when she does pass it is Richard and John Howard (her kin) who attend her funeral and burial in London. Later, Richard does sell off Fowlmere manor to pay for a chantry, prayers for Edward, the Queen, those men who died in various battles (1471) protecting him, and … shocking to Hicks, also for Countess Oxford and her husband, the very one Edward had had executed early in his reign.
    Another issue I have with Edward is the Southampton mariners, executed in 1470 – ONLY Worcester is ever mentioned in the sadistic abuse of these 20 min, Warwicks’ seamen, caught trying to escape back to Calais. Duly executed Edward had them turned upside down and impaled anally, to demonstrate what? Only Worcester, his ‘new’ Constable at the time, having relieved Richard of the office, reasons unknown, has been vilified as the ‘Butcher’ for this act. Edward was with him, approved the action, likely thought up the abuse, if nothing else Edward, when lit, was a vindictive and sadistic man. He may have regretted his actions later (ie. George) but he never learned from his own vengeful nature.
    As for the Southampton event, and Edward’s role, you’ll only find that mentioned in Scofield – Edward is highly sanitized – you’d think he was a Tudor!
    I could go on, but you’re not wrong, Richard put up with a lot, during his short life, and in his long beleaguered afterlife!

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