Here, late medieval and early Tudor historian Amy Licence tells you everything you need to know about the first Yorkist King of England...


When was Edward IV born?

Edward was born in Rouen Castle, Normandy on 28 April 1442.

When did he die?

9 April 1483, at the Palace of Westminster.

Who were his family?

Edward was the second surviving child and eldest son of Richard, third duke of York (1411–60), and Cecily, duchess of York (1415–95). Cecily was the daughter of Ralph Neville, first earl of Westmorland, and Joan Beaufort.

Both Edward's parents were descended from Edward III, giving him a significant claim to the throne. At first his father, Richard, Duke of York, served the Lancastrian Henry VI loyally, but, after returning to England, found himself marginalised from government. York acted as Protector during Henry VI’s illness, but increasing hostility towards him led to the outbreak of the Wars of the Roses.

More like this

When Edward was 18, York’s patience ran out, and he attempted to take the throne for himself. He was killed in battle soon afterwards.

Edward avenged his father’s death and defeated the king’s forces at the battle of Towton in 1461. He was then crowned king, while Henry VI was in exile.

When did he rule?

1461–70 and 1471–83.

Who was his successor?

Edward's 12-year-old son, also called Edward, was proclaimed king (Edward V), and Richard, Duke of Gloucester, named as protector. Edward V is one of the famous princes in the Tower, allegedly murdered by Richard. Richard ultimately took the throne, becoming Richard III.

What is he remembered for?

Edward is perhaps best remembered for defeating the Lancastrians to establish the House of York.

What were the key moments in his reign?

In the early years of his reign, Edward suppressed Lancastrian challenges to his throne and proved himself to be a charismatic and popular ruler. Tall, young and handsome, he was renowned for his love affairs and athleticism.

In 1464, while negotiations were being made for a French marriage, Edward made a secret match with Elizabeth Woodville, a Lancastrian widow with two children. It proved to be unpopular with his cousin, the Earl of Warwick, who resented the advancement of the large Woodville clan and the snub over France.

A year later, Henry VI was captured and held in the Tower of London. At this stage, Edward’s position seemed safer. However, by 1469, Warwick had run out of patience; he married off his eldest daughter to Edward’s brother George, and led a rebellion against the king.

Taken by surprise, Edward was briefly held captive by Warwick, although he was able to escape and the trio were reconciled. Warwick’s dissatisfaction had not abated though, and the following year he fled to France and forged a new alliance with Henry VI’s wife, Margaret of Anjou.

The Earl then returned to England and took control of London and the Lancastrian King while Edward was in the north. Isolated from his capital, Edward made a dangerous escape to the Low Countries, almost being drowned at sea. From exile, Edward plotted his return.

The battle of Towton during the War of the Roses, 1461. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Six months later, in the spring of 1471, he landed with a small force in Yorkshire, and gathered troops as he marched south. After having defeated Warwick, he moved to secure his kingdom, by killing the Prince of Wales in battle at Tewkesbury.

Henry VI later died in the Tower, probably on Edward’s orders. Edward was finally reunited with Elizabeth and his children. She had borne him a son while in sanctuary during his exile.

Edward’s second reign ran smoothly. He imported Burgundian customs and fashions, restructuring his household and embarking on a number of building projects. In 1475 he led an invasion of France – bloodshed was avoided, and it secured Edward a large annual income.

After a final rebellion by his brother George, Edward felt he had no choice but to order his execution in 1478. He also declared war on Scotland in 1482, supporting a rival claimant to that kingdom’s throne, and sending his brother Richard to lead an invasion. In spring 1483, Edward fell ill and died suddenly at the age of 40.

Amy Licence is a late medieval and early Tudor historian focusing on women's lives. She is the author of Anne Neville, Richard III’s Tragic Queen, and a forthcoming biography of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, due out in 2015. You can follow Amy on Twitter @PrufrocksPeach


This article was first published on HistoryExtra in May 2014.