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5 medieval English history essays
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Description1) How far was Henry VI personally responsible for the problems he faced from 1450?
2) Assess the reasons for the restoration of Henry VI in 1470.
3) How far did Edward IV strengthen the monarchy during his second reign, to 1483?
Explain your answer.
4) Assess the claim that Henry VII was completely successful in overcoming the threats to his government.
5) How successful was Henry VII in achieving his aims in foreign relations? Explain your answer.
The power and influence of the Neville clan must be emphasised when looking at the problems Edward IV faced during his first reign. Richard Neville held massive fortresses in England and his power was also apparent in great armies of retainers. He held close connections to a number of peers in the House of Lords by blood or marriage and his popularity was seen across the country from the north down to London. The Neville’s had aligned themselves to the Yorkist faction as a result of a dispute over lands in Glamorgan. After the incapacity of Henry VI, Warwick was vital in supporting Richard, Duke of York in his request of the protectorship. In 1460 Warwick was pivotal in the Yorkist invasion which led to victory at Towton in March 1461. In an age where the king could reward loyalty through patronage Warwick would have felt he deserved substantial gains for his efforts. In the first months of Yorkist control Warwick was successful in taking rebel fortresses in the north of England, including castles of Bamburgh, Alnwick and Dunstanburgh. His efforts were rewarded with positions such as captain of Calais, admiral of England and constable of Dover Castle. The support of this mightiest of nobles was the foundation on which the Yorkist invasion of 1460 had rested and although he received gratitude initially events over the course of the reign increased his resentment towards the king.
It is essential to emphasise the importance of Warwick in the triumph of the Yorkist dynasty in order to understand his growing resentment towards Edward IV during the first reign. After securing a truce with the French king Louis XI in October 1463 Warwick sought a suitable French bride to strengthen Anglo-French rapport. It was understandable that Warwick felt betrayed by Edward when on 14 September 1464 he announced he was wed to Elizabeth Woodville. During the medieval period marriage was a crucial tool in establishing strong domestic and foreign ties. For this reason the hard work that Warwick had put in to establish a beneficial French marriage was undone by the impulse of Edward IV. The way in which Edward had dealt with the marriage was the beginning of growing resentment on the part of Warwick.
The Woodville marriage was not only an irresponsible decision by Edward IV for diplomatic reasons. Elizabeth Woodville was a commoner and the union went against royal marital convention since she had two sons by a previous marriage to Sir John Grey. Added to this her former husband had fought for the Lancastrian cause at the Battle of St Albans in 1461 where he had died. These factors not only increased the resentment of Warwick towards the king but had more widespread effects around the country with regard the popularity of Edward IV since her family were soon to be raised to the upper echelons of English aristocracy.
Elizabeth Woodville had a large family and it was not to be long before her several siblings were linked to the greatest houses in the kingdom. Her sisters were married to the heir of Lord Herbert and the duke of Buckingham. This added to Warwick’s resentment since these were eligible bachelors for his own daughters to marry. Lord Herbert himself was elevated to lieutenant in South Wales above Warwick and since he had already lost the stewardship of the duchy of Lancaster to Lord Hastings losing out on marriages was a further source of resentment. Adding to this was the acquisition of some of the highest positions in the land for the Woodville clan. Elizabeth’s brother became bishop of Salisbury and another admiral of the fleet. In 1466 Earl Rivers, her father, became treasurer of England in place of Lord Mountjoy. This added fuel to Warwick’s fire since Lord Mountjoy was Warwick’s uncle. After being the foundation of Yorkist success back in 1461 Warwick was progressively becoming more detached from the influence of Edward IV. His influence over the king declined even further as Edward failed to act on the advice of George Neville who he had made archbishop of York in September 1465. George Neville was subsequently dismissed in June 1467 when he was seeking dispensation from the Pope to marry his niece to Clarence. The Woodville’s rise caused the decline of Neville influence, to the anger of Warwick, and this was displayed most clearly in foreign policy.
In foreign affairs Edward moved towards Burgundy while Warwick believed England should seek a permanent alliance with the traditional enemy of England, France and Louis XI. Not only had Edward ignored the advice of Warwick with regard a Anglo French marriage but in 1468 Edward’s sister, Margaret, married the duke of Burgundy’s eldest son resurrecting the Anglo Burgundian alliance. An alliance with Burgundy was always favourable to the English merchants although to Warwick the decision of Edward IV was a final act of betrayal.
While the root cause of Edward IV’s problems remains the growing resentment of Warwick the decline of popular opinion against the king must not be forgotten. While the marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was not a popular decision a number of other actions led to the decline of popular opinion against Edward. Firstly Edward IV had not brought peace during his first reign. There was widespread disorder and battles such as Hedgeley Moor and Hexham continued. As a result Edward IV imposed a tax of a fifteenth part of all property on the people and another fifteenth to pay for fighting. Poverty was therefore widespread during this period. Secondly Edward associated himself with councillors who developed terrible reputations. John Tiptoft, the earl of Worcester became the most hated of Edward IV’s councillors due to the severity of his execution methods. Popular discontent was evident in the number of rebellions that took place during his first reign such as one in Lincolnshire in the spring of 1470 and in the north in July 1469 led by Robin of Redesdale. Widespread unpopularity can be supported when Edward’s supporters, notably the marquess of Montague abandoned him in September 1470. Popular discontent relied on powerful individuals to exact change and Edward had aggravated one of the most powerful individuals in England, namely Richard Neville.
The situation was made more threatening to Edward due to the support of George, Duke of Clarence and the French king, Louis XI towards Warwick. Warwick had aligned himself to Clarence trying to engineer a marriage between him and his daughter, Isabel. Edward was furious with this prospect although Clarence defied his brother by marrying Warwick’s daughter in July 1469. Clarence proved particularly important as he was heir presumptive. After Edward IV had renewed the Anglo Burgundian alliance Louis XI was wise to cultivate a rift between Edward and Warwick even further in order that he could then wipe out the threat from Burgundy. Warwick’s growing resentment had led him to seek out suitable support and he found this in Clarence and Louis XI. All Warwick needed was a figurehead behind which he could look to exact revenge.
Edward IV had been merciful to his opponents in the early stages of his first reign. Henry VI himself was captured in July 1465 but Edward did not take the opportunity to end the Lancastrian cause by putting him to death. Instead Henry VI was held in captivity where he remained until his restoration on 3 October 1470. This was crucially important as Warwick had a legitimate figurehead with which to oust Edward IV from the throne. The alliance with the Lancastrians was cemented with the marriage of Prince Edward to Warwick’s daughter, Anne Neville. Margaret promised to make Warwick Henry’s regent and governor of England while Clarence was promised the crown in the event of the death of Prince Edward. Louis XI benefited from the promise that England would support his campaign against Burgundy. Edward’s treatment of Warwick during the 1460’s led to a serious threat against the throne by September 1470.
The root cause of Edward IV’s problems during his first reign was the growing resentment of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick towards the king. A number of decisions on the part of Edward IV precipitated the decline of relations between the two men culminating in the kings choice to follow an Anglo Burgundian alliance in 1468. The king also faced more widespread unpopularity during his first reign and this, along with the support Warwick received in France, made it more difficult to quash Warwick’s rebellion when it came in September 1470. Warwick remained a powerful figure throughout this period and Edward was unwise to persistently offend the man who he owed for his own accession to the throne. In September 1470 he paid for his mistakes.
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