It happened today - April 14, 2016
I ask because Edward won the decisive Battle of Barnet over the House of Lancaster on April 14, back in 1471, apparently ending the Wars of the Roses, securing the throne, and ushering in a second reign marked by… nothing. It was his second reign because he was also king from 1461 to 1470 when Henry VI had a brief and feeble return to the throne he had ineffectually occupied for nearly 40 years from 1422 to 1461. But the first reign was rather taken up with military affairs.
Not the second. So it’s odd. At least I find it odd. England was on the verge of dramatic changes, some very perilous. It had come out of the dramatic and largely constructive reigns of Edward I and Edward III with a surprisingly robust constitutional system, the power of Parliament dramatically confirmed when the first Lancaster, Henry IV, needed them to declare him king in 1400.
Then you had Henry V, whose reign as noted five days ago was frittered away in useless French wars before he died suddenly leaving his infant son Henry VI a throne he never convincingly filled. Henry was mentally unwell much of the time and just not up to the job. But along comes Edward IV, an outstanding military leader, a wise politician whose worst blunder seems to have been marrying for love, an effective king who restored law and order, a shrewd businessman and an effective administrator who tried to root out official corruption.
OK, so he may have had Henry VI murdered and did have his younger brother George executed for treason, supposedly by drowning in a butt of malmsey wine (see the Feb. 18 2016 entry in this series). But nobody’s perfect and if they were it wouldn’t have been George.
In short, Edward’s victory at Barnet should have set the stage for a golden age, not least because it saw the demise of the turbulent Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, a.k.a. “Warwick the Kingmaker”, commanding the Lancaster forces.
Instead he died suddenly in 1483, we know not why, possibly of pneumonia, typhoid, poison or an unhealthy lifestyle. And with that you got the reign of Richard III, the death of the “Princes in the Tower” and the victory of the scary brutal upstart Tudors in a revival of the Wars of the Roses into which they had typically elbowed their way on a flimsy pretext.
Strange. Everything about Edward suggested he should be remembered as a near-great king. Instead even I struggle to remember him at all because his legacy basically doesn’t exist.