It happened today - May 4, 2016
Are we quite done with the Wars of the Roses? I’m afraid not. But the same cannot be said of Edward of Westminster. Well, perhaps you were done with him before you even got to him. But he does enjoy the distinction of being the only heir apparent to the English throne ever to die in battle, at Tewkesbury on May 4 of 1471. I guess that’s something.
Poor Edward. He never did have much, as heirs apparent to the English throne go. He was the only son of Henry VI and his wife Margaret of Anjou. And Henry VI was somewhat insane, in a hapless rather than psychotically domineering way. Indeed, there were widespread rumors that Edward was illegitimate, the result of an affair between Margaret and one of her supporters, the Duke of Somerset or the Earl of Ormonde.
We don’t know, and Henry VI publicly acknowledged paternity. Though it’s not obvious what else he could have done, having no other sons and being a sufficiently feeble monarch that he didn’t need any other reasons for people to ridicule him or say we might as well be rid of him now since he doesn’t even have an heir or anything like that.
However that may be, Henry was semi-deposed by Richard Plantagent, 3rd Duke of York, in 1460. In an act of tactful usurpation, if such a thing is possible, the Duke did not personally claim the throne but did have Parliament pass the Act of Accord whereby Edward was disinherited and York or his heirs would succeed Henry whenever he happened to… die. As he mysteriously did during a subsequent period of captivity in 1471.
Now at this point, in 1460 I mean, Edward might have taken the hint and also holy orders, or fled to the continent or changed his name and taken up farming or something else less perilous than hanging around looking stunned. But he didn’t. And to be fair, he was only 7 at the time and not in control of his own destiny. Instead his mother took him to Wales and then Scotland, raising support for him while the Yorkists mustered in northern England.
Margaret’s army prevailed, defeating and killing York at Wakefield and then defeating but not killing Warwick the Kingmaker (see the April 14 entry on Edward IV) at the Second Battle of St. Albans. Rather embarrassingly, the captive Henry VI was found abandoned on the battlefield. “What do we do with this thing?” “Aaaah, chuck it, nobody wants that.” “But it’s the king.” “I said chuck it, buddy.” (NB this is not historically attested dialogue. I made it up. But still, if you had a captive king wouldn’t you stuff him in a sack and drag him along figuring they’d trade you something for him, at least a fast horse and a ten minute head start?)
Actually two of Warwick’s knights had been left to guard the stunned king and see that he came to no harm and were captured with him. On Edward’s advice, Margaret had them beheaded.
She then decided not to attack London with her somewhat chaotic army, which was instead hammered in the Battle of Towton shortly after St. Albans Mark II. At this point discretion proved the better part of valour so the royal family royally fled, first to Scotland to continue resistance and later to France. OK, Margaret and Edward did. Henry was somehow left behind and was plunked into the Tower of London in 1465. Eventually Margaret cooked up an alliance with various potentates including Warwick, returned and briefly chased off Richard Plantagenet’s son Edward, who had taken the throne in 1461 as Edward IV.
Even this victory was more than a little ominous for the hapless Edward Winchester. Margaret had made a deal with Edward IV’s slippery younger brother George, Duke of Clarence, that he would help restore Henrv VI with Edward Westminster as Prince of Wales and his heir. But if Edward were to somehow, you know, die suddenly, Clarence would become king. Such arrangements make it hard to buy life insurance.
On the plus side, Edward got a wife, Anne Neville, youngest daughter of Warwick the Kingmaker. On the downside, Henry’s restoration lasted a grand total of six months. It was all over but the beheadings after Edward IV crushed Warwick’s forces at Barnet on April 14 and Warwick was killed. Awkwardly, the very same day Margaret and Edward Winchester, by now a hapless 17-year-old, landed in England and for want of a better plan led a weak army against Edward IV at Tewkesbury on May 4 and she was captured and her son killed.
You knew it was going to end that way, didn’t you? And not just because I said so at the beginning. This guy just had “lost power struggle and life” written all over him. As did Clarence, drowned in a butt of malmsey wine on Edward IV’s orders and good riddance to him.
To add insult to injury for Edward Winchester, his widow married the top surviving Yorkist dog, Richard III. Mind you, if it’s any consolation, Richard would become the last English king to die in battle 14 years later. But hardly the only one; even William the Conqueror did that. (As did two Scottish kings after Richard III.)
Meanwhile Edward Winchester is still the only heir apparent to do so and likely to remain so although Prince Charles was in the navy as Prince of Wales. Despite the rarity, indeed uniqueness, of this feat, you have to admit Edward did seem to have precisely the qualifications needed to pull it off.