On the 14th of April 1471, the Battle of Barnet was fought between the Lancastrian army commanded by Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, and the Yorkist commanded by the three sons of York -Edward IV, Richard Duke of Gloucester, and the recent traitor turned ally, George, Duke of Clarence.
George, Duke of Clarence had been Warwick’s ally since he married his eldest daughter, Isabel Neville in July of 1469. The Duchess Dowager of York, Cecily Neville “Queen by Rights” likely gave them her blessing before she returned to her residence. Her latest biographer, Amy Licence, believes it is possible that she also tried to warn them not to go because they would anger Edward and his wife. Obviously [if this was her intention] it didn’t work because George and Isabel married right away, had a lavish wedding reception unlike his eldest brother and his Lancastrian wife; and afterwards returned with a small army to depose him. The rebellions failed miserably. The upper class was angry at Edward but they didn’t want to launch England into another civil war –especially when there was another King locked in the Tower, and his Queen and their son vying for support across the Narrow Sea. Edward returned to his seat of power and pardoned his cousin and brother; but Elizabeth Woodville never trusted them again. There are no records as to how she felt in regards of the Earl of Warwick or her brothers-in-law. But after they had rebelled against her husband, captured him, killed her brother and father, and then released him so he would pardon them; it is likely she didn’t see them too well.
In late October of the following year when Warwick had switched bands yet again, Elizabeth escaped to sanctuary while her husband and youngest brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, escaped to Burgundy to take refuge in their brother-in-law, Charles “the Bold” Duke of Burgundy’s court. Elizabeth was very far along; and contrary to what is shown on fiction where Warwick is a complete ogre and pretty much says Elizabeth and her poor mother and daughters taken refuge in Westminster Abbey, living in relative poverty and fed by the mercy of the bakers nearby, could go to hell; he showed them mercy. Warwick was not one to enjoy the killing of women and children, and much less a pregnant woman so he allowed Elizabeth and her family to stay in sanctuary and paid for a midwife to assist her in the birth of her firstborn royal son. During this time, Marguerite of Anjou and her son, Edward of Westminster, the Prince of Wales, were growing anxious to have the papal dispensation that would allow him to marry the Earl’s youngest daughter, Anne Neville. With the realm torn between two kings and time running short, it was vital that the pope grant the Lancastrians that dispensation. After all, Anne and Edward were distant cousins and if they married without it, their marriage would seem unlawful and heavily criticized as Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville’s was. When the dispensation was finally granted, the couple didn’t waste time and married. Marguerite planned to set sail that November to England but there were two problems: she didn’t want to risk her son and daughter-in-law and wanted the two to get to know each other better *and* the weather. When she finally set sail on March of next year, 1471, the country was in more chaos than she had expected. Just as she had amassed a great army of Lancastrian loyalists and French-men; Edward had also amassed an army that consisted of loyal Yorksits and Burgundians.
Edward IV’s forces captured London and took the King, Henry VI, prisoner, “to the universal acclamation of the citizens” who looked kinder on him (because of his wife). While she had been criticized for being of low birth [despite the fact that her mother had noble and royal blood]; she had behaved differently than her predecessor. Her retinue and ladies-in-waiting numbered less than Marguerite’s and her spending was also less. When she went to take refuge, she refused to raise up in arms as her Lancastrian counterpart would have done, and instead stayed put, patiently and obediently waiting for her husband to rescue her. Such virtues of passivity and acceptance of her gender role, were well seen among the populace. After Edward went to St. Paul to give thanks for his victory, he went to visit his wife who presented him with his namesake “to the King’s greatest joy, a fair son, a prince.”
The war was far from over, as Dan Jones and Chris Skidmore write in their respective biographies of this conflict. The King was their prisoner, but there were many Lancastrians loyalists and anxious to see him back on the throne. Out of these, Warwick was the first one that Edward encountered after he took London, on the town of Barnet. The Battle was fought from nightfall Saturday April 13 to Easter Sunday, April 14. The weather was foggy and it caused a lot of confusion, together with the canon fire that Warwick ordered as night fell –hoping to surprise his enemies. According to some accounts, Warwick’s army greatly outnumbered Edward’s but because of the “damp, cold night air” and the scattered men from both armies; people began to wonder who were fighting who and some of Warwick’s men “mistook Oxford’s livery badges of a star with streams that the Earl’s men displayed on their coats for Edward’s badge of the Yorkist sun in splendor.” Gloucester’s flank managed to penetrate Exeter’s while “Hastings was hobbled in his fight against Oxford” whose numbers had been decimated because of Warwick’s forces’ foolishness. Battle raged on “cruel and mortal”. Edward IV could barely see because of the fog, but still charged against his enemies, managing (barely) to distinguish them. When Richard’s brother, Lord Montague, realized all was lost he “harangued his brother … insisting that he should demonstrate the Neville family’s courage by fighting on foot and sending his horses away” to confuse his enemies. If they did this, he promised his older brother, they might still had a chance. But this, as historian Jones points out, turned out to be Warwick’s gravest mistake.
The battle lasted three hours. One thousand Lancastrians were killed, and five hundred Yorkists. The “Kingmaker” Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick and his younger brother, Lord Montague were killed. The few Lancastrian noblemen who survived, fled to Scotland Edward lost a few of his noblemen too, among them were Lord Cromwell, Lord Saye and Sir William Blount. His brother-in-law and younger brother, Anthony Woodville and Richard, Duke of Gloucester, were severely injured.
This was not the end of the war however. “Just one enemy remained” Jones says, and that was Queen Marguerite and her son Prince Edward and his wife, Anne Neville, who had just landed on the south coast at Weymouth two days after the battle of Barnet. Imagine their surprise when they found out what had happened. Skidmore believes that Marguerite might not have been too angry, and actually glad since this left her completely in charge but it is hard to imagine this since Warwick’s forces were a lot and if the two met, it would have made a difference in the end.
Margaret Beaufort who had courted the Lancastrian king and her cousin, Edmund, Duke of Somerset for their favor after the Readeption, suddenly found herself on the losing side again. Her husband had refused to help her family and instead remained loyal to Edward; but fighting for Edward had cost him his life and then there was Margaret’s most precious jewel: Henry. What would happen with the young Earl of Richmond? They were killing Lancastrians. Edward IV didn’t want to see any more Lancastrian threats. As Cersei from the popular fantasy series based on history, game of thrones, says “if you want to win, this is how you do battle. You lie in a bed of weeds and you start ripping them out one by one before they strangle you in your sleep.” Well, Edward was not far behind; he was rooting out all his Lancastrian enemies one by one, caring very little about violating sanctuary. Margaret’s cousin and his allies who had taken refuge after the defeat at Tewkesbury, were dragged out of the church and beheaded right in front of Edward. She was not going to risk her son face the same fate. We do not know if she corresponded with her fourteen year old son’s uncle, Jasper Tudor; but immediately after news of Barnet and Tewkesbury and Henry VI’s death circulated England; he and her son escaped, intending to sail to France but a heavy wind made them deviate from course and they landed in Brittany where they would be the Duke’s “guests” for the next thirteen years.
- Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Family by Leanda de Lisle
- The Rise of the Tudors by Chris Skidmore
- The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones
- Cecily Neville by Amy Licence
- Jasper Tudor: The Godfather of the Tudor Dynasty by Terry Beverton
- Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and her World by Alison Weir