Monday, December 26, 2011


A review of Charles Ross’ Edward IV (1974 original) (1997 my copy)

(Rating 4 of 5)

There is an old phrase that goes ‘never hire two brothers to work for you, because they will always be more loyal to each other than they will ever be to you, and if they are not, who can trust a man who cannot trust his own brother?’ The sons of the Duke of York were apparently not very trust worthy. Over all King Edward IV seems to have been a very good king, but his family problems would show why the House of York would not reign long after its founder.

(Richard, the Duke of York. A man who thought he should be the king, was the father of two, yet his boys showed no family loyalty)

This book is interesting not only for what it does talk about but also for what it does not. Ross never deals with the allegations of Edward’s illegitimacy other than to mention that allegations exist. I personally believe that he was the Duke of York’s son, but you would think a biographer would discuss it even if only to point out how ridiculous the allegations were.

Unlike Henry IV, I do not think it would be right to describe Edward IV as a self-made king, even though he was not born destined for the crown and had to win it twice. At first he comes across as an aristocratic teenager with good pedigree that is placed on the throne by powers greater than he, led by the Earl of Warwick. However, much like Emperor Claudius of Rome, once in power he clearly knows how to use it. Far from being Warwick’s pawn he is a true king with his own ideas how to do things. Although he loses his throne in 1470 he comes right back the next year to recover it and from then on is as strong as ever.

(The Kingmaker, the evil Earl of Warwick)

(Edward's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville would turn the Earl of Warwick against him)

King Edward IV’s son-in-law, King Henry VII, is the king most accredited with creating a very powerful English monarchy; the reason Henry is able to do so is by respecting and adding on to the system that had already been established by Edward. Although Edward's life is adventurous, in some ways, he pales in comparison with the warrior kings Edward III and Henry V; however I think Edward IV’s greatness is the fact that he did not involve his kingdom in any long foreign wars that would tact the English resources into poverty. In other words, unlike some other Kings of England he did not try foolishly prove to the world he was the rightful King of France. King Edward stayed at home and tried to improve his own kingdom. His ideas were so productive that Henry Tudor would go on to mimic them.

“To rescue the crown from financial abyss into which the Lancastrians had plunged it was no mean achievement. To die solvent was something no other English king had achieved for more than two hundred years. Henry VII had the great advantage of being able to build upon the foundations laid by his father-in-law. Indeed, the best testimony to the quality of Edward’s financial policies is the degree to which the shrewd and calculating Henry held firm to them.”(p.386)

His main problem seems to be with his own family. The reason the House of York was unable to entrench itself for the long term had to do with in-fighting amongst the its members. Edward had two younger brothers when he was king: Prince George, the Duke of Clarence and Prince Richard, the Duke of Gloucester. The elder of the two (Clarence) tried multiple times to usurp his older brother and was many times forgiven, but he tried one rebellion too much and was executed under Edward’s orders. The fact he put his own brother to death—no matter how justified—would soil his reputation. The younger seemly loyal brother was an asset to his rule and Edward trusted him. But the evil Richard would betray that trust after Edward dies, by deposing his brother's elder son and having both of his sons murdered. King Richard III would blacken the name of his lost brother who ruled England effectively for twenty years. Richard’s plans would unravel as Henry Tudor, who increases his own legitimate standing by marring the eldest daughter of King Edward IV, overthrows him.

(Doomed boys, the sons of Edward IV, King Edward V and his brother Richard, the Duke of York, murdered by their uncle's orders)

(Richard III, deposes his nephew to seize the throne but his reign is cut short by Henry Tudor)

This is a great book detailing the events of the brutal Wars of the Roses the brought the English monarchy to great highs and lows in very short periods of time. The reader is left thinking that if only Edward had lived one more decade he would have been able to put his own son, King Edward V, securely on the throne and history might have taken a far different turn. Edward IV is a tale of triumph and tragedy.

{video is from David Starkey's Monarchy

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