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Edward IV Temporarily Falls from Power: Elizabeth Woodville Forced Into Sanctuary

Updated on February 10, 2014
Edward VI was temporarily deposed between 1470 and 1471.
Edward VI was temporarily deposed between 1470 and 1471.

On October 3, 1470, Edward IV found himself forced into exile. His crown was passed back to Henry VI and his wife was forced into sanctuary with their children. It was just temporarily but nobody knew how long this would last. It all started the year before when Edward’s brother, George, Duke of Clarence, attempted to usurp the throne.

George Plantagenet Attempts to Become George I of England

In 1469, the king’s inner circle was falling apart. It was all over his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville in 1464; a commoner whose family was gaining too much influence at court. Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, had worked had to get Edward IV on the throne and expected to gain from that. Instead, he was being pushed aside. His favoured alliance with France was side-lined for the Woodville’s preference over an alliance with Burgundy. Warwick needed to do something.

Richard knew that there was a possibility that Edward IV wasn’t legitimate. There had been rumours about Edward’s mother having an affair while in Rouen and that his probably date of conception was while Richard, Duke of York, was away. However, this wasn’t brought up before 1461, when Edward IV finally gained the crown or even at the start of the War of the Roses a few years earlier.

It was while everything wasn’t working in Warwick’s favour. With Edmund Plantagenet dead—during the Battle of Wakefield in 1460—Warwick turned to George Plantagenet. To strengthen his own power, though, he made sure his elder daughter, Isabel, married George. She would become the queen once George was crowned king.

It didn’t quite work though. While Edward was captured in 1469, George never succeeded in getting the crown. George, Warwick and his family were forced into exile once Edward escaped captivity. Warwick needed a new plan.

Alleged portrait of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick before the Battle of Towton
Alleged portrait of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick before the Battle of Towton

Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, Switches to the Lancastrian Cause

In 1470, while in France, the Earl of Warwick decided that it was time to switch sides to the Lancastrian cause. He could remove Edward from the throne and put Henry VI back on it. But he needed to ensure he gained power from that and that meant working with Margaret of Anjou. The only thing he could offer was his second daughter, Anne, to marry Margaret’s son, Edward.

Margaret eventually agreed and Anne and Edward married. Warwick started working for the House of Lancaster. At this time, George was able to get home and be reunited with his own family. Edward welcomed him back with open arms, despite Elizabeth Woodville being against that. George shared with Edward everything he knew but it wasn’t enough.

The invasion on October 3, 1470, was too much for Edward to handle. Before, they had had the support of Richard Neville’s brother, John. However, John Neville chose to switch sides and it meant that Edward didn’t have the forces he needed. He knew when to flee, which is more than his brother did just 15 years later.

Edward and his brother, Richard, were forced to flee to Burgundy. Elizabeth Woodville sensed danger and took her children with her to Westminster Abbey and sought sanctuary. She was eight months pregnant at the time and didn’t know how long it would be until her husband would return—if that was even going to happen.

Elizabeth Woodville Gives Birth to Edward V

On November 2, 1470, Edward V was born. Elizabeth didn’t have all the medical care she would have gained had she been living as the queen. She didn’t go into confinement and was in sanctuary with her mother and children around her. Luckily, her mother helped her deliver a healthy baby boy, who was called Edward after his father.

Edward IV likely heard about his son’s birth but there was nothing that he could do. He was stuck in Burgundy, trying to get an army together to get his crown back. Now it was really important. He had a son—an heir to the throne. The problem is that Burgundy wasn’t originally happy to help.

The country was ruled by Edward’s sister, Margaret of York, and brother-in-law, Charles of Burgundy. Despite being family, Charles didn’t want to get involved in the matter. However, France invaded Burgundy at the time and Charles realised that it was better to have the English on his side. Charles gave Edward all the help that he needed.

Re-enactment of the Battle of Tewkesbury 1471

Edward IV took some tips from Henry IV when he deposed Richard II
Edward IV took some tips from Henry IV when he deposed Richard II

Edward IV Uses Henry IV’s Tactics

70 years previously, Henry IV had returned to England from exile with the promise that he wanted to reclaim his dukedom. The country was open to him and he managed to depose Richard II. Edward IV decided to use those same tactics. With a small army, Edward returned to York with the promise that he just wanted his dukedom back. He then marched his army to the south and gathered support along the way.

It was during this march that Edward realised George had switched back to being on his side. Edward was happy to get all the support he could to depose Henry VI. They marched to London and took Henry VI as prisoner. Nobody stopped them!

The next aim was to stop Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick. The two armies met at the Battle of Barnet, where Warwick was killed. Anne de Beauchamp, Warwick’s wife, fled into Sanctuary, leaving her two daughters helpless. Luckily, Isabel was married to George and George had done the right thing in switching sides. Anne was different: she had married the Lancastrian heir to the throne.

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The Battle of Tewksbury and End of the Lancastrian Cause

On April 11, 1471, Edward IV was officially able to get his crown back. Margaret of Anjou, Edward of Lancaster and Anne Neville were heading towards Wales for support. Their army were at Tewkesbury when Edward’s army caught up with them. This was the deciding battle for this period of the War of the Roses.

Edward of Lancaster was killed during the battle. Anne Neville was left as a 15-year-old widow and Dowager Princess of Wales. Margaret of Anjou was captured and the Lancastrian soldiers were killed. Many of them ran into sanctuary but Edward IV refused to allow it to happen. He wanted all possible claimant to the throne dead. His army pulled the Lancastrian forces out of sanctuary and executed them one by one.

After Edward IV returned to London, Henry VI mysteriously died. It seems a little convenient that it would be of natural causes and there were rumours that Edward ordered his death. Edward really wanted to stop anyone using Henry VI again. Elizabeth Woodville and her children came out of sanctuary and were reunited with the king. Edward finally got to meet his first son and heir to the throne.

England remained in peace for the next 14 years. There was just one attempt to remove Edward from the throne. This was, again, by his brother, George. George’s mental state quickly deteriorated after the death of his wife. Edward had no choice but to order his brother’s arrest, trial and execution. It was in 1483, when Edward died on April 9, that everything changed. That led to the coronation of Richard III and the story of the Princes in the Tower.


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    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 4 years ago from Wales

      Such a well written and very interesting hub. Voted up and wishing you a great weekend.


    • christopheranton profile image

      Christopher Antony Meade 4 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      Very well told.