A Word About Wakefield

I’m feeling very guilty because this is the 550th anniversary of the Battle of Wakefield, fought on December 30, 1460, and I haven’t prepared a proper post. All I can really do today, then, is ramble a bit.

My own belief is that Henry VI–isolated from his supporters and probably fragile mentally–was bullied into accepting the Act of Accord under which it was agreed that Richard, Duke of York, would reign after Henry’s death, thereby disinheriting his own son. The chronicler Gregory writes that after York arrived at Westminster, “he kepte Kynge Harry there by fors and strengythe, tylle at the laste the kynge for fere of dethe grauntyd hym [t]e crowne, for a man that hathe by lytylle wytte wylle sone be a feryd of dethe, and yet I truste and bee-leve there was no man that wolde doo hym bodely harme.” The Crowland Chronicler tells of York compelling Henry “to remove to the queen’s apartments,” while Whethamstede writes that York “went to the principal chamber of the palace (the king being in the queen’s apartments), smashed the locks and threw open the doors, in a regal rather than a ducal manner.” If such (literally) strong-arm tactics were being employed publicly, what type of pressure might have been applied to the king in private?

Once Henry VI entered into the Act of Accord, his supporters could hardly have believed that the future boded well for him. York and his ally Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick, had shown no hesitation in ridding themselves of their political enemies at the first battle of St. Albans and at Northampton. The Duke of York was older than Henry VI and faced the prospect that if nature were allowed to take its course, the king might outlive him, thereby cheating him of the crown. Under these circumstances, I think it highly likely that Henry VI’s days were numbered once he agreed to make York his heir. (If this was the period during which Henry VI went to Westminster to search out his final resting place, he may have thought so too.) Some convenient accident could have been arranged to befall the king. Even if he were persuaded to abdicate instead of waiting for death to claim him, his prospects as an ex-king would have seemed bleak, given the examples of Edward II and Richard II.

Henry VI’s queen and his son–who under the Act of Accord had been left with nothing of his patrimony as Prince of Wales, though it may be that it was intended that the Duchy of Lancaster would be allowed to pass to him upon his father’s death –had equal cause to worry about the future. Gregory tells of the “counterfeit tokens” purporting to be from the king that were sent to Margaret (then in Wales) in an attempt to lure her to London; it seems unlikely that the Duke of York was planning a banquet in her honor. Already the Yorkists had circulated rumors about the legitimacy of her son: could York had been planning to start formal proceedings declaring Edward of Lancaster to be a bastard? Or might York have intended to attack the validity of Margaret’s marriage to Henry VI? Perhaps York was planning a simpler, more brutal solution. The older he grew, the more of a threat Edward of Lancaster would pose to York and his progeny, even if he were to be officially declared a bastard. Had Margaret of Anjou been foolish enough to let him fall into Yorkist hands, the boy might well have become the first Prince in the Tower, disappearing like the sons of Edward IV did during Richard III’s reign. Or perhaps he might have been imprisoned and eventually executed, as young Edward, Earl of Warwick, would be during Henry VII’s reign.

All of this is speculation, of course. But such thoughts likely occurred to Margaret of Anjou and her followers as they raised troops to oppose the Duke of York. Under those circumstances, the duke and those who fought alongside him could hardly expect mercy from the Lancastrians, and it’s no surprise that they didn’t receive it at Wakefield.

7 thoughts on “A Word About Wakefield”

  1. Susan, you are absolutely right about EoL. There was no way York could let him go on living, let alone escape to the Continent-it was simply too easy for him to set up court in exile and attract foreign support, given his MoA's ties to King of France and the Duke of Burgundy's descent from the House of Lancaster.

  2. Far too long has gone by but I did have one other post here. What of Edmund of Rutland? I personally believe that Edmund of Rutland was slain after the Battle of Wakefield during the rout, much like Edward of Lancaster probably was at Tewekesbury. I think if Edmund had lived the tale of the Yorkists would have been different since Edmund was only a year younger than Edward, and in most likelihood would have been the loyal brother to Edward and in time supplanting the Earl of Warwick and cancelling any design George or Richard would have had on the throne, not to mention he may have had a son in the 1460’s that by 1483 was in his twenties and his own man so to speak. What might have been.
    Anyway, just remembering Edmund or Rutland, Sir Thomas Neville and William Bonville, 6th Baron Harington. William Bonville left a 6 month old daughter Cecily Bonville who plays a quite interesting role in English history. Ever hear of Lady Jane Gray her great grand-daughter? Now there is a story to be told in my opinion of a medieval woman as she lives through the reigns of Edward IV, Henry VI restored, Edward IV restored, Edward the V, Richard III who executed her step-father William Hastings, her father in law Lord Rivers and her brother in law Richard Gray, then Henry VII (at the coronation and the wedding of Elizabeth of York to Henry VII, at the baptism of Arthur, Prince of Wales holding his train, at the coronation of Elizabeth of York, and then through the reign of Henry VIII, and she had 14 surviving children with a major dispute with one because of her second marriage to Henry Stafford, 1st Earl of Wiltshire.

    1. Susan Higginbotham

      Thanks, Jay! Jane does sound fascinating.

      It is interesting to imagine what would have happened if Edmund had survived. I don’t have the quote at hand, but Jean de Waurin reported that when a dispute arose between York’s allies about whether York should claim the crown, it was Edmund who sided with his father against Edward, Earl of March, and Warwick, which makes me think that Edmund was probably more hard-line than his older brother and certainly capable of taking an independent stance. Far from the pathetic waif one often sees depicted.

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