Edward of Lancaster

(First, after I began writing this, Karen Clark posted an excellent piece on the marriage of Anne Neville and Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Do check it out.)

One of the set pieces in almost every novel set during the Wars of the Roses–or at least every novel sympathetic to Richard III, which very nearly amounts to the same thing–is the scene where the hapless little Anne Neville is forced by her ambitious father to marry Edward of Lancaster, the vicious son of Margaret of Anjou. (In nine out of ten such novels, he’s not the son of Henry VI.) Depending on the novel, the marriage will be consummated in circumstances that are little distinguishable from rape or will be unconsummated in accordance with the Lancastrian goal of casting off Anne as a bride at the first opportunity.

There is, of course, a reason for painting Anne’s marriage to Edward in such a dismal light: Anne is pining for her childhood sweetheart, Richard, Duke of Gloucester. So that her trials before she finally enters into marital bliss with Richard can be all the more heart-rending, she cannot be even mildly satisfied in her marriage to Edward. (The possibility that Anne might look forward to becoming Edward’s queen cannot be entertained; ambition in these novels is only for evil female characters, like Elizabeth Woodville and Margaret Beaufort.)

Needless to say, Anne’s feelings at her husband’s death at Tewkesbury at age seventeen generally range from indifference to outright relief. Only Margaret of Anjou is allowed to grieve for her son, and the typical novel will usually manage to temper any sympathy the reader might feel for her with a jibe about her being responsible for her son’s death and so many others. (Because, of course, any sensible medieval queen would have simply sat back and let her son be disinherited in favor of the noble Duke of York.)

So what was the real Edward of Lancaster like? The most famous description of him is that written on February 14, 1467, by Giovanni Pietro Panicharolla, Milanese Ambassador in France, to the Duchess and Duke of Milan. In recounting a dinner conversation between King Louis of France and Duke John of Calabria (Margaret of Anjou’s brother), the ambassador wrote:

As the king persisted in his praise of the Earl of Warwick, the duke said that as he was so fond of him he ought to try and restore his sister in that kingdom, when he would make sure of it as much as he was sure at present and even more so.

The king asked what security they would give or if they would offer the queen’s son as a hostage. This boy, though only thirteen years of age, already talks of nothing but of cutting off heads or making war, as if he had everything in his hands or was the god of battle or the peaceful occupant of that throne (quale essendo in la eta di tredece anni gia, non parla cha di fare tagliare teste o far guerra, como se tuto havesse in mano o fosse dio de la bataglia o pacifico posessor di quello regno). . . .

After some further discussion the duke began to complain about his Majesty without any respect, saying he had never loved their house; to which the king retorted that the House of Anjou had given him reason for this. Thus, half joking, they said very sharp things to each other during the dinner.

There are a couple of things that should give us pause before taking this “cutting off heads” statement as the sum total of young Edward’s character. First, as Margaret Kekewich notes in her biography of Rene of Anjou, Panicharolla (Panigarola) “detested the Angevins,” so his description of young Edward should be viewed in that context. Second, if Edward did indeed talk constantly of cutting off heads and making war, it doesn’t seem all that unreasonable under the circumstances: Edward’s father was a prisoner in the Tower, after all, and the Lancastrian cause was at its most hopeless at the time. Third, Edward was thirteen when this description of him was written. How many of us, even at seventeen, would like to be judged upon what we said and did at thirteen?

This is not to say that Edward was not a militarily-minded youth: Chief Justice John Fortescue, who shared exile with Edward and his mother, wrote in his legal treatise De Laudibus Legum Angliae, which largely takes the form of a dialogue between him and the prince:

The prince, as soon as he became grown up, gave himself over entirely to martial exercises; and, seated on fierce and half-tamed steeds urged on by his spurs, he often delighted in attacking and assaulting the young companions attending him, sometimes with a lance, sometimes with a sword, sometimes with other weapons, in a warlike manner and in accordance with the rules of military discipline.

Urging Edward in his dialogue that he wished that Edward would be “devoted to the study of the laws with the same zeal as you are to that of arms, since, as battles are determined by arms, so judgements are by laws,” Fortescue nonetheless adds that it is fitting for young Edward to take delight in military exercises “not merely because you are a knight but all the more because you are going to be king. For the office of the king is to fight the battles of his people and to judge them rightfully.”

Aside from these two descriptions of Edward, one from a hostile source and one from a friendly one, we don’t have any glimmerings of Edward’s character. Even if he was the bloodthirsty youth depicted by Panicharolla, however, this wouldn’t necessarily preclude him from being a loving husband or from having other good qualities: the example of the fierce Edward I’s great affection for Eleanor of Castile comes to mind.

When the time came at last for Edward to put his military training into use, he did not shy from the reality of battle: he fought and died at Tewkesbury at age seventeen. Like Edmund, Earl of Rutland, who had died at Wakefield at the same age, he probably was killed in the rout.

It’s interesting to speculate what type of king Prince Edward would have made had the Lancastrians instead of Edward IV won the battle of Tewkesbury. The circumstances of his youth–growing up in an impoverished exile, dogged by rumors of bastardy, fathered by a man who was insane at his son’s birth and who even after his recovery seems to have been fragile mentally–might have made him into a bitter, cold man, or they might have made him into an attractive figure like Charles II, who grew up in not entirely dissimilar circumstances. We shall never know, but surely that’s no excuse for novelists to keep churning out the same stereotypical picture of a young man whose life was cut tragically short.

10 thoughts on “Edward of Lancaster”

  1. I've always believed that EoL has gotten something of a bum rap in many of the late 15th century historical novel's I've read. Men's characters are frequently shaped by their relationships-or lack of relationships with their fathers, and EoL was no exception. Henry VI was totally unsuited to be a role model for a future Lancastrian monarch, so Edward had to look elsewhere, and who better to look to but his own grandfather, Henry V? I think at the time being ruthless and warlike would be considered a virtue in some respects, as Edward clearly saw what happened to his father and Richard II- monarchs who had little or no interest in military conquests.

    Perhaps EoL would have turned out no worse than EIV, who was a benevolent tyrant that gave those who challenged his power no quarter-as his behavior towards his own brother George attests.

    As for EoL's marriage to Anne Neville, it's amazing how Ricardians assume that because nothing is written about whether they cared about each other, that means that they didn't care about each other- but of course, RIII and Anne spent their 12 years together in perfect marital bliss. To them, everything RIII does is motivated by pure love for Anne, his son, his brother, and England- Nevermind that his marriage to Anne substantially increased his personal wealth. 'Nuff said.

  2. Susan, I've just left a comment on mine suggesting that you'd know a good deal more about E PoW than I do, and good lord! I was right. Great post, thanks. I often wonder what would have happened if Margaret and Warwick had won – I doubt if it would have brought an end to the turmoil. MA would have pissed Warwick off eventually (everyone did in the end) and the fun would have started all over again.
    Not all Ricardians are cut from the same cloth (I tend to be more pro-Richard than anti), but there are a lot who still doggedly toe the party line and refuse to countenance anything remotely resembling reality. Roll on the third wave, I say!
    (Thanks for the plug, Susan. I will reciprocate.)

  3. Another great post! So very, very true about the way novelists portray Anne's marriage to Edward; I winced in recognition.

  4. In the matter of Anne and Edward’s marriage it’s all down to the mindset of MoA and whether the marriage was consummated or not. Did she really give her whole-hearted consent to the marriage or was it a case of King Louis twisting her arm?

    Whether Margaret was the historical termagant she’s made out to be or not she had ample grievance against Warwick and the Nevilles. Could it have been a case of “I’ll go along with it for now and when I’m back on the throne I’ll pulverise those Nevilles’? If that was her attitude it would make sense for the marriage to go ahead but not consummation of it given that non-consummation is one of the acceptable grounds for annulling a marriage.

    What would have happened if the Lancastrians had won Tewkesbury? To be honest I don’t think that they had a fighting chance and it wasn’t so much a case of Edward IV got lucky as MoA got unlucky. Like everyone else in England including the mighty Warwick she was very much at the mercy of two foreign rulers Louis of France and Charles of Burgundy and at each other’s throats, Louis determined to reduce Burgundy to just another French fiefdom; it was all down to the way these two cats were going to jump. If Louis had played a waiting game, waited until Margaret had returned to England it could have gone Lancaster’s way but he couldn’t wait; within two months of Henry VI’s restoration he declared war on Burgundy thereby giving Charles who had held back because he didn’t want to give Louis a pretext for declaring war the raison d’être for assisting his brother-in-law who as we all know arrived back in England before Margaret and had seen off Warwick on the very day that Margaret landed in England.

    What amazes me is how many historians have failed to pick up on how much French foreign policy was dictating events at the time. Louis didn’t give a monkey about the rights and wrongs of the royal power struggle; all he was interested in was smashing first the Anglo-Burgundian alliance and then Burgundy who had become too much of a rival power for French kings to stomach. It’s worth pointing out that in the matter of the marriage between Charles and Margaret of York he was so infuriated he actually ordered his ships to intercept the royal marriage party on its way to Burgundy; Warwick’s injured pride must,therefore, have been seen by him as an absolute godsend which he put to ‘good use’.

  5. Fantastic post Susan about a character we know so little about. Hmm, I wonder if the 'cutting off heads' description had been applied to say, Richard the Lionheart, he would have been commended for knowing his duty and heroic for being so focused and brave at a young age. I totally agree about the fact Margaret of Anjou as his mother has been used to discredit him. As you say, strong women in those days were frowned upon.

    And there is no evidence that Richard and Anne ever knew each other in childhood, and yet this myth persists they were childhood sweethearts. Anne was no more than a pawn in the marriage game, and her feelings for either of her husbands will never be known. I'm sure she would have proved a dutiful and loyal wife to Edward had their marriage continued.

    Btw, just finished your novel 'The Stolen Crown' – had a bit of an issue trying to get hold of it – bt it was well-worth the wait! I so enjoyed it!

  6. Weren't young men supposed to be warlike and eager to prove themselves in battle, etc? Edward may just have been conforming to the accepted standards of his time.

  7. Susan Higginbotham

    Sorry I'm stopping by so late. Thanks to all of you!

    The double standard does amaze me. Paul Murray Kendall, for instance, goes on about the future Richard III "fiercely, grimly [working] at the trade of war," but writes of Edward of Lancaster, "[his] disposition reflected the schooling in hatred and revenge which his passionate mother had given him." So it's heroic for young Richard (only slightly older than Edward of Lancaster) to push himself in his military training, but when Edward undergoes similar training, it's because his mother is schooling him in hatred.

  8. Well said Susan ! One must realise that Paul Murray Kendall was a lecturer in English not History. PMK falls over backwards to protect R3 from any involvement in the "disappearances" of the two Yorkist Princes. His murder of Lord Hastings (for such it was) was a despicable act. Hastings had been a loyal servant of the House of York through thick & thin & was particularly loyal to Edward IV & by definition E4's sons. Did He know too much ? PMK dismisses the evidence of Thomas More who interviewed contemporaries & stated the boys were buried "meetly deep" under a staircase in the Tower. Yet many years later the bodies of two young boys were discovered buried in the staircase of the White Tower ! PMK also gets Richard III's birth sign wrong stating he was a Scorpio. He was in fact a Libran (2nd October). Charles Ross tears PMK's account to pieces in his own book Richard III. This latter account is very forthright & unlike PMK appears to avoid totally matters of bias

  9. Susan Higginbotham

    Thanks, Roy! I think that Kendall tends to see historical figures as literary archtypes–Richard III as the younger son who strives to improve himself, Edward IV as the flawed golden boy, Elizabeth
    Woodville and Margaret of Anjou as the evil queens of fairy tales, Anne Neville as the bartered bride, for example–and that seriously flaws his ability to analyze these figures in the context of their times. It's a shame that his works still hold such sway over many readers.

  10. Pingback: Don’t Defame the Dead! « A Nevill Feast

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