Post-classical history

11 : Suddenly Fell Down the Crown

Nearly two thousand men poured onto the ships that set sail from Calais on a summer’s day in late June 1460. They were headed for the coast of Kent, to Sandwich, the sheltered port a few miles north of Dover, whose long, sandy stretch of coastline made landing a large force of men and munitions a straightforward task. The journey across the Channel was rapid, and the soldiers who piled aboard the invading vessels were something of a crack force: ‘a strong and a mighty navy’, as one chronicler put it.1 Their leader and commander was the earl of Warwick.

For nearly eleven months, since the flight from Ludford Bridge, Warwick had turned Calais into a bristling citadel for English dissidents and opponents of Queen Margaret. There were plenty to be found. As had been expected, in the dying months of 1459 the queen had moved against her enemies with indignation and spite. An act of attainder had been passed at a parliament held in St Mary’s Priory in Coventry before Christmas – a gathering that would later be nicknamed the ‘Parliament of Devils’ – which attempted the utter legal and financial ruin of York and his sons, and a whole raft of their friends, servants, associates and allies. The attainder had been introduced with an absurdly propagandising preamble, in which the duke of York was painted as a scheming, ungrateful monster, ‘whose false and traitorous imaginations, conspiracies, feats and diligent labours born up with colourable lies’ amounted to the worst deeds that ‘ever did any subject to his sovereign lord’, while Henry VI was cast not only as a generous sovereign whose trust had been betrayed and life endangered (at St Albans), but as a vigorous soldier who valiantly faced down his enemies on the battlefield, and whose addresses to his subjects could be described as ‘so witty, so knightly, so manly’.2

The penalty of attainder amounted to legal death. It stripped its victims of ‘all their estates, honoures and dignities, which they or any of them hath within this your realm of England, and within Wales and Ireland’, including ‘all honours, castles, lordships, manors, landes, tenements, rents, reversions, annuities, offices, fees, advowsons, fee-farms, inheritances and other possessions’. It was aimed not only at York and his sons Edward earl of March and Edmund earl of Rutland, but also at Salisbury and Warwick and their noble supporter John, Lord Clinton. A whole raft of other Yorkist servants, retainers and associates were also swept up, including Sir Walter Devereux, Sir William Oldhall and Salisbury’s wife, Countess Alice. John de la Pole, who had inherited the title of duke of Suffolk from his father, was said to have been demoted to the rank of earl for the ‘crime’ of being married to York’s daughter Elizabeth.3

Although a few culpable figures escaped ruin – Thomas, Lord Stanley was forgiven his refusal to engage at Blore Heath – by and large the queen embarked on a severe and vengeful campaign against all York’s affiliates. Their lands and titles were swept into royal possession, their officials dismissed and replaced, and the administration of the confiscated estates given over to men of longstanding obedience to the crown and court. High among the beneficiaries were men of the king’s immediate family. Owen Tudor was given a pension of £100 a year, to be paid for the rest of his life out of manors seized from Lord Clinton. Jasper Tudor, who had spent the last four years representing the king’s authority in south Wales, was given the rights of constable, steward and chief forester to York’s rich and strategically crucial lordship of Denbigh, along with rights of military recruitment over virtually the whole of Wales to help him seize Denbigh Castle from its disgruntled Yorkist keepers.

Yet for all their determination to destroy the Yorkists by law, the queen and her government found themselves unable to reach their enemies in person. York and his second son Edmund were safe in Ireland, and although James earl of Wiltshire – a spineless creature of the queen who ranked among the men most hated by the Yorkists – was appointed lieutenant of Ireland, he could not physically take up his role thanks to the support that York enjoyed across the sea. The situation was more or less mirrored in Calais, where Warwick now enjoyed pre-eminence and protection from all the harm that so many in England would have dearly loved to do to him.

Now thirty-one, Warwick had not come to Calais to live in fearful exile. He was a veteran soldier, a highly regarded and popular leader and a shrewd politician who used his aristocratic pedigree on the continent to recruit allies ranging from the duke of Burgundy to envoys of the papal court. With his father Salisbury and his nephew, York’s son Edward earl of March, Warwick had spent the year regrouping and rearming.

Henry Beaufort, duke of Somerset had been sent by Queen Margaret to eject the rebels and take up the captaincy of Calais for himself, but Somerset could get no further than the neighbouring town of Guînes, from where his repeated assaults were easily repulsed. Meanwhile, piratical Yorkist raiding parties arrived like Vikings on the beaches of Kent, attacking towns and kidnapping or murdering royal captains. On two occasions Warwick’s men stole and scuppered ships on the Kentish coast that the Crown was assembling there specifically to use against him. In one particularly daring raid, the loyalist lord Richard Woodville, Lord Rivers, and his son, Anthony Woodville, were sent to Sandwich with instructions to launch an attack on Calais, only to be abducted by Warwick’s men and taken back to the garrison as prisoners. Alongside this daring guerrilla campaign, Warwick bravely kept up communications with York and Rutland in Ireland: indeed, in March 1460 the earl managed to sail along the entire coast of southern England and Wales and hold a conference with York in Waterford on the south coast of Ireland, where the two rebel camps discussed their return to England.

Warwick, March and Salisbury landed at Sandwich on 26 June and found the town readied for their arrival. An advance party under Salisbury’s brother Lord Fauconberg had stormed the royal defences the previous day, stealing the town’s weapons cache and summarily beheading the unlucky royal captain Osbert Mundford, who happened to be in command. The Yorkists had sent ahead of them their now customary manifesto, protesting absolute loyalty to the king and rehearsing their condemnation of the Crown’s poverty, the absence of justice and the failure of the king’s household to ‘to live upon his own livelihood’ (i.e. to be funded by the king’s private revenue, rather than relying on taxation). They added an accusation that ever since Humphrey duke of Gloucester had been ‘murdered’ at Bury in 1447 it had been ‘conspired, to have destroyed and murdered the said duke of York’, along with his issue ‘of the royal blood’. Rather than directly attacking the king or queen, scathing criticism was reserved for Wiltshire, Shrewsbury and Beaumont, the lords who had replaced the old duke of Somerset as the object of the Yorkists’ scorn.4 The manifesto broke little new ground either in tone or substance. The Yorkists rightly recognised that the Crown’s popular support was strongest in the midlands, the north-west and Wales; the rumble of disaffection that had led Kent and the south-east into open rebellion during Jack Cade’s heyday had never wholly faded, and could easily be stirred up with a rabble-rousing publication espousing the cause of York.

By 2 July Warwick and his men were in London, with thousands of supporters streaming to their side from across southern England. To the relief of the mayor and aldermen of London, who had seen the city turned upside down by rampaging rebel armies enough times over the preceding decade, the Yorkists stayed in the capital for only around forty-eight hours before drawing up into two large divisions: the first led by Fauconberg and the second headed by Edward and Warwick. They tramped north at pace to confront the king.

Fauconberg took with him a distinguished, if extremely pompous and slightly absurd ecclesiastic: Francesco Coppini, the bishop of Terni. Coppini had been appointed as papal legate to Henry VI, with a mandate to recruit England to a crusade against the Turks, but after meeting Warwick in Calais, he had become a very enthusiastic Yorkist partisan and propagandist. Shortly before leaving London for the march north, Coppini published at St Paul’s a colourful open letter to Henry VI, emphasising the supposed ‘obedience and loyalty’ of the Yorkists and damning their enemies as ‘clerks and ministers of the devil’. He issued the starkest warnings to the king and government, forecasting ‘the danger and ruin of your state’ if they failed to come to terms with Warwick and his allies. Those that ‘close their ears like deaf vipers, woe to them and also to your Majesty,’ wrote Coppini. ‘The danger is imminent and does not brook delay.’ He was absolutely right.

By 7 July the Yorkists’ two columns were approaching the midlands. The speed at which they had moved took the court at Coventry entirely by surprise. Henry and Queen Margaret had no choice but to go out and meet the rebels. They rode south rattled and under-strength. There was no time for Henry earl of Northumberland or John, Lord Clifford to reach the royal army with their men, and while the king and queen were attended by great lords like Humphrey duke of Buckingham, the earl of Shrewsbury, Viscount Beaumont and a healthy smattering of Percys, the Yorkists had attracted far more noble support than at any previous foray into the field. Their supporters included John Mowbray, duke of Norfolk, who had for many years been inclined to York’s cause without ever before fully committing himself to military action; Warwick could count among his men John, Lord Audley, the son and heir of the leader who was slain at Blore Heath by Salisbury. The Yorkists were also accompanied by a large group of the most important churchmen in the realm: Thomas Bourchier, archbishop of Canterbury, the legate Coppini and the bishops of London, Exeter, Lincoln, Salisbury, Ely and Rochester.

The two sides met on 10 July in the meadows outside Northampton, on the south bank of the river Nene. It was a miserably wet day, with rain pounding from the sky and churning up the turf as it was trampled over by thousands of boots and hoofs: horrible weather for fighting, not least since the water ruined the royal guns. Nevertheless, the duke of Buckingham, who was given command of the royal forces as the king and queen hung back, refused to negotiate. He lined his men up between a slight bend in the river and the nearby Delapré Abbey and prepared to give battle. The bishops retreated to a safe distance to watch.

What they witnessed was not, in overall numbers, an especially bloody battle. But within half an hour of the first exchanges, the royal forces were dealt a massive and devastating blow. Their men were divided into three groupings: Buckingham leading the left flank, Shrewsbury and Beaumont in the centre, and Lord Grey of Ruthin on the right. Early in the battle Grey decided to defect, bringing his men over to the Yorkist side, where Fauconberg, Warwick and March held command. The result was total confusion among the king’s army. Battered by the rain, they abandoned their discipline, and soldiers began to desert, running for Northampton, with several drowning in the Nene under the weight of their provisions and armour. As panic and chaos descended, Warwick’s men followed the ruthless tactics that had served them well six years before at St Albans. Warwick himself had called across the field that ‘no man shuld lay hand upon the king nor on the common people, but only on the lords, knights and squires’.5 Thus the rank and file were spared and hit squads moved around the battlefield, cutting down the captains. By the end, only around three hundred men lay slain on the field, out of more than ten thousand who had been arrayed for the fight. But among the dead were Buckingham, Beaumont, Shrewsbury and Thomas Percy, Lord Egremont, all hunted out and killed where they stood. The whole operation took less than half an hour. While the butchering of the lords was taking place, the king was captured, as helpless in the field as he had been in 1455. He was taken first to Delapré Abbey, then on to London, no longer a puppet of his wife, but a prisoner of the earl of Warwick and his allies.


Cecily Neville, duchess of York had been scooped up at Ludlow following the battle of Ludford Bridge and taken with her sons George and Richard to a place of relatively genteel confinement: they were sent to stay with Cecily’s sister Anne, the wife of Humphrey duke of Buckingham. It was a favour granted when, strictly, one was not due. Cecily had been awarded one thousand marks a year to compensate for the loss of her husband’s income and to offer relief to ‘her and her infants who had not offended against the king’.6The confinement was perhaps not entirely warm – one writer heard that Anne kept her younger sister ‘full straight [with] many a great rebuke’ – but under the circumstances she was treated well. Cecily was still with Anne in the summer of 1460, when the awful news arrived of Buckingham’s death by the hand of Warwick – who was, of course, both women’s nephew. In some senses this sort of thing was inevitable, for the Nevilles were a huge and broadly married dynasty, their bloodline woven across the divide in English politics. But it still must have felt to the two sisters, who were only divided by a year in age, that their family was tearing both itself and England apart.

After the battle of Northampton Cecily and her sons were released from their house arrest. With the king now in Warwick’s keep, it had become safe for Richard duke of York to return once again from Ireland, a journey that had been too perilous earlier in the summer, due to royal control of Wales, the marches and the north-west. York landed at Redbank, near Chester, on or around 8 September. But as he came, it was clear that something was different about him. In his absence his allies had fought successfully for their party to regain control of the king. They could have expected the duke, their talisman and figurehead, to try his hand once more at governing England as chief councillor or protector. Instead they found him angling for another position entirely.

Cecily was reunited with her husband at Abingdon in early October. It was a grand reunion. York had instructed his wife to meet him enthroned upon a ‘chair covered with blue velvet’, drawn by four pairs of coursers. He himself arrived dressed in a livery of white and blue, neatly embroidered with fetterlocks – the D-shaped iron manacles used to tether horses by the leg. The symbol had first been associated with John of Gaunt, the direct ancestor of Henry VI, but had also been used by Edward of Norwich, Richard’s uncle and predecessor as duke of York, who had died at Agincourt alongside Henry V. There was no mistaking the Plantagenet pedigree that the livery implied.7 Together the duke and duchess went on to London, with trumpets and clarions blown before them all the way. Banners displaying the arms of England caught the wind high above the procession, and to complete his majestic appearance, York ‘commanded his sword to be borne upright before him’.8 York had not returned from Ireland for a second time to serve as a councillor. He had come back to England as a king.

His peers were shocked. The central tenet of Yorkist opposition – indeed of all opposition to Henry VI’s rule – had always been the assertion that those who surrounded the king were enemies and traitors. Indeed, everything that had been done in England since the death of Henry V had been to preserve the power and authority of the king and crown – whether the king was a baby, an easily swayed adolescent, a naïve young man, a dribbling lunatic or a defeated, world-weary shell of a thing, prematurely ready for the grave. This was the realm’s first political principle. To depose or attempt to replace a king who was not actively tyrannical (as Edward II and Richard II had been) was not just wrong, it was nearly unthinkable. And for all his failings, Henry VI was the opposite of a tyrant.

After more than fifteen years of opposition, York had crossed the line. It was an action not openly approved by his allies (although it is possible that Warwick suspected York’s intentions) and regarded with amazement by his enemies.

The most likely explanation for it lay in the person of his one remaining enemy: the queen. Edmund duke of Somerset, Humphrey duke of Buckingham, the old earl of Northumberland, the young earl of Shrewsbury and Lord Beaumont were all dead. James earl of Wiltshire, Jasper Tudor, earl of Pembroke and others survived, but they were not the principal threat. This lay, manifestly, with Queen Margaret – and with her conduit to practical power in the seven-year-old Edward, prince of Wales. A queen and a little boy could not very well be killed, yet every day that she lived increased Margaret’s hatred for York. So long as her son was heir to the crown she, and subsequently he, would stand opposed to York’s survival and ambition. The only solution was for York to position himself either as king or – as his cousin Henry V had done in France under the terms of the treaty of Troyes in 1420 – as the king’s heir. Both options would disinherit Prince Edward and thereby neuter the queen. In terms of raw power politics, the decision made sense. Practically, though, it was a catastrophic misjudgement.

York had renounced his duty of obedience to Henry VI some time before he met Cecily in Abingdon. The sword carried before him was the most obvious sign of this, but he had also stopped using Henry’s regnal year to date his documents.9 He seems to have been confident that, having been lauded for years by the commons of England (albeit not all of the lords) as a man with the credentials to occupy the throne, he would sweep into his new position to the sound of cheers and celebration.

In this he was sorely disappointed. At ten o’clock in the morning on Friday 10 October York arrived at the palace of Westminster, where parliament was sitting, with several hundred men on horseback. He entered the palace with his sword still borne before him and stormed through the Great Hall. High in the wooden arches of the hammer-beam ceiling, Henry Yevele’s famous fifteen statues of historical English kings stared impassively down upon the latest man to lay violent claim to the crown they had all worn. York marched on, bursting into the Painted Chamber to find the parliamentary lords assembled before an empty throne. Standing before his peers as his servants held the cloth of state over his head, York ‘gave them knowledge that he purposed not to lay down his sword but to challenge his right’.10 He was staking his claim to the crown on the basis that his right in blood, descending twice from Edward III, via the Mortimer and York lines, was superior to that of the king or prince of Wales, and ‘that no man shuld have denied the crown from his head’.11 There was a stunned silence. He then retired to take up lodgings in the queen’s chambers. The queen, mercifully, had fled to Wales, and was not present to protest.

If there had been any great gusto for York’s plan before he announced it in parliament, then enthusiasm was extremely muted thereafter. Nobles and commons alike were immediately struck by the sheer, awful reality of deposing a king. York was asked to submit his claim to the crown, which he did on 16 October via the chancellor, his nephew George Neville, bishop of Exeter. Neville presented to the parliament a large genealogical roll, detailing York’s descent from Henry III via Edward III, and describing how the Mortimer and York lines had intertwined to produce him, ‘Richard Plantaginet, commonly called duc of York’.12 This, went York’s argument, gave him dynastic precedence over Henry VI, who was descended from his great-grandfather Edward III’s third son, John of Gaunt. Gaunt’s son Henry IV had therefore acted ‘unrightwisely’ (i.e. unlawfully) in seizing the crown in 1399, and ‘the right, title, dignity royal and estate of the crowns of the realms of England and of France, and of the lordship and land of Ireland, of right, law and custom appertaineth and belongeth’ to Richard duke of York.

It fell to parliament to debate the matter. But what was it that they were really debating? The dynastic case was there to be made, for if one accepted that the right to the crown could run through the female line (as York did when he trumpeted his Mortimer ancestry) then the duke had the better claim in blood. And yet it was clear that the claim in blood was only a mode of addressing a deeper argument. Had York really acted out of the conviction that his cause was purely one of dynastic right and wrong, he should surely have staked his claim at some previous point in the two decades. He had not. The English dynastic argument in 1460 was as much a veil for a practical argument about effective kingship as English claims to the crown of France had been during the 1420s. It was not the real reason that York claimed the throne: his real purpose encompassed a broad sense that Henry VI’s incompetence, allied with Queen Margaret’s tyrannical instincts, could be tolerated no longer, bound up with a heavy-handed sense of self-importance. All the duke’s previous efforts to amend and correct royal government had failed. Dynasty was the last resort. Now it was up to parliament to say whether they would accept this.

Following two weeks of debate a compromise was decided. Given the hideous breach that was suggested by the prospect of a full deposition, a Troyes-like settlement was thrashed out.13 First, the acts of the 1459 ‘Parliament of Devils’ were rescinded. Then, on the matter of the succession, it was agreed that the king would enjoy the crown for the rest of his natural life, but the duke would be ‘entitled, called and reputed from henceforth, very and rightful heir to the crowns, royal estate, dignity and lordship’. Young Prince Edward was thus abruptly replaced in the royal line first by York and then by his sons, March and Rutland. The agreement was publicised on 31 October 1460 and bolstered by the astonishingly efficient Yorkist propaganda machine, which had in the summer been energetically spreading rumours – quite false – that Prince Edward was illegitimate and thus in every way ‘not the king’s son’.14

The cosmos, it seemed, now pointed towards York. Indeed, while the commons were debating in the refectory of Westminster Abbey, ‘treating upon the title of the said Duke of York, suddenly fell down the crown which hung in [the] midst of the said house … which was taken for a profige or token that the reign of King Henry was ended’.15 But it would not be that simple. For even if the supine king was prepared to yield his title to a belligerent cousin, there remained one person who would never accept the derogation of their family’s royal status. Queen Margaret was still at large.


As Christmas approached in 1460, the queen and her supporters found themselves scattered to the corners of the realm. At the end of November, while York sought to destroy her family’s future at Westminster, Margaret was encamped at Harlech Castle with her brother-in-law Jasper earl of Pembroke. The countryside was fraught with danger, and counterfeit letters reached her regularly, ‘forged things’ in King Henry’s hand, begging her to bring Prince Edward south. They were delivered without any sign of the secret code Margaret had arranged for Henry to add to his letters if he were captured, so the queen gave them ‘no credence’. All the same, the Yorkists would soon be coming for her and her son, realising that she would remain the focus of opposition. To use the pithy phrase of one chronicler, it was clear to the whole kingdom that ‘she was more wittier than the king’.16 Employing that wit to good effect, Margaret decided to risk the freezing western seas in order to escape from Wales. On a cold day in late November she took Prince Edward by ship to Scotland. They arrived in the northern kingdom around 3 December, and went to stay at the haunting, gothic collegiate church of Lincluden, which stood on a bend in the river Nith, just outside Dumfries. They stayed under the protection of Mary of Guelders, widow of the recently deceased King James II of Scotland and regent to the nine-year-old King James III. The two women found that they had much in common.

Soon after Margaret reached Lincluden, she learned that her ally Henry earl of Northumberland was raising an army in the north of England, riding through their enemies’ estates with sword and fire, raising what hell they could, while spreading rumours about the duke of York and attempting to stir the common people to rebellion. This, Margaret realised, could be the basis of a force to strike back against the usurpers. From Scotland she managed to contact Henry duke of Somerset, Thomas earl of Devon and their capable military supporter Alexander Hody, a veteran soldier of the west country. All were based hundreds of miles south, but she instructed them to find their way by whatever means they could to Hull to muster for the counter-attack. Their party included Andrew Trollope, the treacherous Calais captain whose defection from the Yorkist side had resulted in the rout of Ludford Bridge. The queen wrote in Prince Edward’s name to the city of London, denouncing York as a ‘horrible and falsely forsworn traitor … mortal enemy to my lord, to my lady and to us’ with an ‘untrue pretensed claim’ to the crown, and asking for the citizens’ aid to free King Henry from the duke’s malicious grasp.17

To put together any sort of army in the grip of winter, much less move it across a dozen counties along wet and freezing mud tracks, was ambitious to the point of desperation. So when news of Northumberland’s mobilisation reached York’s circle in London, they were taken quite by surprise. The prospect of losing control of government for a third time was enough to spur York urgently to arms. As soon as details of Margaret’s movements were known, York and Salisbury set out from the south-east to put down the insurgency and ‘bring in the Queen’.18 Edward earl of March went to Wales to face down an army rampaging there under Jasper Tudor.

By 21 December York had reached Sandal Castle, near Wakefield in west Yorkshire: a large stone fortress with turreted curtain walls encircling a fearsome keep on top of a motte overlooking the Calder valley. As a result of the weather and the speed at which they had set off to defend the north, York and Salisbury were sorely outmanned by the rapidly assembled partisans of the queen. York and his supporters spent a meagre Christmas inside Sandal Castle, with supplies thin and their enemies overrunning the adjoining lands, some camped outside the walls, and others raiding from their base in the nearby castle of Pontefract.

On 30 December a foraging party was attacked by Somerset and Devon’s men, and York decided to strike back. Why he did so is unclear. Possibly he was drawn out by a ruse concocted by his erstwhile captain Andrew Trollope, or else he believed a Christmas truce to be in place. He may have been given to believe that he had eight thousand men arriving, mustered by John, Lord Neville, an elder step-brother of Salisbury – although this Lord Neville had hitherto been a staunch supporter of the queen’s party, and was an unlikely turncoat. Whatever his reasons, York rode out of Sandal seemingly believing that he would be able to push back the substantial forces of his enemies. He was not. He was barely out of the castle when soldiers bore down on him from four sides: Somerset, Northumberland and Neville attacked him head on, Exeter and Lord Roos closed in from either flank, and Lord Clifford closed the trap, preventing a retreat back into the castle. York was outnumbered perhaps five to one by men who not only opposed his political ambition but for the most part genuinely loathed him. As a much later writer would describe it, he was ‘environed on every side like a fish in a net or a deer in a buckstall’.19

After an hour of heavy fighting the duke was overcome. Seeing the situation becoming impossible, he sent his son Rutland to flee. Rutland ran for Wakefield Bridge, the proud, nine-arched stone crossing of the river Calder. On the far side stood the chantry chapel of St Mary the Virgin: the seventeen-year-old earl may have hoped to throw himself inside and seek sanctuary. But he fell agonisingly short. Lord Clifford had chased him from the battlefield, and caught up with him on or near the bridge. He was surrounded. Clifford stepped forward, cursed the young man and told him to prepare for his death, ‘as your father slew mine’. Then, as pleas for Rutland’s life rang out from all around – including, it was later claimed, from the boy’s tutor and chaplain Robert Aspall, who stood by his side – Clifford drew his dagger and thrust it through his heart.20 The blood debt of St Albans had been paid: truly, the son had suffered for the sins of the father.

The father, however, was faring little better. Hemmed in on all sides, York was trying to fight his way back to the castle. But it was too late. He was seized in the scramble of battle – Sir James Luttrell of Devonshire was later named as his captor – and dragged away. His helmet was removed, and a rough paper crown placed on his head. Then Richard duke of York, the man who would have been many things, including a king, was paraded in front of the contemptuous soldiers of his foes and beheaded.

Many more Yorkists died on the battlefield that day. Besides York and Rutland, Salisbury’s son Sir Thomas Neville was also taken and killed. Salisbury himself had escaped from Sandal Castle and was attempting to flee northwards. But he made it little further than Rutland. During the night, the sixty-year-old earl was captured and brought back to enemy headquarters at Pontefract Castle. The next day he was taken out and executed in public. Soon after the heads of the four dead Yorkists were sent to the city of York to be displayed upon the Micklegate. There the duke of York’s dead eyes stared down at the passing citizens, his paper crown still jammed down on his bloodied forehead.

Years of fractious politics and growing personal enmity had come to this. ‘Acts of vengeance have been perpetrated on both sides,’ wrote the papal legate and Yorkist supporter Bishop Coppini to one of his associates who was camped with the queen.21 Margaret, Prince Edward and their allies had finally vanquished their greatest opponent. But the king remained in the hands of Warwick and Edward earl of March.

The realm was now truly split: the queen’s party now as much of a faction as the Yorkists. (From this point we can properly refer to the former as ‘Lancastrians’ after the duchy of Lancaster – King Henry’s private duchy, which had belonged to kings of England since the reign of his grandfather Henry IV. The duchy of Lancaster was the source of Henry’s private power, rather than his public authority, which had finally evaporated.) Neither side seemed strong enough to defeat the other. And while Rutland’s death at the battle of Wakefield had settled the score with Clifford, the rest of the slaughter only served to intensify the blood feud that now dragged England’s magnates towards each other, armed, dangerous and desperate: whirling in a vicious dance of death.

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