Thursday, 26 May 2011

The New Look

I hope people like the new look. As Blogger has decided to give us all these wonderful new design facilities it seemed churlish not to use them. I can always change to something different if I get fed up with it.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

The Character of Edward IV

I don't feel like writing about anything deep today, so I thought I'd write something about the character of King Edward IV. An interesting topic, in my opinion.

I find Edward hard to pigeon-hole, as he was certainly a complex and multi-layered individual. So let's examine a few aspects.

Edward as warrior. Arguably, he was one of England's greatest warrior kings. Certainly he never lost a battle, although this may be partly because, as Alianore Audley remarked, he always knew when to run away. Seriously though, folks, that is not a bad quality in a general. It takes intelligence and a certain humility to judge when a withdrawal makes sense. Richard III might have benefited from a similar view of life at Bosworth,as indeed might Lee at Gettysburg, to name two obvious examples of commanders who might have been better advised to fight another day.

Of course, Edward was never tested against a foreign enemy, and on the one occasion he met the French army he chose to make peace. But see above. I suspect Edward made peace because he judged a battle was likely to be lost. He was no mug.

There is a view in some circles that a man can only be judged a great general if he has battered foreigners. This would rule out both Edward and Oliver Cromwell (unless you count the Irish)and leave (probably) Marlborough as the greatest English general of all time. I am not convinced - I think Edward is up there. He fought a whole lot of battles and never lost once. That has to be down to more than luck. He's certainly entitled to be spoken of in the same breath as the above-mentioned Cromwell and Marborough plus Fairfax, Edward I and Henry V (spit). And, to be very blunt, his track record exceeds Richard III's as the sun does the moon.

Edward as politician. We need to remind ourselves that he came to the throne at 18. What were you like at 18?* It's probably true to say 'lacking in mature judgement'. Edward was probably too lenient in his dealings with certain individuals early in his reign - I'm looking at you, Henry Somerset - but this was surely a benign fault. Better to be overly merciful than a blood-stained tyrant. He learned and became somewhat less forgiving of opponents in later life. By 1471, if you had showed yourself to be an implacable opponent, he was likely to have your head. However, he could still be accommodating to former Lancastrians (Morton for example) and many of his attempts at conciliation bore fruit. People like the Woodvilles/Wydevilles and Lord Audley are good examples of former enemies Edward converted to faithful supporters.

*If 18 or below please ignore this question.

Edward could be ruthless when he needed to be, particularly in the second part of his reign. Executing your own brother is pretty ruthless by any standards. He was also rather careless of the rules of inheritance, and grabbed lands for his family by quite blatant abuse of his power as king. This did not come back to haunt him, but it was undoubtedly a factor in creating the aristocratic discontent that smoothed Richard III's path to to the throne.

It's a neat question whether Edward could have handled Warwick and the Nevilles better. They were family, and they had more or less put him on the throne. His quarrel with them could easily have led to his deposition and death. On the other hand, if he had cut them much more slack he could easily have ended up as nothing more than Warwick's puppet. The conflict had to be resolved somehow, and there were undoubtedly faults on both sides. A greater king might have found a way to conciliate the Nevilles while retaining his own authority, but it would have been a big ask.

His foreign policy fell to pieces in the latter days of his reign. This was largely due to his failure to support Burgundy in its hour of crisis (because of the fat French pension he was receiving) but when considering this you should bear in mind that Burgundy had proved a somewhat inadequate ally (to put it mildly) while Louis XI - a truly brilliant mind and a great ruler - had built France into a power that England was simply not equipped to defeat in either war or diplomacy. An alternative foreign policy, based on aggression towards France, might well have led to even worse disasters.

Edward as a person  My impression of Richard, Duke of York, is that (however arrogant and pig-headed he may have been) he was genuinely interested in good government and reform. My impression of his eldest son is that he didn't give a rat's about such things and was much more interested in having a good time while acquiring as much land and money for himself as possible.

Edward undoubtedly liked women, though I think some of his exploits may have been exaggerated. In particular, he had a liking for handsome widows somewhat older than himself. His decision to marry Elizabeth Woodville/Wydeville/Whatever may be romantic in some eyes, but politically it was a crowning folly, irrespective of whether or not he was previously married to Eleanor Talbot/Butler/Botiller. To be blunt, it was irresponsible and almost cost him his throne. It alienated key members of his family (including, almost certainly, his own mother) and ultimately led to the downfall of the House of York.