Earl of Warwick (1478-1479)
Born 21 Feb 1475 Died 24 Nov 1499
The Last Plantagenet
The Plantagenets were a dynasty of kings that ruled England for over three centuries between the years 1155 and 1485, who traced their descent from Geoffrey Plantagent otherwise known as Geoffrey of Anjou, whose son Henry became Henry II in the year 1154. Although modern historians often prefer to refer to them as Angevin (from Anjou) rather than Plantagenet kings, and indeed it is the case, that other than the original Geoffrey and the later Yorkist kings Edward and Richard, none of them ever used Plantagenet as their family name.
But Angevin or Plantagenet, like all the best families they squabbled, and in particular two separate branches of the family had a difference of opinion regarding which of them had a best claim to the throne. This led to a protracted civil conflict known as the Wars of the Roses, when the rival Yorkist and Lancastrian factions tried to settle their differences on the battlefield, in the course of which sundry Plantagenets naturally met an untimely end.
This difference of opinion appeared to have been settled by the events of the years 1470 to 1471 which resulted in the deaths of the last two Lancastrian Plantagenets in Henry VI and his son Edward of Westminster.
Which left the three surviving sons of Richard Plantagenet, the 3rd Duke of York; being Edward, George and Richard.
Edward of course became Edward IV, who supplanted Henry VI and was responsible for his murder in 1471, and similarly despatched his brother George in 1478, when he was suspected of having his own designs on the throne. Edward died in 1483, fully expecting his eldest son Edward to succeed him, but the younger Edward's reign as Edward V was brief as he was interrupted by uncle Richard who felt that he was better suited to the job of leading the nation.
Richard therefore became Richard III and was (very likely) responsible for the death of his two nephews Edward and Richard; his own son died of natural causes in 1484, and Richard of course met his end at the battle of Bosworth in 1485, at the hands of a certain Henry Tudor.
And then there was one
Which meant that as the year 1485 drew to a close, all three of the sons of Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York were dead; Edward's sons were dead, Richard's son was dead and the only Plantagenet left was one Edward Plantegenet, son of George, the unfortunate Duke of Clarence who met his end upended in a barrel of imported wine.
On the face of it, it would seem fairly obvious that the one person in the kingdom who had the right to be king of England was this Edward. There was an argument that he was barred from the succession by virtue of his father's attainder, but the main problem with this was that of course, Henry Tudor, having gone to all the trouble of removing Richard III and placing himself on the throne, was not about to suddenly abdicate in favour of young Edward.
Up to that time Edward had led what might be described as a troubled life. Born in the year 1475, his mother died when he was a year old, and at the age of three his father George had been accused of plotting against his brother the king, and was condemned and attainted as a traitor in 1478. His uncle Edward IV had treated the young orphan reasonably kindly, brought him to court, created him Earl of Warwick and sent him to be raised with his own children.
Richard III had also shown him some favour, even nominating him as heir to the throne following the death of his own son Edward of Middleham on the 31st March 1484. Richard however later changed his mind and switched his preference to John de la Pole, the Earl of Lincoln and confined Edward at Sheriff Hutton Castle in Yorkshire along with the Princess Elizabeth, daughter of Edward IV.
With the change of regime that followed the battle of Bosworth of the 22nd August 1485, Edward merely exchanged one prison for another, as the new king Henry VII simply moved him to the Tower. At the age of ten he was scarcely of an age to cause Henry any trouble on his own but Henry didn't want him to fall into the hands of someone who would.
But even as Edward was securely put away in the Tower of London rumours abounded that he had either escaped or been quietly murdered by the king. This allowed some remaining Yorkist sympathisers to seek to persuade the nation that a certain Lambert Simnel was indeed the true Earl of Warwick and this imposter was even crowned king 'Edward VI' in Dublin on the 24th May 1487.
In an attempt to convince people that Lambert Simnel was indeed an impostor the real Edward was take to attend mass at St Paul’s Cathedral on Sunday, the 29th February and paraded through the principle streets of London. Whether this convinced anybody is uncertain but in any event it proved academic as Lambert Simnel and his supporters were defeated at the battle of Stoke on the 16th June 1487.
Edward was of course, returned to the Tower after his day out, which is where he spent the next twelve years whilst the world passed him by. In 1499 there appeared a second counterfeit Earl of Warwick, in the form of a cordwainer’s son, named Ralph Wilford from Suffolk who in partnership with an Augustin Friar called Patrick attempted to raise support in the south-east. This pair were quickly arrested and the unfortunate Ralph was executed whilst the friar was condemned to life imprisonment.1
In the meantime the second of the famous pretenders appeared in the form of Perkin Warbeck; although he too began his career claiming to be the Earl of Warwick, he was best known as an impersonator of Edward V's younger brother Richard, Duke of York. Warbeck ultimately ended up in the Tower of London as Edward's fellow prisoner, and whilst he was there Warbeck made attempts to bribe his jailers and hatched a plot to escape from the Tower and persuaded Edward to join him in his bid for freedom.
The plan was apparently to escape to the continent and raise support to place Edward on the throne in place of Henry VII. However it appears most likely that the whole conspiracy was the work of an agent provocateur deftly placed by Henry to ensnare the two. Hence the 'conspiracy' was betrayed, and both Warbeck and Warwick for convicted of the crime of conspiracy to commit treason, Perkin Warbeck was hanged on the 23rd November 1499; Edward Plantagenet, the last of his line, as befitted someone of noble blood was beheaded on Tower Hill six days later.
Whether Edward actually understood what was going on is debatable; by many accounts he was somewhat simple minded, it was said that "he could not discern a goose from a capon"2. (Although this may have simply down to the fact that he's spent most of his life in prison.) But his continued existence had become an inconvenience; Henry VII wanted to marry his son Arthur to Catherine of Aragon daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, the joint monarchs of Castille and Aragon and it seems that Ferdinand was unwilling to see the marriage proceed unless the Tudor succession was secure, and the Tudor succession was not secure so long as Edward lived.
It was therefore necessary for reasons of state for Edward, Earl of Warwick, the last of the Plantagenets to meet his end. Henry being Henry made sure that Edward's death was perfectly in accordance with the law.
Some say that Henry VIII was later to regard his marriage to Catherine of Aragon as doubly cursed as her former marriage to his brother Arthur was 'made in blood', at the price of Edward's life.
The titles held by Edward
Edward was known as the 'Earl of Warwick' from birth, this being a courtesy title that he held by virtue of his father's creation as Earl of Warwick in 1462. His father George, Duke of Clarence being executed and attainted in 1478, the attainder naturally prevented Edward from inheriting any of his father's titles but Edward IV specifically created him Earl of Warwick in 1478, a title which he held for the remainder of life.
Some sources also show Edward as holding the title Earl of Salisbury was well, and in order to consider why this is so it is necessary to summarise the history of the Warwick and Salisbury titles.
Richard Neville known as 'Make-a-king' or the 'Kingmaker' held the titles of the Earl of Warwick and the Earl of Salisbury; both titles which were at the time, adjudged to be inheritable in the female line, so that when he was killed at the battle of Barnet in 1471, these titles passed to his daughters Isabelle and Anne.
However the rules of inheritance specified that the daughters shared equally in Richard's estate. Since the titles (unlike physical property) could not be divided, they were therefore said to be 'in abeyance', left in limbo until such time as one line of heirs died out leaving an unequivocal single heir that could inherit the titles.
Both the Neville sisters married into the Plantagenet royal family; Isabelle Neville married George Plantagenet and Anne Neville married firstly Edward of Westminster and then Richard brother of George and ultimately king Richard III.
As we have noted above; George was specifically created both Earl of Warwick and Earl of Salisbury by Edward IV in 1472, but these titles were forfeit with his execution for treason in 1478. After which, as has been said, Edward son of George and Isabel Neville was specifically created Earl of Warwick in 1478, and Edward son of Richard and Anne Neville, was specifically created Earl of Salisbury in 1478, but he of course died in 1484.
There is an argument that the death of Anne Neville without heirs on the 16th March 1485, automatically brought the aforementioned abeyance to an end as there was now only one surviving descendant of Richard Neville left alive, that is our Edward son of George, and that he therefore inherited the title of Earl of Salisbury.
It is also arguable that the Edward IV had previously terminated the abeyance in favour of the respective grandsons of Richard Neville by his actions in 1478, and that the title Earl of Salisbury had thereby reverted to the crown with the death of Edward of Middleham in 1484.
Fortunately, none of this really matters as, since as we have seen Edward spent most of his life in prison and died without ever having the opportunity to produce any heirs. Just to make sure in 1504, five years after his execution Edward was formally attainted and his title or titles declared forfeit to the crown.
It is also worth noting, no matter what you might read elsewhere, that Edward never inherited any titles from his mother, as Isabel Neville was never the Countess of Warwick nor Salisbury in her own right for the simple reason that she predeceased her sister. He might possibly have inherited a title from his grandfather, Richard Neville through his mother, but then it is arguable that his father's attainder would have barred any such inheritance by his son.
1 This is an example of what is known as the benefit of clergy.
2 According to Polydore Vergil in his Anglica Historia
- Francis Bacon Historia Regni Henrici Septimi Regis Angliae (The History of the reign of Henry VII) http://eee.uci.edu/~papyri/henry/
- The Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir (Bodley Head, 1992)