With his cousin Richard Neville (Warwick the Kingmaker) Edward defeated the Lancastrians in a succession of battles. The young King was notoriously tall (approx. 6’4’’) and handsome. He met and very quickly married the beautiful but impoverished widow Elizabeth Woodville, against the wishes of his cousin – from whom he kept it secret for five months.
Warwick switched alliances, marrying his eldest daughter Isabel to Edward’s younger brother George Duke of Clarence, and led an army against Edward. Eventually defeated, Warwick and George fled to France where they joined forces with Margaret of Anjou and pledged to restore Henry VI to the throne.
They succeeded briefly and Edward took refuge in Burgundy before returning to York to reclaim his dukedom before marching south, gathering support. His brother George returned to Edward’s side and asked for forgiveness. So the three sons of York rode on London and took Henry VI prisoner and then defeated Warwick at the Battle of Barnet. They had the Lancastrian heir Edward killed on the battlefield at Tewkesbury and allegedly ordered the murder of Henry VI in his rooms at the Tower of London, although Edward reported that he had died of sadness.
George’s unrest did not abate and soon Edward was forced to arrest him for treason. He was convicted and privately executed – it is alleged that he chose to drown in a barrel of wine.
Edward was a popular and able King. His motto was modus et ordo (method and order) and he was a successful businessman with a famously glamorous court, full of beauty, culture and finery.
He had numerous mistresses and several illegitimate children. The best-known mistress was Elizabeth Shore, also called Jane Shore.
When Edward’s health began to fail he amended his will to name his brother Richard as Lord Protector. He died on 9 April 1483 and was buried in St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle.
From The White Queen
The king jumps down from his great horse, drops the reins, and walks towards me and my boys. I am a tall woman but he overtops me by a head; he must be far more than six feet tall. My boys crane their necks up to see him; he is a giant to them. He is blond haired, grey eyed, with a tanned, open, smiling face, rich with charm, easy with grace. This is a king as we have never seen before in England: this is a man whom the people will love on sight. And his eyes are fixed on my face as if I know a secret that he has to have, as if we have known each other forever, and I can feel my cheeks are burning but I cannot look away from him.'
Image: Edward IV by unknown English artist, c.1540, National Portrait Gallery (NPG 3542).