Richard of York, 3rd Duke of York, KG (21 September 1411 – 30 December 1460), also known as Richard Plantagenet, was a leading English magnate, a great-grandson of King Edward III through his father, and a great-great-great-grandson of the same king through his mother. He inherited vast estates and served in various offices of state in Ireland, France, and England, a country he ultimately governed as Lord Protector during the madness of King Henry VI.

His conflicts with Henry's wife, Margaret of Anjou, and other members of Henry's court, as well as his competing claim on the throne, were a leading factor in the political upheaval of mid-fifteenth-century England, and a major cause of the Wars of the Roses. Richard eventually attempted to take the throne, but was dissuaded, although it was agreed that he would become king on Henry's death. But within a few weeks of securing this agreement, he died in battle.

Although Richard never became king himself, he was the father of King Edward IV and King Richard III, and grandfather of the princes in the Tower. By the marriage of his granddaughter Elizabeth of York to King Henry VII, he became an ancestor to all subsequent English monarchs.


Richard of York was born on 21 September 1411,[1] the son of Richard, 3rd Earl of Cambridge, by his wife Anne Mortimer, the daughter of Roger Mortimer, 4th Earl of March. Anne's family was descended from Lionel, Duke of Clarence, the second surviving son of King Edward III (r. 1327–1377), and for this reason were the default heirs of the childless King Richard II (r. 1377–1399). They had been displaced from the line of succession when King Henry IV (r. 1399–1413) took the throne by force. After the death in 1425 of Anne's childless brother Edmund, the 5th Earl of March, this ancestry supplied Richard, of the House of York, with a claim to the English throne that was arguably superior to that of the reigning House of Lancaster, descended from John of Gaunt, the third son of King Edward III.[2]

On his father's side, Richard had a claim to the throne in a direct male line of descent from his grandfather Edmund, 1st Duke of York (1341–1402), fourth surviving son of King Edward III and founder of the House of York. This made Richard a prince of blood and member of the ruling dynasty of England, which might have improved his position as contender or possible successor to the throne, even though his mother's descent already arguably gave him a better claim anyway. His adoption of the surname "Plantagenet" in 1448 would serve to emphasize this point, namely his status as an agnate of the English royal family.

Richard's mother, Anne Mortimer, is said to have died giving birth to him, and his father, the Earl of Cambridge, was beheaded in 1415 for his part in the Southampton Plot against the Lancastrian King Henry V (r. 1413–1422). Although the Earl's title was forfeited, he was not attainted, and the four-year-old orphan Richard became his father's heir.[3] Richard had an only sister, Isabel of Cambridge, who became Countess of Essex upon her second marriage in 1426.[citation needed]

Within a few months of his father's death, Richard's childless uncle, Edward of Norwich, 2nd Duke of York, was slain at the Battle of Agincourt on 25 October 1415. After some hesitation, King Henry V allowed Richard to inherit his uncle's title and (at his majority of 21) the lands of the Duchy of York. The lesser title but (in due course) greater estates of the Earldom of March also descended to him on the death of his maternal uncle Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March, on 18 January 1425. The reason for Henry V's hesitation was that Edmund Mortimer had been proclaimed several times, by factions rebelling against him, to have a stronger claim to the throne than Henry's father, King Henry IV. Edmund had been a disputed heir of Richard II until his deposition by Henry IV in 1399. However, during his lifetime, Mortimer remained a faithful supporter of the House of Lancaster.[citation needed] Richard would inherit Edmund Mortimer's titles and claim to the throne upon his death.

Richard of York already held the Mortimer and Cambridge claims to the English throne; once he inherited the March estates, as well as the Earldom of Ulster, he also became the wealthiest and most powerful noble in England, second only to the king himself. The Valor Ecclesiasticus shows that York's net income from Mortimer lands alone was £3,430 (about £350,000 today) in the year 1443–44.[citation needed]

Childhood and upbringing (1411–1432)

As he was an orphan, Richard's income became the property of, and was managed by, the crown. Even though many of the lands of his uncle of York had been granted for life only, or to him and his male heirs, the remaining lands, concentrated in Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire, Yorkshire, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire were considerable. The wardship of such an orphan was therefore a valuable gift of the crown, and in October 1417 this was granted to Ralph Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland, with the young Richard under the guardianship of Robert Waterton. Ralph Neville had fathered an enormous family (twenty-three children, twenty of whom survived infancy, through two wives) and had many daughters needing husbands. As was his right, in 1424 he betrothed the 13-year-old Richard to his daughter Cecily Neville, then aged 9.

In October 1425, when Ralph Neville died, he bequeathed the wardship of York to his widow, Joan Beaufort. By now the wardship was even more valuable, as Richard had inherited the Mortimer estates on the death of the Earl of March. These manors were concentrated in Wales, and in the Welsh Borders around Ludlow. They also included the Earldom of Ulster, located in Ireland.

Little is recorded of Richard's early life. On 19 May 1426 he was knighted at Leicester by John, Duke of Bedford, the younger brother of King Henry V. In October 1429 (or earlier) his marriage to Cecily Neville took place. On 6 November he was present at the formal coronation of King Henry VI in Westminster Abbey. He then followed Henry to France, being present at his coronation as king of France in Notre-Dame on 16 December 1431. Finally, on 12 May 1432, he came into his inheritance and was granted full control of his estates.[n 1]

Early majority (1432–1436)

York found the need to select a place to set up a default home. The vastness of his estates meant that he had a number of places to choose. Throughout his life he would spend some time in his manors, which were scattered throughout England, but for most of the time he would reside in his castles. York's main castle, which would become his choice of residence, was Fotheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire. For stays in London, the house of York owned Baynard's Castle inn, which had belonged to Richard's uncle Edward.[4]

Arms of Sir Richard of York, KG

On 22 April 1433, York became a knight of the Order of the Garter. In 1434, he went to Ireland to deal with issues related to the administration of his Irish estates, pending since he assumed control of his other lands in 1432. Apparently at some point, York's presence in some lands without a royal license constituted an act of intrusion, but on 8 August 1435 he received a pardon under the seal of Ireland. In the document, Richard is described as duke of York, earl of March and Ulster, and lord of Wigmore, Clare, Trim, and Connaught.[5]

What was likely his first experience of politics was marked his presence at a great council at Westminster in spring 1434. The council saw disagreements between Henry VI's uncle John, Duke of Bedford; his other uncle Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester; and Cardinal Henry Beaufort, the 3 heads of Henry VI's regency government, over the conduct of the ongoing Hundred Years' War against France. Bedford left to France later that year but died shortly after in 1435, leaving behind a divided regency council and many unresolved problems.

Bedford's death contributed to a widening of divisions in English politics. Political forces diverged in their preferred course of action. Henry V's conquests in France could not be sustained forever, as England either needed to conquer more territory to ensure permanent French subordination, or to concede territory to gain a negotiated settlement. The former and more aggressive policy was advocated by Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, who was in favor of a rapid military intervention to protect English territories and conquer new ones; the latter and more conciliatory stance was supported by his rival Cardinal Beaufort. During Henry VI's minority, his Council took advantage of French weakness and the alliance with Burgundy to increase England's possessions, but following the Treaty of Arras of 1435, Burgundy ceased to recognise the English king's claim to the French throne.

On 8 May 1436, a few months after Bedford's death, York was appointed to succeed him as commander of the English forces in France. His neutral status in politics, his position as a prince of blood, and his marriage ties to Cardinal Beaufort made him an acceptable choice to all opposing political factions.[6]

York would serve as a leader in France on two separate occasions: the first was a one-year term in 1436–37 to cover for the final years of Henry VI's long regency, and the second was a five-year term in 1440–45. Though he did conduct some military actions himself, which included leading armies, undertaking sieges, and surveying garrisons, York's role in the affairs of France was mostly adminsitrative and diplomatic. He seldom acted as a soldier, and his policy was to entrust the field conduct and basic management of the war to his generals. Though York retained command of military policy, he occupied himself with the affairs of government as a whole, and his military action was somewhat overshadowed by that of his captains. He would be primarily noted for his well regarded overall governance, and his attempts to deal with the problems of a declining English rule in France.[7]

France (1436–1437)

York's appointment was one of a number of stop-gap measures after the death of Bedford to try to retain French possessions until the young King Henry VI could assume personal rule. With Henry's minority close to its end, the English council was reluctant to send someone with the same powers Bedford had enjoyed, and disagreements pertaining to the terms of York's indentures delayed his departure despite the military urgence. In the end, he would have his power and role limited.[8] Unlike his predecessor, York was not allowed to appoint major financial and military officials, and instead of being classified as "regent" as Bedford was before him, he got the lesser title of "lieutenant-general and governor".[9]

York was accompanied by the earls of Suffolk and Mortain, and his Neville brothers-in-law, the Earl of Salisbury[10] and Baron Fauconberg. Their combined army was just half of the 11,000 men England had promised to send, and York and his contingent were committed to less time than earlier ones.[11][n 2] The situation upon their arrival was dire. Paris and parts of Normandy had switched their loyalty or fallen to the enemy following the Franco-Burgundian reconciliation of 1435. The loss of Harfleur and all Norman ports east of it forced York to land at Honfleur (7 June 1436), the nearest port to Rouen still in allied hands. The fall of Paris (his original destination) led to his army being redirected to Normandy.

Aged 24, York had no military experience, and has been described as at times indecisive but also as full of vigor, energy, and ambition.[12] Despite all difficulties, he cooperated well with his new subordinates, a prominent of which was John Talbot, one of the leading English soldiers of the day. Working with Bedford's captains, York had some success, recapturing Fécamp, Saint-Germain,[13] and many other Norman towns, and holding on to the Pays de Caux, while establishing good order and justice in the Duchy of Normandy.

York's capture of the aformentioned towns and of large areas in the Caux was part of a larger autumn 1436 campaign, brilliantly conducted by Talbot, which secured Rouen and most of eastern Normandy.[7] Though not an insignificant role, this was York's main military action during this period, and he spent most of the time at Rouen, conducting daily government affairs. The defense and recovery of English territories was mostly handled by York's subordinates. Thomas Scales (another experienced soldier) and the Earl of Suffolk were based in Lower Normandy to defend the region against threats by the dukes of Brittany and Alençon, and from the French garrison at Mont Saint-Michel. Edmund Beaufort, Count of Mortain, stayed at Maine. Lords Talbot and Fauconberg stayed at the southern Norman marches, from where they had launched the successful autumn 1436 campaign.[14]

English successes continued even through the exceptionally harsh winter of 1436–37. York held a council of war, where it was decided to recapture Pontoise (lost on 20 February 1436),[15] an important strategic post between Rouen and Paris. It was taken in a surprise attack, with a similar attempt at Paris failing somewhat narrowly. The rest of the winter campaign saw the English expand as far as Picardy and perform several raids. The ensuing months saw further successes in Normandy and the rout of a large Burgundian army at Le Crotoy.[16]

The English council seemed satisfied with York's performance and wished for him to stay longer.[6] However, he was dissatisfied with the terms under which he was appointed, as he had to find much of the money to pay his troops and other expenses from his own estates.[17] His term of office was nevertheless extended beyond the original twelve months (until the arrival of his successor, the Earl of Warwick), and he did not return to England until November 1437. It was around this time that Henry VI's long regency ended: he formally assumed full power of kingship on 13 November. In spite of York's position as one of the leading nobles of the realm, he was not included in Henry VI's Council on his return.[18]

Return to England (1437–1441)

York stayed in England from 1437 to 1441, and seems to have kept a low profile during this period. He was involved in attempts to enforce order in Wales in 1437–8, and also spent some time touring his estates.[7] York at this time was still incurring with large amounts of debt accumulated from his service in France: though in February 1438 the privy council and the king offered him royal jewels as payment, as far as 1439 York was still owed £18,000 by the English crown.[9] Upon the death of the Earl of Warwick in 1439, royal letters dated 18 January 1440 stated that York would gain a share of the Beauchamp wardship of the late earl's underage son Henry.[5]

York's first children were born around this time. In 1439, his wife Cecily bore him a daughter, Anne, who would later marry Henry Holland, 3rd Duke of Exeter. On 10 February 1441, his first son was born, named Henry by his father, which prompted the child's namesake King Henry VI to reward York with a gift. Henry of York would die shortly after, however.[7]

With the death of Warwick, the lieutenancy of France became vacant. John Beaufort, 3rd Earl of Somerset, nephew of Cardinal Beaufort, briefly took control of the situation.[19][5] The peace negotiations with the French at Gravelines in 1439 had ended in failure, and the question of who would definitely assume the command of the English operations in the continent, a prestigious position, was not without controversy. It became embroiled in the long-running dispute between Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, and Cardinal Beaufort, for control of Henry VI's government. The cardinal seems to have wished to maintain his nephew Somerset, which Gloucester opposed, and who in turn may have sought his own appointment. York once again seems to have been considered an acceptable candidate for both sides: he was seen as a sufficiently neutral and flexible figure, and was well connected with all parties, including the English military establishment in France.[7]

Gloucester was a major advocate for an aggressive and uncompromising policy of continued English military presence in France, whereas Cardinal Beaufort was more inclined to support concessions and peace talks. Though seemingly detached and neutral in this rivalry for the moment,[7] York has been described as being closer to Gloucester's party, and as more favourable to the continuation of the war. Humphrey in turn seems to have considered him an ally, demonstrated by his complaint in 1440 at the "estrangement" of York and other lords from the king's confidence,[19] at a moment in which Henry VI was increasingly surrounding himself with the cardinal and his relatives as favourites. The offshoots and consequences of this long-running dispute would significantly influence York's political career:[20] willingly or not, York would later be associated with Gloucester image, especially after the latter's death in 1447, while York's adversaries would be associated with that of Beaufort.

France again (1441–1445)

Henry VI turned to York again in 1440 after peace negotiations failed. He was reappointed Lieutenant of France on 2 July, this time with the same powers that the late Bedford had earlier been granted. As in 1437, York was able to count on the loyalty of Bedford's supporters, including Sir John Fastolf and Sir William Oldhall. Duchess Cecily accompanied him to Normandy, and his children Edward, Edmund and Elizabeth were all born in Rouen. He left England late, only arriving France in June 1441, when a major campaign had been launched by the French. He also continued his policy of delegating the management of the war effort to his more experienced captains. The English crown once again failed to pay his wages regularly.[7]

Siege of Pontoise (1441).[21]

York joined John Talbot in the defence of Île-de-France. The French had just taken Creil and Conflans, and were now besieging Pontoise. York came with 3000 men to reinforce Talbot's army. The 5000-strong French army withdrew, and the English chased them for two weeks in a failed attempt to force a battle. An attempt to capture Charles VII of France himself at Poissy seems to have come close to succeeding. Historian Thomas Basin reported that York was involved in a failed pincer movement and was unable to intercept Charles, but details are scarce. Both sides were by then exhausted, with supply shortages and mounting casualties due to skirmishes, and retreated; on 1 August York returned to Rouen.[5] English positions were now improved, but the French nevertheless resumed the siege and took Pontoise by a heavy artillery assault. This was a hard blow to the English, though their stubborn resistance did prevent further advances by the equally exhausted French for the time being.[22][23]

This was York's main military action during this period, and he otherwise dealt with matters of governance and diplomacy. He acquired a high reputation by maintaining Normandy almost intact against French attacks.[24]

On 9 September 1442, York was appointed chief commissioner to treat with France with the task of attempting to reach a peace agreement, but it was actually with Burgundy that a treaty was signed. At Dijon on 23 April 1443, Richard, duke of York (representing King Henry VI), signed an indefinite truce with Isabel, duchess of Burgundy, acting on behalf of her husband.

In 1443 Henry put the newly created Duke of Somerset, John Beaufort, in charge of an army of 8,000 men, initially intended for the relief of Gascony, as an agreement by which Henry VI was to secure a loan from Somerset's uncle Cardinal Beaufort (who wished to appoint his relatives to prestigious government positions). This denied York much-needed men and resources at a time when he was struggling to hold the borders of Normandy. The expedition also brought England to odds with the Dukes of Brittany and Alençon, which disrupted York's attempts (conducted during 1442–43) to involve the English in an alliance of French nobles.[7] Not only that, but the terms of Somerset's appointment could have caused York to feel that his own role as effective regent over the whole of Lancastrian France was reduced to that of governor of Normandy. Somerset's army achieved nothing and eventually returned to Normandy, where Somerset died in 1444. This may have been the start of the hatred that York harboured for the Beaufort family, a resentment that would later turn into civil war.

English policy now turned back to a negotiated peace (or at least a truce) with France, so the remainder of York's time in France was spent in routine administration and domestic matters. With assent and encouragement of the Earl of Suffolk, one of the architects of the peace policy, York started negotiations for the hand in marriage of one of the daughters of Charles VII of France to York's eldest son Edward of Rouen. It was probably intended to strengthen the truce between France and England, but nothing came of these negotiations.

England and Ireland (1445–1450)

Contemporary sketch of York

York returned to England on 20 October 1445 at the end of his five-year appointment in France. He must have had reasonable expectations of reappointment. However, he had become associated with the English in Normandy who were opposed to the policy of Henry VI's Council towards France, some of whom had followed him to England (for example Sir William Oldhall and Sir Andrew Ogard). Eventually (on 24 December 1446) the lieutenancy went to Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset, who had succeeded his brother John. During 1446 and 1447, York attended meetings of Henry VI's Council and of Parliament, but most of his time was spent in administration of his estates on the Welsh border.

On 23 February 1447, the king's uncle Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, died; he had been accused of treason by his political enemies (many of whom were close advisors of King Henry VI), but had died under mysterious circumstances before he could be tried. Since Gloucester and Henry VI's other uncles had died without legitimate issue, Richard was now the most senior patrilineal descendant of Edward III after the king himself, turning him into a possible heir to the throne, as Henry VI had no children.

York's attitude toward the Council's surrender of the French province of Maine, in return for an extension of the truce with France and a French bride for Henry, must have contributed to his appointment on 30 July 1447 as Lieutenant of Ireland. In some ways it was a logical appointment, as Richard was also Earl of Ulster and had considerable estates in Ireland, but it was also a convenient way of removing him from both England and France. His term of office was for ten years, ruling him out of consideration for any other high office during that period.

Domestic matters kept him in England until June 1449, but when he did eventually leave for Ireland, it was with Cecily (who was pregnant at the time) and an army of around 600 men. This suggests a stay of some time was envisaged. However, claiming lack of money to defend English possessions, York decided to return to England. His financial state may indeed have been problematic, since by the mid-1440s he was owed £38,666[25] by the crown, (equivalent to £28.8 million in current value)[26] and the income from his estates was declining.

York stayed in Ireland for about a year (1449–50). Upon his arrival, various Irish nobles submitted to him, somewhat replicating the outcome of when Richard II visited the island in the 14th century.[27] York tried to befriend some important groups in Irish politics (notably the O'Neill dynasty), which would help turn Ireland into a safe refuge for him when the political situation back at home became tense. His rule would also contribute to the later popularity the House of York would enjoy on Ireland.

Leader of the Opposition (1450–1453)

Henry VI (right) sitting while the Dukes of York (left) and Somerset (center) have an argument.[28]

In 1450, the defeats and failures of the English royal government of the previous ten years boiled over into serious political unrest. In January, during Jack Cade's Rebellion, Adam Moleyns, Lord Privy Seal and Bishop of Chichester, was lynched. In May the chief councillor of the king, William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk, was murdered on his way into exile. The House of Commons demanded that the king take back many of the grants of land and money he had made to his favourites.

In June, Kent and Sussex rose in revolt. Led by Jack Cade (taking the name Mortimer), they took control of London and killed James Fiennes, 1st Baron Saye and Sele, the Lord High Treasurer of England. In August, the final towns held in Normandy fell to the French and refugees flooded back to England.

On 7 September, York landed at Beaumaris, Anglesey. Evading an attempt by Henry to intercept him, and gathering followers as he went, York arrived in London on 27 September. After an inconclusive (and possibly violent) meeting with the king, York continued to recruit, both in East Anglia and the west. The violence in London was such that Somerset, back in England after the collapse of English Normandy, was put in the Tower of London for his own safety. In December Parliament elected York's chamberlain, Sir William Oldhall, as speaker.

York's public stance was that of a reformer, demanding better government and the prosecution of the traitors who had lost northern France. Judging by his later actions, there may also have been a more hidden motive – the destruction of Somerset, who was soon released from the Tower. Although granted another office, that of Justice of the Forest south of the Trent, York still lacked any real support outside Parliament and his own retainers.

In April 1451, Somerset was released from the Tower and appointed Captain of Calais. When one of York's councillors, Thomas Young, the MP for Bristol, proposed that York be recognised as heir to the throne, he was sent to the Tower and Parliament was dissolved. Henry VI was prompted into belated reforms, which went some way to restore public order and improve the royal finances. Frustrated by his lack of political power, York retired to Ludlow.

In 1452, York made another bid for power, but not to become king himself. Protesting his loyalty, he aimed to be recognised as Henry VI's heir to the throne (Henry was childless after seven years of marriage), while also trying to destroy the Duke of Somerset, who Henry may have preferred to succeed him over York, as a Beaufort descendant. Gathering men on the march from Ludlow, York headed for London to find the city gates barred against him on Henry's orders. At Dartford in Kent, with his army outnumbered, and the support of only two of the nobility (Lords Courtenay and Cobham), York was forced to come to an agreement with Henry. He was allowed to present his complaints against Somerset to the king, but was then taken to London and after two weeks of virtual house arrest, was forced to swear an oath of allegiance at St Paul's Cathedral.

Protector of the Realm (1453–1455)

By the summer of 1453, York seemed to have lost his power struggle. Henry embarked on a series of judicial tours, punishing York's tenants who had been involved in the debacle at Dartford. The Queen consort, Margaret of Anjou, was pregnant, and even if she should miscarry, the marriage of the newly ennobled Edmund Tudor, 1st Earl of Richmond, to Margaret Beaufort provided for an alternative line of succession. By July, York had lost both of his offices, Lieutenant of Ireland and Justice of the Forest south of the Trent.

Then, in August 1453, Henry VI suffered a catastrophic mental breakdown, perhaps brought on by the news of the defeat at the Battle of Castillon in Gascony, which finally drove English forces from France. He became completely unresponsive, unable to speak, and had to be led from room to room. The Council tried to carry on as though the king's disability would be brief, but they had to admit eventually that something had to be done. In October, invitations for a Great Council were issued, and although Somerset tried to have him excluded, York (the premier duke of the realm) was included. Somerset's fears were to prove well grounded, for in November he was committed to the Tower.

On 22 March 1454, Cardinal John Kemp, the Chancellor, died, making continued government in the King's name constitutionally impossible. Henry could not be induced to respond to any suggestion as to who might replace Kemp.[29] Despite the opposition of Margaret of Anjou, York was appointed Protector of the Realm and Chief Councillor on 27 March 1454. York's appointment of his brother-in-law, Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury, as Chancellor was significant. Henry's burst of activity in 1453 had seen him try to stem the violence caused by various disputes between noble families. These disputes gradually polarised around the long-standing Percy-Neville feud. Unfortunately for Henry, Somerset (and therefore the king) became identified with the Percy cause. This drove the Nevilles into the arms of York, who now for the first time had support among a section of the nobility.

Confrontation and aftermath (1455–1456)

According to the historian Robin Storey: "If Henry's insanity was a tragedy, his recovery was a national disaster."[30] When he recovered his reason in January 1455, Henry lost little time in reversing York's actions. Somerset was released and restored to favour. York was deprived of the Captaincy of Calais (which was granted to Somerset once again) and of the office of Protector. Salisbury resigned as Chancellor. York, Salisbury, and Salisbury's eldest son, Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, were threatened when a Great Council was called to meet on 21 May in Leicester (away from Somerset's enemies in London). York and his Neville relations recruited in the north and probably along the Welsh border. By the time Somerset realised what was happening, there was no time to raise a large force to support the king.[citation needed]

Once York took his army south of Leicester, thus barring the route to the Great Council, the dispute between him and the king regarding Somerset would have to be settled by force. On 22 May, the king and Somerset arrived at St Albans with a hastily assembled and poorly equipped army of around 2,000. York, Warwick, and Salisbury were already there with a larger and better-equipped army. More importantly, at least some of their soldiers would have had experience in the frequent border skirmishes with the Kingdom of Scotland and the occasionally rebellious people of Wales.[citation needed]

The First Battle of St Albans that followed hardly deserves the term battle. Possibly as few as 50 men were killed, but among them were some of the prominent leaders of the Lancastrian party, such as Somerset himself, Henry Percy, 2nd Earl of Northumberland, and Thomas Clifford, 8th Baron de Clifford. York and the Nevilles had therefore succeeded in killing their enemies, while York's capture of the king gave him the chance to resume the power he had lost in 1453. It was vital to keep Henry alive, as his death would have led, not to York becoming king himself, but to the minority rule of his two-year-old son Edward of Westminster. Since York's support among the nobility was small, he would be unable to dominate a minority Council led by Margaret of Anjou.[citation needed]

In the custody of York, the king was returned to London with York and Salisbury riding alongside, and with Warwick bearing the royal sword in front. On 25 May, Henry received the crown from York in a clearly symbolic display of power. York made himself Constable of England and appointed Warwick Captain of Calais. York's position was enhanced when some of the nobility agreed to join his government, including Salisbury's brother William Neville, Lord Fauconberg, who had served under York in France.[citation needed]

For the rest of the summer, York held the king prisoner, either in Hertford castle or in London (to be enthroned in Parliament in July). When Parliament met again in November, the throne was empty, and it was reported that the king was ill again. York resumed the office of Protector; although he surrendered it when the king recovered in February 1456, it seemed that this time Henry was willing to accept that York and his supporters would play a major part in the government of the realm.[citation needed]

Salisbury and Warwick continued to serve as councillors, and Warwick was confirmed as Captain of Calais. In June, York himself was sent north to defend the border against a threatened invasion by James II of Scotland. However, the king once again came under the control of a dominant figure, this time one harder to replace than Suffolk or Somerset: for the rest of his reign, it would be the queen, Margaret of Anjou, who would control the king.[citation needed]

Uneasy peace (1456–1459)

Although Margaret of Anjou had now taken the place formerly held by Suffolk or Somerset, her position, at least at first, was not as dominant. York had his Lieutenancy of Ireland renewed, and he continued to attend meetings of the Council. However, in August 1456 the court moved to Coventry, in the heart of the queen's lands. How York was treated now depended on how powerful the queen's views were. York was regarded with suspicion on three fronts: he threatened the succession of the young Prince of Wales; he was apparently negotiating for the marriage of his eldest son Edward into the Burgundian ruling family; and as a supporter of the Nevilles, he was contributing to the major cause of disturbance in the kingdom – the Percy-Neville feud.

Here, the Nevilles lost ground. Salisbury gradually ceased to attend meetings of the council. When his brother Robert Neville, Bishop of Durham, died in 1457, the new appointment was Laurence Booth. Booth was a member of the queen's inner circle. The Percys were shown greater favour both at court and in the struggle for power on the Scottish border.

Henry's attempts at reconciliation between the factions divided by the killings at St Albans reached their climax with the Loveday on 24 March 1458. However, the lords concerned had earlier turned London into an armed camp, and the public expressions of amity seemed not to have lasted beyond the ceremony.

Civil war breaks out (1459)

In June 1459 a Great Council was summoned to meet at Coventry. York, the Nevilles and some other lords refused to appear, fearing that the armed forces that had been commanded to assemble the previous month had been summoned to arrest them. Instead, York and Salisbury recruited in their strongholds and met Warwick, who had brought with him his troops from Calais, at Worcester. Parliament was summoned to meet at Coventry in November, but without York and the Nevilles. This could only mean that they were to be accused of treason.

York and his supporters raised their armies, but they were initially dispersed throughout the country. Salisbury beat back a Lancastrian ambush at the Battle of Blore Heath on 23 September 1459, while his son Warwick evaded another army under the command of the Duke of Somerset, and afterwards they both joined their forces with York. On 11 October, York tried to move south, but was forced to head for Ludlow. On 12 October, at the Battle of Ludford Bridge, York once again faced Henry just as he had at Dartford seven years earlier. Warwick's troops from Calais refused to fight, and the rebels fled – York to Ireland, Warwick, Salisbury and York's son Edward to Calais.[31] York's wife Cecily and their two younger sons (George and Richard) were captured in Ludlow Castle and imprisoned at Coventry.

The wheel of fortune (1459–1460)

York's flight worked to his advantage. He was still Lieutenant of Ireland and attempts to replace him failed. The Parliament of Ireland backed him, providing offers of both military and financial support. Warwick's (possibly inadvertent) return to Calais also proved fortunate. His control of the English Channel meant that pro-Yorkist propaganda, emphasising loyalty to the king while decrying his wicked councillors, could be spread around southern England. Such was the Yorkists' naval dominance that Warwick was able to sail to Ireland in March 1460, meet York and return to Calais in May. Warwick's control of Calais was to prove to be influential with the wool-merchants in London.

In December 1459 York, Warwick and Salisbury suffered attainder. Their lives were forfeit, and their lands reverted to the king; their heirs would not inherit. This was the most extreme punishment a member of the nobility could suffer, and York was now in the same situation as Henry of Bolingbroke (the future King Henry IV) in 1398. Only a successful invasion of England would restore his fortune. Assuming the invasion was successful, York had three options: become Protector again, disinherit the king's son so that York would succeed, or claim the throne for himself.

On 26 June, Warwick and Salisbury landed at Sandwich. The men of Kent rose to join them. London opened its gates to the Nevilles on 2 July. They marched north into the Midlands, and on 10 July, they defeated the royal army at the Battle of Northampton (through treachery among the king's troops), and captured Henry, whom they brought back to London.

York remained in Ireland. He did not set foot in England until 9 September, and when he did, he acted as a king. Marching under the arms of his maternal great-great-grandfather Lionel of Antwerp, 1st Duke of Clarence, he displayed a banner of the Coat of Arms of England as he approached London.

A Parliament called to meet on 7 October repealed all the legislation of the Coventry parliament the previous year. On 10 October, York arrived in London and took residence in the royal palace. Entering Parliament with his sword borne upright before him, he made for the empty throne and placed his hand upon it, as if to occupy it. He may have expected the assembled peers to acclaim him as king, as they had acclaimed Henry Bolingbroke in 1399. Instead, there was silence. Thomas Bourchier, the Archbishop of Canterbury, asked whether he wished to see the king. York replied, "I know of no person in this realm the which oweth not to wait on me, rather than I of him." This high-handed reply did not impress the Lords.[32]

The next day, Richard advanced his claim to the crown by hereditary right in proper form. However, his narrow support among his peers led to failure once again. After weeks of negotiation, the best that could be achieved was the Act of Accord, by which York and his heirs were recognised as Henry's successors. However, Parliament did grant York extraordinary executive powers to protect the realm, and made him Prince of Wales (and Earl of Chester, Duke of Cornwall) and Lord Protector of England[33] on 31 October 1460.[34] With the king effectively in custody, York and Warwick were the de facto rulers of the country.

Final campaign and death

While this was happening, the Lancastrian loyalists were rallying and arming in the north of England. Faced with the threat of attack from the Percys, and with Margaret of Anjou trying to gain the support of the new king of Scotland James III, York, Salisbury and York's second son Edmund, Earl of Rutland, headed north on 2 December. They arrived at York's stronghold of Sandal Castle on 21 December to find the situation bad and getting worse. Forces loyal to Henry controlled the city of York, and nearby Pontefract Castle was also in hostile hands. The Lancastrian armies were commanded by some of York's implacable enemies such as Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland and John Clifford, whose fathers had been killed at the Battle of Saint Albans, and included several nothern lords who were jealous of York's and Salisbury's wealth and influence in the North.

On 30 December, York and his forces sortied from Sandal Castle. Their reasons for doing so are not clear; they were variously claimed to be a result of deception by the Lancastrian forces, or treachery by northern lords who York mistakenly believed to be his allies, or simple rashness on York's part.[35] The larger Lancastrian force destroyed York's army in the resulting Battle of Wakefield. York was killed in the battle. The precise nature of his end was variously reported; he was either unhorsed, wounded and died fighting to the death[36] or captured, given a mocking crown of bulrushes and then beheaded.[37] Edmund of Rutland was intercepted as he tried to flee and was executed, possibly by Clifford in revenge for the death of his own father at the First Battle of St Albans. Salisbury escaped, but was captured and executed the following night.

York was buried at Pontefract, but his head was put on a pike by the victorious Lancastrian armies and displayed over Micklegate Bar at York, wearing a paper crown. His remains were later moved to Church of St Mary and All Saints, Fotheringhay.[38]


Within a few weeks of Richard of York's death, his eldest surviving son was acclaimed King Edward IV and finally established the House of York on the throne following a decisive victory over the Lancastrians at the Battle of Towton. After an occasionally tumultuous reign, he died in 1483 and was succeeded by his twelve-year-old son, Edward V, who was himself succeeded after 86 days by his uncle, York's youngest son, Richard III.

Richard of York's grandchildren included Edward V and Elizabeth of York. Elizabeth married Henry VII, founder of the Tudor dynasty, and became the mother of Henry VIII, Margaret Tudor, and Mary Tudor. All future English monarchs would come from the line of Henry VII and Elizabeth, and therefore from Richard of York himself.

In literature, Richard appears in Shakespeare's Henry VI, Part 1, in Henry VI, Part 2 and in Henry VI, Part 3.[39]

Richard of York is the subject of the popular mnemonic "Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain" to remember the colours of a rainbow in order (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet).



Richard was descended from English and Castilian royalty, as well as several major English aristocratic families.


His twelve children with Cecily Neville are:

  1. Anne of York (10 August 1439 – 14 January 1476). Married to Henry Holland, 3rd Duke of Exeter and Thomas St. Leger.
  2. Henry of York (b. 10 February 1441, died young).
  3. Edward IV of England (28 April 1442 – 9 April 1483). Married to Elizabeth Woodville.
  4. Edmund, Earl of Rutland (17 May 1443 – 30 December 1460).
  5. Elizabeth of York (22 April 1444 – after January 1503). Married to John de la Pole, 2nd Duke of Suffolk (his first marriage, later annulled, was to Lady Margaret Beaufort when she was about 3 years old).
  6. Margaret of York (3 May 1446 – 23 November 1503). Married to Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy.
  7. William of York (b. 7 July 1447, died young).
  8. John of York (b. 7 November 1448, died young).
  9. George, Duke of Clarence (21 October 1449 – 18 February 1478). Married to Lady Isabel Neville. Parents of Lady Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury.
  10. Thomas of York (born c. 1451, died young).
  11. Richard III of England (2 October 1452 – 22 August 1485). Married to Lady Anne Neville, the sister of Lady Isabel, Duchess of Clarence.
  12. Ursula of York (born 22 July 1455, died young).



  1. ^ Parts of Richard's estates were initially still held in dower by the widows of the previous land and title holders. The Duchy of York had two dowager duchesses, Joan Holland (d. 1434) and Philippa Mohun (d. 1431), widows of the 1st and 2nd dukes of York respectively. The Mortimer estates also had Anne Stafford (widow of the late Earl of March) as dowager Countess of March. She died on 20 September 1432, one day before York attained the legal age of majority. Since the last dowager passed away in 1434, he did not have to wait long after reaching majority to enjoy the full usufruct of his lands.
  2. ^ Following the seeming collapse of English France in 1435–36, the English crown promised to send 11,100 men (9000 archers and 2100 men-at-arms) under York. This amount couldn't be sent all at once due to bad weather. 1770 were sent before York,[11] 970 in January and 800 under Sir Thomas Beaumont in February.[10] Beaumont's contingent was annihilated while trying to defend Saint-Denis, before York even got to France.

    York would arrive in France with only 4500 men, which, coupled with the earlier 1770 already sent in advance, amounted to only 6270 (still falling short of the original 11,100 promised). Furthermore, York and his contingent were committed to only one year, while earlier ones were contracted for two.[11]

    An additional 2000 (400 men-at-arms and 1600 archers) funded by Cardinal Beaufort were forthcoming.


  1. ^ Richardson IV 2011, pp. 400–404
  2. ^ Dockray 2016
  3. ^ Harriss 2004.
  4. ^ Laynesmith 2017, pp. 31–32.
  5. ^ a b c d  "Richard (1411-1460)". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 
  6. ^ a b Laynesmith 2017, p. 33.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h "York". Retrieved 19 February 2018. 
  8. ^ Barker 2012, pp. 248–249.
  9. ^ a b Griffiths 1981, p. 455.
  10. ^ a b Griffiths 1981, p. 201.
  11. ^ a b c Barker 2012, p. 249.
  12. ^ Seward, Desmond (1999). "10". The Hundred Years War: The English in France 1337-1453. Penguin Books. 
  13. ^ Turner 1825, p. 28.
  14. ^ Barker 2012, pp. 249–250.
  15. ^ Pollard 2005, p. 23.
  16. ^ Pollard 2005, pp. 45–49.
  17. ^ Rowse 1998, p. 111.
  18. ^ Storey 1986, p. 72.
  19. ^ a b Roskell 1965, p. 221.
  20. ^ Matthew Lewis (5 January 2016). "The Fall of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester". Retrieved 5 March 2018. 
  21. ^ Illustration from Vigiles du roi Charles VII.
  22. ^ Pollard 2005, pp. 56–57.
  23. ^ Wagner 2006, pp. 260–261.
  24. ^ Richardson IV 2011, p. 404.
  25. ^ Keen, 'England in the Later Middle Ages', London, 1973 pg438
  26. ^ UK Retail Price Index inflation figures are based on data from Clark, Gregory (2017). "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved 6 November 2017. 
  27. ^ Hariss 2005, p. 515.
  28. ^ Doyle & Evans 1864, p. 400.
  29. ^ Goodwin 2012, pp. 63–64.
  30. ^ Storey 1986, p. 159.
  31. ^ Goodman 1990, p. 31.
  32. ^ Rowse 1998, p. 142.
  33. ^ Act of Accord, from Davies, John S., An English Chronicle of the Reigns of Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V, and Henry VI, folios 208–211 (from Googlebooks, retrieved 15 July 2013)
  34. ^ Cokayne, and others, The Complete Peerage, volume XII/2, page 908.
  35. ^ Rowse 1998, p. 143.
  36. ^ Sadler, John (2011). Towton: The Battle of Palm Sunday Field 1461. Pen & Sword Military. p. 60. ISBN 978-1-84415-965-9. 
  37. ^ Seward, Desmond (2007). A Brief History of the Wars of the Roses. London: Constable and Robin. p. 85. ISBN 978-1-84529-006-1. 
  38. ^ Haigh, pp. 31ff.
  39. ^ "Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York". shakespeareandhistory.com/. Retrieved 19 May 2013. 
  40. ^ European Heraldry. War of the Roses
  41. ^ Marks of Cadency in the British Royal Family
  42. ^ Pinches, John Harvey; Pinches, Rosemary (1974), The Royal Heraldry of England, Heraldry Today, Slough, Buckinghamshire: Hollen Street Press, ISBN 0-900455-25-X



External links

Peerage of England
Title last held by
Edward of Norwich
as holder until 1415
Duke of York
24 February 1425 – 30 December 1460
Succeeded by
Edward Plantagenet
Preceded by
Edmund Mortimer
Earl of March
18 January 1425 – 30 December 1460
Title last held by
Richard of Conisburgh
as holder until 1415
Earl of Cambridge
19 May 1426 – 30 December 1460
Vacant Prince of Wales
Duke of Cornwall
Earl of Chester

31 October 1460 – 30 December 1460
Peerage of Ireland
Preceded by
Edmund Mortimer
Earl of Ulster
18 January 1425 – 30 December 1460
Succeeded by
Edward Plantagenet
Legal offices
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The Duke of Gloucester
Justice in eyre south of the Trent
14 July 1447 – 2 July 1453
Succeeded by
The Duke of Somerset
Political offices
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The Duke of Bedford and
The Duke of Gloucester

as rulers for Henry VI until 1429
Lord Protector of England
3 April 1454 – 9 February 1455
19 November 1455 – 25 February 1456
31 October 1460 – 30 December 1460
Preceded by
The Duke of Bedford
Lieutenant of France
8 May 1436 – c. 13 November 1437
Succeeded by
The Earl of Warwick
Preceded by
The Earl of Warwick
Lieutenant of France
2 July 1440 – 20 October 1445
Succeeded by
The Earl of Somerset