Born in 1442 to Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York and Cecily Neville, Edward IV's two periods of kingship were intertwined with those of Henry IV. He was a prominent figure in the infamous War of the Roses, where he fought against the Lancastrian faction of the House of Plantagenet for the throne.
Edward's Journey to the Throne
Edward IV's journey to the throne is an interesting one.
He grew up in troubled times; England's finances were bleak, the country had suffered military defeats in France and conflict rippled through the government.
The 1450s saw the start of the War of the Roses. This civil war was a violent power struggle between the two factions of the House of Plantagenet – the then ruling House of Lancaster and the House of York, of which Edward was part of. Both sides had laid a claim to the throne but, of course, only one side could take it.
In 1453, Edward's father, the Duke of York, took over the government after King Henry VI fell into a stupor following defeats in France. Henry recovered and eventually took back control of the country. Henry's rule was weak, however, and being a descendent of Edward III, Edward's father decided to fight for the throne.
The Beginning of a New Reign
Edward's father and brother died in battle. Later, he defeated King Henry and his wife, Margaret, and forced them to flee, and Edward was eventually crowned king in 1461.
King Edward IV's reign is most easily broken down into two distinct parts, separated by his loss of the throne to King Henry VI. The first part of his reign, from 1461 to 1479, was marked by the War of the Roses and the second, from 1471 to 1483, by peace, political reforms and prosperity.
The War of the Roses Continues
It would've been nice to believe that the war between the House of York and the House of Lancaster had ended when Edward was crowned king in 1461. In reality, however, the War of the Roses continued, with both sides fighting for the crown.
Margaret, Henry VI's wife, created a plan to rip Edward from the throne with the help of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, who'd previously been Edward's supporter.
During the early years of his reign, the king made a number of moves that upset Warwick and their relationship began to falter. Firstly, in 1464, Edward secretly married Elizabeth Woodville, a widow with 2 sons and the daughter of a Lancastrian supporter. The marriage deeply offended Warwick and other Yorkist supporters, who were planning the king's marriage to a French princess. Next, in 1467, the king dismissed Warwick's brother, who had been the Archbishop of York, further fueling the Nevilles' resentment.
Two years later, encouraged by Louis XI of France, Warwick seized Edward. With the support that Edward had managed to build up in London, however, he regained his freedom just a few months later. Warwick fled to France and allied with the Lancastrians.
In 1470, just the following year, Warwick returned. Backed by the Lancastrians and French support, he invaded England and forced Edward into exile. Henry VI was made king once more, but it was Warwick who was effectively in charge.
The Return of King Edward IV
In what was turning out to be an endless shuffle of monarchs, the Lancastrian victory didn't last long. In 1471, Edward IV returned once again. He and his supporters defeated Warwick in the Battle of Barnet in April, then took Margaret prisoner and killed her son, Edward of Westminster, in Tewkesbury in May. King Henry VI died soon after – it's believed Edward had him murdered in the Tower of London.
Edward had finally achieved a Yorkist victory over the Lancastrians. It was a victory that would last – or, at least, last for the remaining 12 years of Edward's life.
King Edward IV's Second Reign
It's at this point that Edward could finally govern England without the constant threat of the Lancastrians – and it's at this point that his reign takes a turn for the better.
With the civil struggle behind him, he turned his attention to France and invaded in 1475. He took with him what was thought to be the largest army that had ever left England.
Not wanting to fight this mammoth invasion, France negotiated a buyout. Under the Treaty of Picquigny, Edward agreed to withdraw his army for a payment of 75,000 gold crowns and a pension of 50,000 gold crowns a year.
This money from France helped Edward rebuild England's finances. He didn't stop there, though. Edward continued to raise money through commercial treaties with France, Burgundy and the Hanseatic League. He began reorganizing the revenues of the crown and improved the country's financial administration.
He managed to amass quite a fortune. He even became a great businessman and invested in successful London businesses. The problem was that he also liked to spend his fortune. Edward's household expenditures began to rise and he spent huge sums on clothing, jewellery, illuminated manuscripts and elaborate projects, like St. George's Chapel in Windsor, his most notable legacy.
He was certainly indulgent – so much so that his once athletic figure turned overweight and his health began a downward spiral.
The Death of King Edward IV
After 12 years as king once more, Edward had managed to restore peace, order and wealth in England. In 1483, however, at the age of 41, Edward caught a cold from a fishing trip that turned into pneumonia and died.
He left behind his wife, Elizabeth Woodville, and their seven children. It was their eldest son, Edward V, that became king by default after his father's death but, along with his younger brother, Richard, Edward was murdered in the Tower of London. Instead, Edward IV's brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, declared himself king.