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The Yorkist Kings and Foreign Policy

Jonathan Lewis points to the centrality of foreign policy in the making and unmaking of English kings in the fifteenth century.

The Yorkists have suffered from a lack of attention at A Level due, in part, to the fame of their illustrious successors, the Tudors. Traditionally textbooks have looked at them merely to unravel their role in the Wars of the Roses or to discuss the infamy of Richard III. Little has been made of the influence that Edward IV and Richard III had on the establishment of that Lancastrian and Yorkist hybrid, the House of  Tudor, and even less attention has been paid to the role that foreign policy played in the downfall of the Yorkists and the rise of Henry Tudor. This is perhaps most obviously demonstrated in regard to the Yorkist kings’ alienation of France in 1470 and 1485, when Edward lost his throne and Richard his life, both to a pretender supported by a French King anxious to quash any threat from England. This article will demonstrate that one of the main reasons for Henry VII’s success at Bosworth was the foreign policy of Edward IV and his brother Richard III during the period 1461-1485.


The Yorkist Kings inherited a dual legacy in foreign policy – both successful, due to the aggressive Henry V, and disappointing, since Henry VI was weak and did not share his father’s love of battle. Not only were the Yorkist kings the latest in a line of monarchs who, according to the recognised expert on their period, Charles Ross, ‘appeared to the French Kings as potential conquerors of their realm, especially when aided by Burgundy’, but they had to appeal to a population disheartened by Henry VI’s weakness in foreign affairs and also to the powerful merchants of London. In addition, Edward IV had to deal with probably the shrewdest king in Europe, Louis XI of France. All of these factors combined to create a situation made all the more volatile by Edward’s choice of wife and his subsequent relationship with the megalomaniac Earl of Warwick.

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