Seven Ways Edward IV Was Like a Modern Politician

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Max Irons and Rebecca Ferguson star as Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville in The White Queen. Image: Starz promotional images.

Although Edward IV is a central part of the story in The White Queen, his character is still somewhat elusive. The White Queen’s focus is on the women. The king, although dominant, is almost a secondary character. Edward IV presents a paradox. In The White Queen, he is the great romantic hero who married for love and yet he is also a known “lecher.”

What was the real Edward IV like? In some ways, he was similar to the archetype of a modern politician. This tongue-and-cheek list looks at the overlap between this medieval king and some true strengths as well as clichés of the modern politician.

    1. Edward was a terrific public speaker, good looking, tall, and cut a great figure.
    2. Edward IV famously could remember the names of “nearly all the persons dispersed throughout the shires of this kingdom… just as though he was in the habit of seeing them daily” – at least that’s what one contemporary claimed. In the last twenty or so years, however, historians like Michael Hicks have noted that while Edward may have had an exceptional good memory, he had the secret weapon of many modern-day politicians: lots of staff and great records even of obscure servants in distant corners of his kingdom.

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      Edward IV. BBC Promotional Images.

    3. Like many successful politicians, Edward understood the power of patronage – way back when it wasn’t a dirty word. Royal “servants,” such as people who assisted the crown in law enforcement in distant shires, did so expecting favors and special consideration from the king – instead of or in addition to payment. The king had a finite amount of bounty to distribute so he had to balance his favors or people resent it. To distribute patronage evenly, Edward kept detailed records of the favors he granted literally hundreds of protégés.
    4. To put it bluntly, Edward was a manwhore. One contemporary, Mancini, describes him as “licentious in the extreme.” Edward wasn’t fussy. The young and old; lowly and noble; and married and single were all fair game. However, Edward might have had particular weakness for young widows. Why? Presumably because they were sexually experienced and he didn’t need to fear angry fathers or husbands. Edward loved “wenching,” as they called it, and, from the sounds of it, Edward never met a brothel he didn’t like.
    5. Edward sometimes used unorthodox fundraising methods. When Edward ascended to the throne in 1461, he inherited a bankrupt and deeply indebted treasury. Unfortunately for him, England was experiencing a medieval credit crisis. Like many of us today, to fix cash shortfalls, medieval monarchs would borrow money – often from Italian bankers like the Medicis.By 1450, England owed over £372,000 (roughly $2 billion today), lenders became nervous, it couldn’t borrow money very easily. When England could borrow, the interest rate was a whopping 33%. As a result, Edward resorted to some interesting fundraising strategies. Sometimes he pressured wealthy merchants and others for forced “gifts.” To raise money to invade France in 1475, he may have seduced wealthy widows or at the very least buttered them up. James Gairdner writes, “Edward IV went about soliciting benevolences in person, and curious stories are told of his success with wealthy widows.”

      Young Edward IV

      The real Edward IV

    6. Edward could roll out the red carpet (so to speak) for key donors. Edward often needed financial support from the merchants in the City of London. To get this support, he made sure they loved him and his policies benefited commerce. In 1482, he invited some wealthy London merchants and their wives to go hunting, an extremely exclusive and aristocratic pursuit. The couples dined with Edward in a delightful hunting lodge where they were fed all types of “dainties” and lots of Gascon wine to wash them down. Despite being king, Edward flattered his guests by waiting to eat until everyone was served. After the couples left, Edward sent them six bucks, two harts, and a huge cask of Gascon wine as a reminder of the day.
    7. Like any great political dynasty, his family was always getting into trouble and causing scandals. In addition to being infamous for his slutty ways, he had a secret marriage and his mother may have conceived him while cuckolding her husband – or so the story goes. False rumors spread around Europe that his sister Margaret was loose (and not a virgin) before she married Charles the Bold.Edward’s eldest sister Anne of York not only quietly separated from her violent, abusive husband, she also lived adulterously with Thomas St. Leger for over a decade. Anne received a divorce (not annulment) in 1472 and finally got to marry her lover. Edward knew about the relationship, which would have deeply scandalized the nobility, and quietly condoned it. He even employed St. Leger as an esquire of the body, which meant the couple was often at court.

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Jamie Adair is the editor of History Behind Game of Thrones, a website about the history behind George RR Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" novels and the hit TV show, "Game of Thrones."

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