Henry himself with his Queen was forced to fly over the border and to find a refuge in Scotland. The cause of the House of Lancaster was lost: and with the victory of Towton the crown of England passed to Edward of York. A vast bill of attainder wrapped in the same ruin and confiscation the nobles and gentry who still adhered to the House of Lancaster. The struggles of Margaret only served to bring fresh calamities on her adherents. A new rising in the North was crushed by the Earl of Warwick, and a legend which lights up the gloom of the time with a gleam of poetry told how the fugitive Queen, after escaping with difficulty from a troop of bandits, found a new brigand in the depths of the wood. With the daring of despair she confided to him her child. " I trust to your loyalty," she said, " the son of your King." Margaret and her child escaped over the border under the robber's guidance; but on the defeat of a new revolt in the battle of Hexham, Henry, after helpless wanderings, was betrayed into the hands of his enemies.
His feet were tied to the stirrups, he was led thrice round the pillory, and then conducted as a prisoner to the Tower.
Ruined as feudalism really was by the decline of the baronage, the extinction of the greater houses, and the break-up of the great estates, which had been steadily going on, it had never seemed more powerful than in the years which followed Towton. Out of the wreck of the baronage a family which had always stood high amongst its fellows towered into unrivalled greatness. Lord Warwick was by descent Earl of Salisbury, a son of the great noble whose support had been mainly instrumental in raising the House of York to the throne. He had doubled his wealth and influence by his acquisition of the Earldom of Warwick through a marriage with the heiress of the Beauchamps. His services to the Yorkists were munificently rewarded by the grant of vast estates from the confiscated lands of Lancastrians, and by his elevation to the highest posts in the service of the State. He was captain of Calais, admiral of the fleet in the Channel, and Warden of the Western Marches. This personal power was backed by the power of the House of Neville, of which he was the head.
The command of the northern border lay in the hands of his brother, Lord Montagu, who received as his share of the spoil the forfeited Earldom of Northumberland and the estates of his hereditary rivals, the Percies. A younger brother, George Neville, was raised to the See of York and the post of Lord Chancellor. Lesser rewards fell to his uncles, Lords Falconberg, Abergavenny, and Latimer. The vast power which such an accumulation of wealth and honours placed at the Earl's disposal was wielded with consummate ability. In outer seeming Warwick was the very type of the feudal baron. He could raise armies at his call from his own earldoms. Six hundred liveried retainers followed him to Parliament. Thousands of dependants feasted in his courtyard. But few men were really further from the feudal ideal. Active and ruthless warrior as he was, his enemies denied to the Earl the gift of personal daring. In war he was rather general than soldier. His genius in fact was not so much military as diplomatic; what he excelled in was intrigue, treachery, the contrivance of plots, and sudden desertions.
And in the boy-king whom he had raised to the throne he met not merely a consummate general, but a politician whose subtlety and rapidity of conception was destined to leave a deep and enduring mark on the character of the monarchy itself. Edward was but nineteen at his accession, and both his kinship (for he was the King's cousin by blood) and his recent services rendered Warwick during the first three years of his reign all-powerful in the State. But the final ruin of Henry's cause in the battle of Hexham gave the signal for a silent struggle between the Earl and his young Sovereign. Edward's first step was to avow his union with the widow of a slain Lancastrian, Dame Elizabeth Grey, at the very moment when Warwick was negotiating for him a French marriage. Her family, the Wood-villes, were raised to greatness as a counterpoise to the Nevilles; her father, Lord Rivers, became treasurer and constable; her son by the first marriage was betrothed to the heiress of the Duke of Exeter, whom Warwick sought for his nephew.
Warwick's policy lay in a close connexion with France; foiled in his first project, he now pressed for a marriage of the King's sister, Margaret, with a French prince, but in 1467, while he crossed the sea to treat with Lewis, Edward availed himself of his absence to deprive his brother of the seals, and prepared to wed Margaret to the sworn enemy both of France and of Warwick, Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy. Warwick replied to Edward's challenge by a plot to rally the discontented Yorkists round the King's brother, the Duke of Clarence. Secret negotiations ended in the marriage of his daughter to Clarence; and a revolt which instantly broke out threw Edward into the hands of his great subject. But the bold scheme broke down. The Yorkist nobles demanded the King's liberation. Warwick could look for support only to the Lancastrians, but the Lancastrians demanded Henry's restoration as the price of their aid. Such a demand was fatal to the plan for placing Clarence on the throne, and Warwick was thrown back on a formal reconciliation with the King. A new rising broke out in the following spring in Lincolnshire. The King, however, was now ready for the strife. A rapid march to the north ended in the rout of the insurgents, and Edward turned on the instigators of the revolt.
But Clarence and the Earl could gather no force to meet him. Yorkist and Lancastrian alike held aloof, and they were driven to flight. Calais, though held by Warwick's deputy, repulsed them from its walls, and the Earl's fleet was forced to take refuge in France, where the Burgundian connexion of Edward secured his enemies the support of Lewis the Eleventh. But the unscrupulous temper of the Earl was seen in the alliance which he at once concluded with the partizans of the House of Lancaster. On the promise of Queen Margaret to wed her son to his daughter Anne, Warwick engaged to restore the crown to the royal captive whom he had flung into the Tower; and choosing a moment when Edward was busy with a revolt in the North, and when a storm had dispersed the Burgundian fleet which defended the Channel, he threw himself boldly on the English shore. His army grew as he pushed northward, and the desertion of Lord Montagu, whom Edward still trusted, drove the King in turn to seek shelter over sea. While Edward fled with a handful of adherents to beg help from Charles the Bold, Henry of Lancaster was again conducted from his prison to the throne, but the bitter hate of the party Warwick had so ruthlessly crushed found no gratitude for the "King Maker." His own conduct, as well as that of his party, when Edward again disembarked in the spring at Ravenspur, showed a weariness of the new alliance, quickened perhaps by their dread of Margaret, whose return to England was hourly expected.
Passing through the Lancastrian districts of the North with a declaration that he waived all right to the crown and sought only his own hereditary dukedom, Edward was left unassailed by a force which Montagu had collected, and was joined on his march by his brother Clarence, who had throughout acted in concert with Warwick. Encamped at Coventry, the Earl himself contemplated a similar treason, but the coming of two Lancastrian leaders put an end to the negotiations. When Montagu joined his brother, Edward marched on London, follow by Warwick's army; its gates were opened by the perfidy of the Earl's brother, Archbishop Neville; and Henry of Lancaster passed anew to the Tower. The battle of Barnet, a medley of carnage and treachery which lasted three hours, ended with the fall of Warwick, who was charged with cowardly flight. Margaret had landed too late to bring aid to her great partizan, but the military triumph of Edward was completed by the skilful strategy with which he forced her army to battle at Tewkesbury, and by its complete overthrow.
The Queen herself became a captive; her boy fell on the field, stabbed - as was affirmed - by the Yorkist lords after Edward had met his cry for mercy by a buffet from his gauntlet; and the death of Henry in the Tower crushed the last hopes of the House of Lancaster.