An alliance between Warwick and the exiled Lancastrians is seriously proposed.
Louis XI of France brokers talks between Warwick and Margaret of Anjou. Margaret reluctantly agrees to pardon Warwick, although some observers claim that she kept him kneeling in front of her for half an hour before she could bring herself to speak to him. Nevertheless, a deal is hammered out. Warwick’s daughter Anne will marry Margaret’s son Edward and Warwick will be given ships and men to mount an invasion of England. To say that Margaret is suspicious of her former chief enemy’s motives is something of an understatement. Warwick’s suggestion of a joint invasion is rejected and it is made clear that he must prove his new loyalties before expecting any help.
Clarence and Warwick land 2,000 men at Plymouth and Dartmouth. Discontented old Lancastrians from the west country soon flock to their banners.
Edward hears of the invasion and appoints John Neville, the Marquis of Montagu chief commissioner of array to deal with the rebels. John Neville quickly gathers 6,000 troops and appears to be moving to crush the rebels with his usual efficiency. In reality though, John Neville is having a major crisis of loyalties. He forgets how much he owes to Edward and recalls instead how the king removed the earldom of Northumberland from him in favour of the hated Percies. The fact that Edward later gave him numerous manors and titles in compensation is wiped from John Neville’s mind as he realises that he will be taking the field against his own brother. Family loyalty wins out and Neville declares for his brother while only a mile away from Edward’s smaller force. Edward’s men are in no shape to withstand a battle and he orders them to scatter. The king, his brother Richard Duke of Gloucester, Lord Hastings and a small band of followers manage to take ship at Kings Lynn for exile in Bruges.
Henry VI is released from the Tower of London and restored to the throne, although true power resides in the hands of one man – the Earl of Warwick. Many exiled Lancastrians (eg the Dukes of Somerset and Exeter) gleefully return to England and take possession of their lands. A parliament reverses all Yorkist attainders and a panic-stricken Queen Elizabeth flees for sanctuary in Westminster Abbey. The Lancastrian triumph appears complete.
The open French support for the invasion of England finally forces the Duke of Burgandy’s hand and he agrees to assist Edward in the recovery of his kingdom.
Edward sails from Flushing with three ships and a maximum of 2,000 men. (Some historians estimate that it may have been as few as 1,200). It seems a pitifully small force for the job and as one French chronicler points out, ‘Once a king has been thrown out of his kingdom by the door, it is very hard to come in again by the windows’.
Edward’s ships are separated by severe weather just outside the Humber estuary and hence make a widely dispersed landfall. Edward, together with around 500 men, comes ashore at Ravenspur on the Holderness coast.
Edward’s tiny force links up and takes stock of its situation. Few people rally to their side. An advance on London is out of the question and so Edward determines to march instead on York. As he does so, he craftily orders his men to tell those they meet that his claim is only for the dukedom of York – a title which he holds by right from his late father. Opposing forces are taken in by this ruse, as are potentially hostile elements within York, which opens its gates to him the following day.
Reinforced by local supporters, Edwards army passes near Pontefract. Here, John Neville makes no move to intercept him – an action which historians still debate today.
Edward is reinforced by some three thousand men and now openly proclaims his intention of retaking the throne. Marching via Leicester, he makes for where he knows the Earl of Warwick to be – the town of Coventry.
Edward arrives outside the walls of Coventry. Warwick refuses Edward’s attempts at negotiation, yet also declines to take the field and offer battle. Meanwhile, Clarence is urgently considering his position and comes to the conclusion that this might be the last chance to seek his brother’s mercy. Clarence brings 4,000 men over to the Yorkist side and is reconciled with both his brothers on the road between Coventry and Banbury.
Clarence attempts to reconcile Warwick and the king – however Edward coldly points out the reinforcements streaming into Warwick at Coventry – magnates such as the Duke of Exeter and the Earl of Oxford. Furthermore, it is increasingly essential that Edward takes charge of the centre of his realm – London.
Edward enters London in triumph. The wretched Henry VI is once more confined to the Tower and the Yorkists swiftly reassert their control over the city. Meanwhile, Warwick marches south from Coventry towards St Albans with an army of around 12,000 men.
Edward is warned of Warwick’s advance and his army begins to assemble. Warwick meanwhile reaches St Albans.
Edward’s army marches north from London and encamps for the night a mile or so beyond the village of Barnet on a wide swathe of open land known as Hadley Common.