The Historie of the Arrivall of King Edward IV

Livia Visser-Fuchs

The Historie of the Arrivall of King Edward IV A.D. 1471 tells the story of the victorious return of Edward IV to his kingdom and his throne after his exile in the Low Countries.

Ghent University Library manuscript 236, folio 2,
The Battle of Barnet
Ghent University Library, BHSL.HS.0236

In the autumn of 1470 the powerful Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, later known as ‘the Kingmaker’, together with the king’s own brother, George, Duke of Clarence, rebelled against Edward IV, of the house of York, and put Edward’s predecessor, Henry VI, of the house of Lancaster, back on the throne. Edward had to flee the country with a small group of nobles and servants and landed on the northern Dutch shore without a penny. With the help of a great lord with local influence, Louis de Bruges, Lord of Gruuthuse, he travelled to Flanders, where he met his brother-in-law Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, the husband of his sister, Margaret of York. The duke ruled all of the Low Countries and was able to assist Edward with money and ships. On a stormy day in March 1471 the king sailed for England and came to York on 18 March. He then marched south and found the earl of Warwick hiding behind the walls of Coventry and refusing to come out and decide the matter in open battle. The king moved on to the town of Warwick, where his rebellious brother, the duke of Clarence, deserted the earl of Warwick and joined Edward with his troops. As the earl still refused to do battle, Edward marched to London and captured Henry VI. Warwick finally left his refuge and the king and the earl confronted each other with their armies near Barnet on Easter Day, 14 April 1471. Warwick and other lords were killed.

Edward hardly had time to enjoy his victory: two days later he was informed that Queen Margaret of Anjou, Henry VI’s wife, and their, son seventeen-year old Edward, who had been seeking support in France, had landed on the south coast and were marching towards Wales, gathering soldiers as they went. The king took to the road again and after many long days of forced marches the two armies met in a field near Tewkesbury. Again Edward gained the victory, young Edward of Lancaster was killed and many of his supporters with him; others were beheaded as traitors two days later. Triumphant, Edward briefly returned to London, but left it again to suppress the last vestiges of rebellion in Kent; while he was in London Henry VI died in the Tower. With the death of the last Lancaster king and his son Edward of York’s throne was safe.

It was a servant of Edward IV, Nicholas Harpisfeld, clerk of the king’s signet (his small personal seal), who had been with the king throughout his exile and return, who wrote down this story in a simple, brief, factual format, in French, at the king’s command. This newsletter was sent to the Low Countries to the people who had assisted the king: the lord of Gruuthuse, his host, Duke Charles, his brother-in-law, and the town of Bruges, where Edward had been made welcome. They all found it interesting and several copies were made, some were even illustrated with scenes from the story; the duke used the newsletter to show his enemy, King Louis XI of France, what a useful and powerful ally Edward was. Many chroniclers of the time were pleased to have the information and inserted the text into their own books; some of these authors were able to add more detail from unknown sources. Harpisfeld’s newsletter told the story from the viewpoint of Edward IV, but most of it was undoubtedly correct.

Some time after the events – it is not known how long – an English author also used the text, translated into English, in his own book, the one now called The Arrivall of Edward IV, which is at least six times as long as the newsletter. The author claimed that his book was ‘compiled and put together in the present format by a servant of the king, who personally saw a large part of what happened and learned the rest from the true reports of people who were present on each occasion’ (text modernised). This claim suggests it was Harpisfeld himself who compiled the new version, but we cannot be certain.

In the new version the bare facts and the dates remain, but there are many long additions. They include an introduction on Edward’s situation – not needed by the original recipients of the newsletter – and other details, such as the names of the king’s companions, of people who came to join him, and of the places he passed. There is more background, extensive and lively description of each event, flashbacks into history, including references to the battles that Edward fought to gain his throne. There are some quite intimate happenings, such as the miracle of the little wooden shrine with the image of St Anne, which was closed for the Easter season, but miraculously opened its doors when the king knelt before it in prayer. There are heartfelt exclamations such as ‘Praise be to Almighty God!’, meditations and reflections on the events and detailed descriptions of the two battles fought.

Many of these details could have been based on the re-writer’s own personal knowledge and there is no reason why this should not be Nicholas Harpisfeld himself. After all, he had been there and must have seen much more than he needed to put into the official report to the Low Countries. Both the short and the long text are clearly based on carefully kept day-by-day notes of the kind a government official would make, recording dates and places of events as they happened. In his new text, however, Harpisfeld could allow himself to give free rein to his literary aspirations. What he did not remember or found out himself was related to him by others.

The Arrivall was probably not a direct product of any governmental department of Edward IV, but its tone was still very partial: the author did not miss any opportunity to emphasise the treachery of the king’s opponents or to show how his undertakings were blessed by God and the saints.

The text of the Arrivall is available on, as is the French text of the newsletter. A simple search  for ‘Arrivall’ on this website leads to the Historie of the Arrivall of Edward IV. in England, edited by J. Bruce, London 1838, and to La revolte du conte de Warwick, edited by J.A. Giles, London 1849 (the newsletter is on pp. 20-25). See also L. Visser-Fuchs, ‘Edward IV’s memoir on paper to Charles, Duke of Burgundy. The so-called “Short version of the Arrivall”’, Nottingham Medieval Studies, vol. 36 (1992), pp. 167-227, for an overview of the surviving versions of all texts and black and white photographs of the pictures in the illustrated copies of the newsletter.

The manuscript in Ghent was digitised in full here.