Edward IV, protector of Eton?

The end of 1460 had been a bad year for the Yorkists. Richard Duke of York and his younger son Edmond had been killed in battle. The elder son Edward was now Duke of York, and he assumed his father’s claim to the throne. The tide would now begin to turn in favour of the Yorkists.

Edward met the Lancastrian army at Mortimer’s Cross in Hertfordshire on 2 February 1461, and defeated them soundly. During the battle, three suns were seen to be rising, a portent, Edward of York claimed, of his upcoming success and that God was on his side. He took these suns as his emblem. Queen Margaret headed towards London, but was prevented from entering the city by Londoners who feared pillaging. The Yorkist army gave chase and also set off for the capital.

This must have been a very difficult time for Eton, very much Lancastrian in its outlook. Although they had not themselves taken up arms, Eton was Henry VI’s project and they feared reprisals. Some of the Fellows headed out to meet the Duke of York on his way to London.

They came away with a written letter of protection, signed by the new Duke [ECR 39/124]. Dated 27 February 1461, it reads

Be it knowen that We, Edward by the grace of God of Englande, Fraunce, and Irlande vray and just heire, Duc of York, Erl of the March and Ulvestre, have by thees our lettres taken and receyved the Provoste and felaship of the Collage of Eyton into our defense and saveguard.

Just a few weeks later the Battle of Towton took place, and Edward was now King of England. The College must have been very relieved that they had got this show of support from their new King when they did!

This protection was not to last long though, for in 1463 Edward decided to annex Eton to the College of St George, Windsor Castle. All property, money, vestments, support went to St George’s, and Eton was closed down.

By Eleanor Hoare, College Archivist