Edward was born during a time of great turmoil in England. In what later became known as the Wars of the Roses, Edward’s father, King Edward IV had been forced off the throne and was replaced by King Henry VI. King Edward fled into exile on the Continent and his wife Queen Elizabeth Woodville sought safety in sanctuary in Westminster Abbey. While there, on November 2, 1470, she gave birth to Prince Edward and it would be another five months before King Edward returned to England and met his new son.
When King Edward did return, he deposed King Henry VI and began his second reign. On June 26, 1471, when the prince was seven months old, he was created Prince of Wales. Twelve days later, a council was appointed by the King which was to be led by his mother, the Archbishop of Canterbury, his paternal uncles the Dukes of Clarence and Gloucester and his maternal uncle Anthony Woodville, Lord Rivers. The duty of the council was to advise and council the prince until he reached the age of majority which was fourteen. A sub-committee of this council was charged with running the day-to-day affairs of the prince’s household entirely with the Queen’s advice and consent. Queen Elizabeth fulfilled these duties over the next twenty months.
At that time, there was disorder in Wales and the only way to deal with it was with a royal presence. An independent, satellite court was created for the prince at Ludlow Castle on the Welsh Marshes. King Edward made the prince the nominal president of a recently established Council of Wales and the Marshes. Queen Elizabeth accompanied Edward to Ludlow and she supervised setting up the household.
Management of the prince, his council and his household was placed under the queen’s brother Earl Rivers. In September 1473 a series of regulations were drawn up by the king regarding the management of the household and the upbringing and education of Prince Edward. These “Letters of Instructions” spell out a rigorous schedule.
In the morning, the Prince was to be awakened at a convenient hour, according to his age. Until he was ready, no one was to come into his chamber except Earl Rivers, his chaplains and chamberlains or anyone else Earl Rivers approved of. Matins were to be said in his chamber by the chaplains. Mass was performed in the prince’s chapel or closet, not in his chamber unless there was a reasonable cause. No man was to interrupt the prince during Mass. On holy days, the prince was to make offerings at the service. On feast days, sermons were delivered.
The prince then had breakfast followed by virtuous learning, appropriate for his age. At ten o’clock in the morning, he had dinner. Meat was served with this meal by worshipful folks and squires wearing livery. No one was to sit at the prince’s table except those thought fit by Earl Rivers. The meal was accompanied by the reading of noble stories which encouraged virtue, honor, knowledge, wisdom and deeds of worship. There was to be nothing in the stories that would move or stir him to vice. On fast days, the prince had his dinner at noon instead of ten.
After dinner, the prince received instruction in grammar, music and humanities. He was to spend the rest of his afternoons in physical activities. These included horsemanship, swordsmanship, tilting at the quintain (an object mounted on a post or attached to a movable crossbar mounted on a post, used as a target in the medieval sport of tilting) and other sports and exercises fitting for a prince of his estate. The chronicler Dominic Mancini reported the Prince ‘devoted himself to horses and dogs and other useful exercises to invigorate his body’.
He attended Vespers followed by supper at four o’clock. He was then allowed to play in ‘disports as shall be conveniently devised for his recreation’. Up until the age of twelve he went to bed at eight o’clock in the evening. From 1482 he was allowed to stay up until nine o’clock pm. The servants and tutors were encouraged ‘to enforce themselves to make him merry and joyous towards his bed’. The prince was required to be in his chamber in his bed with the curtains drawn. All persons were excluded from the room except for the individual designated as his night attendant. Once he was asleep, he was to be vigilantly watched over throughout the whole night in case sudden illness were to occur. A physician and surgeon were in attendance at all times.
The sons of noble lords and gentlemen were in the prince’s household and followed the same schedule. The king says the children are not to be engaged in idleness or in unvirtuous occupation. The rules prohibited any person who might be a ‘swearer, brawler, backbiter or common gambler, adulterer or user of words of ribaldry’ (vulgar or indecent speech) to be in the presence of the prince. Fighting was forbidden. If anyone drew a weapon in the presence of the prince, they would spend time in the stocks for a first offence and lose their position upon the second offence.
These rules make clear the affectionate and tender care Edward and Elizabeth took in raising the prince. The King made it clear the prince’s education was meant to give him virtuous guidance and a grounding in the new humanism. These provisions for Edward’s education presage how King Edward VI was educated during his father King Henry VIII’s reign.
Apparently the king’s persistence and diligence succeeded. The chronicler Dominic Mancini wrote of the young prince: “In word and deed he gave so many proofs of his liberal education, of polite nay rather scholarly, attainments far beyond his age; … his special knowledge of literature … enabled him to discourse elegantly, to understand fully, and to declaim most excellently from any work whether in verse or prose that came into his hands, unless it were from the more abstruse authors. He had such dignity in his whole person, and in his face such charm, that however much they might gaze, he never wearied the eyes of beholders.”
Further reading: “Elizabeth Woodville: Mother of the Princes of the Tower” by David Baldwin, “The Princes in the Tower” by Alison Weir, “Elizabeth Wydeville: The Slandered Queen” by Arlene Okerlund, “The Usurpation of Richard III” by Dominic Mancini