Edward IV was the son of Richard, the Duke of York, and great-great-grandson of King Edward III of England. His father was head of the York side during the first part of the Wars of the Roses (starting in 1455) and battled against the Lancaster side, including King Henry VI, arguing that the Yorkist line had a better claim to the throne than did Henry's ancestors. Edward started fighting on his father's side as soon as he was old enough to, and after his father died in battle in 1460, Edward became the Yorkist claimant to the kingship. After a major Yorkist victory, Henry was deposed and Edward was declared king in Parliament on 4 March 1461 with the support of Richard, Earl of Warwick (eventually nicknamed "the kingmaker").

Edward married in semi-secret in May 1464 to a woman, Elizabeth Woodville, whose mother's first husband had been a son of King Henry IV -- in other words, her family were Lancastrians. The Earl of Warwick (along with most of the Yorkists) was angry at this marriage and withdrew his support from Edward. Warwick started up the war again and after raising troops in France, came back to return Henry VI to the throne in 1470. He briefly succeeded in doing so, but the next year Edward returned from temporary hiding in Burgundy and led the remaining Yorkists to victory at the battle of Tewkesbury where Henry's son was killed. Edward was restored to the throne, Henry died in prison soon after, and Edward imprisoned his own brother George for picking the other side. (Supposedly George drowned in a large container of wine while in the Tower of London; many think he was probably held down in it.)

Edward settled down for a while to womanizing and gorging himself at feasts. He died in April 1483 at the age of 40 of pneumonia caught on a fishing trip and was briefly succeeded by his eldest son Edward V.