By the middle of the 15th century, English politics had become increasingly factional. Richard, Duke of York and his Neville allies, Richard, Earl of Salisbury and his son, Richard, Earl of Warwick, and their cousin John Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk were in opposition to the government of King Henry VI, led by the king's favourite, Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset. The king had become mentally incapacitated in August 1453, and parliament authorised a protectorate to rule in the king's stead. This ended in January 1455 when the king regained his health.[note 2] The Nevilles had been feuding violently with the Percies—led by the Earl of Northumberland's son, Thomas Percy, Lord Egremont—in Northern England before the king's illness. York's protectorate had given them victory over their rivals, who had massive financial penalties imposed upon them.[note 3]
With the kIng's recovery, York and the Nevilles retreated to their northern estates, and Mowbray did likewise to East Anglia, distancing himself from factional politics. An uneasy peace existed between the court and the Yorkists until April 1455, when the king summoned a great council to meet at Leicester the following month. The Duke of York feared that the purpose of this council was to destroy him; several chroniclers of the day suggest that Somerset was influencing the king against the Duke with "subtile meanes". He and the Nevilles raised an army from their respective estates. The king and a small force left London on 20 May; the Yorkists approached from the north with a speed calculated to surprise. In a pre-emptive strike, York and his allies intercepted the royal army at the First Battle of St Albans. The fighting lasted only a short time, and though there were very few fatalities among the common soldiery, the chief Lancastrian captains—Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, Somerset and Thomas, Lord Clifford, were all killed. They were not only three of the king's most loyal and powerful supporters, but Percy and Somerset at least were bitter enemies of the Nevilles and York. Because of this, the battle has been described more like a series of targeted assassinations than a fully-fledged battle. The king was taken prisoner and escorted back to Westminster by the victorious Yorkists.
The period between St Albans and the Loveday, says the historian A. J. Pollard, is one of the most poorly recorded of the entire century, although enough is known to have allowed historians to piece together events. By 1458, Henry's government urgently needed to deal with the unfinished problem that the Battle of St Albans created, called by Ralph Griffiths the "craving of the younger magnates for revenge on those who had killed their fathers". But Henry also wanted to bring the Yorkists "back into the fold". Taking the initiative, the Loveday was intended to be his personal contribution to peace.[note 4] Another strong motive was that intelligence was received suggesting the French planned to invade Calais. Although the attack on Calais never occurred, the previous year had seen direct attacks on Sandwich—which the French had sacked and taken many prisoners from—and this was reason enough to bring the warring parties together.
Lovedays as arbitration
The ritualistic reconciliation that contemporaries called a loveday has been described by historian Bertram Wolffe as "a formal accord on the limited issue of atonement and compensation".[note 5] The legal historian John Baker suggested that, in particularly contentious affairs, a Loveday was deliberately designed "to avoid reasoned decision making", being designed to result in voluntary—therefore amicable—settlements, regardless of who was legally in the right. The process often had a physical aspect to it, such as the parties having to worship or dine together. Lovedays were particularly favoured among the nobility as a mechanism by which parties could avoid the involvement of the crown in their disputes if the parties so wished. They were held in a neutral location agreeable to the protagonists, and pre-arranged by individuals acting as their councillors. These were important men in the extra-legal process, says Griffiths: "anyone who talked or wrote about or organized these dies amories was half-way towards settling potentially dangerous quarrels". The protagonists would usually arrive accompanied by retinues and await an award from the arbitrators, normally three men, trusted by all those involved, usually members of the local nobility. Often one of them would be appointed an umpire in case of a deadlock.