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An Analysis of the causes of the Wars and the course which they took.

Michael D. Miller

Chapter 50: The Yorkists return: 1460


January to May 1460

Richard, Duke of York, and his friends did not for a moment concede that they had been defeated, either in their own minds or to anyone else. Undeniably they had suffered a reverse, and a serious one at that, but it only meant that they would have to try yet harder and be more resourceful.

They had a good base in Calais, and thither went Warwick himself, his father Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury and their companion in misfortune, Richard's eldest son, Edward, Earl of March, who was shortly to be King Edward IV. Calais had been held by Warwick's uncle in his absence, William, Lord Fauconberge, who owed his title to his marriage to Joan Fauconberge. William was on old soldier of the French Wars who was more than equal to Henry Beaufort, the young Duke of Somerset when he appeared before Calais in early October 1459. Somerset had been given a Commission as Captain of Calais even before the Yorkist discomfiture at Ludford,  [page ] and was intended to take Warwick's place.

Fauconberge simply denied him entry to the port, but Somerset did manage to establish himself at Guines, an out-lying fort from where he managed to keep up skirmishing tactics. Fauconberge was quite content to let him stay there. He was no more than a minor nuisance whilst he was in Guines, and at the same time he was helpfully removed from the centre of affairs in London.

Richard found a ready welcome in Ireland, where he was remembered with affection for his good and fair administration when he was the King's Lieutenant in Ireland between 1445 and 1450. The Irish Parliament treated him as though he still held this office, and took the opportunity to assert its legislative independence from London. Resistance to Richard was declared treason, and an officer sent from London to arrest him was promptly beheaded. So successful were the Earls of Kildare and Desmond in playing upon Irish feelings that when James Butler, Earl of Wiltshire, who was also Earl of Ormond, tried to rouse the Irish against Richard, he was sent packing back to England in a hurry.

There were a number of military and naval operations, when Warwick put to good use his hard-won naval experience.

The county of Kent, having forgiven or forgotten Richard's activities in the 'harvest of heads' in 1451,  [page ] was reported by Warwick's spies to be especially sympathetic to the Yorkist cause. To test this, Sir Richard Dynham was dispatched to Sandwich in January 1460. So sudden was Dynham's assault that Sir Richard Wydeville, Lord Rivers, and his son Anthony, Warwick's especial targets, were dragged from their beds and carried off to Calais. Dynham reported favourably upon the attitude of the townsfolk when he effected the capture of these two, whose task had been to thwart a possible Yorkist landing. In May 1460, Warwick sailed to Ireland to confer with Richard. On his return, he brought with him his mother, Alice, Countess of Salisbury, who had managed to take refuge in Ireland. He was intercepted by off Land's End by a squadron under the command of the Lord Admiral, Henry Holland, Duke of Exeter. So mutinous were Exeter's men that they would not attack Warwick's ships, and Warwick, who normally welcomed a fight, thought he had better things to do than to engage in a sea battle. He sailed on unmolested, and he and his mother reached Calais in safety. Another squadron was sent to the relief of Somerset, still shut up in Guines. Through stress of weather it was driven into Calais. There the ships were captured, and the men made prisoner. Rather than be prisoners of Warwick, who had an unenviable reputation so far as prisoners were concerned, they promptly took service in his ranks.

By now, such favourable reports were being received from Warwick's spies, that the time had come to undertake serious military operations. The attitude of the Men of Kent may have had something to do with what they had heard of the fate of Newbury, a strongly Yorkist town. James Butler, Earl of Wiltshire had descended on the town and had despoiled it, behaving with great brutality towards its citizens. Anxious to conceal his spoils, he had loaded them into five Genoese carracks at Southampton which he had chartered in the King's name and at his expense. He then took his ill-gotten gains off to Holland, and Kent feared it would shortly suffer a similar visitation. At any rate Kent and London were said to be seething with discontent, and if a successful landing could be made in Kent, then support from Kent and London would rapidly attract other support from the south of England. Besides this, the Yorkists had gained a valuable ally.

The Papal Legate, Francesco dei Coppini, Bishop of Terni, had been sent to London in February 1459 to seek English support against the Turks. Pope Pius II seems to have been misinformed on the chaotic state of English politics at the time, and Coppini had to report that his mission had failed. He had been impressed by Richard, and thought the Yorkists could form an effective government. Only such a government could provide the help that his master the Pope was seeking. Coppini, like all medieval Italian Churchmen, was quite unable to remain in the wings when there was a good political dispute in the centre of the stage, and soon proved that he was willing to meddle in English affairs to an extent which was well beyond the brief of a Papal Legate. He simply could not understand why Richard and the Yorkists refrained from displacing King Henry VI, and thought they were shooting themselves in the foot by such self-imposed restraint. By the standards of Italian medieval politics which, if it can be imagined, were even more blood-thirsty than those of England, it made no sense whatever that King Henry VI should remain as King and that all that should be attempted was a change of ministers. A clean sweep across the Board was needed, and the King must be replaced before the country had any chance of the effective government which the English nobles said they desired. To Coppini, the only logical course was that Richard should drop all his pretensions, which Coppini thought rather priggish, and assert without any inhibitions whatever his own strong title to the Crown.

In any case, Coppini had another incentive, which must surely have wetted his appetite for meddling in lethal medieval politics with even greater gusto. His friend, Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan viewed with some alarm the prospect that Queen Margaret's brother John, Duke of Calabria intended, with French support, to claim his Dukedom in the South of Italy. To the Duke's mind, Italy was far better off without French troops attempting to enforce French claims to Italian soil. One way of preventing this was to help a strong English King such as Richard, Duke of York to ascend the Throne and, in alliance with Burgundy, so threaten France that she would not dare to support John. King Henry VI was not such a King. From what Coppini had told him, Richard clearly was. This convoluted proposal was plainly ludicrous but to Coppini, it was the breath of life itself.

On hearing that Coppini was in Calais on a renewed mission to England, Warwick sent for him and the two men had long conversations in which Coppini pressed his views. Soon they were joined by the other fugitives, among them Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury and Edward, Earl of March. So far as his immediate audience was concerned, Coppini soon found that he was pushing at an open door, and they readily accepted his advice which apparently was what they wanted to hear. Certainly Edward had none of his father's inhibitions when he reached for the Crown in 1461, and the others had none in helping him to do so. Richard, Duke of York, was not present in Calais, but was in far-away Ireland. He would not have met Coppini until after the battle of Northampton in July 1460, [page ] but his attitude towards the Crown had markedly changed by October 1460, when he laid claim to it in Parliament. [page ] It is to be supposed that Coppini's advocacy, once Richard had listened to it, was responsible for this change in his views.

The Yorkists land in Kent - June 1460

The first thing to do was to secure a bridge-head in England. Fauconberge descended on Sandwich and rapidly captured it. He sent its new governor, the same Osberne Mundiford who had refused to deliver Le Mans to Matthew Gough,  [page ]to Calais as a prisoner. Warwick, finding no use for one of Somerset's most trusted retainers, cut off his head. On 26th June 1460, Edward, Earl of March, accompanied by Salisbury, Warwick and Coppini, landed at Sandwich. The spies had reported truly, and they met with a joyous reception. Thomas Bourchier, Archbishop of Canterbury, with his Cross borne before him, headed the most prominent of the clergy of Kent. The whole of Kent, with Lord Cobham at its head, rose in support of the Yorkists. At the head of a multitude rather than an army, Edward and the Yorkist nobles reached London on 2nd July 1460, where they met the same joyous welcome. The City, although it contained some who were loyal to the Lancastrians, now declared itself a Yorkist stronghold, and Lords Scales and Hungerford, who were supposed to be holding London for King Henry VI, found it prudent to retreat to the Tower.

The battle of Northampton - 10th July 1460

An army had to be organised out of the joyous multitude, and Edward and Warwick lost no time in doing so. It resembled Gideon's task, because there was no lack of volunteers. Leaving Salisbury and Cobham to keep watch on the Tower, they marched out of London at the head of an army of tried and seasoned soldiers in search of the King's array in the Midlands. Archbishop Bourchier, Bishop Coppini, and 4 English Bishops went with the army. One of these was Richard Beauchamp, Bishop of Salisbury, who had hitherto espoused the Lancastrian cause. Many more joined them on the way, and there were some interesting newcomers. Sir Robert Botyll, Prior of the Hospital of St John and hitherto one of the King's most trusted advisors, threw in his lot with the Yorkists, as did some others who might have been expected to support Lancaster, John, Lord Le Scrope and William Fenys, Lord Say. William's father had been a staunch Lancastrian who had been murdered by Jack Cade's mob. [page ] William however was a committed Yorkist and cared not who knew it.

All was not well in the Lancastrian camp. On hearing of the Yorkist advance from London, the Chancellor, William of Waynflete, Bishop of Winchester, and most of the officers of the Household resigned in a body. Still the Lancastrians resolved to give battle to the Yorkists at Northampton. Before taking up their positions, the Lancastrian commanders allowed their troops to ransack the town and set it on fire. There were plenty of instances during the Wars of the Roses of towns being sacked, but very few where they were deliberately set alight and purposely destroyed, all in marked contrast to what had been done in France. There, it had often been deliberate policy to destroy towns, whereas in England, it was as far as possible avoided. The burning of Northampton earned the Lancastrians the lasting hatred of the townsfolk so that, when Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset went into the town after his capture by King Edward IV in 1462, the townsfolk were only dissuaded, with the very greatest difficulty, from tearing him limb from limb. [page ]

King Henry VI took a tender farewell of Queen Margaret and the young Prince Edward and sent them out of harms way to Eccleshall. Judging that the Yorkists had a superiority in numbers, the Lancastrian Lords decided to fight a defensive battle in an excellent position to the south of the town. The battle field has been built over since 1460 by the spread of the town, but the site of the battle can still be deduced; it lies to the east of the London Road before it crosses the Bridge over the River Nene. A railway line, a furlong to the south of the bridge, goes straight through the actual scene of the fighting. Between 1/4 and 1/3 of a mile to the East of the London Road, the Lancastrians threw up earthworks, running in a north/south line, with plenty of embrasures for their ample supply of guns. The right, or northern end, of their line lay on the River Nene, whilst their left, or southern end rested among the woods and buildings of Delapre Abbey which is still to be seen.

During the morning of 10th July 1460, the Yorkist army, with Warwick himself in overall command, was marching up the road from London towards Northampton. Soon they could see the pall of smoke from the burning town, and this indicated that the Lancastrian army must be close by. Then their Scouts reported that the Lancastrians were entrenched in their earthworks in a strong defensive position. Warwick hurried forward and saw that the scouts had made an honest report. The Lancastrians had put him in something of a quandary. He could not continue his march northward in search of a more favourable battlefield with the Lancastrian host in his rear; that would be inviting the Lancastrians to attack him before he could find a suitable place to draw up his force in battle-line. He could not readily outflank them because the ground was too broken to allow rapid movement on which such a manoeuvre would depend, and the enemy would soon appreciate what he was doing and counter attack. A withdrawal into more open country-side might tempt the Lancastrians out of their earthworks, but this would be seen as something like a check which the delicate political position would not readily understand or accept. A frontal assault seemed the only option, but this is what the foe obviously wanted, and it was a maxim of war that you did not do what the enemy wished you to do. A frontal attack would have to take place in the face of the Lancastrian guns; maybe the enemies artillery was not of the same standard as that of the French gunners, with the Bureau brothers in command, but it was clearly enough to serve the Lancastrian's purposes. It was true that his archers could do much to pick off the Lancastrian gunners, but they would have to advance over open country to come within bow- shot, and would expose themselves to the Lancastrian's own archers. Warwick wanted to avoid heavy casualties which he could not afford, and yet here it seemed that the battle of Castillon, where an English army had been destroyed, [page ] was about to be repeated.

Warwick was a resolute and aggressive man with boundless self-confidence, but he was not a reckless one. It must have been with a heavy and foreboding heart that he drew up the Yorkist army along the London road in three divisions, giving the commands of the two wings to Edward, Earl of March and to William, Lord Fauconberge whilst he commanded the centre. Whilst the Yorkist army was forming up, a little more than 1/4 of a mile from the Lancastrian earth-works and parallel to them, Richard Beauchamp, Bishop of Salisbury, was sent to the Lancastrian camp on the customary embassy. Accounts differ on his proposals. Whethamstede says that he was to suggest arbitration and conciliation by the Papal Legate, Coppini, and Archbishop Bourchier. By another account, Warwick was to ask for safe conduct to see the King.

Whatever the proposals were, they were scornfully rejected by Humphrey Stafford, Duke of Buckingham. Even this moderate minded man, who had earlier bent all his energies to reconciling implacable foes, now thought that a battle was the only way to settle matters. He had every confidence of victory, and he saw no reason to sacrifice the advantage which his army's strong position had given him, but he must have had qualms on what the weak-minded King would agree to in any meeting with Warwick. Later the Bishop was to be accused of tactlessness and thus precipitating an unnecessary battle. The Bishop may have been gruff and unmannerly, but the situation seemed not to call for the normal standards of courtesy, and he probably knew in his heart-of-hearts that Warwick had resolved on a battle come what may. That was Warwick's way.

For some time, the two armies faced each other, neither making a move, whilst the hideous pall of smoke from the burning town curled over their heads. Suddenly there was a summer storm, with thunder, lightening and sheets of driving rain. This was a chance too good to miss. Whilst the archers could unstring their bows and put the strings away to keep dry before they became soaked and useless, the powder by the guns would be wetted. The gunners must be given no chance to bring up fresh and dry supplies. Warwick shouted the order "Forward Banners", and the further order to kill the Lords and spare the common folk. Covered by a hail of arrows, the Yorkist line charged forward and was soon at the base of the earth-works. Then it was to be hew, thrust, cut, and parry in a vicious hand-to-hand fight. This had happened countless times before, and now seemed likely to happen again.

Then something very strange happened. The Lancastrian soldiers were not thrusting their weapons into Yorkist faces, but were instead offering their hands to help them scale the earth-works. Whether or not there had been some secret communications between Warwick and Lord Grey of Ruthyn beforehand will never be known, but Grey, he who had murdered Tresham 10 years before,  [page ]chose this critical moment to change sides. His soldiers offered help, not resistance. In a very short time, the Yorkist soldiers were in the Lancastrian camp, overcoming such of the Lancastrians who still resisted them. Well indeed did the Yorkists obey their commanders orders to kill the Lords. Humphrey Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, John, Viscount Beaumont, and Thomas, Lord Egremont were strewn as lifeless corpses around the King's tent. In even less time than it had taken at St Albans, King Henry VI was once again Warwick's prisoner.

In his first battle, the 18-year old Edward, Earl of March and the future King Edward IV, and the future victor of such desperate battles as Towton (1461), Barnet and Tewksbury (both 1471), displayed the reckless courage and determination which so distinguished him when there was fighting to be done. A giant of a man, he simply knocked down anyone who stood in his way.

Queen Margaret

Queen Margaret watched the battle with the Young Prince Edward from the bell tower of a nearby church. Seeing that all was lost, she took to flight with the Prince. It was certain that the Yorkists would come looking for her, and she was determined to avoid capture.

Accounts differ how she reached Harlech Castle and safety. By one account, she met with Owen Tudor, hurrying to join the Lancastrian army, and he escorted her to the Castle.

By another account, she met up with the men of Thomas, Lord Stanley, engaged on a similar mission but perhaps without the haste which would have characterised Owen Tudor. She should have been confident that she had fallen among friends, but they robbed her of all that she possessed. While the men were distracted by their booty, she managed to slip away with the help of a 14-year old squire, John Coombe of Amesbury, all three mounted on John's horse. In the forest, they met with a brigand who seemed determined to take advantage of her position. Thrusting her son forward, she said "Save the son of your King." The man hesitated, his rough nature touched by the gesture and the entreaty of a beautiful woman, and then guided her towards Harlech Castle. [Worcester 481; Chron Davies 98, 99; Gregory 208, 209; Stow 409] This last account accords with the story told to the Duchess of Bourbon when, many years later, Queen Margaret was once again in France; Margaret was anxious to arouse sympathy, and the tale could have lost nothing in the telling. It is possible that all these events actually occurred at different stages of a hazardous journey, but whatever the truth, they bear testimony to a woman of indomitable spirit. Later on, she journeyed from Harlech to Denbigh Castle where she was joined by Henry Holland, Duke of Exeter.

[These adventures may have taken place in later years when the Scots Army was driven away from Norham Castle see page]

Mopping up - July to October 1460

A consummate politician, Warwick had not been idle since his victory at Northampton, and now proceeded to consolidate it. Richard, Duke of York, had not been present at the battle, and it is possible that all that Warwick now did had been agreed with Richard during Warwick's visit to Ireland in May. Certainly Warwick took a great deal upon himself, and made appointments which, apart from being the victor of a great battle, he had no power to make. These could of course have been ratified by his prisoner, King Henry VI, who had neither the will nor the opportunity to gainsay Warwick. He would have been happy to do what Warwick told him to do.

Henry was conveyed to London with every mark of respect and lodged in his own Palace at Westminster. His own guard was dismissed, and a strong force of Warwick's own men was substituted. His own Captaincy of Calais was confirmed and Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, was dismissed from the post which in any event Fauconberge had thwarted. [page ]

Warwick's own brother, the young George Neville, Bishop of Exeter was appointed Chancellor, Henry, Viscount Bourchier took over the Treasury once again, and Robert Stillington, Dean of St Martin's le Grand became Keeper of the Privy Seal. [This is the first mention of Robert Stillington who, as Bishop of bath and Wells, is said to have drawn attention to the illegitimacy of the Princes in the Tower - see page ] On 30th July 1460, Writs were issued for Parliament to meet at Westminster on 7th October. With matters settled at home, Warwick then crossed to Calais, and induced Somerset and his men to depart peacefully from Guines. The Lancastrians in the Tower had been persuaded to surrender on 18th July and to depart in peace, apart from some followers of Henry Holland, Duke of Exeter, whom Warwick insisted on executing.

He was aware that Thomas, Lord Scales, the man who had so valiantly contested London Bridge against Jack Cade's rebels 10 years before, was an unpopular character, and arranged for him to leave the Tower at dead of night. He was recognised by some boat-men and, to Warwick's extreme annoyance, was slain by them without mercy.

Copyright Michael D. Miller 2003