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

Michael D. Miller

Chapter 58: The fear of invasion: 1462

 

Queen Margaret

Where many another would have given up, Queen Margaret's indomitable and tenacious spirit held the remnants of the Lancastrians together. She had called the Lancastrian Lords to war in 1459,  [page ] and for a while fortune had smiled on her cause. Although the Lancastrians had not always been successful on the battlefield, when taken as a whole they had seemed to be winning the war. In February 1461, it had appeared that all that was required was another victory such as the 2nd battle of St Albans, and the Yorkists would be finished for good. Then came their shattering defeat at the battle of Towton at the end of March 1461, where King Edward IV came within an ace of his aim of eliminating the Lancastrian leadership. Now there were but few friends left and they, attainted and impoverished, had sought refuge as exiles in Scotland. This was defeat on a grand scale, which left her Yorkist foes in possession of the Crown, the Capital, the government and the whole country of England. The Yorkists were everywhere triumphant, whilst those who had espoused the cause of Lancaster were subdued and frightened, and did not dare to offer them resistance. But final defeat was not an expression which figured in Queen Margaret's vocabulary, and she was as resolved as ever to seek help and to go on fighting to reclaim her son's sacred inheritance, the Crown and Throne of England.

The problem was, where was that help to come from? The Scots were friendly hosts, and (presently) showed no inclination to hand the exiles over to the English King. But the Scottish King James III was a mere boy, and the Queen Mother, Mary of Guelders, inhibited as she was by disapproving glances cast in her direction from Burgundy, would not have found it easy to participate in an invasion of England even if she had been able to weld the quarrelsome and blood-thirsty Scottish nobles into a force which was united against th House of York. As Bishop Kennedy had found,  [page ] there were many at the Scottish Court who nurtured Yorkist sympathies, and even those that did not were more concerned with their own enemies at home than they were in seeking new ones south of the border. A King such as King James II might, if he had felt so disposed, have forced the Scots nobles to act as one against England, but James II was now dead, and they were not going to listen to a foreign woman and a mere boy.

As a consequence of the weakness of the Scots Throne, Scotland was beginning to show signs of falling apart, with each noble wondering how he could grab territory and wealth for himself at the expense of the other magnates, and even of the Throne itself. The English did everything they could to encourage this. Warwick's diplomacy [page ] immediately after the battle of Towton, aimed at keeping Scotland and her Lancastrian allies in check, had been most successful; he had extended the hand of friendship to Mary of Guelders, whilst encouraging John MacDonald, Earl of Ross to rebel. This was now followed up with more in the same vein. A truce for a year was agreed with Mary, and another treaty was signed on 13th February 1462 with John of the Isles and David Balloch encouraging them to rebel against the Scots Crown. To this, Mary had no effective response.

Margaret had naturally sought help from France. Already in July 1461, Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset and Robert, Lord Hungerford and de Moleyns, had been dispatched to France. They landed to hear that King Charles VII had just died and that the Dauphin Louis was on his way to Rheims to be crowned King Louis XI. It was not re-assuring to hear that Philip-the-Good, the now aged Duke of Burgundy, was accompanying him, because Philip had never made any secret of his Yorkist sympathies. In a studied act of defiance and insult to his father, Louis had taken up residence in the Burgundian Court in 1456 and had stayed there ever since.

To please Philip, Louis had the two emissaries thrown into prison. They were eventually released, probably due to the influence of Philip's son Charles, who had become friendly with Somerset during Somerset's enforced stay in Guines in 1460 and was sympathetic to Lancaster. [page ] King Louis XI heard them in a formal audience, loaded them with costly presents, gave them many fair promises, and dispatched them back to Scotland.

There is one account which, if true, indicates that Louis had not quite finished with Somerset. Louis, among his other manifold defects of character, liked to cause trouble. He possessed a malicious, almost sadistic, sense of fun which made doing so all the easier and all the more satisfying. It may be thought highly unlikely that Somerset, as charming and urbane a man as his father Edmund Beaufort had been, would have been guilty of such a gross breach of confidence and etiquette to boast openly that he had slept with Mary of Guelders. Louis put it about that he had done just this, probably sensing that Queen Margaret, although famed and admired for her faithfulness to poor witless Henry, liked to regard Somerset as one of her own enthralled young men who would readily do whatever she asked. The story goes on to relate that Louis' purposes were fully achieved, and that both Margaret and Mary were furious with Somerset; Mary even urged her real lover to murder him, and discarded him in favour of another when he refused to oblige her.

Margaret was, in other respects, far from pleased at Somerset's and Hungerford's return virtually empty-handed. She now decided to go to France herself to see if her personal intervention could add something more substantial to these meagre results. The passage of a year had, not to her great surprise, given no substance to Louis' fair promises. Managing to evade English ships who were keeping a look-out for her, she landed once again in her native land on 16th April 1462 after an absence of nearly 17 years.

She would have less than human if she did not reflect bitterly upon the change of circumstances. In 1445, she had been a Royal bride, going with all pomp and ceremony to her wedding and her coronation. Great Lords had bowed low before her, and all had hastened to do her bidding. Now she was an almost penniless refugee, rich in spirit but poor in every other aspect, and only separated from destitution by the 290 which Mary of Guelders had lent her. She found much sympathy for her plight, but soon found that her requests for help met with one courteous rebuff after another. At first Louis refused even to see his cousin in distress. Finding that she would not take No for an answer, he consented to give this insistent and importunate woman an audience at the Chateau d'Amboise in May 1462.

Neither had seen each other for nearly two decades, but each had a fair idea of what to expect from the other. Louis enjoyed (in every sense of the word) an evil reputation for disloyalty to his father, and of being devious, deceitful and treacherous into the bargain. Even in an age where the keeping of one's word was a rare occurrence, and the very concept of "My word, My Bond" was unheard of, Louis was regarded as a bargain-breaker of a superlative degree. There were stories that he had poisoned his first wife, Margaret Stuart, and his father's mistress, Agnes Sorel. Even such far-fetched stories that his malice and hatred of his father had willed his death from afar were given credence. Louis had been pleased with this account, and had only regretted that his father's end had not been far more painful than it was. Cruelty in war was normal, but Louis' savagery had been in a class of its own, and it had shocked and horrified many. Louis did not care what other people thought of him, and if he gave any consideration at all to how others saw him, it is more probable than otherwise that he regarded with some relish the fact that they found him repellent.

The weasel faced King, with a back so deformed that it was almost humped, and with spindly legs which were too weak to support his body for long, now regarded sourly and with distaste this cousin he had not seen for so long. He found himself looking at a 33-year old woman whose beauty, tempered by adversity, was now maturer than he remembered and was thus all the more appealing to many. Louis however had one thing in common with Richard, Duke of York; like the Duke, there was no possibility whatever that he would succumb to the strong sexuality which had enthralled so many. He was aware that he could not send his cousin away completely empty-handed, and he had one preoccupation, and one only; how was he to drive the hardest possible bargain. He held all the cards, and it should not be difficult.

Margaret, aware that this was a business meeting where her sex-appeal, which had enslaved so many on countless occasions in the past would now be of no help to her whatever, explained her requests for men and money. What could she offer by way of exchange? Louis was well aware that a war party was forming in England which favoured an attempt to re-new the War in France with all the objectives of King Henry V, but he also knew there was another faction which favoured peaceful relations with France, and that this was lead by Warwick, the most powerful man in England after the King himself. He ought to be able to keep England in check with careful diplomacy. There was thus little incentive to help a Lancastrian return to the English Throne on the basis that the Lancastrians were likely to be more friendly towards France than the Yorkists. Besides, he had another reason for not feeling too worried by English hostility. England was now poor, and hardly in a position to undertake an expensive foreign war, whereas France, having expelled the last English soldier from her soil eight years before, was rich, and the Royal coffers were full. Louis had plenty of money, and only a marked aversion to spending any unless he could see some advantage for France or himself; then he could be lavish. He even economised on his personal attire, preferring to dress his spider-like form in the simplest of raiment, and not in the gorgeous robes that might have been expected of the King of France.

There was only one thing which King Louis XI desired from England, and no amount of diplomacy could secure this for him - Calais. A military attack upon Calais was certain to fail; its strong garrison was well able to repel his armies, however skilfully lead. It would be most unwise to antagonise its Captain, who was none other than Warwick himself. What about handing it over when a Lancastrian King sat once more upon the English Throne?

Margaret could not now deliver Calais, but could only promise that it should stand as security for a loan. That security, as Louis pointed out, was not very good at present, and could only justify a modest advance. He was also uncomfortably aware that, if a miracle happened and the Lancastrian King should recover the Throne, every excuse would be offered for refusing to hand Calais over, and the most that he could expect was the return of his money. Still, the bulging Royal coffers could afford a small "flutter", and it would not greatly matter if he never saw his money again. In the meantime, his beautiful cousin would be under some obligation to him, and this in itself was worth having.

So Margaret had to be content with 20, 000 livres and permission to recruit French soldiers to take part in her campaigns in Scotland and England. There were bound to be some foot-loose characters whose absence Louis would welcome, beset as he was with enemies in every quarter, but who was to command this force? That too was easily answered.

Louis was not really quite sure why Pierre de Breze was in prison, or why one of the ablest captains in France should remain incarcerated. He would certainly need his services in the future, and here was an excellent reason for releasing him without any loss of face. His strong personal attachment to Margaret, something which Louis was unable to manage, would ensure that he would be pleased to lead Margaret's soldiers.

All was ready by September 1462, and Pierre and Margaret sailed from Normandy with 800 French soldiers. It was a paltry force to lead to the reconquest of a Kingdom, but at least it was a start.

England - Invasion scares in early 1462

Seen through English eyes, there was no room for complacency. The Northern Castles on the Eastern Marches of the Scots border were still in Lancastrian hands, and this meant that they were particularly vulnerable to the Scots. Rumours of foreign invasion from Scotland and France abounded even if, in the early months of 1462, they were scarcely justified, and arose from imagination feeding off fear. Henry Bourchier, the new Earl of Essex, had been keeping a close eye on the Essex coast, this being thought of as one of the possible landing places. The Earl of Oxford had a strong affinity in Essex and Suffolk, and as his sympathies lay with Lancaster even if not markedly so, this affinity was regarded with some suspicion. It was still something of a bombshell when some compromising correspondence between Oxford and Queen Margaret came to light. Oxford's original letter was taken by the messenger to whom it was entrusted to the King. It was read, copied, re-sealed and carried on to Margaret. Her reply was dealt with in the same way, and the Government soon had the details of a possible French landing King Edward IV acted at once. John de Vere, 12th Earl of Oxford, was arrested together with his oldest son Aubrey de Vere, Sir John Tuddenham and several other local gentlemen.

They were all tried by the Constable's Court, presided over by John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester, condemned to death for treason, and executed on Tower Hill in late February 1462.

John and Aubrey, as peers, were entitled to be beheaded, and it seems that the others were spared the revolting ceremony of being hanged, drawn and quartered. [The jurisdiction of the Constable's Court did not include the power of Attainture]

It would certainly appear that Edward had acted precipitately, and in later years he may have felt that he had been unwise to treat the de Veres so harshly. The first anniversary of Towton was still a month away, and his right of succession had only very recently been confirmed by Parliament. He was naturally eager to demonstrate that swift and condign punishment would be visited on all those who contemplated treachery. Yet the de Veres were one of the foremost families in the land, and were just the sort of people that he needed for his counter-weight to the power of the Nevilles in general and Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick in particular. They may have been generally favourable to Lancaster, but were not rabidly so. They had come with the Conqueror, and their title dated back to the days of King Henry I. [1100-1135] Among their ancestors was Robert de Vere, a most unpleasant young man who had been King Richard II's school-fellow, and later one of his less attractive favourites. He had hated Henry of Bolingbroke who had forced him into exile in 1388. There he had died, still attainted. At this time, the title had been given, with the estates, to Aubrey de Vere as the 10th Earl, but for some reason, the attainder had not been reversed, although it had had only a minimal effect on the family's fortunes. Richard, the 11th Earl, had fought at Agincourt, where he had held a command in the division of Edward's great-uncle, Edmund, Duke of York who had died in the battle. The 12th Earl John, and the subject of King Edward IV's present vengeance, had himself fought in France on many occasions, serving under Edward's own father when he was the King's Lieutenant-General in France,  [1440-1445] and was among the English delegates at the Oye Conference. [1439 see page ] John had done his best not to become embroiled in the dispute between York and Lancaster in the 1450s, sensing that there was nothing in it for him however it turned out. He had not fought on the Lancastrian side at Towton, pleading with much justification his 'many infirmities'. He had attended Edward's first Parliament but had had to leave early, again on account of his poor health. In spite of the damning evidence of the letters, Edward could still have taken a more lenient view as he did in other cases John was a pleasant and popular old man whose letters show that he was fond of a joke, even at his own expense. His eldest son and heir, Aubrey, also seems to have been an attractive character rather like his father. The family had a long and distinguished record of service to the King of the time and to their immediate commanders in the field, regardless of any political affinity. Such men were ripe for 'turning' in the way that King Edward IV had in mind,  [pages ] and their punishment could have been commuted to a heavy fine, perhaps accompanied by a term of imprisonment to give them leisure to consider how unwise they had been. Edward must have thought that by allowing John's younger son, also John, to inherit a title as the 13th Earl to which he had previously had no hope, he could thereby win his loyalty. In this he was gravely mistaken. The new Earl of Oxford nursed a deep and bitter hatred of Edward and never forgave him for what had happened to his brother and his father. If he was not already fully committed to the cause of Lancaster before, he certainly was now. In years to come, he was to give Edward much trouble, and was finally to play a leading part in the campaign of Henry Tudor which was to displace the House of York and put the Tudors on the Throne. 

English military and naval operations - 1462

In the early months of 1462, Warwick had indulged his naval instincts by cruising off the Essex coast and in the Channel to intercept the invasion of which Margaret's letters had hinted in the correspondence with Oxford. None came so, deprived of a sea battle, he rejoined King Edward IV. The King did not dare to leave the South whilst the threat of a French invasion still hung heavily in the air, and the prospects of a French attack upon Calais were not to be dismissed. Warwick as its Captain was much preoccupied with its defences. Although only a small force could be spared for the North, John, Lord Montague and William, Lord Hastings managed to compel the surrender of Naworth and Alnwick Castles in July 1462. They did not have the force to attempt anything against Bamburgh or Dunstanburgh, let alone Berwick which was much further north; anyway, Berwick was now in the hands of the Scots, and any attack upon it would have been a breach of the truce with Mary of Guelders. During the summer months and into the autumn, William, Lord Fauconberge, the new Earl of Kent,  and the recently promoted Lord Admiral [a post previously held by the Lancastrian Henry Holland, Duke of Exeter] was cruising off the coasts of Kent and Sussex, ready to meet with Margaret and Pierre de Breze.

When the moment came in September 1462, de Breze's skills as a seaman were enough to give Fauconberge the slip.

He had learnt to be a sailor when he had been Seneschal of Normandy,  [page ] and he now put his knowledge to good use. Bowling along with a favourable wind, his ships soon reached the North-East coast near Alnwick. There he landed his force, surprised the Yorkist garrison of Alnwick Castle, and occupied it with his own men. Reinforcements were dispatched to bolster the Lancastrian garrisons at Bamburgh and Dunstanburgh, whilst Margaret attempted to raise the countryside. In this strongly Lancastrian area, she should have found a ready response, but the gentry and the country-folk were still so cowed by the catastrophe of Towton that few would join her. There came the dread news (premature as it transpired) that King Edward IV and Warwick were hurrying up from the South with a strong army. They re-embarked and sailed for Berwick, hoping to find recruits there for their small force.

Then disaster struck. The winds which had been so kind now turned to a tempest which overwhelmed several ships and wrecked others. Margaret and de Breze had to take to an open boat to land in Berwick. Coming ashore wet and bedraggled, Margaret must have remembered her arrival in England in 1445 when she had been all but drowned. [page ] In Berwick she heard that several of her ships had been wrecked on Holy Island and those on board were stranded there. They were never to rejoin her. When the weather moderated, John Manners, one of Warwick's more bloodthirsty Captains, crossed to the Island and slew all who would not surrender.

So far, the expedition had gone very badly, and there was little hope of taking the initiative. Desperate messages to Mary of Guelders received a lukewarm response. In November, King Edward IV and Warwick left London with a strong army.

Several former Lancastrians went with them, such as Henry, Lord Grey of Codner and Ralph, Lord Greystock. Gathering recruits on the way, they advanced rapidly north with the aims of settling the possession of the Northern Castles and eliminating the remaining Lancastrian leadership for good. In both aims, they met with substantial success, but again, total success eluded them. Edward fell ill with measles in Durham, and had to be left behind. Warwick, now in overall command, completed the investiture of Alnwick, Bamburgh and Dunstanburgh by 11th December. Wark was too far away, and its turn would have to come later. Berwick lay too far North, and again could not be attacked without breaking the truce with the Scots. Warwick left the sieges to his subordinate commanders, and supervised their operations by riding continuously between the three. Thus Dunstanburgh was invested by John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester and Sir Ralph Grey, Bamburgh by John, Lord Montague and Robert, Lord Ogle, and Alnwick by William Fauconberge, Earl of Kent and Anthony, Lord Scales.

No medieval siege was ever an enjoyable experience, but in the middle of the winter, these sieges must have seemed like a nightmare. At least at Alnwick, where the Castle, the ancient seat of the Percy Earls of Northumberland, there was some comfort for the besieged whilst the besiegers could find some shelter in the small town. The Castle stands some way inland, and can be reached from the junction of the modern A 1068, the Alnwick to Newcastle road, and the A 1.

Dunstanburgh and Bamburgh had never been the seats of great Lords. Perched high on their cliffs, they had always been purely and simply military and defensive fortresses. It was questionable who suffered more, the besiegers or the besieged. Cold, dank and comfortless, exposed to the biting North Sea winds, nothing more dreary and bleak can be imagined. Warwick knew that none of these castles was victualled for a siege. Not wishing to suffer heavy casualties or to damage the castles, he decided to starve them into submission.

The Castles surrender - December 1462 and January 1463

Hunger and cold were doing their work and soon the garrisons were seeking terms, unaware of developments in Scotland which, had they known of them, would have induced them to hang on for a little longer. Something which King Edward IV and Warwick had dreaded, but had looked to the truce to prevent, was now happening. A Scots army, lead by the veteran George Douglas, Earl of Angus, and Pierre de Breze was marching to the relief of the Castles.

George Douglas was now a very old man, but age had not dampened his fiery disposition. The Douglas' had always been an unruly family, and were renowned for their turbulent and blood-thirsty ways and greedy, rumbustuous and aggressive approach to the problems of life, even among a nobility where these traits were regarded as a virtue and their absence something to be regretted. George may have been laden with years, but not to the extent where he was beyond the temptations dangled before him by a beautiful woman. When Queen Margaret had offered him a dukedom in the north of England and wealth to support its dignity in return for armed help, he had jumped at the chance and had signed a treaty with her. Now the time had come to fight and George, truce or no truce, had every intention of honouring his word even though, by any calculation, he was enjoying the last few months of his long and warlike life. [He died in the spring of 1463] The very thought of breaking some English heads made him feel young again, and anxious to settle an old score. The English had taken him prisoner at the battle of Homildon Hill 1402. That had been a deadly insult, and not even the lapse of 60 years had dimmed its memory. Only rivers of English blood would soothe away the affront.

In order to secure the Castles before the relieving force arrived, King Edward IV had to compromise his other aim, the elimination of the remaining Lancastrian leadership by capturing the individuals and cutting off their heads. Posing suddenly as magnanimous in victory, something which he had never previously thought necessary, he offered the garrisons generous terms. Anyone who was willing to take service with him was welcome. Pardons would be given, and any attainders would be reversed. If they were not willing to do so, then they were free to depart wheresoever they chose, but in this case, they could expect to be, or remain, attainted.

There were other good reasons for offering generous surrender terms. Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset had been in correspondence with Warwick since the previous September, and had shown some inclination to come over to the Yorkist side.

Such a defection would have a devastating effect upon the morale of the remaining Lancastrians, and may well wean them from Margaret's cause. It may have been highly desirable in Edward's view to see Somerset's head separated from his body, but there were more ways than one of eliminating the remaining Lancastrian leadership. Receiving Somerset's submission might encourage the others to come in from the cold and make their own.

The garrison of Bamburgh Castle accepted these terms and surrendered on Boxing Day 1462, whilst the garrison of Dunstanburgh did so on the following day. There was a rich haul of prisoners, Somerset himself, Sir Ralph Percy, [the son of the Earl of Northumberland killed at the first battle of St Albans 1455 and the brother of the Earl killed at Towton 1461] Sir Richard Tunstall, Sir Thomas Findherne, Doctor John Morton, Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke and Thomas, Lord de Roos. Morton had no wish to serve King Edward, whilst the last two were not even given the option. Warwick roughly told them that Edward had no use for them and he would prefer their immediate decapitation. Not to honour the terms of surrender of a fortress was, by the standards of the time, unheard of; it did happen, but only very rarely. They would be well advised to leave his sight at once before he forgot himself. In company with Morton, they made their way sorrowfully to Scotland. The rest chose to serve King Edward.

In Alnwick Castle, Robert, Lord Hungerford and de Moleyns, had heard of the approach of the Scots army in spite of all the Yorkists could do to prevent it. He refused to surrender. This suited Warwick very well, since there was nothing that he desired more than Hungerford's beheading. On 6th January, George Douglas' and de Breze's approach forced Warwick to raise the siege and face them. He would have liked to advance to the attack, but by now his troops were exhausted by their exertions and were wet and cold from the constant rain and wind. There was no knowing how they would behave in an offensive operation. He therefore withdrew into a strong defensive position and dared the Scots to attack him. The rain and the wind seem to have had their effect on the old Earl, and to have dampened his fiery spirits. Turning suddenly cautious, he refused to risk the encounter in spite of de Breze's pleading. He retreated to Scotland, taking with him a furious de Breze and also Hungerford and his men, who had taken the opportunity to slip out of the Castle and join him. With a feeling of anti-climax, the Yorkists promptly took possession.

Of their two aims, the Yorkists had enjoyed complete success in securing the Castles. In their other aim, they were less successful, and had to rely on the promises of submission of the Lancastrian Lords they had captured. King Edward IV may have had no choice, but his trust was to be betrayed, and very soon, nearly all the work so successfully done in the North would have to be done again.

Copyright Michael D. Miller 2003