wotr_logo.jpg (2835 bytes)

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

Michael D. Miller

Chapter 60: The Lancastrian leadership eliminated: 1464


John Neville, Lord Montague

John was the younger brother of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, and it was he who actually achieved what had eluded King Edward IV for so long, namely the elimination of the remaining Lancastrian leadership in England. There was only left a Lancastrian Court in exile, presided over by Queen Margaret,  [page ] and this was beyond even John's reach.

John was a hard, bitter and unforgiving man, who laboured under no sense of gratitude to King Henry VI, whose Chamberlain he had once been, for sparing his life after the Yorkist defeat at the 2nd battle of St Albans in February 1461. [page ] He was totally without the saving graces of his elder brother, and had no patience or understanding for the finer art of politics, where persuasion and deal making were the aims. He was a soldier pure and simple, and to him there was no better or more reliable arbiter than the sword, and in the sword alone he put his entire trust. John had no time for the finer points of King Edward IV's policy of trying to win over the Lancastrian Lords who had made their submissions. To him, it was totally incomprehensible. He openly advocated the view that the only good Lancastrian was a dead one, and he knew how that was to be achieved. He was a warrior who was only happy when wearing his armour and at the head of his troops in battle. Fighting was in his blood, and he rejoiced in the terror which his name aroused among the Scots. If there was no other fighting to be done, then the Scots could always be relied upon to provide it. He nurtured ambitions to become the Earl of Northumberland in place of the attainted Percys, who to his simple creed were traitors to a man. He was shortly to realise this ambition, and there would be fighting enough to satisfy even his voracious appetite for combat; the Eastern Marches of the Scots border would be safe in his aggressive hands, and whether or not the Scots gave any cause for chastisement, they could be confident of receiving it.

January and February - 1464

After the flight of Somerset to Bamburgh Castle about Christmas 1463, there was unrest, sometimes even local uprisings, in various parts of the country where Lancastrian feelings ran strongly. There were disturbances in Cheshire and Lancashire, and at Holt in North Wales, John Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, reported that he had his hands full. King Edward IV found it necessary to visit Gloucester and Worcester to overawe local malcontents before heading for York to prorogue Parliament yet again on 20th February. He then managed to fit in a visit to East Anglia before returning to London once more to meet a Burgundian envoy on 27th February. It was important to carry forward the negotiations for new trade treaties as had been contemplated at the Conference of St Omer the previous autumn.Altogether it was a busy and restless time which involved much travelling around the country.

Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset decides on offensive action March to May - 1464

Encouraged by the reports of local troubles, Somerset decided that the time was now ripe to take offensive action with the aim of raising the countryside in Lancaster's favour. In fact, his strength was so weak that he had no real option but to try and exploit the feelings of the people and encourage them to raise an army sufficiently strong to take the field against the Yorkists. If he simply waited where he was, the Yorkists would sooner or later come looking for him in overwhelming strength. What he needed above all was a military success which would encourage those of Lancastrian sympathies to believe in themselves once again, and to regain their confidence enough to take on the Yorkists once more.

He did not have long to wait for his chance. Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick and his brother John Neville, Lord Montague, were in York preparing to meet with the Scots envoys. On 10th April 1464 they were joined by another brother, George Neville, Bishop of Exeter and Chancellor of the Realm. The English delegation now being complete, John was sent forward to escort the Scots envoys to York. On his way to Newcastle, he was ambushed by Somerset. He managed to extricate himself after some hard and confused fighting and reached Newcastle safely.

In Newcastle, John recruited some more soldiers, and hearing that Somerset's force was nearby, sallied forth to meet it. He found the Lancastrians at Hedgeley Moor on 25th April and promptly attacked them. [The battlefield lies between Morpeth and Wooler, and may be found to the south-east of the junction of the A 697 and the B 6346] Most of the Lancastrians retreated to higher ground which John did not have the strength to assault. Word of the retreat seems not to have reached Sir Ralph Percy, who found himself isolated. After the way that he had betrayed the trust of King Edward IV, [page ]there was no hope of any mercy if he surrendered. He charged at the head of his men. They were cut to pieces, and Sir Ralph himself was killed, cut down by an unknown hand.

The battle of Hexham - 15th May 1464

After the fight at Hedgeley Moor, John met up with the Scots envoys and escorted them safely to York. It was obvious that Somerset was determined to fight, and John was not one to refuse him. The fight at Hedgeley Moor had shown that he needed a stronger force than just the men of the escort and what local recruits he could gather to be sure of numerical superiority. Warwick agreed with this view, and promptly placed Ralph, Lord Greystock and Richard, Lord Willoughby under his brother's command. Both were former Lancastrian Lords who had fought at the 2nd battle of St Albans 1461. Neither had been present at Towton although Willoughby's father, Leo, Lord Welles had perished there.

Bearing in mind the recent record of Lancastrians who had changed sides, Warwick was taking a big risk in trusting them. In the event, his trust was fully vindicated.

With their reinforcement, John set out from Newcastle once again on 14th May. Somerset was reported to be in the vicinity of Hexham, and on 15th May John found his camp. This was carefully concealed in a field on the banks of Devils Water surrounded by steep wooded heights. John had taken his enemy by surprise because, however good the site was for a camp, it was no place to fight a battle. With only one exit, it was a death trap. [The battlefield, sometimes known as 'The Linnels', is to be seen in a field also known as Hexham Levals which lies 2 miles south-east of Hexham on the B 6306]

John's tactics were simple. Having posted men on the heights to prevent escape through the woods, he charged Somerset's force. In a short space of time, probably less than an hour, he had put it to flight. The haul of prisoners, either taken on the battlefield or captured while trying to escape through the woods, was gratifyingly rich.

Somerset was captured, and beheaded then and there. His betrayal had been one too many, and whether or not John had King Edward IV's prior authority, he certainly judged his Master's wishes correctly. This can be seen from the bitter terms of Somerset's re-attainder. Anxious to make an effect locally in several different places, John arranged the executions at different spots. Robert, Lord Hungerford and de Moleyns, Sir John Findhern and Sir Thomas Roos, the son of the Sir Thomas who was so prominent at the siege of Orleans in 1429 and was subsequently drowned in the River Seine whilst Governor of Paris,  [page ] were beheaded in Newcastle. The next day Sir Philip Wentworth and Sir William Penington suffered the same fate at Middleham, the Neville stronghold in Yorkshire. John kept some prisoners on hand until King Edward IV could be present. On 26th May, in York, Edward sat, stony faced, to watch his headsman's axe rise and fall on 14 necks. Their heads were sent to decorate the Micklegate and make a suitable impression on the Scots delegates. Such was the vengeance of John Neville, Lord Montague, truly a merciless man towards a beaten foe.

One important personage eluded John's soldiers. King Henry VI had remained at nearby Bywell Castle during the battle. So precipitate was his flight towards the safety of the Lake District that he left behind many personal possessions, including his coronated cap, described as:-

"Bycoket richely garnysshed with ii crownys".

The Diplomatic Fruits

The Scots envoys had seen the power and might of the Yorkist king and were suitably impressed with the way that he dealt with his enemies. Still in York on 1st June 1464, they agreed a truce for 15 years. Its very length showed what the Scots thought of the new found strength of the English Crown and England's new King.

Things did not stop there. It was always certain that Burgundy would remain friendly, and the details of the new commercial treaties, however they were worded, would be advantageous. King Louis XI of France had previously shown signs of wanting England's friendship, particularly hoping for at least some understanding which was averse to Burgundy. Now he redoubled his efforts. Pope Pius II had been most annoyed with his Legate, Bishop Coppini, for being so openly partisan in York's favour in 1460,  [pages ] and had only grudgingly recognised Edward as England's new King

in 1462, well aware that Edward was such a King who would never agree to the repeal of the Statutes of Provisors which prohibited Papal taxation in England. Now he became almost friendly. There were other treaties with Denmark, Brittany and Castile, all recognising the power and standing of the Throne of England and of its present occupant. So far as foreign countries were concerned, Edward had come to stay.

The Nevilles reach their zenith

Not everyone was complimentary about King Edward IV.

Many allowed themselves to be misled by the stories of his uproarious exploits with the drinking flagon and the female sex so that they took him for a mere playboy. Edward did take his pleasures very seriously, and greatly valued the participation of friends such as William, Lord Hastings who arranged so many of them, conspicuously to Edward's liking.

But it is strange that some observers thought that this was all he was interested in so that the governance of the Kingdom was left to others.

Among this number was the Governor of Abbeville, whose business it was to remain on friendly terms with those who governed Calais and the officers of its garrison, and report whatever he might glean to his King. In March 1464, he wrote to King Louis XI that England was governed by two Rulers, My Lord of Warwick and another whose name he had forgotten. It is unlikely that his Royal Master was much impressed. Louis, like so many other malicious and unpleasant people, was a shrewd judge of character, and he knew with whom he was dealing. He saw Warwick often, but he would never have dismissed Edward as a mere cipher. Warwick was Captain of Calais, and the place was full of his men. He must have thought that the Governor was reporting some bibulous tittle-tattle and dismissed the report from his mind.

Unquestionably the Nevilles did enjoy tremendous power and did not hesitate to use it. Warwick frequently took decisions which, strictly speaking, only the King should have taken after consultation with his Council. Correspondence with foreign Rulers was again something which belonged to the province of the King, and the King alone, but Warwick was deeply engaged in such dealings without always bothering to tell his Master what he was doing or what he was hoping to achieve. Some of his dealings had been most beneficial, for instance Burgundy's reproof to Mary of Guelders at a crucial time,  [page ] and Edward had been content with the results.

In any case, he did not feel able to call Warwick to order or otherwise offend him at a time of crisis. Warwick was one of the richest and most influential men in England with a huge personal following, and Edward was not in a position to challenge or antagonise him. Perhaps foreign Rulers could be excused if they sometimes thought that it was Warwick rather than Edward who held the real power in England, even if they were not prepared to associate themselves with such derogatory remarks as those of the Governor of Abbeville.

Edward may have been concerned at the growing power of the Nevilles and the way that they used it, but he could not refuse to reward them for their consistent loyalty and outstanding services to the House of York. Some rewards were now due, and he could not withhold them. John Neville, the victor of Hexham, now realised his ambition at the end of May 1464 to becoming Earl of Northumberland in place of the attainted Percys. For the first time ever, somebody who was not a Percy occupied the ancestral seat of Alnwick Castle.

This was probably a safe promotion, even if it did leave the Scottish Marches, East and West, wholly in Neville hands. John only lived for battle, and truce or no truce, the customary border raids, which by now were a way of life in those desolate and unwelcoming regions, would keep this fighting soldier fully occupied. When William Booth, Archbishop of York, a former Lancastrian who Edward had never really trusted, died in September 1464, Edward unhesitatingly promoted his Chancellor, George Neville, Bishop of Exeter to the vacant Archbishopric.

Whether Edward was now concerned that there was a dangerous concentration of Neville power in the North, he did not express it. He resolved however that their power must be reduced as it was becoming a threat to the Royal Power, something he had always been afraid of, and was never prepared to tolerate.

The remaining Lancastrians

Once the truce with the Scots was agreed, Warwick moved to deal with the remaining Lancastrians in the northern castles. Berwick he could not touch; it was now in Scottish possession, and he could not break the recent truce. Alnwick and Dunstanburgh, unwilling to face Warwick's siege guns, quickly surrendered, but Bamburgh held out until early July 1464. Its Captain was Sir Ralph Grey of Heton, who knew that he had been especially excepted from any hope of mercy for surrendering Alnwick Castle in a fit of pique and changing sides in 1463. [page ] Warwick did not hesitate to bombard the fortress, and Sir Ralph was severely wounded before the garrison surrendered. Warwick allowed the common people to depart, but Sir Ralph was carried on a litter to face his trial in Doncaster. There the Constables Court, presided over by John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester who was making a name for himself by his cruelty, propped the wretched man up on pillows to hear his death sentence. He had to be carried onto the scaffold so that he could be beheaded in the presence of the King.

Thus by early July 1464, King Edward IV achieved the aim which he had set himself on the battlefield of Towton, three years before, of eliminating the Lancastrian leadership. There only remained those who had sought exile in France, but Edward could regard these as being of little account.

Queen Margaret's Court in exile

King Louis XI could not deny his cousin Queen Margaret refuge in France, but he made it perfectly clear that he accepted no financial responsibility for her or her companions, and furthermore, he had his own agenda on which she had no place.

So far as Louis was concerned, Margaret was better forgotten. She had to turn to her aged father, Rene, Duc de Bar for support, and he allowed her 6, 000 crowns a year, all he could spare. Rene, the titular King of Naples and a host of other meaningless titles, had been buffeted by the winds of fortune throughout his life, and was now as impecunious as he had always been. The ransom paid to Philip-the-Good, Duke of Burgundy after his capture at the battle of Bulgneville 1431 [page ] had ruined him, and he remained impoverished. All he had been able to find as a dowry for his daughter on her marriage in 1445 had been some meaningless rights to some Mediterranean Islands which, as everyone realised, King Henry VI would never be able to assert. On 6, 000 crowns Margaret would have to manage.

Margaret set up her Court in a small chateau belonging to her father, Kouer la Petite a short way from Commercy. There, apart from observing the elaborate Court ritual as though she had never left London, she occupied herself in bringing up her young son Edward, now 10 years old, to think of himself as the rightful heir to the English Throne and in bombarding King Louis XI with letters requesting armed support to recover it. Louis rarely bothered to reply, and on one occasion simply remarked to his Ministers "See how proudly she writes." She was a good manager, as Sir John Courtenay remarked in a letter, that whilst they all lived in great poverty, there was always food on the table.

Margaret was accompanied by Henry Holland, Duke of Exeter, the one time Lord Admiral of England, and King Edward IV's brother-in-law. His Duchess Anne was not in Kouer. She remained in England to share her brother's new found fortune, and judging by her subsequent adventures, she pursued her own interests with panache and flair. [page ] Henry was not an attractive character, having a name for cruelty which was noticeable even in a cruel and barbarous age. He is credited with invention of the rack, an instrument of torture which caused extreme pain by stretching the limbs, and even greater agony when the pressure was relaxed and the joints moved back into their sockets once again. Edmund, the de jure Duke of Somerset after his brother Henry's execution on the battlefield of Hexham (Edward always refused to recognise his title), was also in Kouer, as was the eminent jurist Chief Justice Sir John Fortescue and Doctor John Morton. Half a dozen knights and some squires and servants completed the retinue.

Poverty stricken they may have been, but there were plenty of opportunities for educating the young Prince. The knights could teach him skill-at-arms, whilst the Chief Justice and Doctor Morton could instruct him in the civil accomplishments in which he was also required to be proficient. The treatise on the Laws of England,  [Appendix 2: Dissertation of the Laws of England by Chief Justice Fortescue ] unquestionably Fortescue's work, is thought to have been the basis of his instruction. King Louis XI may have liked to keep well away from Kouer, but Margaret had other visitors. The Milanese Ambassador, when writing to the Duke of Milan on 14th February 1467, reported that the 13-year old Prince Edward was growing up fast and appeared to be taking more after his own grandfather than his father:-

"This boy, though only 13 years of age, already talks of nothing but of cutting off heads and making war, as if he had everything in his hands or was the God of battle or the peaceful occupant of that Throne"

This same ambassador also remarked on the Prince's joy in riding, at breakneck speed, wild and unbroken horses to the great alarm of his mother.

King Henry VI was not at Kouer. He had escaped to the Lake District after the battle of Hexham and there he found ready shelter in a part of the country where Lancastrian sympathies had always run strongly. Henry wandered from village to village, living with the country people and sometimes working with them in their fields, eating their rough fare and sleeping on the earthen floors of their cottages. By now he was permanently feeble in mind, and he joined the other simpletons who then roamed the countryside as beggars. The English country folk had always had a soft spot for these unfortunates, and whilst they often mocked them cruelly, they saw to it that they had enough to eat and drink and wear, with shelter from the cold and rain. [Beggars were not always welcome. See page ] Wretched as this existence may have seemed to many, these months were probably some of the happiest of Henry's life. No great Lords jostled and shoved about him, demanding titles and honours and speaking ill of their rivals. No shrieking Queen disturbed his peace. No great affairs of State intruded which his poor brain was unable to comprehend. No great battles were fought where afterwards his person always seemed to belong to someone else in a way which confused and bewildered him. Instead, he was free to go where his fancy took him among the kindly English folk. He never made any secret of who he was, and of those who believed him, none betrayed him.

It could not last. During the summer of 1465, news of his presence near a religious house in Lancashire reached the ears of two local knights, Sir Edmund Talbot of Basshall and his cousin Sir John Talbot of Colebry. No doubt expecting some reward, they followed the reports and found Henry eating his humble dinner in Waddington Hall. He did not deny their challenge, and they sent him off to London on horseback with his legs tied to the stirrup leathers. Once his escort had brought him there, King Edward IV sent him straight away to the Tower. The Tower had already an unenviable name for dark and dreadful deeds, but Henry, with his books and his devotions,  was one of the very few State prisoners who have ever enjoyed peace of mind within its stone towers. [The account of the capture of King Henry VI is given by Doctor John Warkworth, Master of Peterhouse College Cambridge]

Thus by the end of the summer 1464 (even though at this time King Henry VI was still unaccounted for), the House of Lancaster was eliminated, apparently for all time. That it rose again to drive out the Yorkists,  even for a brief time, was due to other causes.

The previous monolithic solidarity of the Yorkists was due to the bonding influence of their fear of the House of Lancaster. Then men could forget their differences, their rivalries, their clashing ambitions, their personal dislikes and sometimes even their loathing of each other in a common cause, the defeat of the danger which threatened them all. Now the Lancastrian threat had disappeared, and with it went the bonding which had hitherto held them all together. The Yorkist faction now began to fall apart.

Copyright Michael D. Miller 2003