An Analysis of the causes of the Wars and the course which they took.
Michael D. Miller
|Chapter 70: The battles of Barnet and Tewksbury: 14 April and
4 May 1471
|These two battles were tremendous battles for their
time, and whilst neither were on the same scale as the battle of Towton 1461, they were
still epic encounters. The slaughter, even taking into account the smaller numbers
involved, was still considerable. As always, the numbers engaged on each side were
exaggerated by the chroniclers, but we can assume, perhaps with some hesitation, that
about 5, 000 to 6, 000 men took part on each side on each occasion, although it is said
that the Lancastrians enjoyed a modest superiority in numbers in each battle. What the
battles did do was to lay to rest the political troubles which had so plagued the 1460s,
and open up an era of real peace and prosperity under Yorkist rule for the remaining
twelve years of King Edward IV's reign.
It was 10 years, almost to the day, since the Yorkist victory at the battle of Towton, and again Barnet was fought during Eastertide. Edward's 29th birthday (24th April) dawned at the mid-way point between them, and he showed that in the intervening ten years, he had lost none of the vigour and craft that he displayed during the Towton campaign. Now we can see Edward at his superb best. Gone were the lazy, lascivious and complacent ways in which he had so often indulged himself in times of peace; wine woman and song were banished (at least for the time being), to be replaced by the qualities of quick and decisive movement in the field and the ability to strike hard at his enemy which marked him as one of the great military commanders of his time. Many things went badly, and there were dangerous moments when all might have been lost. Yet Edward never for a moment lost the aura of self-confidence and cheerfulness that so inspired his men. They never lost their confidence in their commander. However black things may have appeared to be, they always knew that the "boss" would know what to do. However bleak the prospects or difficult the position, he would know what must be done to get them out of the scrape, and to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
Edward's march to London
On 14th March 1471, Edward and his force landed at Ravenspur to find that the country people were far from being well disposed towards him. At times they were overtly hostile. East Yorkshire was a part of the country where Lancastrian sympathies ran strongly, and Hull even closed her gates to him. It rapidly became clear however, that it was in the guise of King Edward IV that they did not welcome him; in that of the heir to the dead Richard, Duke of York, who had died in the battle of Wakefield 1460, they were somewhat friendlier. Lancastrian in their outlook the country people may have been, but they had many fond memories of the dead Richard, and thought it only right, natural and proper that his son should return to claim his own - the Dukedom of York. If they seemed ready to oppose Edward as a returning King, they were prepared to welcome, perhaps guardedly, a returning Duke of York, and to put no hindrances in his way.
A Council-of-war was held on 15th March, and it was resolved that, until such a time as Edward could gather his friends about him in sufficient numbers to reach for the Crown, he and his following:-
".....shuld noyse, and say openly, where so evar they came, that his entent and purpos was only to claime to be Duke of Yorke......."
[Historie of the Arrivall of Edward IV in England (the "Historie") supposedly written by Nicholas Harpisfield, a Clerk to the Signet, who seems to have been present throughout the events described in this Chapter]
The Council agreed that they should march upon London, but they should not venture into Lincolnshire. After the rebellion of the previous year, the county was still very hostile to York. The route selected lay through the City of York, West Yorkshire, the Midlands and thence to London.
They had reasonable expectations that they could gather support and soldiers in all these places, although as it turned out, these expectations were not to be fulfilled in the North of the country. Edward's strength at the time of his landing has been variously estimated at 2, 000, [Archaeol. vol xxi quoting the Ghent M.S.] 1.200, [Waurin] 1.500, [Croyland Chronicles pp 554] and 1, 000, [M.S. Vitellius A xvi] of whom half were "Dutch" and the other half English. Any of these figures is believable, bearing in mind that they had arrived in 18 ships; an average of 110 soldiers to each ship was not over-crowding by medieval standards. The English were the exiles who had gone with Edward from King's Lynn together with others who had joined him later. The reference to the "Dutch" must include the small contingent of Flemish hand-gunners, who are known to have been in his force, and who were to render him valuable service. Small the force may have been, but they were all picked fighting men, and it would have been a bold person who attacked them.
If the East Yorkshire men did hinder Edward, they were not too helpful either, and bands of armed men hovered on his flanks and rear, not daring to attack, as he approached York on 18th March. There his reception was not as friendly as he had hoped. One of the City's elders, Thomas Conyers, rode out to meet him and tell him that the gates of York would be closed to him. Undismayed, Edward rode on to the gates, and demanded to speak to the City Fathers. When they came, Edward asked them if this was not a strange way to receive the new Duke of York. After some hesitation, they opened the gates, but told Edward that he and his men would be allowed to stay for one night only, On the morrow, they must be gone.
Edward accepted, and tactfully bade his men give cheers for King Henry and the Prince of Wales.
Approaching Tadchester on the 19th March, Edward was now entering friendlier territory, as Tadchester was a town where many of the affinity of Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland lived. At Wakefield, some more men joined him, but in disappointing numbers. It was here that Henry Percy:-
".....dyd the Kynge right gode and notable service, and, as it is deemed in the conceipts of many men, he cowthe nat hav done hym any beter service......."
The writer of the "Historie", when referring to Henry Percy's services, was dealing with one of those strange paradoxes which are part and parcel of every civil war, but which seem to be especially noticeable in the Wars of the Roses. John Neville, Marques Montagu was supposed to be guarding the North, and when Edward landed he called on the North to muster. Some men came to him from those parts of the North where the Nevilles were all powerful, but he needed the support of Henry Percy. Many people had answered him that they were of the Percy affinity, and without Henry Percy's command, they would neither turn out nor fight. John Neville then asked Henry Percy to call them out. Henry, to John's fury, ignored the request, and why he did so is not altogether surprising.
Henry Percy's family had been strongly Lancastrian from that day in 1399 when Henry of Bolingbroke had landed in rebellion to unseat King Richard II, and his father, grandfather and uncle had fallen on the battlefield fighting for Lancaster.Therefore it would have seemed a foregone conclusion that they would fight once again for a Lancastrian King. Yet is was a Yorkist King who had restored Henry Percy to the Earldom of Northumberland, turning out this same John Neville to make room for him. [page ] The two men cordially detested one another, but Henry Percy's reasons went deeper than this. If Lancaster continued to sit on the Throne with Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick one of the most powerful men in the Land once more, was it not at least very likely that he would be turned out of his Earldom to oblige Warwick's brother John? Thus a Yorkist victory in the present troubles could not be more welcome, even to a strongly Lancastrian family. Henry Percy would have liked to ride to the help of the Yorkist King, struggling to regain his Throne. He dared not do this because he could not trust the temper of his men. Many had taken part in John Neville's frequent campaigns against the marauding Scots when he was Earl of Northumberland, and had a high personal regard for him. So Henry Percy did the next best thing to giving the Yorkist Edward armed help. He simply did nothing at all, and by doing nothing, earned Edward's undying gratitude.
Thus John Neville, fuming in Pontefract Castle a mere 9 miles away, was unable to oppose Edward who pressed on to Doncaster and Nottingham. There he was at last joined by substantial bodies of men led by Sir William Parr and Sir James Harington. Following the lead given by these two knights, men now began pouring in to serve under his banner.
When Edward heard that John de Vere, Earl of Oxford, accompanied by Henry Holland, Duke of Exeter and William, Viscount Beaumont, was leading the levies of the Eastern Counties to attack him from the direction of Newark, he considered that he was now strong enough to offer battle and turned to meet them. Seeing his bold front, they retreated and left Edward free to advance against Warwick who was now in Leicester. Warwick likewise did not offer battle, but retreated behind the substantial walls of Coventry. In Leicester, Edward was joined by further substantial contingents, and these were mostly of Hastings' affinity.
Warkworth mentions by name Sir William Stanley and Sir William Norys (or Norris), but there must have been many more, as Hastings' affinity was one of the biggest of all.
Warned from Holland to expect his early return, they were overjoyed to see him once again.
By now, Edward's small force was a substantial army, and he arrived under the walls of Coventry on 29th March to invite Warwick to come out into the open country to fight.
Warwick was expecting George, Duke of Clarence to reach him shortly, and Clarence, with the greatest duplicity that can be imagined, had written to him suggesting that there should be no battle until he and his own force should join up with Warwick's army. [Warkworth's Chronicle pp 13-15] Warwick had put his faith in his son-in-law, and refused the summons of Edward's herald to fight any battle; he would not do so until reinforced by Clarence's men.
Edward had better intelligence of what his brother George proposed to do. As has been remarked, George had been subjected to intense pressure from his family to return to the Yorkist fold [pages ]and, besides writing to Warwick, he had also written to Edward to suggest a reconciliation. By now, even George could see that there was no future for him with Lancaster. In the words of the "Historie":-
"......And, in especiall, he considred well, that hymselfe was had in great suspicion, despite, [dislike] disdeign and hatered, with all the lordes, noblemen, and othar that were adherents and full partakers with Henry the Usurpar" (and) "he sawe also, that they dayly laboryd amongs them, brekynge theyr appoyntments made with hym, and, of lyklihed, aftar that, shuld continually more and more fervently entend, conspire and procure the distruction of hym, and of all his blode......"
Only George would have been surprised that they would behave like this, and was extremely grateful that his brother was prepared to let bygones be bygones. Edward advanced to Warwick to meet George, and whilst in the town, threw off all pretence that he only aspired to be Duke of York. He openly proclaimed himself as the rightful King Edward IV as he had always intended to do once his force was strong enough. He and Richard, Duke of Gloucester met George on the Banbury road, and the three brothers embraced as a sign that they were reconciled, and had put the past firmly behind them. The men whom George brought with him were greatly puzzled by being required to exchange their SS Lancaster collars for that of the Yorkist rose (which some did not have handy), but is was obviously sheer folly, indeed suicidal, to try to fight the much stronger force that was at Edward's back. Whatever their private confusions may have been they accepted that, if their were to see the days end, they must now reconcile themselves to being soldiers in the Yorkist army.
The road to London now lay open, and there was nothing to stop Edward and his Yorkist army from gaining this most desirable of all prizes. Edward did not hesitate, and the Yorkist army marched straight for the Capital. Warwick attempted further negotiation, offering to come over to Edward in return for a substantial office in the government. Edward replied promising Warwick his life but nothing more. The Lancastrians had been wrong footed, partly due to Clarence's perfidy, partly due to their vacillation, but mostly because of the dash and determination of Edward himself. The Lancastrian forces were scattered, and it needed time to concentrate them into a force which could fight the now strong Yorkist army with any hope of success. Warwick was in Coventry, daily expecting the appearance of Clarence; it was some days before he had to accept that Clarence had betrayed him. Oxford and the eastern county levies were somewhere between Newark and Nottingham, still recovering from the discomfiture they had suffered at Edward's hands, and not quite certain where the elusive Edward was to be found. There was simply no Northern army; John Neville, to his chagrin, had been unable to muster one. [pages ]
King Edward IV enters London
According to Warkworth, an act of pure comedy attended the arrival of King Edward IV in London. There was some degree of panic among the Lancastrians in the City, and George Neville, Archbishop of York paraded King Henry VI through the streets on the Wednesday before Easter, demanding that the citizens should arm themselves to defend their King. Some did so, even though the chief military men, Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, Sir John Langstrother and John Courtenay, Earl of Devon, the brother of Thomas who had been beheaded after the battle of Towton, had departed for the South-West to welcome Queen Margaret and the young Prince of Wales who were bringing further reinforcements from France. [There seems to be some doubt about the destinations of some of them. Whilst they were absent from London at a critical period, both Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset and possibly John Courtenay, Earl of Devon are said by some writers to have fought at Barnet; this seems most improbable, as both were at Cerne Abbey the day after the battle] As dinner time approached, Urswyke, the Recorder of London and a number of Aldermen of Yorkist leanings, told the men manning the walls to return to their homes for dinner. As they were enjoying their repast, the Yorkist army entered the City unopposed on 11th April. Stopping only to give thanks in St Pauls Cathedral, King Edward IV rode straight to the Palace of the Bishop of London and arrested King Henry VI and the Archbishop. It was not until the following day that the Tower was in Yorkist hands, but to the Tower they both went as soon as it was secured. No doubt the Archbishop went with mixed feelings (Edward gave him a pardon but kept him in the Tower for the time being), but we can surmise that Henry was only too happy to return to what he saw as his refuge from the World and its strange, savage and perplexing doings.
Edward had only the briefest opportunity to fetch Queen Elizabeth from her sanctuary in Westminster Abbey and to greet the small son, born in sanctuary the previous November, whom he had never yet seen. There was a brief "re-crowning" ceremony in the Abbey before Edward hurried off to the Council of War which was held during the morning of Good Friday 12th April. In the afternoon, Edward and his army marched out to Chipping Barnet to give battle to Warwick who was reported to be in St Albans. Henry's stay in the Tower had been all too brief; Edward took him with him.
The attitude of the City's people may have been equivocal after Edward's flight the previous October, [pages] but in fairness it must be said that, with Edward gone, they had no option but to reconcile themselves to Lancastrian rule and to make the best of things. Now that Edward had returned they were, in general, very pleased to see him. The City merchants could see their loans being repaid after all. The common people could see that further civil war was inevitable, and only wished that Edward would win it, and moreover win it as quickly as possible. In spite of the 10 years that had elapsed since Edward had claimed the Crown, [pages ] and of the many debauches which he had enjoyed, he still retained his youthful good looks and God like appearance, to be compared most favourably with the woe begone creature they had seen being paraded through the streets only a few days before. Once again, he rapidly captured every feminine heart who, like their men folk, saw him as every inch a King. Many of the men offered their services to the Yorkist army, and were gladly accepted. Others came naturally and with small urging; they were the Yorkists who had sought refuge in sanctuary in churches throughout the City. It was small wonder that the citizens cheered him to the echo when, at the head of his men, he marched out of the City's gates to give battle.
The battle of Barnet - 14th April 1471
On Easter Saturday 13th April, Warwick advanced south from St Albans towards the small hamlet of Chipping Barnet, marching down the line of the modern A 1081. Just south of Wrotham Park, then much more heavily wooded than it is today, and within the angle of the junction of the road with the modern A 1000 which leads to Hatfield, there stands the Hadley High Stone, erected in the 18th-century as a memorial to the battle. Measured from the Stone, the original hamlet of Chipping Barnet lay a further mile to the South, roughly at the junction of streets in the modern town of Barnet.The urban sprawl of Barnet begins to peter out around the Stone itself, and whilst there are some modern buildings on the site of the battlefield, the country is still sufficiently open to see where the battle was fought. In the 15th-century, all this was open countryside, for the most part flat heathland, although the lower ground contained some marshes whose early morning mists were to play a big part in the engagement. To the South-East of the Stone stands the small village of Monken Hadley. If only stones could talk, its ancient church could tell the story of the battle, and clear up some of its uncertainties.
Late in the same afternoon of Saturday, Warwick received news that Edward was advancing in a Northerly direction from London towards Chipping Barnet. There was a brief skirmish between the scouts of each army, and it was plain there would be a battle on the morrow. Warwick halted his men just south of the Stone and prepared to fight.
Warwick's army enjoyed some numerical superiority, and was markedly superior in the number of artillery pieces. Warwick must have known by now of Queen Margaret's and Edward, Prince of Wales' imminent arrival in Devon with their reinforcements from France. It is indeed strange that he should have repeated the same mistake which he had made at the Second battle of St Albans 1461, [pages ] and did not march to join the new arrivals. If he had done so, the combined Lancastrian army would have been immensely stronger than the Yorkist army, and the possibility of a victory for Lancaster that much more certain. Perhaps his pride had been hurt by the ease with which Edward had out manoeuvred him in the Midlands. He had a score to settle with him on this account, quite apart from the many other humiliations he had suffered at Edward's hands, and thus was anxious to finish off for good the man whom he had never liked, and for whom he had now formed one of his notorious hatreds. Possibly the politician in him had urged that Edward's defeat at his hands would immeasurably increase his prestige within the Lancastrian faction where he was still regarded with some suspicion. Putting matters at a higher level, he may have been concerned to deny Edward the time to consolidate his hold on the seat of government, or to increase his strength and support. Whatever the reasons, he had decided to fight Edward on his own, and it would seem more likely that emotion rather than logic led him to take this course. Judging by what he knew of his opponent, it was an unwise decision.
Dusk was falling by the time that Warwick formed up his army in the customary three divisions. There is controversy on whether his army was formed up facing South, or facing East, and even the names of the commanders of two of his divisions are uncertain. Some authorities point to the army being formed up along the line of the modern A 1000, or in a North-South line facing East. This would seem most unlikely, as this would expose his sensitive right flank to attack by the Yorkist army advancing from the South. It is far more probable that the army was formed up in an East-West line and at a right angle to the axis of the Yorkist approach.
Perhaps the controversy can be explained by considering the wheeling movement that seems to have taken place during the battle; this in itself would explain how both armies, locked in bitter conflict, ended up in a North-South line.
An East-West line would have placed the Lancastrian right division just to the South of the Golf Course. This division was commanded by John de Vere, Earl of Oxford (this much at least is certain). The centre division would then have straddled the road, the modern A 1000, and seems to have been commanded by Warwick himself [some writers say that it was commanded by Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset. There are some doubts about Somerset's presence; see page] The left or Eastern division was stationed to the left of the centre division and in line with the other two, and was possibly commanded by Henry Holland, Duke of Exeter. Warwick, together with his very experienced brother John Neville, Marquis Montagu, retained overall command, and it is possible that there was a small reserve behind the centre division, although it was not then usual to have such a reserve. All were dismounted, even Warwick whose brother had persuaded him to leave his horse where Hadley High Stone now stands.
Edward formed up his army in the dark, a considerable feat which says a lot for his own competence and that of his subordinate officers. Again it was in the customary three divisions, but here we are certain who were the divisional commanders. William, Lord Hastings commanded the left wing opposite Oxford's own division, Edward himself commanded the centre division, whilst his brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester commanded the right opposite Exeter's division.
Richard, a small dark sharp featured man who was said to resemble his father, had still to achieve his nineteenth birthday. He had already made a name for himself as a brave, ferocious and competent soldier, and now in his first great battle he was to show how much he deserved this reputation. Again there may have been a small reserve behind the centre division, particularly as Edward had to provide a guard for King Henry VI; possibly its duties included keeping a close eye on George, Duke of Clarence, whose apostasy was still too recent for any trust.
The strictest silence was enjoined on the Yorkist army; no guns were fired and no fires were lit. Gradually, silently, the Yorkist soldiers crept nearer to their enemies until no more than a quarter of a mile, perhaps even less, separated the two hosts. Then each soldier, fully armed, lay down on the cold damp ground to get what rest he could before the battle on the morrow, Easter Sunday 14th April. The Lancastrian guns fired salvoes at intervals during the night. The gunstones whistled harmlessly overhead, and whilst the noise of their flight was disconcerting, it was at least a comfort that the enemy believed them to be further away than they actually were.
At first light, both armies were astir, only to find that a thick morning mist enveloped the entire battlefield; close as they were, neither army could see the other. Edward decided not to wait until the rising sun should burn away the mist, but to adhere to his original plan of attacking as soon as it was light. He gave the order "Forward banners" and the trumpets shrilled as the Yorkist line surged forward to engage their foes. Soon all was wild confusion of hew and parry, thrust and cut as weapons slashed armour and pierced the human flesh that lay beneath. Soon the hideous noise of battle, the sound of a thousand blacksmiths from Hell striking their anvils simultaneously, the roars from thousands of throats, and the shrieks and groans of the injured and the dying rent the lovely fresh air of a spring morning.
As soon as the two armies were joined, it became clear that they were not properly aligned so that each division was opposite its opponent. The Yorkist deployment in the dark had resulted in each of its divisions being a little to the East of where, ideally, they should have been. Whether Edward or Warwick was aware of this we do not know; Edward may have suspected this and was waiting for the daylight to make the necessary correction. The impenetrable morning mist robbed him of this chance. The position may have been exacerbated by the axis of the Yorkist attack, which should have been due north; it would be understandable if, in the disorientation which is caused by every mist, this should have deviated more to wards the East than it should have done. The result of all this was that the right of each army outflanked its opponent.
Oxford was the first to realise his advantage. His own Lancastrian division soon enveloped the left wing and rear of Hasting's Yorkist division, which rapidly took to flight. Some of Hasting's men never stopped their flight until they were within the walls of the City of London, where they spread alarming stories of Edward's defeat. Oxford's men streamed after them in pursuit. Some stopped to plunder what little the countryside had to offer. Oxford and some of his officers remounted their horses, and dashed after them to bring them back to their duty. Shouting and swearing, and striking about them with the flats of their swords, they managed to gather about half the division together and lead it back to the battlefield.
All this took a lot of time, and Oxford may have had up to three miles to march before he reached the battlefield once again. In the meantime, the two centre divisions had locked in hideous combat. Richard's Yorkist right division similarly outflanked Exeter's left, but its men proved to be made of sterner stuff than Hasting's division. The young Richard performed prodigies of valour, charging time and again at the head of his men into Exeter's division. Still it would not break, but the unrelenting pressure forced it back so that the Lancastrian centre had to dress back to keep the line. Now both armies, allowing for the confusion of the melee, were roughly in a North-South line, whilst victory or defeat were equally uncertain.
There then occurred one of those strokes of fortune, or misfortune, without which no battle is ever complete. Oxford's banner bore his device, a radiant star, and many of his men wore this livery. At a distance and in poor light, this could easily be mistaken for Edward's livery of a sun and its rays. The Lancastrian archers of the centre division, thinking that Hastings had somehow managed to rally his men or that this was a fresh Yorkist force advancing from the South, shot their arrows into Oxford's returning troops. Soon they were falling like ninepins, and they raised the cry of treason. All too often people had changed sides in the midst of a battle of the Wars of the Roses, and it seemed that this was just another such instance. Soldiers are inured to misfortune on a battlefield, but betrayal is another matter. The thought that those of your own side are betraying you rapidly destroys the cohesion of a force. Many in the heat of the fight could not see what was happening, but the cry of treason soon spread from lip to lip. Many Lancastrians fled, and soon there was a general sauve qui peut with the Lancastrian army disintegrating.
Some of the Lancastrian leaders escaped. John de Vere, Earl of Oxford lived to fight another day. He escaped to Scotland, and several letters to his wife, Lady Margaret, survive. In them he asked the wife he was not to see for fourteen years to send him money, and warned her not to trust the chaplain who, he was convinced, intended to betray them. His northerly route to safety meant that he did not fight for Queen Margaret at the battle of Tewkesbury. The long and war like life of John Neville, Marquis Montagu came to an end at Barnet; John, in the thick of the battle where he had always liked to be, was struck down and killed by some unknown hand. Henry Holland, Duke of Exeter was knocked senseless and left for dead. Believing life to be extinct, some Yorkist soldiers stripped him of his armour. Some writers say that he was in fact killed in the battle, but the better view is that he was later found by his servants who tended to his injuries and carried him off to sanctuary in Westminster. [page ] But what of Warwick himself?
Seeing that the day was lost, Warwick fled from the field. Once he was one of the richest men in England, and certainly the most powerful, before whom even Monarchs trembled while Great Magnates shuddered at his frown and hastened to do his bidding. Now he was just another middle aged man, 43-years old, lumbering in his heavy armour to find his horse near Hadley High Stone and make good his escape. After him ran vengeful Yorkist soldiers, determined he should not escape. He turned, and raised his exhausted arm to make one last effort to defend himself. It was hopeless, there were too many of his foes. He was soon cut down and dispatched by a vicious blow which eliminated one of the principal personalities of the Wars of the Roses.
The losses on each side were very heavy, although few names are recorded by the chroniclers. Of the men of note, the Yorkist dead included Humphrey Bourchier, Lord Cromwell, another Humphrey Bourchier, Lord Berners'son, William Fenys, Lord Say and Sele who had shared Edward's exile in Burgundy, and the son and heir of Walter Blount, Lord Mountjoy. Apart from the two Neville brothers who have been mentioned, we know little or nothing of the Lancastrian dead. There must have been many more on both sides who fell in the vicious hand-to-hand fighting. According to Commyngs, Edward had said when he was in Flanders that he had conceived a great dislike of the English for preferring the Earl of Warwick to himself and for forcing him to flee. Whereas it had always been his custom to order that the nobles and the gentry were to be slain without mercy, he had always bidden his men to spare the common folk wherever possible; now he intended to slay them as well. If Commyngs was reporting accurately, Edward was scarcely being honest; he had fought in no battle since Towton ten years before, and nobody, whether noble or commoner, had received any mercy then. [pages ] We do not know what orders he gave about slaying or sparing, but Barnet was a terrible battle, and many a stout yeoman and artisan lay dead on the turf by the time it was finished.
According to the "Historie", it was all over by the middle of a lovely spring morning. Edward reminded his soldiers that it was Easter Sunday. They must march the 10 miles back to London to celebrate Easter and to give thanks for their victory. This the Yorkist army did, with their victorious King riding at their head, and another King trailing disconsolately in his wake.
The Tewkesbury campaign - 24th April to 3rd May 1471
The Londoners were delighted to see the return of King Edward IV and his army during the afternoon of Easter Sunday, 14th April. He had marched straight from the battlefield to bring the news of his victory to the City, and to confound those Jeremiahs from Hastings' division who had spread alarming stories of his defeat and overthrow. As might be supposed, this news had caused consternation. He brought with him the bodies of Richard and John Neville together with their banners. The bodies, stripped naked, were laid out in their coffins before St Paul's Cathedral. This barbarous custom was then common, so that all could see for themselves that they really were dead and recognise any later impostors for what they were. Public curiosity being satisfied, the corpses were later taken for decent and proper burial at Bisham Abbey. King Henry VI was once more returned, we may suppose thankfully, to the Tower where George Neville, Archbishop of York, was anxiously wondering if Edward intended to honour the pardon he had given and set him free. Edward eventually did so, but Henry was never again to leave the Tower alive.
That same Easter Saturday Queen Margaret, who had been delayed by contrary winds in Harfleur, landed at Weymouth. She brought with her Edward, Prince of Wales, John, Lord Wenlock, John Beaufort, known to his faction as the Marquis of Dorset and the brother of Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset.
She was welcomed on the quayside by Edmund himself, John Courtenay, Earl of Devon, Sir John Langstrother, Chief Justice John Fortescue and Doctor John Morton. For her it was an emotive moment, landing once more in the country of which she was the Queen after an absence of nearly eight years. The greetings over, the party journeyed to Cerne Abbey. There, on 15th April, they first heard of the terrible disaster at Barnet.
At first Margaret was distraught, and for once her steely resolution deserted her. She announced she would return to France immediately and remove her son from the dangers which the Yorkist victory so clearly posed to him.
She was eventually dissuaded by the others. No doubt they had much self interest at heart; without a Lancastrian victory, they would never again be rich in England and would return to being poor in France. A further period of poverty at Kouer-La-Petite had scant appeal to them. Even allowing for this, there was much sense in what they said. Jasper Tudor was in Wales, and would have no difficulty in raising a substantial force from the many Lancastrian sympathisers who lived there. Cheshire, also strongly Lancastrian, would undoubtedly support her. The North could also be counted on for a substantial number of soldiers. Two of the Great Magnates of the West-Country were at her side, and they could raise strong forces from Devon and Cornwall, besides Somerset, Dorset and Wiltshire. The present difficulty was their concentration, but with skill this could be overcome. Her son, by now a war like and blood thirsty youth of 17, added his voice to those of the others, and it was not entirely flattery when they assured her that her name alone would raise a great "puisance". [force] In the meantime, she would have to be patient. In fact, a large force of West-Countrymen was raised, and this was the Lancastrian army which fought at Tewkesbury.
On Tuesday 16th April, the news of Queen Margaret's landing reached the ears of King Edward IV in London. He had expected her arrival, but had initially thought that the news of his victory at Barnet would discourage her into returning to France. Since this was not to be so, his well developed strategic sense told him much the same as the Lancastrian Lords were at that very moment urging upon Queen Margaret. He must at all costs prevent the concentration of the Lancastrian sympathisers from all parts of the country, and if he failed to do this, the situation might become unmanageable. He had begun to disband his Barnet army. Now he called it together again, and ordered a muster at Windsor. This took more time than Edward would have liked whilst many people, who thought that they had finished with soldiering, were got used to the idea that they would have to march and fight again to finish a job they had thought was already completed. It was not until Wednesday 24th April that Edward was once again able to take the field.
It has earlier been said that whilst manoeuvring on the battlefield was rare in the Middle Ages.manoeuvring to get into the best possible position before battle was joined was frequent, and was often very skilfully executed. The campaign that lead to the battle of Tewkesbury demonstrates how very skilful each side was in the pursuit of their primary objectives and the moves which they made to realise them. The Yorkist objective was to prevent the Lancastrians crossing the River Severn into Wales, where they could expect substantial reinforcement, to bring them to battle and to destroy their present force. At the same time, they could not discount a Lancastrian march on London, and had to be well placed to prevent an assault on the City. The Lancastrian objective was, once their recruitment in the South-West was complete, to cross into Wales without a battle; once they had done this, they could expect such reinforcement that they would have a substantial numerical superiority. They appreciated Edward's concerns about London, and adopted a ruse; in accordance with the contemporary practice, they sent their officers into Shaftesbury and Salisbury to arrange billets for their troops when they should later arrive. This looked very like a march upon London was intended.
This momentarily confused Edward, but he decided to advance to Abingdon and then to Cirencester where he arrived on Monday 29th April, always taking good care to scout extensively to the south in case the Lancastrians were really marching on London.
In fact, Margaret had gone to Exeter where she found that Somerset and Devon, with the help of Sir John Arundel and Sir Hugh Courtenay, had been as good as their word; a substantial force of West-Countrymen had been raised. On 30th April, Edward heard that the Lancastrians would be in Bath that very day. Expecting a battle on Wednesday 1st May, he moved his army out of Cirencester to camp in the field.
The Wednesday dawned with no sign of the enemy, and Edward was by now very worried lest the Lancastrians had given him the slip to the South and were marching on London.
He ordered a redoubling of the scouting to the South, and took a very difficult, indeed brave, decision to march on to Malmesbury. Whilst in Malmesbury on Thursday 2nd May, he heard that the Lancastrians had reached Bristol the previous evening, had spent the night in the City, and had enjoyed considerable reinforcement and re-supply from the townsfolk. Feeling that they were now strong enough to fight a battle, they were even now advancing on the Yorkist army. Their "fore-runners", or advance guard, had been sighted on Sodbury Hill. Edward formed up his army in battle array and advanced on the Hill.
On reaching the Hill, the Yorkist army again found no sign of the enemy. The "forerunners" had stayed long enough on Sodbury Hill to be seen by the Yorkist scouts, and had then retreated once more to rejoin their own army. This was a ruse which had worked superbly. Puzzled by the elusiveness of the enemy, Edward pitched camp on the Hill and sent out his scouts far and wide.
Very early in the morning of Friday 3rd May, a breathless and travel stained scout urged his exhausted and sweat lathered horse into the Yorkist camp and threw the reins to the guard outside the King's tent. He had some firm and definite news to tell the newly awakened King, that the Lancastrian army was making a night march through Berkeley in the direction of Gloucester. There were fords across the River Severn, but they were difficult to use, and to cross the River by one of them would require much time. With a hostile army close at hand, it would be extremely risky for the Lancastrians to attempt such a crossing, but the bridges in the City of Gloucester would resolve all these problems.
A Conference of War was immediately summoned, although the courses were clear enough. The flickering light of the torches in the King's tent fell on the wan and anxious faces of the Yorkist commanders, newly aroused from their rest, as they agreed what they must do. The Lancastrians were within an ace of escaping into Wales, and in a few hours time would succeed in doing so. The army must march at once in pursuit, and in the meantime, a messenger must be dispatched on a fleet horse to the garrison commander in Gloucester to warn him of his danger. This was Richard Beauchamp, the son of Lord Beauchamp of Powyk, known as a staunch Yorkist. He must close the gates at once, and on no account were the Lancastrians to be allowed to gain the bridges.
Richard acted in the nick of time. The Lancastrian army arrived before Gloucester at about 10 o'clock in the morning of Friday 3rd May to find the gates closed and Richard and his men prepared to defend the walls. With the Yorkist army approaching, there was not the time to force an entry. With a heavy heart, Somerset gave the order to march on to Tewkesbury with a view to using the ford in its vicinity.
The Lancastrians reached Tewkesbury about 4 o'clock in the afternoon of the Friday, harried all the while by Richard Beauchamp and his men from Gloucester, who were said to have carried off some Lancastrian guns. By this time, they had been marching for more then 30 hours without sleep or rest, and man and beast were utterly exhausted. There was no time to use the ford, even if the necessary effort could have been made, because the Yorkist army was reported to be in the neighbourhood of Tredington, a bare 3 miles to the South-East.
The Yorkists themselves were hardly in better shape as they approached Tredington during the same evening. From Sodbury Hill, Edward had kept up a relentless pace, and by forced marches, they had covered nearly 36 miles since breaking their camp before dawn. They had the advantage of Richard Beauchamp's reports and knew the route they must take, but a battle was expected at any minute, and they had had to march fully armed. The day was very hot, and both man and horse had suffered greatly from fatigue and thirst. They had found only one small brook where they could slake their thirst, and it was not adequate to serve them all. Edward's artillery must have fallen behind, unable to keep up the pace, but it seems to have arrived in the camp during the night and was available for the battle. There was however a spirit in the Yorkist army now that they had the Lancastrians cornered at last. They must not be allowed to slip away again, and this called for the supreme effort from everybody which their King demanded. The British soldier has not changed over the ages. The men cursed the King, their commanders, their officers, the heat, the mosquitoes, the flies, the dust, the weight of their armour and weapons, their hunger and thirst, their sore feet, their fatigue - and gave the King everything that he asked of them.
The battle of Tewkesbury - 4th May 1471
In the 15th-century, Tewkesbury was but a small town nestling on the south-eastern bank of the River Avon, just a mile above the point of the River's confluence with the River Severn. Its chief glory was its Abbey, with its towering Abbey Church which stood on the southern edge of the town. The splendid Abbey Church still stands, much as it was in 1471, although the other abbey buildings have long since been pulled down. There is now much modern building to the South and the East over the most probable site of the battlefield. Nevertheless, it is still possible to see where the battle was fought and to follow its course. As a defensive position, the writer of the "Historie" thought it had much to be said for it:-
"......afore them" (the Lancastrians) "and on every hand of them fowle lanes, and depe dikes, and many hedges, with hylls and valleys; a right evill place to approache as cowld well have been devysed"
The dykes and the foul lanes have long since gone, and there may have been other changes since that fateful day. Probably it was more wooded than it is today. On the other hand, the place could be a death trap if things went badly for Lancaster. The River Swilgate (now a mere stream) flowed into the River Avon about half a mile to the west of the Abbey, and both rivers could have made any orderly retreat very difficult if things had gone badly for Lancaster. Even so, the Yorkists had many natural obstacles to surmount before they could come to grips with their foes.
Every medieval battle is surrounded by myth and legend, and Tewkesbury has its fair share. There has been much controversy over the exact site of the fighting, as a few examples will show. An older version of the Ordnance Survey showed the battlefield as lying just 500 yards North of Stonehouse Farm and a little to the West of the modern A 38 Tewkesbury to Gloucester road; immediately opposite and on the other side of the road "Margaret's Camp" was marked. This has since been corrected to show the scene of the fighting to be where the author would place it, over a mile to the North and North-West of the Farm. Sir James Ramsey seemed to favour the site near the Farm [Lancaster and York Vol 2 map facing page 379} although he has the alignment of the Lancastrian army as North-West to South-East. This seems most improbable, as such an alignment would have exposed one of the sensitive flanks to the Yorkists advancing from the South-East, and by contemporary thought this would have invited disaster. William Seymour has imposed the respective orders of battle upon an aerial photograph, [Battles in Britain pages 168/9] with the Lancastrian alignment North-east to South-West, with the Lancastrian centre very close to the River Swilgate and the Abbey. Whilst this would have served the contemporary practise of meeting the enemy's attack at right angles to the line of his advance, this too seems very improbable; the Lancastrian centre would have been on the low and level ground of the Vineyards with a steep ridge immediately to their front. Such a position would have invited the Yorkist army to occupy the ridge unopposed and thus gain a considerable advantage. To the author, it is quite inconceivable that the very experienced Lancastrian commanders would have denied themselves the use of this ridge when faced with a defensive battle, which promised to be a desperate fight, which was now forced upon them.
A visit to Tewkesbury suggests that David Smurthwaite [Battlefields of Britain page 115] has shown the most probable Lancastrian position to be on top of the ridge in an East-West alignment, although the author would prefer to place them some 200 yards further to the South. This is shown on the plan on page , and an explanation can be given quite briefly.
Starting from the huge Abbey Church, 250 yards to its South flows the River Swilgate from East to West towards its confluence with the Rivers Avon and Severn. The intervening space was once occupied by the extensive abbey buildings; today it is grassland. To the South of the Swilgate for a distance of 400 yards stretch the Vineyards (now a public park) which are so completely level as to suggest that at one time this was the scene of intensive agriculture; perhaps the Abbey's food was grown here. Again to the South of the Vineyards a steep ridge, running East to West, rises sharply. Today it is surmounted by a modern cemetery and a Chapel of Remembrance. Along the Southern edge of the ridge runs Abbots Walk, and it is here that the author would place the centre of the Lancastrian line. The ground, although much built over now, slopes away noticeably to the South. Although the ridge tends to slope away on its eastern and western extremities, it was an ideal place to fight a defensive battle.
On the assumption that the author's preference is correct, the Lancastrian army was drawn up in an East-West alignment to cover the 1, 200 yards between Bloody Meadow in the West and the bank of the River Swilgate to the East. Unlike Barnet, there is no doubt about the names of the divisional commanders in each army. On the Lancastrian side, Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset commanded the right, or westernmost, division with his own right flank protected by the woods, then more extensive than they are today, which stand about Bloody Meadow and the modern sewage works. The centre division was posted to his east, and directly on top of the ridge, with the Abbey Church at its back. Its nominal commander was Edward, Prince of Wales, although the effective commander was the septuagenarian John, Lord Wenlock. The left, or easternmost division, was entrusted to John Courtenay, Earl of Devon. Queen Margaret was not present on the battlefield, but may have been in the town or perhaps even further afield.
There is also no doubt that Tewkesbury was no Towton, where the battle had begun in mid morning and had continued until well after dark, [pages ] and neither did it bear any similarity to Barnet, a hard fought and vicious hand-to-hand struggle which had lasted for three hours with the outcome from first to last in doubt. The battle of Tewkesbury was a fast moving action with plenty of manoeuvring on the battlefield, a rare occurrence in a medieval battle. All was over in 2 hours, perhaps even less than that, from the moment that the first shot was fired until the Lancastrians broke under the furious onslaught of the Yorkist army.
Edward, advancing from Tredington, some three miles to the South-East of the Abbey, is said to have seen the Lancastrian army for the first time when he reached Stonehouse Farm. He deployed his army into three divisions, and took the command of the centre division opposite the Prince and Lord Wenlock. Hastings' division had disgraced itself at Barnet, so he posted it on the right opposite Devon, where he expected there would be little action. He seems to have sensed that Somerset would attempt to attack him under the cover of the trees on the banks of the Rivers Avon and Severn, so he entrusted his left division to his ruthless and very competent younger brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester who had so distinguished himself at Barnet. As at Barnet, he did not entrust George, Duke of Clarence with any command, but kept him in the centre division under his own close and watchful eye. A force of 200 picked spearmen, probably dismounted, was posted in the thick woods of a sharply rising knoll where the Tewkesbury Park Golf and County Club now stands; there they had excellent concealment. In both armies all were dismounted except for the senior officers.
Once the Yorkist deployment was completed, Edward advanced to within 400 yards of the Lancastrian line, or just beyond bowshot, and his artillery began a bombardment of the Lancastrian line, concentrating on Somerset's division which Edward intended to goad into early action. The Lancastrian guns, although markedly fewer in number to those of the Yorkists, replied. Edward was rewarded by seeing Somerset, who had probably reconnoitred the ground beforehand, leading his division into the woods with the object of attacking Gloucester's left flank under the cover of the trees. He sent a staff officer to warn Gloucester of his danger. Gloucester had seen the movement however, and was found by the staff officer with his eyes screwed up in concentration, trying to work out just where Somerset's men would break out from the woods.
Somerset's manoeuvre was bold and imaginative. Had it been better led by continuing its march beyond the site of the sewage farm before making its turn to the left to attack Gloucester, and had it been supported by Wenlock as was intended, it would have put the Yorkist army into grave jeopardy. The trees on which Somerset was relying to hide himself from Gloucester also obscured his view of Gloucester's division. He made his turn too early, and emerged from the trees in the worst possible place, opposite the point where the Yorkist left and centre divisions met. At the same time, he made it impossible for Wenlock's division to support him; his own men stood between Wenlock's gunners and archers and the enemy.
Edward saw his chance. Whilst Gloucester's men charged Somerset's division from the front, he wheeled the centre division to the left and attacked Somerset. When the 200 spearmen broke from their ambush and also charged, Somerset's men were surrounded on three sides. Dismayed by the failure of their manoeuvre and heavily outnumbered, Somerset's men broke and fled for the shelter of the trees.
Edward left his brother to persue Somerset's broken division through the trees and into the Bloody Meadow.
[This is not to be confused with the similarly named field at Towton see pp , also called the Bloody Meadow for the same reasons] Gloucester knew what his King expected of him,
and annihilation was his aim. He never ordered the slaughter to cease until there were no more left to slay.
Edward recalled, with some difficulty, the Yorkist centre division from the joys of the pursuit, and soon dressed it back into its original place. He then ordered a general assault on the remainder of the Lancastrian army. At this point, there is said to have occurred a very strange incident which, if true, robbed the Lancastrians of their most experienced commander at a vital moment.
Had John, Lord Wenlock lived to command his division, the outcome of the battle may have been different, even after Somerset's rout. Wenlock, now in his seventies, had first begun his soldiering career in the armies of King Henry V and, just possibly, may have been a very young squire at the battle of Agincourt 1415. In a long life devoted to soldiering, he had seen scores of difficult, sometimes even desperate situations, and his vast experience provided plenty of answers, even to one as bad as this one promised to be. He had not advanced to support Somerset's ill fated manoeuvre as perhaps he should have done, and now was sitting on his horse at the head of his division considering the best steps to take. To Somerset's fevered mind, recalling that Wenlock had several times changed sides during the Wars of the Roses (he had even been a Yorkist at Towton), John was simply a traitor. Galloping up to the old man, Somerset furiously demanded an explanation why the Lancastrian centre division had not supported him. John, equally angrily, told Somerset that he had made a complete mess of the manoeuvre, and one of the tenets of warfare was that you do not reinforce failure. He (Wenlock) partly blamed himself; such an important manoeuvre should not have been left to some greenhorn. He should have led it himself. Had he done so, the outcome would have been very different. Did Somerset really expect him to support the mess he had created? Wenlock's gunners and archers could not have shot without the danger of hitting their own men. Somerset had a lot to learn, and the sooner he started the better. Somerset, beside himself with fury, struck Wenlock with his poleaxe [battleaxe] and dashed out the old man's brains.
Wenlock certainly died in the battle, but whether this was the manner of his death, or whether it is another of the myths which surround it is impossible to say with certainty.
Had Wenlock been still alive when Edward could be seen commencing his attack, this old and immensely experienced warrior would have ridden down the lines of his division, looked each man squarely in the eye, and bidden him to fight lustily. The Lancastrian soldiers had been very unsettled by the failure of Somerset's manoeuvre, and badly needed the re-assurance of their wise old General in whom they had absolute confidence. It seems that they did not get it, and may even have been treated to the sight of their commander being struck down by one of their own leaders.
The Yorkist charge, when it came, was determined and furious. They had been marching and fighting for weeks. They had seen Oxford refuse to fight them at Nottingham, they had seen Warwick refuse to fight them at Coventry, and they already had one tremendous victory at Barnet to their credit. This further battle should not even have been necessary, and they were determined to finish the matter once and for all. They had total confidence in their King, a giant of a man who, as he always did, was leading them from the front and doing fearful execution with his sword.
It was soon over. The Lancastrian soldiers broke and fled in all directions. The Lancastrian casualties were heavy, whilst those of the Yorkists were comparatively light.
Besides John, Lord Wenlock, John Courtenay, Earl of Devon and Somerset's younger brother John, known to his own faction as Marquis of Dorset, were killed in the fighting. It is more probable than otherwise that Edward, Prince of Wales, shared their fate, but there is a story, related by Fabyan, that he was captured and brought before Edward. King Edward IV asked him in forthright terms what he thought he was doing waging war against him in his own Realm. The Prince boldly asked Edward the same question. Edward thrust him away contemptuously, whereupon the Yorkist Lords fell upon the youth and cut him down with their swords.
King Edward IV had landed on an unwelcoming, and sometimes hostile, shore just 51 days before. In that time he had marched the length and breadth of England and won two notable battles to regain his Crown. For the remaining 12 years of his reign, he suffered no further substantial troubles from his Lancastrian foes. It seemed that the Yorkist peace, which he had promised to his subjects just ten years before, had come to stay. Whilst Edward lived, it did indeed.
King Edward IV had aimed at the total annihilation of his enemies at the battle of Towton 1461, and this was still his purpose in the two battles he had just fought and won.
Many, such as Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, were now dead, whilst others were newly slain in the battle he had just won. Some had survived and were to be found, seeking sanctuary, in the Abbey Church. Doctor Warkworth [Warkworths' Chronicles pp 17-19] tells us that their number included Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, Lord St John, Sir Humphrey Audeley, Sir Gervais Clifton, Sir William Gremyby, Sir William Cary, Sir Thomas Tresham, the Speaker of the Common House who had caused Edward's father so much trouble in 1459, Sir William Newburgh, and apparently Sir John Langstrother, the Prior of the Hospital of St John. Edward was especially keen to get his hands upon these people and ensure that never again would they be able to cause trouble to the House of York.
There are various stories about what happened in the Abbey Church in the hours following the battle. Some say that the fugitives, or at least some of them, were killed inside the Church by the blood crazed Yorkist soldiers, and that the Church later had to be cleansed and re-consecrated.
It is equally possible that re-consecration was considered necessary simply because of the mass of Christian blood which had just been shed outside the Church. Others tell us that Abbot Stensham lead his clergy in procession to meet the vengeful King, and explained to him that the Abbey did not have a charter to shelter fugitives from justice, particularly those who were guilty of High Treason, and therefore they could lawfully be arrested. This sounds most improbable; a church gave sanctuary because it was the House of God, a broad and all embracing concept, and not one that depended on a parchment deed. [Apparently, no sanctuary was given in cases of witchcraft. Eleanor Cobham was removed from Westminster Abbey - see page ] If the Abbot was so craven, his cowardice was not shared by one of his monks. Advancing boldly on the King with the bread and the wine in his outstretched hands, he roundly reproved Edward for entering the House of God with a drawn sword, particularly one so befouled as Edward's presently was. He made Edward swear to spare the lives of the fugitives if they now left the Church. [Warkworth's Chronicles pp 17-19] Those who have no intention of honouring their promises do not mind what they promise to do, and Edward had no difficulty in giving the required assurances. Once outside the Church, he had the fugitives arrested. It is possible to see some measure of truth in all these stories as Edward removed his prisoners from sacred and hallowed ground.
Pausing only to let the Sabbath Day pass, when the penal processes of the Law were forbidden, Edward brought his prisoners before a drum head court martial presided over by Richard, Duke of Gloucester and John Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk.
[Norfolk's name does not appear in the chronicles describing the campaign and the two recent battles, in which he did not hold a command; it is inconceivable that he did not actively support Edward, and it is difficult to see him failing to attend the muster at Windsor] Charged with High Treason, the findings and sentences of the Court were a foregone conclusion. The prisoners met their end on the afternoon of the same day, Monday 6th May 1471. With the beheading of Somerset, the last of the male Beauforts passed into history.
It was left to the females of the family to continue their resilient blood, if not their name, into future generations.
There does not seem to be much room for doubt how King Henry VI died. When his grave was opened in 1910, the skull was found to be shattered, obviously by a blow with a heavy object such as a sword or a poleaxe. Some hair also remained, 'apparently matted with blood'. [Archaeologia 1910] Such an horrific wound must have proved fatal, but whoever it was that struck it is far from certain, and it unlikely that it will ever be known. Richard, Duke of Gloucester attracts most suspicion, and the Tudor historians have written that he slew Henry whilst he was at his devotions in that gem of Norman architecture, the Chapel of the White Tower. Given the nature of the wound, this must be a strong possibility. The contemporary chroniclers could not bring themselves to be quite so specific. The "Historie", which by now had assumed the status of an official account, states that when Henry heard the news of the battle of Tewkesbury and all that had happened there:-
"...he toke it to so great dispite, ire, and indingnation, that, of pure displeasure and melencoly, he died on xxiii day of the monith of May."
This is a singularly facile explanation as Henry was well known for his patience and his resignation to the will of God. It did serve as an official account (whether anyone was prepared to believe it or not), and Yorkist propaganda had no objection to portraying Henry as a faint heart.
Doctor Warkworth [Warkworth Chronicles pp 21] ventured a different version. He placed the date of Henry's death as Tuesday 21st May "betwyx xi and xii of the cloke", but stops short of attaching blame to Gloucester; he merely states that Richard "and many other" were then within the Tower and leaves the reader to his own conclusions. The Great Chronicle of London stated baldly that Richard was not altogether guiltless in the matter of Henry's death. Warkworth went on to say that the corpse was laid out in St Pauls Cathedral, and later in Blackfriars:-
"and his face was opyne that every manne myghte see hyme, "
The corpse was said to have bleed copiously onto the pavement, which was regarded as a sure sign that Henry really had died of grief. Only the face was shown, and not the full corpse (the customary method), out of respect to a deceased King, but there was also plenty to hide, and such a story was a neat way of confirming the official explanation. After a while, the corpse was removed to Chertsey Abbey for a proper burial.
The most likely explanation is that the Tudor historians were right, and that it was Richard who struck the fatal blow, excluding perhaps the hyperbole of the Chapel. It is perfectly possible that when Richard and the captive Queen Margaret arrived in the Tower in the evening of 21st May, Richard took great and sadistic delight in taking her to see her husband, although the pair are said never to have met again in this life after her departure from Bamburgh Castle in 1463, [page ] and gleefully stood by while she poured out an account of the disaster at Tewkesbury. He would not have been above supplementing her account in the most brutal way that he could manage. Henry's reaction would have been to sink to his knees in prayer, when Richard would have smashed his skull, killing him outright.
The dead are at least spared further humiliation, and they have no feelings which the living can injure. Queen Margaret, together with her son's wife, Anne, Princess of Wales and the Countess of Devon, were apprehended 3 days after the battle. Edward had moved to Coventry in the expectation of trouble from the North, and there the three ladies were brought before him on 12th May 1471. By now, Margaret had learnt of her son's death and of the failure of her attempts to recover for him his sacred inheritance, the Throne and Crown of England.
There does not seem to be any record of the meeting, but we can suppose that Margaret's sharp and bitter tongue was given full rein as she railed against King Edward IV, reciting with much emotion all the wrongs done to her and the House of Lancaster with so many bloody results. Edward listened with a stony face, and wondered why so many had been captivated by this woman's sexuality. Margaret was now 42 years old, and the cares of her long struggle were shown in her face. Her famous beauty had faded, and all that was left was a spitting and venomous virago with a face contorted by rage. When at last the diatribe ceased from sheer exhaustion, the King coolly remarked that he was the victor who would order things as he saw fit. It was not the custom of the Planatgenets to behead women (in marked contrast to that of the succeeding Tudor dynasty), but she would be imprisoned in the Tower and could expect to stay there for the rest of her life. In fact Margaret stayed there until 1475, when King Louis XI ransomed her for 50, 000 crowns, recouping himself for his outlay by the surrender of all her father's estates. Louis allowed her a small pension, and she eked out a wretched existence at Dampierre, regaling her visitors with tales of the Wars and the wrongs done to her.
She died in 1482, a bitter and hate filled woman, leaving not even enough money to pay her servants wages or the bills of her household creditors.
For the moment, Edward had not quite finished with her.
When he entered London in a triumphal procession on 21st May, he brought Margaret with him, shackled in a cart where all could see her, on her way to a cell in the Tower. How different it had all been on an earlier May day in 1445, when she, as a beautiful young bride, had ridden in a litter on her way to her Coronation. [page ] Then the Londoners had cheered her and wished her well. Now on another May day in 1471 they execrated her, seeing only a harridan who had brought them many ills, and pelted her with the noisome objects which in medieval London always lay close to hand. Her guards had to press in closer to prevent any attempt to do her any physical injury. She still had her proud spirit, and it was equal to the occasion; they were denied the satisfaction of her tears.
In a strange way, fortune's wheel had spun its full circle. Two of Edward's enemies did however escape his vengeance. Jasper Tudor disbanded his Welsh followers and escaped abroad. He took with him Henry, Earl of Richmond, later to become the first of the Tudor Kings. Hoping to land in France, their ship was driven into a Breton port by stress of weather. There they found refuge. From this, much was to flow, although in 1471, little attention was paid to their escape.
|Copyright © Michael D. Miller 2003|