Wednesday, March 18, 2015


...surrounded by HIS retainers...

In the social system known as BASTARD FEUDALISM, members of the PEERAGE and GENTRY recruited sworn followers known as retainers to provide a particular type of service in return for monetary fees or the exercise of the lord’s influence on their behalf.

Retainers often bound themselves to a lord by a written contact known as an indenture of retainer, which normally specified the type of service to be provided and the amount of the fees or wages to be paid. The indenture was so named because it was cut along an indented line to allow a matching portion to be given to each party to the contract. Although retainers summoned to arms as part of a great magnate’s AFFINITY formed the core of many civil war armies, most retainers supplied nonmilitary service, functioning as domestic servants, household officers, legal advisors, and estate agents. Although most retainers were liable for military service in times of need, as occurred frequently during the WARS OF THE ROSES, large numbers of exclusively military retainers were often hastily recruited when a campaign or battle was imminent. For such emergencies, a magnate also usually had a number of “well-willers,” men not under formal indenture but who had enjoyed the lord’s favor and influence and who could be approached for military service. To clearly proclaim a retainer’s allegiance, especially in battle, a nobleman often supplied his retainers with a special livery (i.e., uniform) or with his personal or family BADGE. For instance, in the poem, THE SONG OF LADY BESSY, the retainers of Sir William STANLEY are described as wearing coats “as red as any blood” on which they displayed Stanley’s hart’s head badge (Boardman, p. 66).

The king also retained men for various types of service; Sir Thomas Montgomery was given a livery of crimson cloth of gold to distinguish him as one of EDWARD IV’s knights of the body (a royal bodyguard).Wearing the king’s white boar badge, RICHARD III’s retinue of household knights charged with him into the heart of the enemy force at the Battle of BOSWORTH FIELD. All indentures contained a provision that declared the retainer’s allegiance to the king superior to his allegiance to the contracting lord. However, the Wars of the Roses, being a civil conflict, forced many retainers to make difficult choices between serving their lord, whose family may have long held the allegiance of the retainer’s family, and serving the king the lord opposed— a dilemma that faced many retainers of Richard PLANTAGENET, duke of York, when the duke openly challenged HENRY VI in 1460. A man could also be retained by two lords, a circumstance that created further difficulties when one lord supported the house of LANCASTER and the other the house of YORK.

Throughout the fifteenth century, PARLIAMENT enacted numerous anti-retaining statutes in an effort to curb the abusive use of armed retainers to conduct local feuds, attack political rivals, intimidate judges and juries (a practice known as embracery), and generally cause disorder and mayhem. Edward IV’s statute of 1468 tried to define who could be retained and for what purposes, and HENRY VII’s law of 1504 prohibited retaining without royal license. Neither statute was entirely successful because kings continued to rely on their own and their nobles’ retainers to form the armies they required to fight foreign wars and suppress internal rebellions. As a result, the practice of retaining remained in use well into the sixteenth century.

Further Reading: Boardman, Andrew W., The Medieval Soldier in the Wars of the Roses (Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Sutton Publishing, 1998); Hicks, Michael, Bastard Feudalism (London: Longman, 1995); Hicks, Michael,“Lord Hastings’ Indentured Retainers?” in Richard III and His Rivals: Magnates and Their Motives in the Wars of the Roses (London: Hambledon Press, 1991); Rowney, I.,“Resources and Retaining in Yorkist England: William, Lord Hastings, and the Honour of Tutbury,” in A. J. Pollard, ed., Property and Politics: Essays in Later Medieval English History (Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Alan Sutton, 1984).

The Peasants’ Revolt

The people were tired of having no rights and being forced to pay high taxes. On Thursday 30th May the men of Fobbing, Corringham and Stanford attacked JPs in session at Brentwood. They were led by Thomas Baker of Fobbing. Similar events occurred in Kent.

John Ball, the priestly demagogue who inspired the rebellious peasants in 1381, preaching to the rebel host led by Wat Tyler (left foreground); banners proclaim the rebels’ loyalty to King Richard II.

The Kent rebels led by Wat Tyler and the Essex rebels led by John Ball and Jack Straw rose 100,000 strong to invade London. Their demand of the king was “We will be free forever, our heirs and our lands.” Richard II agreed but then in a face to face meeting, the king had Wat Tyler stabbed through the throat and he died.

The peasants’ final stand was the Battle of Billericay on 28 June, 1381. Some five hundred peasants fled to Norsey Wood where they were slaughtered by royal troops.


The cumulative effect of economic, social, political, and military strains in fourteenth-century England is seen most graphically in the Peasants’ Revolt (1381). It was exceptional in its intensity, length, and broad appeal, but not in its fundamental character, which was revealed in other conspiracies and insurrections in the years that followed. Widespread violence was sparked off in 1381 by yet another poll tax, this one at 1s. a head, three times the rate of 1377 and 1379. People responded with evasion, violence towards the collectors and the justices who investigated, and, ultimately, in June 1381, with rebellion. Agricultural workers from eastern and south-eastern England were joined by townsmen and Londoners; the grain and wool-growing countryside of East Anglia had felt the full impact of the contraction and dislocation of the economy and the social contradictions of an increasingly outmoded feudal society. Moreover, the rebels were disillusioned by the political mismanagement of the 1370s and the recent dismal record in France, and they feared enemy raids on the coast. Although heretics played no major role in the rebellion, radical criticism of the doctrines and organization of the English Church predisposed many to denounce an establishment that seemed to be failing in its duty.

Pressure on the government and an appeal to the new king (‘With King Richard and the true-hearted commons’ was the rebels’ watch-word) held out the best hope for remedy of grievances, and the populace of London offered a pool of potential sympathizers. The rebels accordingly converged on London from Essex and Kent (where Wat Tyler and a clerical demagogue, John Ball, emerged as leaders). They threw prisons open, sacked the homes of the king’s ministers, ransacked the Tower, and tried to frighten Richard II into making far-reaching concessions which, if implemented, would have broken the remaining bonds of serfdom and revolutionized landholding in Church and State. But the rebellion was poorly planned and organized and more in the nature of a spontaneous outburst of frustration. By 15 June the rebels had dispersed to their homes.

The Accession of Richard II

The crisis entered a new phase when King Edward himself died in June 1377. He was succeeded by the Black Prince’s only surviving son and heir, Richard II (1377–99), who was ten years of age. England was faced with the prospect of only the second royal minority since 1066 and the first since 1216. On the latter occasion there had followed a period of political turbulence centring on the young Henry III; a similar situation developed after 1377 and played its part in precipitating the Peasants’ Revolt (1381) in eastern and south-eastern England. A series of poll taxes was imposed during 1377–80 to finance the war. These taxes were at a rate higher than was usual and the tax of 1379 was popularly known as ‘the evil subsidy’. They sparked off violence in East Anglia against the tax-collectors and the justices who tried to force compliance on the population. But what turned these irritations into widespread rebellion was the prolonged dislocation of unsuccessful war, the impact of recurrent plagues, and the anticlerical temper of the times. Hopes of remedy placed by the rebels in the young King Richard proved to be vain, though he showed considerable courage in facing the rebels in London during the summer of 1381.

Richard was still only 14, and the aristocratic rivalries in the ruling circle continued, not least among the king’s uncles. This and the lack of further military success in France damaged the reputation of the council that governed England in Richard’s name and even affected the king’s own standing in the eyes of his subjects. Richard, too, was proving a self-willed monarch whose sense of insecurity led him to depend on unworthy favourites reminiscent of Edward II’s confidants. As he grew older, he naturally wanted to expand his entourage and his household beyond what had been appropriate for a child. Among his friends and associates were some who were new to the ranks of the aristocracy, and all were generously patronized by the king at the expense of those (including his uncle Gloucester) who did not attract Richard’s favour. In 1386 Parliament and a number of magnates attacked Richard’s closest associates and even threatened the king himself. With all the stubbornness of the Plantagenets, Richard refused to yield. This led to further indictments or appeals of his advisers by five leading ‘appellant’ lords (the duke of Gloucester, and the earls of Warwick, Arundel, Nottingham, and Derby, the king’s cousin), and a skirmish took place at Radcot Bridge in December 1387 when the king’s closest friend, the earl of Oxford, was routed. At the momentous ‘Merciless Parliament’ (1388), the king was forced to submit to aristocratic correction which, if it had been sustained, would have significantly altered the character of the English monarchy. Once again, the pressures of war, the tensions of personal rule, and the ambitions of England’s magnates had produced a most serious political and constitutional crisis. The institution of hereditary monarchy emerged largely unscathed after a century and more of such crises, but criticism of the king’s advisers had reached a new level of effectiveness and broader sections of opinion had exerted a significant influence on events. These were the political and personal dimensions of more deep-seated changes that were transforming England’s social and economic life in the later Middle Ages

Cely Letters and Papers

The letters and papers of the Cely (or Sely) family, a series of documents describing the lives and business activities of a family of LONDON wool merchants in the 1470s and 1480s, are primary sources of information on English society and the English economy at the end of the WARS OF THE ROSES.

The letters, accounts, and memoranda in the collection concern the family of Richard Cely (d. 1482), who, with his wife Agnes (d. 1483), raised three sons—Robert (d. 1485), Richard (d. 1493), and George (d. 1489). The senior Richard Cely was a prominent member of the London merchant community in the 1460s, and in 1481 ran unsuccessfully for the office of sheriff of London. The Celys were wool traders, buying wool in England and shipping it to CALAIS for sale to cloth makers in BURGUNDY. Until his death, the elder Richard handled the London end of the operation— the purchase, inspection, sorting, and shipping of wool—while his sons Richard and George (mainly the latter in the 1480s) handled the Calais end of the business—the negotiation of terms for sale of the wool. After their father’s death, Richard and George continued the business as a true partnership, with Richard conducting operations in London. Besides wool, the brothers also occasionally traded in other commodities and purchased ships to engage in the carrying trade, that is, to transport the goods of other merchants. The eldest brother, Robert, seems to have been a rather unstable character who had a poor relationship with his father; he apparently dropped out of the family business and largely disappears from the correspondence after 1479.

Now found in the Public Record Office, the Cely papers survived because they were submitted to the Court of Chancery in 1489 as evidence in a court case involving a dispute over debts between Richard Cely and the widow of his brother George. The collection comprises 247 letters and over 200 other documents that cover the period from 1472 to 1488, although the bulk of the correspondence begins in 1474 and no letters have survived for 1475 and the greater part of the years 1483, 1485, and 1486. The letters shed little direct light on the politics of the period, but they are full of concerns about how political and military events might affect trade. This urban merchant perspective distinguishes the Cely collection from the other surviving family archives from the fifteenth century; the PASTON, PLUMPTON, and STONOR letters were all written from the perspective of rural, landholding GENTRY. The Celys and their correspondents had some landed interests, but their main concerns focused on London and on trade, an outlook that makes the Cely documents an important source for the social and economic history of England in the later years of the civil wars.

Further Reading: Hanham, Alison, ed.,The Cely Letters 1472–1488 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975); Hanham, Alison, The Celys and Their World:An English Merchant Family of the Fifteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985); selections of the Cely letters are available online through the Richard III Society Web site at <>.


Sanctuary was a right of the English Church whereby cathedrals, abbeys, churches, and churchyards could serve as places of refuge for criminals, debtors, victims of abuse, and political refugees.

In theory, a person claiming sanctuary could remain unmolested in the sanctuary precincts for forty days, after which time the person had to either stand trial for his offense or confess and swear to abjure (i.e., leave) the realm. If the latter, the offender was escorted from sanctuary to the nearest port by a local constable. If no ship was immediately available, the person had to daily wade into the sea up to his knees and cry out for passage until a vessel could be found to transport him. During the Middle Ages, certain English liberties (i.e., jurisdictions exempt from royal authority) and certain sanctuaries possessing papal or royal charters were accepted as permanent places of refuge. Although the right of sanctuary was found throughout Christian Europe, it was nowhere so widely used or so highly formalized as in England.

During the WARS OF THE ROSES, the concept of sanctuary for political offenders and political refugees was both widely applied and widely violated. Queen Elizabeth WOODVILLE fled twice into sanctuary at Westminster. From October 1470 to April 1471, during the READEPTION of HENRY VI, the queen remained unmolested at the abbey, even giving birth there to her son, the future EDWARD V. Elizabeth’s second period in sanctuary, from May 1483 to March 1484, was occasioned by the death of her husband, EDWARD IV, and the ensuing political coup of her brother-in-law, Richard, duke of Gloucester, who seized custody of Edward V to prevent the establishment of a government dominated by the WOODVILLE FAMILY. In June 1483, Gloucester either pressured or compelled Elizabeth to send her son Richard PLANTAGENET, duke of York, out of sanctuary and into the duke’s custody. The queen herself remained at Westminster until finally coaxed from sanctuary by a promise of support for her daughters, who had shared her confinement.

Several times during the wars, victors on the battlefield violated sanctuary to seize and execute losers. Edward IV had Edmund BEAUFORT, duke of Somerset, and other Lancastrian survivors of the Battle of TEWKESBURY forcibly removed from Tewkesbury Abbey. Two days after the battle, Somerset and most of his sanctuary companions were condemned and then beheaded in Tewkesbury marketplace. In April 1486, Francis LOVELL, Lord Lovell, and the brothers Sir Thomas and Sir Humphrey Stafford, adherents of RICHARD III who had been in sanctuary since the Battle of BOSWORTH FIELD in the previous August, emerged from their refuge to incite rebellion against HENRY VII. When the Staffords returned to sanctuary in May after the rebellion collapsed, Henry ordered them seized and brought out for trial, an action that resulted in the condemnation of both and the execution of Sir Humphrey. The Stafford case led to the first legal limitations on the right of sanctuary; after much debate, the Stafford judges ruled that sanctuary did not apply in cases of treason or for second offenses.

Further Reading: Gillingham, John, The Wars of the Roses (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1981); Goodman, Anthony, The Wars of the Roses (New York: Dorset Press, 1981); Kendall, Paul Murray, The Yorkist Age (New York: W.W. Norton, 1962); Ross, Charles, The Wars of the Roses (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1987).

Treaty of Westminster-Ardtornish, (1462)

By making EDWARD IV the ally of dissident Scottish noblemen, the 1462 Treaty of Westminster- Ardtornish sought to compel the Scottish government to abandon its support for the house of LANCASTER.

After their defeat at the Battle of TOWTON in March 1461, HENRY VI, Queen MARGARET OF ANJOU, and their chief noble supporters fled into SCOTLAND, where they were given protection by Queen MARY OF GUELDRES, who led the Scottish government as regent for her nine-year-old son, JAMES III. Allowed to use Scotland as a base for raids into England, the Lancastrians kept the northern counties in turmoil. To force the Scots to abandon his opponents, Edward IV allied himself with the Scottish king’s opponents. By the Treaty of Westminster-Ardtornish, John, the semi-independent Lord of the Isles, severed his links to the Scottish Crown and declared his allegiance to Edward IV. In return, Edward agreed to pay the Lord of the Isles a pension and to grant him northern Scotland, most of which was already under his influence, when the country was conquered by the English. The rest of Scotland was pledged to the treaty’s other signatory, James Douglas, ninth earl of Douglas, a Scottish rebel who had been resident in England as a pensioner of the Crown since 1455.

No attempt was made to put the treaty into effect, for the agreement was probably meant only to highlight the Scottish Crown’s vulnerability in northern Scotland and to convince the Scottish government to come to terms with Edward IV and expel the Lancastrian exiles. A truce was concluded in 1463, and Scotland thereafter ceased to be a safe haven for Lancastrian adventures. However, Edward IV remembered the ploy and resumed negotiations with the Lord of the Isles in 1479 when he was again at odds with the Scottish king.

Further Reading: Mackie, J.D., A History of Scotland, 2d ed. (New York: Dorset Press, 1985); Ross, Charles, Edward IV (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998).

Commissions of Array

A commission of array was a written grant of authority from the king to certain named individuals (commissioners) to gather all able-bodied men within a particular town or shire for military service, usually to resist foreign invasion or quell internal rebellion. The issuance of commissions of array was one of the chief methods for recruiting armies during the WARS OFTHE ROSES.

Under the Statute of Winchester, promulgated by Edward I in 1285, all men between the ages of sixteen and sixty who were fit to bear arms could be summoned annually for forty days of military service. Twice each year, royal commissioners, who were usually members of the GENTRY, were given authority under their commissions of array to inspect and report on the military readiness of the county or town in their charge. In times of military emergency, the commissioners mustered these local levies for service with the royal army. During the Wars of the Roses, the party in power used commissions of array to call men to perform their public duty to provide military service to the king, even if they lived in a region dominated by a nobleman then in rebellion against the monarch, and even if they were RETAINERS or tenants of a magnate or noble family supporting the opposition party.

Because the Wars of the Roses forced men to choose whether to obey a royal commission or the summons of an opposing magnate to whom they were attached, or, after 1461, whether to obey the commission of the Lancastrian or the Yorkist monarch, the operation of commissions of array became extremely complicated. For instance, in 1460, Richard PLANTAGENET, duke of York, having been recently declared heir to the throne by the Act of ACCORD, was governing the realm in the name of HENRY VI. To counter increasing Lancastrian activity in Yorkshire, the duke issued a commission of array to John NEVILLE, Lord Neville, who was to gather troops from York’s northern estates for a forthcoming campaign in the region. Neville raised the men as ordered, but then marched them into the Lancastrian encampment at Pontefract, where most became part of the army that defeated and killed York at the Battle of WAKEFIELD on 30 December. Those of Neville’s recruits who did not fight with the Lancastrian army probably returned home and so were also lost to York, whose campaign was troubled from the start by lack of manpower. How Neville’s men made the decision to fight against rather than for York is uncertain. Loyalty to Henry VI, local pride, Lancastrian PROPAGANDA, Neville’s presence, York’s absence, and the respect accorded a royal commissioner probably all played a part. Thanks to the clash of loyalties engendered by civil war, recruitment by commissions of array became very haphazard during the Wars of the Roses.

Further Reading: Boardman, Andrew W., The Medieval Soldier in the Wars of the Roses (Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Sutton Publishing, 1998); Hicks, Michael, Bastard Feudalism (London: Longman, 1995).

Chronicle of the Rebellion in Lincolnshire (1470)

The Chronicle of the Rebellion in Lincolnshire is a brief account of EDWARD IV’s campaign against the Lincolnshire uprising led by Sir Robert Welles in March 1470.

Cast in the form of a journal or day-by-day listing of events, the Chronicle is an important source of information for the second coup launched against Edward by Richard NEVILLE, earl of Warwick, and George PLANTAGENET, duke of Clarence. The narrative traces the king’s movements between 7 and 26 March, and provides details of the Battle of LOSECOTE FIELD, fought on 12 March. The Lincolnshire uprising grew out of a feud between Richard Welles, Lord Welles, and Sir Thomas Burgh, Edward’s master of Horse (see WELLES UPRISING). By coming to Burgh’s aid, Edward drove Welles and his son Sir Robert to seek assistance from Warwick, who, since the failure of his 1469 coup, had awaited another opportunity to seize power. Warwick encouraged Sir Robert Welles to raise Lincolnshire by claiming that the king was coming north to exact retribution for the shire’s involvement in the ROBIN OF REDESDALE REBELLION in the previous July, an uprising that had accompanied Warwick’s first coup attempt. Although as yet unaware of Warwick and Clarence’s involvement, Edward left LONDON on 6 March to suppress Welles’s fast-growing rebellion.

The Chronicle was written by someone traveling in the king’s party and is thus largely an eyewitness account of the events described. Because the chronicler was particularly well informed as to the documents and letters issued under the privy seal during the campaign, modern historians have speculated that the writer was one of the royal privy seal clerks. The Chronicle is clearly an officially sanctioned PROPAGANDA effort, for its author took great pains to show that Warwick and Clarence were traitors and the instigators of the uprising. The chronicler also stressed the magnitude of Edward’s success in crushing the rebellion, claiming that Welles brought 30,000 rebels to Losecote Field and emphasizing how dangerous the king’s situation would have been had Welles successfully rendezvoused with Warwick. Although its official nature and its obvious exaggerations and biases require it to be used with caution, the Chronicle is valuable because it was composed within days of the end of the campaign. The narrative stops on 26 March, and the Chronicle may have been completed before the end of the month, or at least by mid-April, before the writer knew how Warwick’s rebellion would conclude.

Further Reading: Gillingham, John, The Wars of the Roses (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1981); Three Chronicles of the Reign of Edward IV, introduction by Keith Dockray (Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Alan Sutton Publishing, 1988).

Commons (Common People) and the Wars of the Roses

The vast majority of English men and women held no titles, owned little or no land, and had little or no political influence. Except for the residents of LONDON and a few larger towns, the common people of England lived and worked in the countryside, where over 90 percent of the English population resided in the fifteenth century. Although comprising the bulk of most civil war armies, these countrymen were generally little affected in their daily lives by the WARS OF THE ROSES, which for them meant brief, intermittent campaigns and little material destruction.

The common soldiers who fought in civil war armies were usually conscripts, countrymen thrust into battle not by their own political convictions but by the social conventions of the day. The PEERAGE and GENTRY expected that able-bodied men living within their spheres of influence or on their estates would follow them into combat when summoned. Accustomed both to bearing arms and to a certain level of violence in their lives, commoners could usually be persuaded by a local magnate or gentleman, or by a popular preacher, to take arms in a particular political cause. In 1485, for example, John HOWARD, duke of Norfolk, recruiting troops to support RICHARD III against Henry Tudor, earl of Richmond, expected to raise 1,000 men from the towns and villages on his East Anglian estates.

Common men had much less stake in the wars than their social superiors did, and common soldiers usually had much less to lose by taking sides. While the noble and gentry leadership of civil war armies was often targeted for death, as the Yorkists likely targeted Edmund BEAUFORT, duke of Somerset, at the Battle of ST. ALBANS in 1455, victorious commanders, such as Richard NEVILLE, earl of Warwick, at the Battle of NORTHAMPTON in 1460, ordered their men to spare the opposing commons. The common soldiers also avoided the executions and bills of ATTAINDER that consumed noble and gentry lives and property after most battles.

During the HUNDRED YEARS WAR, English armies operating in FRANCE had systematically devastated the countryside, killing villagers, burning buildings, and destroying crops and livestock. During the Wars of the Roses, the English countryside saw very little destruction. In 1461, when the northern army of Queen MARGARET OF ANJOU plundered Yorkist towns and strongholds during its MARCH ON LONDON, the great terror that swept over the southern shires was in part due to the novelty of such pillaging in England. Attacks on or sieges of towns were also rare, with the 1471 assault on London by Thomas NEVILLE, the Bastard of Fauconberg, being the major example during the wars. The great social evils of the civil war period were the violence, disorder, and corruption of justice inflicted on the countryside by the RETAINERS and servants of noblemen. In some parts of the country, riots, murders, assaults, and forcible dispossessions were common, especially in the 1450s and 1460s. Although these evils arose chiefly from feeble royal government, especially under HENRY VI, and from abuses in the system of BASTARD FEUDALISM, the Wars of the Roses aggravated the problem, at least during the periods 1459–1461 and 1469–1471. EDWARD IV’s preoccupation with the uprisings precipitated by Warwick allowed the five-week siege of CAISTER CASTLE to occur in Norfolk in 1469 and the bloody Battle of NIBLEY GREEN to erupt in Gloucestershire in 1470. However, the political security achieved by Edward IV in 1471 seemed to end the wars and allowed a strengthened Crown to reduce the level of violence in the countryside thereafter.

Further Reading: Gillingham, John,Wars of the Roses (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1981); Goodman, Anthony, The Wars of the Roses (New York: Dorset Press, 1981); Harvey, I. M.W.,“Was There Popular Politics in Fifteenth- Century England?” in R. H. Britnell and A. J. Pollard, eds., The McFarlane Legacy: Studies in Late Medieval Politics and Society (Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Alan Sutton, 1995), pp. 155–174; Ross, Charles, The Wars of the Roses (London: Thames and Hudson, 1987).

Reign of Henry VI

Henry VI

During the 1430s the search for peace became more urgent, particularly in England. The Congress of Arras (1435) and discussions at Gravelines (1439) were unproductive, largely because English opinion remained divided as to the desirability of peace and the wisdom of significant concessions. But the recovery in Charles VII's fortunes, the mounting cost of English Still at War, 1390-1490 231 expeditions to defend Lancastrian France, Bedford's death in 1435, and especially the defection of Burgundy were decisive factors. The government freed the duke of Orleans (a captive in England since Agincourt) to promote peace among his fellow French princes (1440), though he did not have much success. In 1445 Henry VI married the French queen's niece, Margaret of Anjou, but even that only produced a truce, and a proposed meeting of kings never took place. Eventually, Henry VI promised to surrender hard-won territory in the county of Maine as an earnest of his personal desire for peace. His failure to win the support of his subjects for this move—especially those magnates and gentry who had lands in France and had borne the brunt of the fighting—led to the exasperated French attacking Normandy in 1449. Their onslaught, supported by artillery, was so spectacularly successful that the English were defeated at Rouen and Formigny, and quickly cleared from the duchy by the end of August 1450. ' . . . never had so great a country been conquered in so short a space of time, with such small loss to the populace and soldiery, and with so little killing of people or destruction and damage to the countryside,' reported a French chronicler.

Gascony, which had seen few major engagements under Henry V and Henry VI, was invaded by the triumphant French armies, and after their victory at Castillon on 17 July 1453, the English territories in the south-west were entirely lost. This was the most shattering blow of all: Gascony had been English since the twelfth century, and the long-established wine and cloth trades with southwest France were seriously disrupted. Of Henry V's 'empire', only Calais now remained. The defeated and disillusioned soldiers who returned to England regarded the discredited Lancastrian government as responsible for their plight and for the surrender of what Henry V had won. At home, Henry VI faced the consequences of defeat.

Within three weeks of Castillon, Henry VI suffered a mental and physical collapse which lasted for seventeen months and from which he may never have fully recovered. The loss of his French kingdom (and Henry was the only English king to be crowned in France) may have been responsible for his breakdown, though by 1453 other aspects of his rule gave cause for grave concern. Those in whom Henry confided, notably the dukes of Suffolk (murdered 1450) and Somerset (killed in battle at St. Albans, 1455), proved unworthy of his trust and were widely hated. Those denied his favour—including Richard, duke of York and the Neville earls of Salisbury and Warwick— were bitter and resentful, and their efforts to improve their fortunes were blocked by the king and his court. Henry's government was close to bankruptcy, and its authority in the provinces and in Wales and Ireland was becoming paralysed. In the summer of 1450, there occurred the first popular revolt since 1381, led by the obscure but talented John Cade, who seized London for a few days and denounced the king's ministers. The king's personal responsibility for England's plight was inevitably great.

Henry VI was a well-intentioned man with laudable aspirations in education and religion; he sought peace with France and wished to reward his friends and servants. But no medieval king could rule by good intentions alone. Besides, Henry was extravagant, over-indulgent, and did not have the qualities of a shrewd and balanced judge of men and policies. He was intelligent and well educated, but he was the least experienced of kings and never shook off the youthful dependence on others which had been the inevitable hallmark of his long minority (1422-36). Many of his problems were admittedly unavoidable. The dual monarchy created by his father made heavier and more complex demands than those placed on a mainly military conqueror such as Edward III or Henry V. His minority was a period of magnate rule which created vested interests that were not easily surrendered when the king came of age—particularly by his uncle, Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, and his greatuncle, Henry Beaufort, cardinal-bishop of Winchester. Moreover, after Gloucester's death in 1447, Henry was the only surviving descendant of Henry IV in the senior male line, a fact which Still at War, 1390-1490 233 led him to distrust the duke of York, the heir of that earl of March who had been passed over in 1399. There was, then, ample reason for disenchantment with late Lancastrian rule, and in Richard of York there was a potential leader of the discontented.

Despite the king's illness, the birth of a son to his abrasive queen in October 1453 strengthened the Lancastrian dynasty, but it hardly improved the immediate prospect for the realm or for Richard of York. As England's premier duke and Henry's cousin, York was twice appointed protector of the realm during the king's incapacity (1454-5, 1455—6). But as such he aroused the queen's fierce hostility which erupted in the battles of Blore Heath and Ludford Bridge (September-October 1459), and in the subsequent Parliament at Coventry which victimized York, the Nevilles, and their supporters. This alienation of powerful men by a regime with a disastrous record at home and abroad led York to claim the Crown in October 1460. After his death at Wakefield soon after, his son Edward took it for himself on 4 March 1461, with the aid of the earl of Warwick. The period of dynastic war that is popularly known as the Wars of the Roses was now well under way amid conditions that had been ripening during the 1450s.

Wars of the Roses, (1455–1487)

PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Two houses of the English nobility—the Yorks vs. the Lancasters.
DECLARATION: The intrigue and fighting was continuous.
MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: These were dynastic conflicts, fought between two factions both to seize immediate control of the kingdom and to achieve an uncontested claim to the throne.
OUTCOME: In effect, the wars led to the founding of a new ruling house, the Tudor family, whose monarchs were to bring strong and relatively stable government to England.
CASUALTIES: Unknown, but concentrated in the partisan nobility

Less a series of wars in the traditional sense, the Wars of the Roses were a sequence of intrigues, rebellions, and attacks that took place over the dozen years from 1455 and 1487, in three distinct stages. Between 1455 to 1464, what began as a battle between rival factions under the weak Lancaster king Henry VI (1421–71) became in the end a war for possession of the crown, which settled briefly on the head of House of York candidate Edward IV (1442–83). In the second phase, from 1469 to 1471, renewed factional wrangling led to dynastic war between Edward IV and supporters of Henry VI, who was (also briefly) restored to the throne. The final stage, from 1483 to 1487, consisted of outright dynastic war and led to the accession of Henry VII (1457–1509), the first Tudor king. The wars are familiar to the English reading public as the backdrop and sometimes subject of a number of Shakespeare’s historical plays, best known among them, perhaps, Richard III. They were first called the “Wars of the Roses” many years later by Tudor propagandists—the idea being that the warring houses of Lancaster (represented by a red rose) and York (represented by a white rose) had been reconciled in the Tudor ascendancy, thus replacing an insecure age of upheaval and unrest by orderly times of peace and prosperity.

Although both the Lancasters and the Yorks had some claim to the monarchy through descent from the sons of Edward III (1312–77), a Lancaster had actually sat on the throne since 1399. If it had not been for the near anarchy rampant in England during the middle of the 15th century, the Yorkists might never have made a bid for power. But after the death of Henry V (1387–1422), the Lancasters did not acquit themselves well in France, where the HUNDRED YEARS’ WAR ground to a halt, having done little for the English but bankrupt the government and discredit Lancastrian rule. Great lords with private armies commanded the English countryside, where lawlessness ran rife and taxation hung heavy. The catalysts of struggle between York and Lancaster lay in the long minority of Henry VI. Henry proved to be a simpleton, slouching toward madness, and was from the start under the thumb of his ambitious queen, Margaret of Anjou (c. 1430–82). Her party, the Beauforts, had allowed the English position in France to deteriorate and caused the English themselves to turn to the Yorkists with the fall of Bordeaux in 1453.

That year Henry lapsed into insanity, causing a powerful baronial cabal, backed by Richard Neville (the “Kingmaker”; 1428–71), earl of Warwick, to make its move. The barons invested Richard (1411–60), duke of York, as protector of the realm. When Henry recovered his sanity in 1455, he brought the Beauforts back to court, reestablishing Margaret’s authority. York took up arms, in self-protection as well as ambition. At the battle of St. Albans on May 22, 1455, York proved victorious, and an uneasy truce followed. Civil war broke out again four years later, when York rose once more in rebellion. The Yorkists had some initial success before they scattered following defeat at Ludford Bridge on October 12, 1459. Many fled to France, where Warwick was regrouping the Yorkist forces. In June 1460, they returned to England, where Warwick and Richard’s son and heir Edward (1470–83) decisively defeated the Lancastrian forces at Northampton on July 10. Thereafter, York tried to lay claim to the throne but settled instead for the right to succeed upon the death of Henry. Because this effectively disinherited King Henry’s son, also named Edward, Queen Margaret continued her strident opposition.

Gathering forces in northern England, Margaret led the Lancastrians on a surprise attack and killed York at Wakefield in December. She then marched south toward London, defeating Warwick on the way at the Second Battle of St. Albans on February 17, 1461, which left the Yorkist cause in the hands of the 18-year-old Edward of York. On February 2, he had defeated a Lancastrian force at Mortimer’s Cross, and now he too was marching on London. Arriving before Margaret on February 26, within the week the young duke of York was proclaimed King Edward IV at Westminster, on March 4. Then, with what was left of Warwick’s army, Edward chased Margaret north to Towton, where they would fight the bloodiest battle of the war. At Towton, Edward won a complete victory for the Yorkist cause. Henry, Margaret, and their son Prince Edward fled to Scotland. The first stage of the Wars of the Roses drew to a close as the fighting waned, except for seesaw struggles for the castles of Northumbria between 1461 and 1464 and the reduction of a few pockets of Lancastrian resistance, such as the battles of Hedgeley Moor and Hexham in April–May 1464.

The next round grew from disputes within the Yorkist ranks. Warwick and Edward fell out over foreign policy, and Warwick and his cronies found themselves increasingly passed over at court. Soon Warwick was fomenting rebellion with the king’s ambitious brother George (1449–78), duke of Clarence. By 1469 civil war had broken out once more as Warwick and Clarence backed risings in the north. By July, they had defeated Edward’s supporters at Edgecote (near Banbury), and soon they took the king himself prisoner. However, Edward was rescued by March 1470. He regained control of his government and forced the conspirators to flee to France. There they allied themselves with the French king Louis XI (1423–83) and their former enemy, Margaret of Anjou.

Warwick and Clarence returned to England in September 1470, defeated and deposed Edward, and restored the crown to Henry VI. Edward himself now fled with his supporters to the Netherlands. Securing aid from Burgundia, he returned to England in March 1471. Edward outmaneuvered Warwick long enough to regain the loyalty of his brother, the duke of Clarence. The two joined forces to defeat Warwick at Barnet on April 14. That same day, Margaret landed at Weymouth. When she learned of Warwick’s disastrous defeat, she turned west and rushed toward the safety of Wales. But Edward’s army beat hers to the River Severn; at the battle of Tewkesbury on May 4 Edward captured Margaret, destroyed her forces, and put her son to death. Shortly afterward, he had Henry VI murdered in the Tower of London.

Edward’s throne was safe for the rest of his life, but when he died in 1483 his brother, Richard (1461–83), the duke of Gloucester, disregarded the claims of his nephew, the young Edward V, and had himself crowned Richard III. In doing so, he alienated many Yorkists, his only natural constituency. These men now turned to the House they had so long opposed and to the last hope of the Lancastrians, Henry Tudor (later Henry VII). Backed by the Yorkist defectors, allied with the French, Henry rebelled. As all readers of William Shakespeare know, Henry defeated and killed Richard at Bosworth Field (on August 22, 1485). The next year Henry married Edward IV’s daughter Elizabeth of York (1466–1503) thus uniting the Yorkist and Lancastrian claims. There was still some persuading to do, some malcontents to put down. It was only when Henry defeated a Yorkist rising supporting the pretender Lambert Simnel on June 16, 1487, that what Henry’s descendants would call the Wars of the Roses came to a close.

More recent historians have downplayed the significance of these wars, claiming that the Tudor writers and later historians following their lead exaggerated the level of casualties and the extent of the disorder they caused. Most of the fighting was limited not merely to the nobility but to the two factions and those most closely associated with them, so that even at the height of the fighting, most common people continued about their everyday business. The conflicts did not much disrupt the growing prosperity and the rising standard of living of ordinary men and women in England in the second half of the 15th century, though the political crisis they created no doubt had a larger effect. Their most lasting impact was probably to produce the new dynasty of the Tudors—a lusty, expansive, and confident lot who would take England to glories no previous rulers, Lancaster or York, would have imagined possible.

Further reading: Anthony Goodman, The Wars of the Roses (London: Routledge, 1981); A. J. Pollard, The Wars of the Roses (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988); John Gillingham, The Wars of the Roses: Peace and Conflict in Fifteenth Century England (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1981); B. Alison Weir, The Wars of the Roses (New York: Random House, 1996).


Distressed by high taxes, corrupt local officials, and the recent loss of Normandy, the commons of Kent, led by a man named Jack (or John) Cade, rose in rebellion in the summer of 1450. Because HENRYVI and his advisors suspected that Richard PLANTAGENET, duke of York, had instigated the uprising, and because York later incorporated many of the rebels' complaints into his criticism of the government, Jack Cade's Rebellion is often seen as a prelude to the WARS OF THE ROSES.
In late May 1450, only weeks after the murder of the king's unpopular chief minister, William de la POLE, duke of Suffolk, a large body of men from the towns and villages of Kent gathered at Blackheath, across the Thames from LONDON, to demand redress of various grievances. Composed of rural peasants, artisans, and tradesmen from the towns, and a small group of clergy and landowning GENTRY, the Kentish rebels were, at least initially, well organized and disciplined. Their elected leader was the mysterious Jack Cade, who also went by the names John Mortimer and John Amendalle. Although he was probably seeking only to attract the duke's supporters to his cause, Cade's use of the name Mortimer- the family name of York's mother-led the government to seriously consider the possibility that York was somehow involved in the rebellion. The rebels denied any connection with York, but their demand that the king rid himself of all advisors linked to the late Suffolk and turn instead to princes of the blood like York only heightened the government's suspicions. The idea that York was behind the Cade uprising, although generally rejected today, became a commonplace of Tudor PROPAGANDA and was even suggested by William Shakespeare in his HENRY VI, PART 2 (see SHAKESPEARE AND THE WARS OF THE ROSES).

Thanks to the obscurity of Cade's background, and perhaps to government attempts to discredit Cade, rumors soon circulated that the rebel leader was an Irishman related to York, that he was a black magician, and that he had once fled the realm after murdering a pregnant woman. Whatever Cade's history, his manner impressed the royal councilors who met him, and the rebel manifesto crafted under his leadership-the "Complaint of the Commons of Kent"-displayed his skill as a propagandist. Comprising fifteen articles, the "Complaint" focused on the corrupt practices of the king's officials in Kent, who were charged with extortion, perversion of justice, and election fraud. The commons also called for an inquiry into the loss of Normandy and into the misappropriation of royal funds by the king's household servants.

In early June, after submitting their "Complaint" to the COUNCIL, the rebels obeyed an order to withdraw from Blackheath. However, when an advance party of the royal army followed them into Kent, the rebels ambushed and destroyed their pursuers. At news of this repulse, a nervous council committed Lord Saye, the hated former sheriff of Kent, and William Cromer, the equally unpopular current sheriff, to the TOWER OF LONDON. The king then withdrew from the capital. On 4 July, the Londoners, who were sympathetic to many of the rebels' grievances, allowed Cade and his followers to enter the city, where they immediately seized and executed Saye and Cromer. On the night of 5 July, as the rebels grew more disorderly, the citizens, assisted by the Tower garrison under Thomas SCALES, Lord Scales, drove the insurgents from the city and recaptured London Bridge. This action allowed the council to issue a free pardon on 8 July, and most of the rebels returned home. After invalidating his pardon by attempting to seize Queenborough Castle, Cade was killed on 12 July while resisting arrest. Although the rebellion was over, Cade's name continued to spark unrest in Kent for almost a decade, and the rebels' grievances lived on as the basis of York's opposition to a royal government from which he felt himself excluded.

Further Reading: Griffiths, Ralph A., The Reign of King Henry VI (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981); Harvey, I. M.W., Jack Cade's Rebellion of 1450 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991);Wolffe, Bertram, Henry VI (London: Eyre Methuen, 1981).


Occurring in Lincolnshire in the spring of 1470, the Welles uprising provided Richard NEVILLE, earl of Warwick, with a second opportunity to overthrow EDWARD IV.

Richard Welles (1431-1470), seventh Lord Welles, was a prominent Lincolnshire nobleman and a former Lancastrian. His father, Lionel, the sixth Lord Welles, had been killed fighting for the house of LANCASTER at the Battle of TOWTON in March 1461. Although Welles was attainted by the first PARLIAMENT of Edward IV, his son Richard, who had himself fought for HENRY VI at the Battle of ST. ALBANS in 1461, submitted to the new king and regained his father's lands. Perhaps because he was related to the NEVILLE FAMILY, Welles was also allowed to assume his father's title in 1468.

Early in 1470, Welles, his son Sir Robert Welles, and his brothers-in-law Sir Thomas Dymmock and Sir Thomas de la Lande attacked the manor house of Sir Thomas Burgh, a Lincolnshire gentleman who was Edward IV's Master of Horse. The attackers destroyed Burgh's house, carried off his goods, and forced him to flee the county. Later official accounts of the incident claimed that Welles was acting on behalf of his kinsman Warwick; the earl was seeking another opportunity to draw the king into the north, where he could be surprised, defeated, and dethroned in favor of George PLANTAGENET, duke of Clarence, who was Edward's brother but Warwick's ally. Some modern historians have dismissed this claim as Yorkist PROPAGANDA and have argued that Welles's attack on Burgh arose from some private feud, a common occurrence in the fifteenth century, and that Warwick simply made use of the incident when the king decided to intervene to support his servant.
Edward summoned Welles and Dymmock to LONDON, but the two men initially refused to comply, pleading illness. Changing their minds, both took SANCTUARY at Westminster, which they were induced to leave by promise of a pardon. Meanwhile, Sir Robert Welles, now likely acting in concert with Warwick and Clarence, issued proclamations throughout Lincolnshire in early March for men to join him in resisting the king, who, it was claimed, was coming north to punish the men of the shire for their support of the ROBIN OF REDESDALE REBELLION in 1469. Already marching north when he learned of Sir Robert's defiance, Edward ordered that Lord Welles and Dymmock be brought up from London. Forced to write to his son, Lord Welles declared that he and Dymmock would die if Sir Robert did not submit. Upon receiving this letter, Sir Robert, who had been maneuvering to trap the king between his rebels and the oncoming forces of Warwick and Clarence, retreated, allowing the royal army to intercept him on 12 March. After summarily executing Lord Welles and Dymmock, the king attacked and destroyed the rebel force at the Battle of LOSECOTE FIELD, where both Sir Robert and documentary evidence of Warwick and Clarence's complicity were captured.

On 14 March, Sir Robert Welles confessed to the king that Warwick and Clarence were the "partners and chief provokers" (Ross, p. 141) of his treason, and that the purpose of the entire enterprise was to make Clarence king. On 19 March, as he prepared to pursue the earl and the duke, Edward had Welles executed before the army. With the Welles uprising crushed and their plans in ruins, Warwick and Clarence fled into the West Country where they took ship for FRANCE. In 1475, a bill of ATTAINDER (later reversed under HENRY VII) was passed against Lord Welles and his son, and the Welles estates were granted to William HASTINGS, Lord Hastings.

Further Reading: Haigh, Philip A., The Military Campaigns of the Wars of the Roses (Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Sutton Publishing, 1995); Ross, Charles, Edward IV (New Haven, CT:Yale University Press, 1998).


Uncovered in February 1462, the Oxford Conspiracy was a vague Lancastrian plot that centered on John de Vere, twelfth earl of Oxford (c. 1408-1462), and his eldest son, Sir Aubrey de Vere. Because the failed plot led to the executions of both de Veres, the Oxford Conspiracy not only contributed to the political instability that marked the early 1460s, it also transformed the earl's surviving son, John de VERE, thirteenth earl of Oxford, into an implacable foe of the house of YORK.

During the winter of 1461-1462, rumors of Lancastrian intrigues swept England. Jasper TUDOR, earl of Pembroke, was said to be planning a descent on WALES; Henry BEAUFORT, duke of Somerset, was thought to be preparing an invasion of East Anglia; and a large army of Spaniards and Frenchmen was believed to be poised for a landing in Kent. Another persistent rumor claimed that the earl of Oxford, a powerful Essex magnate and a staunch supporter of HENRY VI and the house of LANCASTER, was behind a series of attacks launched against English coasts by Lancastrian raiders operating out of FRANCE. Thus, when Yorkist agents intercepted letters passing between Oxford and Queen MARGARET OF ANJOU, the discovery only confirmed Yorkist suspicions about the earl's activities.

Arrested on 12 February 1462, Oxford and his son Aubrey were confined to the TOWER OF LONDON. The Yorkist regime, fearful of both internal rebellion and external invasion, dealt quickly and harshly with the de Veres. Tried for treason before John TIPTOFT, earl of Worcester and constable of England, both men were condemned, along with several accomplices who were likely members of Oxford's AFFINITY. The exact nature of Oxford's plotting is unclear. He appears to have been charged with organizing some type of Lancastrian invasion and also possibly with conspiring to lead a party of armed RETAINERS, ostensibly raised on the king's behalf, to intercept and kill EDWARD IV as he rode north to meet Lancastrian incursions from SCOTLAND. One source claims that Aubrey de Vere informed on his father, accusing the earl of planning a Lancastrian landing on the Essex coast. However, such a betrayal, given Sir Aubrey's own condemnation and what is known of his character, seems unlikely.

Sir Aubrey died first, suffering the full horror of execution for treason-hanging, drawing, and quartering-at Westminster on 20 February. Being a member of the PEERAGE, Oxford had his sentence commuted to beheading, which he suffered on 26 February. Because no ATTAINDER was passed against his father, John de Vere, the second son, was allowed to assume his father's title and estates until he was himself arrested for Lancastrian plotting in 1468. Although soon released, the thirteenth earl of Oxford was thereafter a constant opponent of every Yorkist regime.

Further Reading: Seward, Desmond, The Wars of the Roses (New York: Viking, 1995).

Buckingham’s Revolt (1483)

PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: The House of York vs. the House of Lancaster
DECLARATION: No formal declaration
MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: An episode in the continuing struggle, called the War of the Roses, between the House of York and the House of Lancaster, two families of English royalty battling for the throne
OUTCOME: The throne passed to Henry VII.
APPROXIMATE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF MEN UNDER ARMS: Totals unknown; contemporary correspondence mentions 20,000 led by Richard converging on London.
CASUALTIES: Totals unknown. Little fighting occurred.
TREATIES: No formal treaties

The WARS OF THE ROSES (1455–1485) that gripped England for three decades were a sanguinary affair between the Yorkists and the Lancastrians that saw the crown pass back and forth between the two houses. The final phase of the war began in 1483 with the death of Edward IV (1442–83) and preparations for the ascension of his 12- year-old son, Edward V (1470–83) in April. Two months later a rebellion of nobles, led by Richard of Gloucester (1452–85), the brother of Edward IV and uncle of Edward V, and Henry Stafford (c. 1452–83), duke of Buckingham, placed Richard of Gloucester on the throne as Richard III.

For his support Buckingham was handsomely rewarded, but for some unknown reason he suddenly switched his loyalty. The earl of Richmond, Henry Tudor (r. 1485–1509), a Lancastrian supporter, conspired with Buckingham to rise against Richard in a coordinated rebellion in several regions of England. In October Buckingham led Lancastrian forces in Brecknock and Kent, but autumn rains kept him from uniting with supporters in the south. The rebellion quickly fell apart, and Buckingham went into hiding. He was betrayed and on November 2 arrested and executed in Salisbury for treason a short time later. Nevertheless, Henry was able to maintain Lancastrian support and two years later defeated Richard at the Battle of Bosworth, ending the Wars of the Roses and placing Henry on the throne as Henry VII.

Further reading: Antonia Fraser, ed., The Wars of the Roses (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000); A. J. Pollard, ed., Wars of the Roses (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995); Alison Weir, Wars of the Roses (New York: Random House, 1996).

Warwick’s Rebellion (1469–1471)

Elizabeth Woodville

PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Earl of Warwick vs. King Edward IV
MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: Warwick sought to overthrow the king.
OUTCOME: Warwick’s Rebellion was defeated, Warwick was killed in battle, and Edward IV returned to the throne.

Richard Neville (1428–71), earl of Warwick, was the power behind the throne of England’s Edward IV (1442–83). While he had been negotiating a grand diplomatic marriage between Edward and some French bridal candidates, Warwick discovered that Edward had already secretly wed Elizabeth Woodville (1437–92), an English woman, the widow of a Lancastrian knight, and well outside of the royal circle. She was an extraordinary beauty who refused to be kept as Edward’s mistress; he yielded and married her. Warwick kept his outrage to himself—until Edward dared to replace certain government appointees chosen by Warwick with those nominated by Elizabeth Woodville, who, it was clear, was emerging as a political power. Even worse, in 1467, Edward struck an alliance with Burgundy, the traditional rival of France, thereby wrecking Warwick’s negotiations with that nation. Edward cemented the alliance by marrying his sister Margaret of York (fl. 1470s) to Burgundy’s Charles the Bold (1433–77).

This was the final straw. In 1469, Warwick led an outright rebellion. Warwick defied the king in June 1469 by marrying his eldest daughter, Isobel (fl. 1460s), to the king’s brother, George, duke of Clarence (1449–78). A figure known to history as Robin of Redesdale, and subsequently identified as Sir John Conyers (1433–69), assembled a force of discontented northerners. Edward sent an army against this band. As a battle developed at Edgecote, an army under Warwick suddenly appeared and immediately sided with Conyers’s rebels. Together, Conyers and Warwick defeated the royal army and gave chase to Edward, whom they ran to ground at Coventry and took prisoner. Warwick held Edward for three months, but, finding that he had little support from his fellow nobles, he released the king.

The new-found freedom did not make Edward grateful. In March 1470, with the rebellion renewed, Edward dispatched an army to confront the rebels at Losecoat Field. This time, it was the king’s forces that emerged victorious. Edward declared Warwick a traitor, sending him fleeing to France for his life. There he plotted with Queen Margaret of Anjou (c. 1430–82), the consort of Henry VI (1421–71), the deposed English king who was then languishing in the Tower of London.

After recruiting a French force, Warwick invaded England in 1470, stormed the Tower, and freed Henry. This time, Edward fled—to Burgundy. He returned to England in 1471, however, and fought Warwick at the Battle of Barnet. Warwick was slain in this battle. Henry VI was subsequently recaptured and, once again, sent to the Tower, where he died, leaving Edward IV the undisputed king of England.

Further reading: Andrew Boardman, The Medieval Soldier in the Wars of the Roses (Stroud: Sutton, 1998); Christine Carpenter, The Wars of the Roses: Politics and Constitution in England 1437–1509 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997); Phillip A. Haigh, The Military Campaigns of the Wars of the Roses (Stroud: Sutton, 1999); A. J. Pollard, Richard III and the Princes in the Tower (New York: St. Martin’s, 1991).


Looking north east across the plain, identified by Haigh as the battlefield, towards Trafford Bridge Farm.

Fought on 26 July 1469 near Banbury in Oxfordshire, the Battle of Edgecote allowed Richard NEVILLE, earl of Warwick, to seize temporary control of EDWARD IV and thereby initiate a new phase of the WARS OF THE ROSES.

In the spring of 1469, Warwick, angered by the growing wealth and political influence of Edward IV's in-laws, the WOODVILLE FAMILY, and certain of the king's favorites, such as William HERBERT, earl of Pembroke, forged an alliance with George PLANTAGENET, duke of Clarence, Edward's equally disgruntled younger brother. The pact, which was sealed on 11 July with Clarence's unauthorized marriage to Warwick's daughter, Isabel NEVILLE, aimed at separating the offending courtiers from the king and making Warwick and Clarence the premier peers of the realm. The allies issued a manifesto calling for loyal Englishmen to support them in reforming Edward's corrupt government and expressed support for an ongoing northern rebellion led by someone calling himself Robin of Redesdale, who had issued a similar call for reform in mid-June. In reality, the ROBIN OF REDESDALE REBELLION was directed by Warwick, and probably led by Sir William Conyers, a Neville retainer. By drawing Edward into the north, the Redesdale uprising sought to give Warwick time to secure LONDON and raise an army.

When Edward marched north in June to confront the Redesdale rebels, he was unaware of their connection to Warwick and Clarence. By mid-July, he was in Nottingham awaiting the arrival of forces from WALES under the command of Pembroke and Humphrey STAFFORD, earl of Devon. Although he was by this time probably aware of Warwick's activities, the king made no move, and the Redesdale rebels bypassed Nottingham to hasten their meeting with Warwick, who was marching north from London. On the evening of 25 July, Pembroke and Devon argued over billeting arrangements. As a result of the quarrel, Devon withdrew toward Banbury with the ARCHERS, leaving Herbert with only the Welsh footmen. Shortly afterward, Pembroke encountered the Redesdale rebels, who attacked him vigorously the next morning. Although Pembroke's men offered fierce resistance, they were hampered by lack of archers and forced to retreat with heavy losses. When advance elements of Warwick's army arrived later in the day, a second rebel attack broke Pembroke's force before Devon could engage his men.

With Conyers and many others dead on the field, Pembroke and his brother were taken prisoner and executed the next day at Northampton in Warwick's presence. Devon was killed some weeks later in Somerset and Richard WOODVILLE, Earl Rivers, and his son Sir John Woodville, whom the king had sent away from him for their safety, were captured and executed at Coventry in August on Warwick's orders. Hearing of the disaster at Edgecote, Edward, now deserted by most of his RETAINERS, was on the road to Northampton when he was taken into Warwick's "protection" by the earl's brother, Archbishop George NEVILLE. For the moment, the king and the royal government were in the hands of Warwick and Clarence. Although Edward soon regained his freedom, he lacked the political strength to proceed against the earl and the duke, who extorted a royal pardon and remained free to resume their rebellion in 1470.

Further Reading: Haigh, Philip A., The Military Campaigns of the Wars of the Roses (Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Sutton Publishing, 1995).


Considered the last major battle of the WARS OFTHE ROSES, the Battle of Stoke, fought on 16 June 1487, ended the first significant attempt to overthrow HENRY VII and restore the house of YORK.
The failure of the 1486 LOVELL-STAFFORD UPRISING resulted in large part from the lack of a Yorkist candidate for the throne to rally support. This deficiency was remedied in 1487, when a priest named Richard (or William) Simonds arrived in IRELAND with a boy Simonds claimed was Edward PLANTAGENET, earl of Warwick, the nephew of EDWARD IV. Although the child was in reality Lambert SIMNEL, the son of an Oxford tradesman, he was apparently attractive and intelligent and well coached by Simonds to play the part of a Yorkist prince. Gerald FITZGERALD, earl of Kildare, the Irish lord deputy, immediately accepted Simnel as Warwick, not, probably, out of genuine belief, but in the hope that a Yorkist regime restored with Irish assistance would grant Ireland greater autonomy. Having won a base in Ireland, the Simnel imposture gained further support in BUR GUNDY, where Duchess MARGARET OF YORK, the real Warwick's aunt, and such prominent Yorkist exiles as Francis LOVELL, Lord Lovell, and John de la POLE, earl of Lincoln, another nephew of Edward IV, joined the movement. Lincoln and Lovell came to Dublin for the 24 May coronation of Simnel as "Edward VI," bringing with them men and money supplied by Margaret. Although the ultimate intent of the Yorkist leaders was probably to enthrone Lincoln, they were willing to use Simnel as a figurehead to generate support for a Yorkist restoration.

In LONDON, Henry VII took the real Warwick from the TOWER OF LONDON and paraded him through the streets. On 4 June 1487, the Yorkists landed on the Lancashire coast. As the rebels crossed Yorkshire, they gathered significant gentry support and enlarged their numbers to almost 9,000 men, although the city of York denied them entry and such prominent northern lords as Henry PERCY, earl of Northumberland, and Thomas STANLEY, earl of Derby, mobilized for the king. On the morning of 16 June, the Yorkist army, which comprised strong contingents of German and Irish MERCENARIES as well as the English forces picked up on the march, formed a line of battle on a hill southwest of the Nottinghamshire village of East Stoke. The king and his commanders were unaware of how close the rebel forces were, and they advanced in columns, unprepared for battle. John de VERE, earl of Oxford, commander of the royal vanguard, was the first to encounter the Yorkists. To stay in the open awaiting the king and the rest of the army was to invite destruction; to retreat was to risk disintegration through panic and low morale. Oxford therefore decided to attack the larger force, sending messengers to advise Henry to advance with all speed.

At about 9 A.M., Oxford's ARCHERS opened the battle, doing particular execution among the lightly armored Irish, who then charged downhill taking the rest of the Yorkist army with them. Although Oxford's men were experienced fighters, they were hard-pressed by the larger Yorkist force, and only the timely arrival of the rest of the royal army under the king and his uncle, Jasper TUDOR, earl of Bedford, saved Oxford from defeat. Unable to stand against fresh troops, the Yorkist line broke, and many rebels were killed as they fled down a steep ravine. Lincoln died on the field, as did Lovell, although his body was never found. Simnel was captured, pardoned, and set to work in the royal kitchens. Henry VII had survived the first Yorkist attempt on his throne.

Further Reading: Bennett, Michael J., Lambert Simnel and the Battle of Stoke (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1987).


Although a relatively small skirmish, the Battle of Twt Hill (or Tuthill), fought on 16 October 1461, ended open warfare in WALES, and brought all Wales, except HARLECH CASTLE, under the new regime of EDWARD IV.

After the Yorkist victory at the Battle of TOWTON in March 1461, Jasper TUDOR, earl of Pembroke, continued to hold the Welsh fortresses of Pembroke, Denbigh, and Harlech for his half brother, HENRY VI. To quell Lancastrian resistance in Wales, Edward accompanied his army to Hereford in September, but left the actual campaigning to his chief Welsh lieutenants, Sir William HERBERT; Henry BOURCHIER, earl of Essex; and Walter DEVEREUX, Lord Ferrers. After a short stay at Ludlow, the king returned to LONDON for the opening of his first PARLIAMENT on 4 November.

Meanwhile, the Yorkist commanders captured Pembroke Castle on 30 September, after which Herbert led the bulk of the royal army into North Wales to pursue the earl of Pembroke, who was thought to be hiding in the mountain fastnesses of Snowdon with Henry HOLLAND, duke of Exeter. The duke, who had fought at the Battle of Towton, may have brought reinforcements to Pembroke by sea, for the Lancastrian leaders were able to put a force in the field and meet Herbert in battle at Twt Hill outside the walls of Carnarvon in northwest Wales.

Although almost nothing is known of the course of the battle, the result was a complete victory for Herbert, who destroyed the last Lancastrian field force in Wales. Exeter and Pembroke escaped the battle and fled the country, with Pembroke sailing for IRELAND. The defeat isolated the remaining Lancastrian castles; Denbigh surrendered in January 1462, and the western fortress of Carreg Cennen capitulated in May. Although most Welsh Lancastrians had ended active resistance by mid- 1462, Harlech Castle, which could be resupplied by sea and thus required a costly and difficult effort to reduce, continued in Lancastrian hands until 1468, while all Wales remained vulnerable to seaborne invasion and to the ongoing intrigues of Pembroke.

Further Reading: Evans, H.T., Wales and the Wars of the Roses (Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Alan Sutton Publishing, 1995); Haigh, Philip A., The Military Campaigns of the Wars of the Roses (Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Sutton Publishing, 1995).


Fought on 17 July 1453, the Battle of Castillon ended the HUNDRED YEARS WAR and stripped England of all its holdings in FRANCE except the town of CALAIS.

After their conquest of Normandy in 1450, the French focused their energy and resources on Gascony, a province of southwestern France that had been an English possession for almost 300 years. As an army of 7,000 marched south from Normandy, other French forces besieged the fortresses protecting Bordeaux, the Gascon capital, while a joint French, Spanish, and Breton fleet blockaded the mouth of the Gironde to prevent the English from relieving the city. Isolated and outnumbered, the English garrison in Bordeaux surrendered on 29 June 1451. A severe blow to English national pride and to the popularity of HENRY VI's government, the loss of Bordeaux was reversed in October 1452, thanks to the English sympathies of some of the Gascon nobility and the military skill of John Talbot, earl of Shrewsbury (c. 1384-1453), the most famous and successful English soldier of the time. Within months of reentering Bordeaux on 23 October, Shrewsbury had restored English control to most of Gascony.

The military victory in France, followed by news of Queen MARGARET OF ANJOU's pregnancy, placed Henry VI and his chief minister, Edmund BEAUFORT, duke of Somerset, in the strongest political position they had enjoyed since 1450. On the other hand, Somerset's chief rival, Richard PLANTAGENET, duke of York, already humiliated by the failure of his uprising at DARTFORD in February 1452, was further isolated by the government's newfound success and popularity. However, CHARLES VII was determined to retake and hold Gascony, and by the early summer of 1453 he had reestablished the naval blockade of the Gironde, thereby threatening Bordeaux with starvation. The English government realized the precariousness of Shrewsbury's position, and undertook feverish efforts to collect men, money, and shipping. However, French ARTILLERY made all this activity unavailing. On 17 July near Castillon east of Bordeaux, Shrewsbury attacked a strong French position protected by cannon. The enemy guns cut the English to pieces, killing Shrewsbury and his son and ending English rule in Gascony forever. News of the battle not only left Somerset's government saddled with blame for losing the province, it may also have triggered Henry VI's mental collapse, for the king's illness descended upon him in early August 1453, about the time he would have been informed of the disaster. The king's incapacity revived York's political fortunes, further depressed those of Somerset, and dangerously intensified the rivalry between the two dukes, which, in turn, fostered the violence and political instability that led to the WARS OF THE ROSES.

Further Reading: Griffiths, Ralph A., The Reign of King Henry VI (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981); Pollard, A. J., John Talbot and the War in France, 1427-1453 (London: Royal Historical Society, 1983); Wolffe, Bertram, Henry VI (London: Eyre Methuen, 1981).

Battle of Hedgeley Moor, (1464)

The Battle of Hedgeley Moor, fought in Northumberland on 25 April 1464, checked the growth of Lancastrian insurgency in the far north and allowed the continuation of peace talks between SCOTLAND, a former Lancastrian refuge, and the Yorkist government of EDWARD IV.

Early in 1464, Henry BEAUFORT, the Lancastrian duke of Somerset, whom Edward IV had pardoned in the previous year, left his post in WALES and fled into the Lancastrian north, where he declared openly for HENRY VI. After a failed attempt to seize the Yorkist supply base at Newcastle, Somerset appeared at the Northumbrian castle of BAMBURGH, then in Lancastrian hands. Joining forces with Sir Ralph Percy and other recently pardoned Lancastrians, Somerset launched a two-month campaign that by late March had turned northeastern England into a Lancastrian enclave. With Norham Castle and the towns of Bywell, Hexham, Langley, and Prudhoe all in Somerset’s hands, the Anglo-Scottish talks that were set to resume in Newcastle on 6 March had to be rescheduled for late April in York. To safely escort the Scottish commissioners from the border to York, Edward IV dispatched John NEVILLE, Lord Montagu, into Northumbria.

Collecting strength as he moved north, Montagu evaded a Lancastrian ambush and came safely to Newcastle. Resuming his march to the Scottish border, Montagu encountered a force under Somerset about nine miles northwest of ALNWICK on Hedgeley Moor. Although accounts of the battle are sketchy, fighting seems to have begun with the usual exchange of ARCHER fire. But before the two armies could engage, the left wing of Somerset’s force suddenly broke and ran, perhaps because of poor morale. Montagu shifted his position to attack the remaining Lancastrians, who were quickly overwhelmed by the larger Yorkist army. At some point during the fighting, Somerset and most of the Lancastrian army disengaged and scattered, leaving Sir Ralph Percy and his household RETAINERS on the field to be slaughtered. After the battle, Montagu reformed his army and continued his march to the border, where he met the Scottish envoys and conducted them safely to York to resume their talks with Edward IV’s commissioners.

Further Reading: Haigh, Philip A., The Military Campaigns of the Wars of the Roses (Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Sutton Publishing, 1995).

New battle over Bosworth's site

It is more than 500 years since the Battle of Bosworth saw the death of Richard III and ushered in the Tudor dynasty.

Since then scholars have argued over the precise location of the battle with several different locations given serious consideration.

Now a team of historians and archaeologists says it has found the site - and it is not where everyone thought it was.

It is one of Shakespeare's most memorable scenes.

The hunchback Richard III, thrown from his horse and maddened with blood lust, offers up his kingdom in exchange for a replacement steed.

Today the spot where he is supposed to have met his end - a victim of treachery rather than military genius - is marked by a roughly-cut stone memorial in a quiet grove.
The plaque upon it reads simply: "Richard, the last Plantagenet King of England, was slain here 22nd August, 1485."

Except that he was not.

According to a team of battlefield experts and historians the location of the battlefield was two miles to the south and west. At the moment they are being no more precise than that because they fear the activities of illegal treasure seekers.

The investigators have been checking soil samples, analysing peat deposits and carrying out searches with metal detectors. They have also been studying ancient documents and maps for clues.

Using references to places like Redmore (or Reed Moor) and Sandyford (a sandy crossing in the marsh) they have built up a picture of the landscape at the time of the battle.

There have been other clues such as Crown Hill, long thought to have had some connection with the crowning of Henry VII after the battle.

And the study has thrown new light on the use of medieval artillery. They have found 22 lead shots fired by the smallest hand-held gun of the time and from the largest cannon of the time.

All of which presents a problem for the Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre which has become popular with tourists, schoolchildren and students. Thousands have attended lectures on the subject and walked for two hours over the battlefield trail.

When the location has been debated before, visitors have expressed mixed feelings.

Many said the precise location of the centre was less important than the quality of educational displays and exhibitions. Others said they would be disappointed not to be able to walk the actual field of battle.

Dr Glen Foard, from the Battlefields Trust, who has led the search, said: "For me the most important thing about the discoveries at Bosworth is that it opens the door for archaeology to explore the origins of firepower.

"In collaboration with the University of Leeds we want to trace this story across Europe."

First Campaign, First Battle 1455

Thomas Stafford, first duke of Buckingham.

Modern historians date the outbreak of the Wars of the Roses to May 1455, when the first pitched battle took place, though, as we have seen, the conflict had been gathering momentum for some time before then.

    Instead of obeying the royal summons, York mobilised his army and began the long march south to London, probably with the intention of intercepting the King before he left for Leicester. With him went his allies, Salisbury, Lord Clinton, Lord Grey of Powys, and Sir Robert Ogle, all with an armed following of their own, Ogle having ‘600 men of the Welsh Marches’. Viscount Bourchier and Lord Cobham may also have been among their number. In the middle of May, Warwick led his army of a thousand men across the heart of England, linking up with York and Salisbury on Ermine Street, the old Roman road. York’s chief objectives were the annihilation of Somerset, the dispersal of the court party, and his own restoration to the Council, which would bring with it control of the King and the government.

    By the 18th, Somerset and the council had been warned that the Yorkists were approaching London with 7000 well-armed men. Benet says: ‘When the Duke of Somerset heard this news he suggested to the King that York had come to usurp the throne. For this reason, the King sided with the Duke of Somerset,’ and authorised him to raise a small army.

    On the 20th York’s company arrived at Royston in Hertfordshire. Here its leaders issued a manifesto declaring to the people that they meant no harm to the King and that they had raised their army and marched south ‘only to keep ourselves out of the danger whereunto our enemies have not ceased to study, labour and compass to bring us’. A copy was sent to the King with a covering letter in which York and his allies begged him not to believe the accusations made against them by their enemies, but again both documents were intercepted, this time by Somerset himself, who destroyed them.

    York was hoping that Norfolk would rally to his support, but although the Duke led a force into Hertfordshire, he made no attempt to join either side, preferring to remain neutral for the present. York had tried on the way south to raise more aristocratic support for his cause, but with little success. His advance at the head of an army looked very much like rebellion, even treason, in view of his public oath that he would never again take up arms against his sovereign.

    While he was still at Royston, York learned that Henry VI and Somerset were about to leave London at the head of an army. On 21 May the Yorkists marched into Ware, where they were told by their scouts that the royal army was advancing north along Watling Street. The Queen was not with them, having taken the Prince of Wales to Greenwich, where she remained during the ensuing hostilities. That same day, York sent a further appeal to the King, along with a copy of his manifesto. Neither got past Somerset.

    Meanwhile, the King and his army had reached Watford, where they spent the night, leaving very early on the morning of the 22nd. York’s scouts advised him that Henry was making for St Albans, and the Duke swung west from Ware to confront him. On the road to St Albans the King received intelligence that Yorkist army was nearing the town. Buckingham urged Henry to press on to St Albans, meet York’s threat head-on, and deal with it firmly, for he was convinced that York would prefer to negotiate a settlement rather than resort to military force. He was also aware that the Yorkist army was larger than the King’s, and believed it would be safer to await reinforcements in the town than in an exposed position in the countryside.

    By 1455 there was little remaining of the original fortifications that had encircled St Albans, just a thirteenth-century ditch, along which wooden barricades could be erected so as to prevent an enemy from entering the market-place. After arriving in St Albans early in the morning of the 22nd, the King commanded his soldiers to occupy the ditch and make it ‘strongly barred and arrayed for defence’, pitching his own camp in the market-place. York, meanwhile, had decided to camp in Key Field, to the east of St Peter’s Street and Holywell Street (now Holywell Hill), and set his men to blocking the exits from the town on that side.

    In 1460, the Milanese ambassador was informed ‘that on that day there were 300,000 men under arms, and indeed the whole of England was stirred, so that some even speak of larger numbers’. This was a gross exaggeration. Benet says that Warwick arrived with 2000 men, York with 3000 and Salisbury with 2000, ‘all well-prepared for battle’. It has been estimated that the royal army numbered 2-3000 men, and may have been short of archers. The Yorkists not only had a strong force of archers but also cannon. Henry had sent an urgent summons to local levies to reinforce his ranks, but they were not ready in time. Only eighteen out of the seventy peers were present at St Albans; thirteen, including Pembroke, were with the King. Others, including Oxford, Shrewsbury, Lord Cromwell and Sir Thomas Stanley, were still on their way.

    The King’s army was under the command of Buckingham, who was hereditary Constable of the realm and had been appointed the King’s Lieutenant for the occasion. Thomas, 8th Lord Clifford, who commanded the Lancastrian vanguard, had earned a distinguished reputation as a veteran of the French wars and for his successes on the Scottish border. The Lancastrian army consisted mainly of knights, members of the King’s household, and the affinities of those few lords who were with him, many of whom came from the eastern counties. Abbot Whethamstead of St Albans, who gives an eyewitness account of these events, states that the East Anglian lords and gentlemen were less warlike than the men of the north in the Yorkist army, ‘for whom wheat and barley’ – which they meant to have as plunder – ‘are like gold and ebony’. The northerners were regarded as foreign savages in the south, and enjoyed a fearsome reputation as ferocious fighters and rapacious looters.

    York’s army was drawn up into three divisions, as was customary, commanded by himself and ‘the captains of the field’, Salisbury and Warwick, the latter having command of the reserve, who were on foot. With York was his thirteen-year-old son, March, who was receiving his first taste of battle, nominally at the head of a small company of seasoned border campaigners. Also with York was Sir John Wenlock, latterly chamberlain to the Queen, who had transferred his loyalty to the Yorkist cause, which he would support for some years to come.

Commencement of The Battle
The commencement of the battle was delayed for three hours, during which York made every effort to induce the King to listen to his complaints about the misgovernment of Somerset and other ‘traitors’. York’s messenger, Mowbray Herald, opened negotiations by entering the town ‘at the barrier’ at the north end of St Peter’s Street, where he was challenged. The herald bore a message from York, suggesting that the King’s army might wish to retreat to Barnet or Hatfield for the night while negotiations proceeded.

    Because his army was the smaller, Henry knew it was to his advantage to negotiate a peaceful settlement, and he sent Buckingham, who was Salisbury’s brother-in-law, to ascertain York’s intentions. York told him that he and his company had come as ‘rightful and true subjects’, who desired only that the King deliver up to them ‘such as we will accuse’. When Buckingham reported these words to Henry, the monarch became uncharacteristically wrathful. Goaded by Somerset, he sent Buckingham back to York with a peremptory message:

    I, King Harry, charge and command that no manner of person abide not, but void the field and not be so hard to make any resistance against me in mine own realm; for I shall know what traitor dare be so bold to raise a people in mine own land, where-through I am in great dis-ease and heaviness. And by the faith that I owe to St Edward and the Crown of England, I shall destroy them, every mother’s son, and they be hanged, drawn and quartered that may be taken afterward, of them to have example to all such traitors to beware to make any such rising of people within my land, and so traitorly to abide their King and Governor. And for a conclusion, rather than they shall have any lord here with me at this time, I shall this day for their sake, and in this quarrel, myself live and die.

    York had failed, thanks in part to the hostility of Buckingham who meant to have him accused before the council at Leicester. The King, in any case, had no intention of delivering Somerset into York’s clutches. Instead, he ordered his standard to be raised in the market-place, had himself clad in plate armour, and mounted his warhorse, positioning it under the fluttering banner. Here he remained for the duration of the battle. Before the fighting commenced, he gave orders that only the lives of the common foot soldiers were to be spared: lords, gentry and yeomen might be put to the sword. Many of the royal soldiers were still hastening back to their positions, having drifted off into the town, seeking refreshment after Buckingham had gone to parley with York.

    York, learning that the King refused to accede to any of his demands, grimly put on his helmet and ordered his trumpeter to sound the alarm which would warn his men that the battle was about to begin. He then made a speech to his troops, using many classical and biblical allusions, saying that he represented Joab, while King Henry was as King David, and together they would overcome Somerset. Thus commenced the Battle of St Albans, the first battle of the Wars of the Roses, some time between ten and twelve in the morning.

York and Salisbury opened the attack from the east, leading charges along St Peter’s Street, Sopwell Street and other streets leading to the market-place, and ordering their men to storm the barricades at the end of them, but Lord Clifford and other Lancastrian commanders ‘strongly kept the barriers’ at every entry. As more Lancastrian troops rallied to the defence, York and Salisbury found themselves being pushed back. Warwick, hearing that their situation was critical, ‘took and gathered his men together and furiously broke in [the town] by the garden sides, between the sign of the Key and the sign of the Checker in Holywell Street’, according to an account in the Stonor Papers. Once in the town, he had his trumpets sounded, and his men responded ‘with a shout and a great voice, “A Warwick! A Warwick!”’ With his progress covered by archers to the rear, Warwick led a fresh assault on the barricades that left his opponents reeling, for they had not expected him to approach from that end of the town.

    ‘The fighting’, says Benet, ‘was furious’, as the market-place became crammed with soldiers locked in a furious combat. As Sir Robert Ogle led his contingent into the mêlée, ‘the alarm bell was rung and every man went to harness’, for many of the King’s troops were ‘out of their array’, not having anticipated that they would be engaged so soon. Within half an hour it was over. As Henry’s men, alerted by the bell sounding in the clock tower in the market-place, raced to defend him, Warwick’s soldiers scythed mercilessly through the Lancastrian ranks until, says Whethamstead – a horrified witness to the carnage – ‘the whole street was full of dead corpses’. The King’s army, ‘disliking the sight of blood’, broke into disarray and withdrew in a stampede, knocking down and trampling underfoot the royal standard as they did so. The Stonor Papers record that the Earl of Wiltshire ‘and many others fled, leaving their harness behind them coward’; Wiltshire, says the chronicler ‘Gregory’, was ‘afraid to lose his beauty’. Many of the King’s party were despoiled of their horses and harness, and the royal banner was retrieved and propped against a house wall, while Henry stood alone and deserted, watching the flight of his men as arrows rained down about him. The Yorkists had won the battle.

    Warwick had specifically instructed his archers to target those about the King – members of the hated court party – and many fell, mortally wounded, near the royal standard. As the battle drew to a close, Henry was wounded in the neck by an arrow and, bleeding profusely, was urged by his remaining nobles to take shelter. As he ran to the nearby house of a tanner, he cried out angrily, ‘Forsooth, ye do foully to smite a king anointed so!’

    Buckingham received wounds to the face and neck and was taken prisoner by the Yorkists. Lord Dudley also got an arrow in the face, and Lord Stafford one in the hand. Henry Beaufort, Earl of Dorset, Somerset’s heir, was so badly hurt that he could not walk and had to be taken home in a cart, as was Wenlock. Benet says that ‘all who were on the side of the Duke of Somerset were killed, wounded, or, at the least, despoiled’.

    Somerset himself had been engaged in desperate hand-to-hand fighting outside an inn called the Castle. Later, it was said that, seeing the sign above him, he was utterly dismayed because he had once been warned by a soothsayer to beware of castles. His opponent – who may even have been Warwick himself – saw him falter, struck home, and killed him. He was later buried in St Albans Abbey, and was succeeded as Duke of Somerset by his son, the nineteen-year-old Earl of Dorset, whom Chastellain describes as ‘a handsome young knight’. A commemorative plaque now marks the site of the Castle Inn, which stood at the corner of St Peter’s Street and what is now Victoria Street.

    Other noble casualties of the battle were Warwick’s great enemy, Henry Percy, 2nd Earl of Northumberland, and Lord Clifford, who were both slain while fighting in the streets. Their bodies were stripped and despoiled, and left naked to public view. Buckingham’s son, Humphrey Stafford, suffered grievous wounds and later died of the effects of them, either in 1455 or 1458. Benet says that ‘about a hundred people were killed, mostly Lancastrian soldiers’. Abbot Whethamstead requested York’s permission to bury the dead, and begged him to show mercy in his hour of victory, as did Julius Caesar. Quoting Ovid, he asked that nothing be sought in addition to victory.

    The outcome of the Battle of St Albans, one of the shortest campaigns of the Wars of the Roses, was that York was able to crush the court faction, which had been deprived of its chief mainstay, Somerset. Much of the blame for the Lancastrian defeat lay with Buckingham, whose judgement and strategies had been fatally flawed. The royal army had faced an almost impossible task in defending all the entrances to the town. They had had little time in which to prepare their defences, and Buckingham had probably made the mistake of relying on some of the buildings to offer a degree of protection.

    York, accompanied by Salisbury and Warwick, now moved to take control of the King’s person, which they found in the tanner’s house having his wound tended. All his earlier bravado had evaporated at the realisation that his army had been defeated. The Stonor Papers record that, when the Yorkist lords came to the King, they fell on their knees ‘and besought him for grace and forgiveness of that they had done in his presence, and besought him, of his highness, to take them as his true liegemen, saying that they never intended hurt to his own person’. Benet says that when Henry heard them declare themselves to be his ‘humble servants, he was greatly cheered’.

    York justified his actions to Henry by pleading that he and his friends had had no alternative but to defend themselves against their enemies. If they had gone to Leicester, as summoned, they would have been taken prisoner and suffered a shameful death as traitors, ‘losing our livelihood and goods, and our heirs shamed for ever’. Henry seemed to accept this and ‘took them to grace, and so desired them to cease their people, and then there should no more harm be done’. Outside in the town, the victorious Yorkist troops were causing havoc. Abbot Whethamstead was shocked to see them rampaging through the streets, looting as they went and leaving behind a trail of destruction. Even in the abbey they stole everything they could lay their hands on, and threatened to burn it down. Then others came, warning them that the King and York, accompanied by the magnates and councillors, had arrived in the market-place and ordered them to reassemble, ready to return to London. Thus the abbey was saved.

    York himself had broken the news of Somerset’s death to the King. Some historians assert that shock, grief, stress and the effects of the wound he had suffered caused Henry to lapse once more into insanity – it was, after all, only five months since his recovery. However, there is no contemporary evidence to support this, and another six months would elapse before York was again appointed Protector. In view of the length of the King’s previous illness, it is likely that the appointment would have taken effect immediately if Henry had displayed symptoms of mental instability. The last word on the subject should be that of John Crane, who wrote to John Paston on 25 May: ‘As for our sovereign lord, thanked be God, he has no great harm.’

    The fact that a battle had taken place at all shocked many people, even the participants, and provoked the Yorkists into offering extravagant justification of their actions in which they attempted to shift the blame on to Somerset and the court party and thus avoid any suspicion of treason. Nevertheless, the fact remained that they had taken up arms against an army led by their anointed king, and this was enough, in the opinion of many, to condemn them as traitors. To counteract this ill-feeling, York issued a broadsheet giving his account of the battle and the circumstances leading up to it.

    St Albans had accentuated the deep divisions between the magnates and the widespread grievances against the government, which could now, it seemed, only be settled by violence. This realisation acted as a brake for a time upon the warring factions. Neither side had wanted an armed conflict; the King, in particular, and most of his lords were determined that it should not occur again. But the divisions between Lancastrians and Yorkists were now so profound that it would need a committed effort on both sides to preserve the King’s peace. That an uneasy truce prevailed for the next four years is sufficient testimony to the desire of both sides to reach an acceptable settlement.

    On Friday 23 May, York and Salisbury, preceded by Warwick bearing the King’s sword, escorted Henry VI back to London, where he lodged at the bishop’s palace by St Paul’s Cathedral. ‘As for what rule we shall now have, I do not yet know,’ wrote a Paston correspondent. On Sunday the 25th, the Feast of Pentecost, the King went in procession to St Paul’s, wearing his crown, to reassure the people that his royal authority had not been in any way challenged. So potent was the power and mystique of monarchy that still no one ventured to voice the opinion that Henry himself should bear the ultimate responsibility for recent events. There were no calls for his deposition, and no criticisms of his incompetence or poor judgement.

    News of the court party’s defeat and the death of Somerset had soon reached the Queen at Greenwich, causing her deep distress, and the knowledge that York was now to assume the role of chief adviser to the King in Somerset’s place only added to her bitterness. York was immediately appointed Constable of England, an office Somerset had held, and was already filling the late duke’s other offices with men of his own choosing.

    In the week after St Albans, Buckingham, Wiltshire, Shrewsbury, Pembroke and other lords, all back at court, made peace with York and did their best to reconcile the two sides. Jasper Tudor was particularly anxious to devise with York a workable solution to the problems facing the government, and the two men spent many hours in London discussing these.

    But although Somerset was dead, his faction remained. Its members were more hostile than ever towards York, and looked to the Queen, whose influence over a suspicious and resentful Henry VI was paramount, for leadership. York was aware of this, and he knew that some of the King’s household would resist any attempt at reform. He also had to deal with the enmity of individual noblemen, who had good reason to feel bitterness towards him. Lord Clifford’s twenty-year-old son John, now the 9th Lord Clifford, was so incensed against York that he would spend the rest of his life seeking to avenge his father’s death, earning in the process the nicknames ‘Black-faced Clifford’ and ‘Bloody Clifford’.