Lancaster and York: The Wars of the Roses by Alison Weir


  Margaret was recruiting in Cheshire when she learned of Salisbury’s advance, and she and her commanders decided to intercept him as he marched through Staffordshire on his way to meet York. The Queen now issued a summons to Lord Stanley and other local magnates, commanding them to muster their retainers at once and join the King; then she turned back to Eccleshall Castle, where Henry joined her, having suffered a bout of illness at Coleshill. Margaret persuaded him that he must send ‘a great power’ of Cheshiremen, nominally under the command of the Prince of Wales but in reality led by James Touchet, Lord Audley, and Lord Dudley, to confront and apprehend Salisbury before he linked up with York. The main body of the royal army was to march to Eccleshall and remain with the Queen, where Audley was to bring Salisbury to her, alive or dead.

  Of the two commanders Salisbury was by far the more experienced and he had with him approximately 3-4000 well-armed men, possibly more. However, he was outnumbered by Audley’s force, which comprised 6-12,000 men at least – the sources differ wildly and it is difficult to determine more exact figures. Salisbury’s men were armed mainly with spears and bills and some cannon, but while Audley had many of the crack archers from Cheshire, whose reputation went before them, a lot of his recruits were inexperienced and ill-prepared for battle. Lord Stanley had asked the Queen if he might command the forward battle of her army, but the Prince’s council thought his fellowship was too small and ordered him to join the main body of Audley’s force. Piqued, he stayed where he was, six miles off, sending only ‘fair promises’ to Audley that he would join him. When he failed to do so, Audley and Dudley were left ‘distressed’, especially when they learned that Stanley’s brother William had sent a detachment of soldiers to assist Salisbury.

  On Sunday, 23 September Salisbury was approaching Market Drayton from Newcastle-under-Lyme when his scouts warned him that his route was blocked by Audley’s army. He therefore drew up his forces in battle order on nearby Blore Heath, which was partly wooded and enclosed terrain. His centre wing was stationed on a small slope above the Hempmill Brook, while the left flank was concealed behind a hill protected by a stream. The weather was wet and the ground muddy, but the Earl set his men to digging ditches behind their line and driving sharpened stakes at an angle into the ground in front of the ditches. As an added precaution he ordered that the carts and wagons carrying the army’s provisions be placed in a circle around his right flank as a protection against Audley’s archers. He was now in a good defensive position; knowing himself outnumbered he realised that to take the offensive would be to court disaster.

  When Audley’s army approached, says Benet, ‘Salisbury entered into negotiations with them, asking that they might permit his passage. When they refused to allow this, the Earl engaged in battle with them.’ In fact, Salisbury seems to have feigned preparations for an advance or a retreat in order to lure Audley into ordering a charge. The ruse worked: Audley sent his cavalry thundering across the brook against the Yorkist centre, but it was repelled and had to fall back. Salisbury’s men also retreated some way from the brook. Audley’s horse charged again, and this time they breached the brook, which was no mean feat as it was a narrow stream with steep banks. Those in the vanguard of Audley’s army dismounted and led their horses across, but as they climbed the far bank, Salisbury ordered his infantry to bear down on them. As the remaining Lancastrian cavalry galloped towards the brook, they were met with a hail of arrows from the Yorkist ranks, which shot their horses from under them and so unnerved the riders that 500 of them defected at once to the enemy. This was a blow to Audley, but he had little time in which to reflect upon it, for chaos now reigned on the battlefield.

  After a fierce and bloody struggle on the slope, Audley’s line broke and his men fled, being pursued by the Yorkists as far as the banks of the River Tern. During the rout Audley and many of his captains were brutally slain, and Lord Dudley was taken prisoner. After Audley’s death many of his men deserted and returned to their homes.

  By careful strategy and forethought, Salisbury had – against the odds – won a victory. The battle had lasted from one o’clock until five in the afternoon, but the rout went on until seven the next morning. About 3000 men perished, at least 2000 of them on Audley’s side, and many were maimed or captured. Salisbury’s cannon had been responsible for numerous fatalities, and a plaque in nearby Mucklestone Church records that for three days after the battle the Hempmill Brook ran red with blood. Legend has it that the Queen and the Prince watched the fighting from the tower of Mucklestone Church, their presence being commemorated by a modern stained glass window, while in the churchyard visitors may see an ancient anvil from a forge where the Queen was said to have had her horse’s shoes reversed so that she could escape pursuit after Audley’s defeat. However, it is unlikely that Margaret was in Mucklestone at all on that day, for the village was behind the Yorkist lines; she was probably awaiting news at Eccleshall Castle, ten miles away.

  Today, it is hard to locate the site of Blore Heath. The decayed stone cross, erected in 1765 on the spot where Audley is said to have fallen, is concealed in a field to the left of the road leading from Newcastle-under-Lyme to Market Drayton, halfway up the slope where Salisbury’s men were drawn up. The battlefield itself is on privately owned farmland.

  After the battle the remnants of Audley’s army fled to Eccleshall Castle, following the path of the brook. Henry VI was shocked and saddened to learn of the death of Audley and the defeat of his army, and was roused to anger against the Yorkists.

  Salisbury wanted to press on to join York as soon as possible, but was aware that the Queen’s main force was only ten miles away and would soon come after him. It was now nearing night, and very dark. The Earl cunningly entrusted his cannon to an Augustinian friar, who agreed to fire them off intermittently throughout the night, leading the Lancastrians to believe that the Yorkists were still encamped on Blore Heath. They did not discover the truth until the next morning, when the King and Queen rode over at the head of their army, determined to surprise Salisbury’s force. All they found was the deserted camp, the frightened friar, and the battlefield strewn with corpses, and all they could do was order the capture of the Yorkist cannon. Salisbury, meanwhile, had gone to Market Drayton, where he camped that night.

  Here he received a congratulatory message from the perfidious Lord Stanley, who promised he would secretly continue to support the Yorkists. The Queen had been angered by Stanley’s failure to arrive on the battlefield with reinforcements, and had him impeached in Parliament for it, but her anger was short-lived, and she afterwards pardoned him.

  Salisbury’s triumph was short-lived. While he was at Market Drayton he learned that two of his sons, Sir Thomas and Sir John Neville, had been captured by the Lancastrians at Acton Bridge in Cheshire. Possibly they were searching for a safe house to rest in after being wounded at Blore Heath. Salisbury waited as long as he dared for further news of them before disconsolately pressing on. He left behind one of Sir William Stanley’s cooks, who had been wounded fighting for him. When Shrewsbury’s troops occupied Market Drayton later that day, they interrogated the man as to Salisbury’s whereabouts, and he told them which road the Earl had taken.

  Salisbury, however, arrived safely at Ludlow, followed soon after by Warwick. York had heard that the royal army, allegedly 30,000 strong, was advancing rapidly towards them. The Queen was bent on routing out the Yorkists and taking them prisoner, and her recruits were ready to fight ‘for the love they bare to the King, but more for the fear they had of the Queen, whose countenance was so fearful and whose look was so terrible that to all men against whom she took displeasure, her frowning was their undoing and her indignation their death’.

  The Yorkists led their great army, 25,000 strong, out of Ludlow, and marched towards Worcester, making for London, but the royal army blocked their way; the two came face to face on the road between Kidderminster and Worcester. While the royal army was being drawn up in battle order, with the King??
?s standard displayed to proclaim his presence, York ordered a retreat into Worcester, having no desire to engage in battle with an army under the direct command of his sovereign. In Worcester Cathedral the Yorkist lords, after receiving the Sacrament, publicly swore an oath to render obedience and respect to the King’s estate. This promise was enshrined on vellum and given to a deputation of clergy headed by the Prior of Worcester to take to the King, although Henry, under the influence of the Queen, ignored it.

  When the King pursued him to Worcester, York moved on to Tewkesbury. Henry sent the Bishop of Salisbury to him, offering the Yorkist lords a pardon if they submitted, but they knew that to do so would put an end to all they had fought for, and Warwick publicly declined the offer. As the King then advanced on Tewkesbury, York crossed the River Severn, making for Ludlow and anxious to protect his Marcher lordships from possible sacking by the royal army. By protecting his own, however, York was forced to abandon his plans for cultivating wider support in the kingdom at large.

  Having reached Ludlow, the Yorkist army encamped south of the town on the shore of the River Tern, near Ludford Bridge, an early fifteenth-century structure. On York’s orders, his men fortified their chosen ground with carts and cannon, and laid ambushes and traps to halt the progress of the royal army. They also dug ditches and erected a palisade of stakes. On the evening of 10 October the King’s army finally arrived, pitched its tents, and drew itself up in battle order.

  By this time morale in the Yorkist ranks was low. Their leaders had no desire to engage in a war with the King, in fact their chief intent was to negotiate, not to fight. That evening they wrote to Henry VI suing for peace, protesting their loyalty to the Crown and their commitment to ‘the prosperity of your common weal of this realm. Hereto we have avoided all things that might serve to the effusion of Christian blood, of the dread that we have of God and of your royal Majesty.’ But they then referred to ‘the great and lamentable complaints of your true, poor subjects, of robberies, ravishments, extortions, oppressions, riots, unlawful assemblies, wrongful imprisonments, universally throughout every part of your realm. Your said true subjects suffer such wrongs without remedy.’ As for themselves, ‘our lordships and tenants been of high violence robbed and spoiled’. The letter, however, was intercepted by servants of the Queen, who forged a reply saying that King Henry would meet his enemies in the field.

  The King, meanwhile, wishing to avoid further bloodshed, had sent a herald to the Yorkists to proclaim a free pardon to anyone, except Salisbury, who would return to their allegiance within six days. In the dead of night, Andrew Trollope, who had served under Henry V, defected to the King with all his men, persuaded, according to Waurin, by a secret message from Somerset. The next morning, when York discovered them gone, he was desperately worried, not only because Trollope’s men had been the best of his fighting force and been designated his advance guard, but also because Trollope could tell the royal commanders details of his army and planned strategies.

  The King had between 40,000 and 60,000 men as well as a very considerable number of magnates, including Somerset and Northumberland, the latter’s brother, Thomas, Lord Egremont, Buckingham, Exeter, Devon, Arundel, Shrewsbury, Wiltshire and Beaumont. All these lords had retinues and fellowships with them, and many would be rewarded for their services on this campaign. Henry had had weeks in which to recruit at leisure, while Warwick and Salisbury had not, and the Yorkists consequently had a smaller force of between 20,000 and 30,000 soldiers, some inadequately armed. Apart from March, York’s seventeen-year-old heir, Lord Clinton and Lord Powys, the Yorkist lords had no other aristocratic support. York had expected to be joined by Sir William Herbert, but the Queen had persuaded him to remain loyal to Henry VI.

  Many of the Duke’s men were overawed at the sight of the royal standard fluttering at the other side of the bridge, and began to have second thoughts about where their loyalties lay. Some laid down their arms there and then and raced to join the King’s army. York had to resort to desperate measures in an attempt to raise the spirits of his remaining troops, and announced that he had just heard news of the King’s death, even producing witnesses and ordering masses to be sung. But the Queen was taking care to ensure that Henry was highly visible to all, and York’s ploy was soon seen for what it was, losing him credibility with many of his men.

  Buckingham persuaded the King to repeat his offer of a pardon, but as it was being proclaimed at the town gates, the Yorkist lords gave the signal for their guns to be fired at the royal lines. Even as the reports sounded, there were mass desertions from the Yorkist ranks, which led to panic among those remaining, many of whom now fled. Meanwhile, Henry VI, according to the official account in the Rolls of Parliament, had for once been rallying his army with a rousing speech, ‘so witty, so knightly, so manly, with so princely apport and assured manner, of which the lords and the people took such joy and comfort that all their desire was to hasten to fulfil his courageous knightly desire’.

  The situation was now hopeless for the Yorkists. At midnight on 12 October, York, Salisbury and Warwick announced to their captains that they were going into Ludlow to refresh themselves, and left their army drawn up in battle order with their standards and banners displayed. As soon as they were out of sight they fled, taking a few followers with them. Their desertion of their men at such a crucial time was regarded by their contemporaries as a cowardly and dishonourable act. On the morning of the 13th the remnants of the Yorkist army were obliged to kneel before the King and beg for mercy. Henry dismissed them; his quarrel was not with ordinary soldiers.

  Now the Lancastrians streamed across the bridge and occupied the town of Ludlow, arresting many of York’s chief supporters (who would later purchase their freedom) and systematically sacking the town and York’s castle, robbing it of many of its treasures and furnishings. The royal soldiers ran out of control, drinking the taverns dry and smiting the heads off the pipes and hogsheads of wine, so that everywhere people were obliged to slosh through spilt drink and vomit. In a drunken frenzy armed men raided the houses of the townsfolk and stole away bedding, cloth and other goods. Then they turned to raping and assaulting the women.

  York had not only abandoned his troops but also his duchess, who was powerless to stop the King’s soldiers from sacking Ludlow Castle. When the soldiers stormed into the market place of the town, they found the Duchess of York, proud and stiff, holding the hands of her two youngest sons, George, aged eleven, and Richard, aged seven, and her thirteen-year-old daughter Margaret, all standing by the market cross. The Duchess was placed under arrest and consigned to the house and care of her sister, the Duchess of Buckingham, the King assigning 1000 marks a year for her maintenance during her captivity.

  After Ludlow had been ‘robbed to the bare walls’, the King’s men ransacked all the property of the Yorkist lords between there and Worcester, leaving their estates devastated.

  Henry and Margaret had returned, meanwhile, triumphant to Coventry, where they disbanded their army, then rode to Worcester. It had not been an easy campaign. Food was in short supply and the King had shared the discomfort of his men, only resting on Sundays and sometimes lodging in a bare field with them, regardless of the weather. It was felt by the Lancastrians that the rout of Ludford had cancelled out Salisbury’s victory at Blore Heath, and that the Yorkists were finished, though the royal victory was by no means decisive, for the Yorkist leaders were still at large and could strike at any time. Nor did the King have much chance of capturing any of them.

  York had fled south to Devon, then sailed north to Wales, and crossed from there to Ireland, taking with him his son Rutland. Whethamstead says that when York arrived in Ireland, he was received like a second Messiah, although, like Ulysses, he longed to return home. Salisbury, Warwick and March made their way, by devious means, to Calais, arriving in early November. Soon afterwards, they were joined by Warwick’s wife and two young daughters, Isabel and Anne.

  Once in Calais, the Yorkist l
ords, accompanied by the loyal men of the garrison, plundered the countryside round about and took to piracy in the Channel, seizing or harrying merchant ships. They also began a hostile campaign against the English government, placing restrictions on English ships coming to Calais and disseminating virulent propaganda claiming they were the victims of the King’s evil counsellors.

  With York, Salisbury and Warwick out of the way, ‘the Queen and those of her affinity ruled the realm as her liked, gathering riches innumerable,’ states Davies’ Chronicle.

  The officers of the realm, especially Wiltshire, Treasurer of England, for to enrich himself, peeled the poor people and disinherited rightful heirs, and did many wrongs. In this time the realm of England was out of all good governance, for the King was simple and led by covetous counsel, and owed more than he was worth. For these misgovernances, the hearts of the people were turned away from them that had the governance of the land, and their blessings were turned to cursing.

  Margaret was again ‘defamed and slandered, that he that was called Prince was not her son but a bastard gotten in adultery’.

  Yorkist propaganda claimed that the Queen had persuaded the King to appeal secretly to Charles VII for military aid against York, and as Brézé’s agent Dolcereau had been with Margaret during the recent campaign, it is likely that this was true and that she was indeed using Brézé as a go-between in the negotiations; he was still her friend, could be counted upon to support her, and by the end of 1459 he had certainly committed himself to her cause.

  On 20 November Parliament, having been summoned at short notice, assembled at Coventry, packed solidly with the Queen’s supporters, for which reason it became known as ‘the Parliament of Devils’. As York had not submitted to the King, Margaret commanded Parliament to arraign him and his associates on a charge of high treason. A Bill of Attainder was drawn up that same day, in which York, Salisbury, Warwick, March, Rutland, Clinton, Wenlock, the Bourchier brothers, Sir William Stanley, Sir William Oldhall and others were all declared guilty of high treason and sentenced to forfeiture of their lives, estates, titles, honours and chattels. Should any of them return to England they would face arrest and the death penalty unless the King pardoned them. Duchess Cecily had been brought into Parliament and was made to witness her husband’s humiliation. After the attainder was passed the sentence was proclaimed throughout England.

 
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