The Wars of the Roses by Alison Weir


  Warwick knew the risks he was taking. His lands and the main spheres of his influence lay to the north and west, and before he could reach them he had to take London. Nor could he be certain of support from the magnates. But Warwick was held in much affection in south-east England. ‘If aught come to my lord of Warwick but good, farewell ye, farewell I, and all our friends, for this land were utterly undone,’ wrote a friend of the Pastons at this time. Hours after Warwick landed in Kent, Lords Cobham and Bergavenny rode to join him as he marched on Canterbury, as did numerous men of lesser rank.

  On landing at Sandwich, Warwick had sent messengers to the other Cinque Ports, asking for assistance in the form of armed men and stressing that he came to remove the evil counsellors about the King. The mayor of Rye, receiving his message, cautiously sent to see if the mayor of Winchelsea was going to comply. Apparently the answer was yes, for both men led contingents from their towns to join the Yorkists. Archbishop Bourchier, who had hitherto acted as mediator between the opposing sides, was now heartily sickened of the Queen’s misrule and was urging the men of Kent to rally to Warwick’s banner, which they did in large numbers.

  The Yorkist lords made their way that day to Canterbury. The Council had appointed three of its citizens to lead the defence of the city against the invaders, but the people of Canterbury were overwhelmingly Yorkist in sympathy and at dawn on the 27th these men met with the Yorkist lords at St Martin’s Church, outside the walls, and agreed to surrender the keys of the city to them. Canterbury then joyfully opened its gates and afforded the invaders a warm welcome.

  After Warwick, Salisbury and March had offered at the shrine of Becket and received the blessing of the Archbishop of Canterbury – who agreed to ride with them – they pressed on through Rochester and Dartford towards London, recruiting as they went. In their train was the papal legate, Francesco dei Coppini, Bishop of Terni. During the previous spring, Coppini had been sent to England by Pope Pius II to effect a reconciliation between the rival factions and ‘quieten the people’, so that England could provide him with men for a new crusade against the Turks. The Queen had not been interested in Coppini’s offer to mediate, guessing that his sympathies lay with the Yorkists. This was true, but only because the Lancastrians had rebuffed him. The legate dearly wanted a cardinal’s hat, and if his mission was successful he might obtain one. If he helped the Yorkists to power they might reward him by supporting the crusade. Coppini had with him ‘papal bulls stating that the Pope had excommunicated Wiltshire, Shrewsbury and Beaumont and all others who had opposed the Duke [of York]’. His open support of the Yorkists swayed the opinions of several English bishops, who felt that they should follow the Pope’s lead.

  News of the invasion had reached London, and the mayor, aldermen and Common Council met to debate what they should do. At length they dispatched a messenger to warn the Yorkist lords that they would not be allowed to enter the capital. Warwick, however, had many supporters in London; merchants who had suffered as a result of the government’s concessions to foreign traders were especially anxious to further his cause, and through their influence the Lord Mayor was persuaded to rescind his order. He may also have been swayed by the proximity and activities of several lords in or near the city – Bourchier, Bergavenny, Clinton, Say and Scrope – who were preparing to join Warwick. At the end of June the Yorkist lords were informed that they could enter London provided their soldiers behaved themselves.

  As the Yorkist army approached, prominent Lancastrians who were in the city, the Lords Hungerford, de Vesci, Lovell, de la Warre, the Earl of Kendal and the Duchess of Exeter, took refuge in the Tower of London, which was under the command of Lord Scales, a veteran of the French wars who deplored the decision of the city authorities to let in the Yorkists.

  On 2 July, the gates of London were thrown open and the Yorkist lords rode into the city with a vast band of armed men. Estimates of their numbers vary between 20,000 and 60,000; the real figure, based on the evidence of Whethamstead and the London chroniclers, is likely to have been around 40,000, and at least 500 of them were on horseback. As the army began its progress across London Bridge, crowds of Londoners surged forward in welcome and two men were trampled to death. Lord Scales fired guns from the Tower, and during the next few days he would continue to do so, burning and hurting men, women and children in the streets but causing no harm to the enemy.

  The first thing that the Yorkist earls did was to order the removal of the rotting heads of their supporters from London Bridge. On 3 July they addressed the Convocation of Canterbury at St Paul’s Cathedral, emphasising the misrule of the Queen’s party and reciting ‘the cause of their coming into the land, how they had been put forth from the King’s presence with great violence, so that they might never excuse themselves of the accusations laid against them’. They swore on oath on the Cross of Canterbury that they intended nothing contrary to the estate of King Henry, declaring that they wished only to lay their case before him in person and protest their innocence; they were, they said, prepared to die for their cause. But Coppini, in a letter to Pius II, wrote that, despite the strictures of Holy Church and his own role as an angel of peace, Warwick, Salisbury and March appeared ready to resort to armed force rather than peaceful negotiations in order to have their way.

  On the 4th Coppini himself addressed Convocation, reading out a letter from the Pope to Henry VI, summarising and pleading York’s case. The letter was afterwards presented to the King along with one from the legate, commanding Henry, on peril of his soul, to consent to the Yorkist demands.

  The Yorkist lords were determined that this time they would gain control of the King and oust the court party for good. On the 5th Lord Fauconberg left London at the head of 10,000 men for the north. The Lancastrians were still anticipating that York would invade from Ireland and were therefore reluctant to move south to defend London, in case he raised Wales and the north behind them. Warwick and March soon followed Fauconberg north, leaving Salisbury, Cobham, Wenlock and 2000 men in London to lay siege to the Tower and hold the capital. In their train were the Archbishop of Canterbury, the bishops of Ely, Exeter, Rochester, Lincoln and Salisbury, the papal legate Coppini and the Prior of the Hospital of St John at Clerkenwell. They made first for St Albans, and then for Dunstable. Wet weather had made the roads virtually impassable, yet still men came to join them.

  The King’s commanders urged him to seek refuge in the Isle of Ely in the then almost impenetrable Fens, but the Yorkists somehow learned of this plan and moved their army to Ware, ready to intercept the royal army before it could evade them. There was no sign of it: Henry had in fact ignored his captains’ advice and remained in Coventry, where the Queen had gathered a large army, and he now planned to march on Northampton. As he bade farewell to his wife and child, he kissed the Prince and commanded Margaret for her safety, not to join him unless she received from him a secret token known only to themselves. When the army left, Margaret rode with the Prince to Eccleshall Castle to await events.

  The royal army encamped in a meadow outside Northampton, between the village of Hardingstone and Delapré Abbey. Here, the men dug deep ditches around the whole encampment, made a defensive palisade of sharp stakes, and blocked the road from London with cannon. Then the commanders drew the men up in battle order. They were not in the best strategic position because the nearby River Nene, then in flood due to two days of constant heavy rain, was not fordable and offered no means of escape in the event of a rout.

  The commander-in-chief of the royal army, Buckingham, was probably anxious to get any battle over and done with as quickly as possible so that he could march on to London, relieve Lord Scales at the Tower and drive the Yorkists out of the capital. It was also imperative that Warwick and March be dealt with before they could be joined by York and Salisbury. Buckingham, however, certainly underestimated the military abilities of Warwick and the inexperienced March.

  By Tuesday 10 July Warwick’s army had arrived in Northampton. He
now strove to avoid engaging the King in battle by sending the Bishop of Salisbury and Coppini to Henry with a request that he hear the grievances of the Yorkist lords. Henry refused, despite the added pleas of Archbishop Bourchier, and Buckingham accused the bishops of hypocrisy, brusquely advising the King to pay no heed to them. As far as he was concerned, the royal army was in an unassailable position and the King need not pander to traitors. A battle was now inevitable.

  At mid-day the rain began again, rapidly turning the Lancastrian camp into a quagmire. Far from being unassailable, the royal army, which probably comprised 20,000 men, was only half the size of Warwick’s force, and some expected reinforcements did not arrive in time to see action. Warwick was in command of the main battle of the Yorkist army; March, bearing aloft his father’s banner, led the vanguard, ably supported by Lord Scrope, and Fauconberg was in charge of the rearguard. For the first time the Yorkists had mustered a substantial number of magnates – Bourchier, Bergavenny, Audley, Say, and possibly Clinton and Stanley were all present in the field, while most of the foot soldiers were from Kent, Sussex and Essex.

  The royal vanguard was commanded by Lord Grey de Ruthin, a wealthy local landowner who had courted royal favour in the Coventry parliament and promptly ridden at the head of his retainers to obey the King’s summons to arms. Prior to the battle, however, March received a secret message from Lord Grey that he would change sides and fight for the Yorkists if they would back him in a property dispute with Lord Fanhope. Grey may also have been offered inducements by Warwick, such as the promise of future high office in a Yorkist government, for he did indeed become Treasurer of England in 1463.

  At two o’clock in the afternoon, watched by Coppini and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Warwick ordered his trumpeters to sound the call to battle, and the two armies advanced on each other, with the three Yorkist battles attacking the enemy simultaneously on different sides of the royal barricades. Warwick had ordered his men not to capture any magnates but to kill them, and not to lay violent hands on the King or the ordinary soldiers, especially those wearing the black ragged staff of Lord Grey’s men.

  March’s advance across the Nene marshes was met with a deadly series of volleys from the archers in the Lancastrian centre, which caused many casualties. Despite this, they waded onwards through thick, viscous mud towards the royal entrenchment; the weather conditions were in fact so atrocious that Buckingham’s cannon were soon lying deep in water and were rendered useless, while many of the royal cavalry were forced to dismount and fight on foot.

  As the Yorkists approached the royal defences, Lord Grey signalled, and his men began to burst through the barricades in order to join them and assist them over the stockade, thus enabling them successfully to breach the Lancastrian entrenchment. This heralded the end of the battle, which lasted only half an hour and did not involve much in the way of hand-to-hand fighting. Seeing that the day was lost, many Lancastrian soldiers panicked and made desperate attempts to cross the swollen River Nene; few made it to the other side. The chronicler ‘Gregory’ relates the tale of Sir William Lucy, who lived near the battlefield and heard the desultory gunfire. He quickly hastened to the King’s aid, but when he got there the rout was in progress. Alas for Sir William – John Stafford, a relation of Buckingham’s, saw him coming. John had been conducting an illicit affair with Lucy’s wife and now, in the chaos and confusion, seized his opportunity to murder his rival, an act typical of the lawlessness and self-interest of the times.

  The Battle of Northampton ended in a resounding victory for the Yorkists, which was attributed to the fighting skills of ‘the true commons of Kent’, but was also due largely to the treachery of Lord Grey. About 3–400 men lay dead on the field, Lancastrian losses being heaviest. Buckingham, one of the mainstays of their cause, was among them. His son had predeceased him, and he was succeeded as second duke of Buckingham by his grandson, seven-year-old Henry Stafford. John, Viscount Beaumont, Constable of England, former steward to the Queen and one of her loyalest supporters, had also been killed, along with the Earl of Shrewsbury and Lord Egremont, who had been cut down by Warwick’s Kentishmen outside the King’s tent. Many Lancastrian casualties had drowned in the River Nene near Sandyford Mill. The dead were buried in nearby Delapré Abbey, which still stands, although much of its fabric dates from later periods. Yorkist losses were light. Today, little remains of the battlefield site, which is occupied by the Avon Cosmetics Company.

  As the battle ended, Henry Mountfort, a Yorkist archer, captured the King and confined him to his tent. When it was clear that the day was theirs, Warwick, March and Fauconberg found him there alone, ‘as a man born and predestinate to trouble, misery and calamity’. The three lords fell on their knees and craved the King’s forgiveness for having taken up arms against him, emphasising that their only motive had been the desire to establish stable and just government, and assuring him of their continuing loyalty. Then March, who had not as yet sworn fealty to his sovereign, knelt and did him homage. For all their subservience, however, the Yorkist lords now had the King in their custody. Later that day they conducted him in procession to Delapré Abbey and thence to Northampton. Meanwhile, Wiltshire and many other prominent Lancastrians had gone into hiding.

  Queen Margaret had spent anxious days at Eccleshall Castle, awaiting news. When it came, it could not have been worse: the battle lost, many of her supporters dead or fled, and the King in the hands of the Yorkists, who would now control not only the sovereign but the government and the administrative departments of state. However, with the Queen and her son still at large, the Yorkists would have no scope for complacency.

  Some Lancastrian prisoners taken in the battle, including the Lords Hungerford and Lovell, gave their captors the slip and rode to join the Queen, but others, including Lord de la Warre and the Earl of Kendal, transferred their loyalties to the Yorkists. Margaret decided it would be prudent to leave Eccleshall, and fled with her son and a few attendants through Cheshire to Wales. Near Malpas Castle, one of her servants, John Cleger, robbed her of her treasure and jewellery, and even threatened to kill her and the Prince, at which some of her retinue deserted her. However, as Cleger was rifling through her baggage, the Queen and her son managed to escape with the help of her remaining attendants and a courageous fourteen-year-old boy, John Coombe of Annesbury, with whom she and the Prince rode pillion to Jasper Tudor at Harlech Castle. Here she met with a warm welcome and was presented with many gifts. Her brother-in-law ‘greatly comforted’ her, ‘for she had need thereof’, though he was aware that he would not be able to shelter her for long.

  Jasper was in control of York’s castle of Denbigh, and he suggested that the Queen move there. ‘Gregory’ says she left Harlech by stealth ‘for she durst abide in no place but in private’ because ‘counterfeit tokens were sent unto her, as though they had come from her most dread lord the King, but it was not of his sending, but forged things, for they that brought the tokens were of the King’s house, and bade her beware that she gave no credence thereto, for the lords would fain had her unto London, for they knew well that all the workings that were done grew by her, for she was more wittier than the King’.

  Giving out that she had gone to France to raise troops, Margaret went to Denbigh, where she was soon joined by Exeter and other prominent Lancastrians. On their advice, she now wrote to Somerset, Devon and other adherents, asking them to raise an army in the north and wait upon her at Hull. On 9 August, along with other royalist constables of Yorkist castles in Wales, Pembroke was ordered by the Yorkist Council to surrender Denbigh to York’s deputy, Edward Bourchier. He refused, continuing to recruit Welshmen for the Queen and for the Prince of Wales, ‘the hope of the British Isles’, and York never regained his former supremacy in Wales.

  In London, meanwhile, Salisbury, Cobham and the city’s militia had besieged Lord Scales in the Tower, placing bombards and ‘great ordnance’ on the far side of the Thames and ‘crazing the walls in divers places’. On 16 Ju
ly, the King, escorted by the Yorkist earls, entered the City with a great retinue and was lodged in the bishop’s palace, while Londoners ‘gave Almighty God great thanks and praise’ for the Yorkist victory. After nearly three weeks, Scales was ready to surrender. He was running out of food and had no hope of receiving any reinforcements; he had also given way to the panic-stricken pleas of the noble ladies who had sought refuge in the Tower. On the night after the surrender, Scales tried to escape by boat to the sanctuary at Westminster Abbey, but the London boatmen surrounded his vessel, dragged him out and murdered him, casting his bloody corpse, ‘naked as a worm’, on to the steps of the Priory of St Mary Overie in Southwark.

  Queen Margaret had now left Denbigh and sailed from Wales around the coast to Berwick, intending to seek refuge in Scotland, where James II, whose mother had been a Beaufort, was a friend to the Lancastrians. The Scottish queen, Mary of Gueldres, advised of Margaret’s coming, sent an envoy, Duncan Dundas, to escort her to Dumfries, where she and her son were warmly received. They were then lodged at Lincluden Abbey as guests of Queen Mary, and royally entertained there.

  However, Scotland was just then in mourning because of the untimely death of its king, blown up by an exploding cannon while successfully besieging Yorkist sympathisers at Roxburgh. At the time of Margaret’s arrival the regents were in Edinburgh for the late King’s burial and the coronation of James III. James II’s friendly relations with the House of Lancaster were to be maintained, however, by his widow and by the Bishop of St Andrews, who both headed the newly-formed regency council.

 
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