The Wars of the Roses by Alison Weir


  On 3 April, Clarence led his army of 12,000 men into the King’s camp at Banbury and knelt in submission. Edward forgave him and promised to restore all his estates, at which there ‘was right kind and loving language betwixt them’. At Clarence’s suggestion, the royal brothers then rode to Warwick, where they issued a final challenge to the Earl, who was still at Coventry. Warwick, appalled by Clarence’s defection and the size of the forces ranged against him, had not the nerve to accept it. He was still looking for the arrival of fresh reinforcements and would not consider confronting Edward until these had come.

  While the King’s host was at Warwick, Queen Margaret’s supporters were preparing for her coming. Somerset, his brother, John Beaufort, Marquess of Dorset, and Thomas Courtenay, Earl of Devon, having learned in London that the Queen was sailing for the West Country, left the capital and rode west, trying as they went to recruit as many men as possible to receive Margaret when she disembarked.

  Both Edward and Warwick now knew that whoever could secure London stood a good chance of gaining a decisive victory, and the race for the capital began. Early in April, the King was in Northampton, where he was well received. He then took the quickest route to London, always keeping an experienced band of spearmen and archers as a rearguard to counter, if need be, any attack made from behind by Warwick’s men.

  Edward left Northampton on the 5th. Warwick was still in Coventry on that day, but he soon realised that the King ‘would do much to be received in London, and, not knowing whether he would be or not, he issued out of Coventry with a great force and made his way through Northampton’ two days after Edward had left it. ‘The Earl thought he had the advantage of the King in one of two ways: either the city [London] would keep the King out or, if he were let in, he would there be keeping the solemnity of Easter, so that the Earl could suddenly come upon him, take him, and destroy him by surprise.’

  On Palm Sunday, 6 April 1471, Edward came to Daventry, and attended a service there in the parish church. Within the church was a statue of St Anne, whom the King especially venerated. The statue, however, was boarded up because at that time all holy images in English churches were hidden from view from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday; yet when the King genuflected at the Rood, the boards surrounding St Anne crashed to the floor. This was seen as miraculous evidence of the saint having the King under her special protection.

  As Edward neared London, his army growing all the time, Lord Howard emerged from sanctuary at Colchester and hurried with his retainers to join him. Warwick, whose scouts kept him apprised of the King’s movements, sent letters to the city authorities, ordering them to resist Edward and refuse to receive him. He also wrote to his brother Archbishop Neville, ‘desiring him to do all he could to provoke the city against Edward and keep him out for two or three days, promising that he would then not fail to come up with great forces from behind, intending utterly to destroy Edward and his men’. The Archbishop summoned to St Paul’s such lords as were known to be loyal to Henry VI and Warwick, ‘with as many of their armed men and servants as they could muster’, and some 6–7000 gathered there. He then had King Henry mount a horse and ride from St Paul’s down Cheapside and round to Walbrook, then back to St Paul’s and to his lodging in the adjacent bishop’s palace, ‘supposing that when he showed Henry the Londoners would be encouraged to stand by them and come on to their side’. Yet Henry VI and his escort were hardly a sight to inspire confidence – the latter few and armed to the teeth, the former wearing his old blue gown that had seen better days, ‘as though he had no more to change with’, slouched on his horse, and regarding the citizens with sad, tired eyes. It was said that their progress through London was ‘more like a play than a showing of a prince to win men’s hearts, for by this means he lost many and won none, or right few’.

  From Dunstable, on 9 April, according to the Arrivall, King Edward sent ‘very comfortable messages to his queen, his true lords and his servants and supporters in London’. ‘Wherefore,’ continues the Arrivall, ‘they considered as secretly as possible how he might be received and welcomed there.’ On the 10th, Edward advanced to St Albans.

  That day, according to the Arrivall, ‘the rulers of the city were in council, and had set men at all the gates and wards’. Then, seeing that the power of Henry VI and his adherents ‘was so feeble’, they ‘could find no courage’ to support them. ‘Rather the opposite obtained, as they well saw that Henry’s forces could not resist the King, who was approaching the city, being at St Albans that night. Thus the mayor and the aldermen determined to keep the city for the King, to open it to him at his coming, so they sent to him that they would be guided at his pleasure.’ As many of the Lancastrian lords had by now left London to go to greet Queen Margaret in the West Country, there remained no one powerful enough to hold London against Edward, nor to resist the Lord Mayor’s decision to open the gates to him.

  Archbishop Neville, fearful for his own skin, also sent a message to the King, ‘desiring to be admitted to his good grace and promising in return to give [him] great pleasure for his well-being and security’. Edward ‘for his own good reasons agreed to take the Archbishop into his good grace, and the Archbishop, assured of this, was very well pleased and truly acquitted himself of his promise’, undertaking to deliver Henry VI into Edward’s hands. ‘That night, the Tower of London was taken for the King, whereby he had a clear entry into the city.’

  On the 11th, Warwick learned that Louis XI had signed a three-month truce with Burgundy, having by now realised that Warwick would not be honouring his part of their agreement and knowing that he himself could not fight Burgundy without England’s support. The truce was a wait-and-see ploy, designed to last until Louis knew the outcome of Warwick’s struggle with Edward IV. Warwick realised that he could expect no further aid from Louis, that he was now on his own, and that confrontation with Edward was imminent.

  Late in the morning of the same day, the Lord Mayor and aldermen of London dismissed the city militia, saying they could go home for dinner. At noon King Edward and his brothers marched into the city, which joyfully opened its gates to him as the lawful sovereign of England. The mayor and chief citizens welcomed him warmly and the crowds lining the streets yelled their appreciation. Commines says that there were three reasons for their enthusiasm: the birth of a male heir to the King, the prospect of the wealthier citizens being paid back the loans they had made to him, and the delight of ‘the ladies of quality and rich citizens’ wives, with whom he had formerly intrigued’, who had ‘forced their husbands to declare themselves on his side’.

  The King went immediately to St Paul’s Cathedral to hear the Archbishop of Canterbury give thanks for his restoration to the throne and declare King Henry deposed. Then he entered the bishop’s palace where Archbishop Neville presented him to Henry VI. Henry embraced him, saying, ‘My cousin of York, you are very welcome. I know that in your hands my life will not be in danger.’ Edward received him into custody and ordered his immediate transfer to the Tower, commanding also that a number of Yorkist prisoners incarcerated there be set at liberty without delay. He had already sent a deputation to Westminster Abbey to escort the Queen and her children from sanctuary to the Palace of Westminster. The King then went himself to Westminster Abbey, where Archbishop Bourchier set the crown on his head to demonstrate to the people that he was formally restored to the throne, after which Edward knelt to give thanks to God, St Peter and St Edward the Confessor.

  Giving orders that his army of 7000 men be deployed in manning the city’s defences and holding it against Warwick, whom he knew to be in pursuit, Edward went in procession to the Palace of Westminster, where Queen Elizabeth and their children awaited him. The sight of his little daughters and his wife holding his firstborn son, now five months old, moved the King to tears. He kissed the children ‘full tenderly’ and took the Prince in his arms, expressing his ‘greatest joy’ and ‘his heart’s singular comfort and gladness’, referring to the infant as ‘God’s
precious sending and gift, and our most desired treasure’. Having embraced and comforted his wife, he escorted his family to ‘the lodging of my lady his mother’ at Baynard’s Castle, where they heard Mass and stayed the night.

  On the morning of the 12th, Edward took counsel with his brothers and the great magnates before attending a solemn service in his mother’s private chapel to mark Good Friday. When it ended, he installed the Queen, the royal children, the Duchess of York and the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Tower of London for their safety. He had spent as much time in London as he dared, long enough for his captains to recruit and muster more reinforcements, and the time had now come to face Warwick. The Arrivall states that the King ‘took pains to encounter him before he came near to the city and as far from it as possible’. On the afternoon of the 13th, taking King Henry with him, he led his army ten miles north to Barnet, where his advance guard met the advance guard of Warwick’s host and, after a skirmish, chased them out of the town for a distance of half a mile. Edward, when he arrived and was told what had happened, forbade his men to remain in Barnet ‘but had them all to the field with him, and drew towards his enemies outside the town’.

  Earlier that day, Warwick had moved his army through St Albans to Barnet, arriving, like the King, after dark. Both armies spent some considerable time searching for advantageous positions, and Warwick finally drew up his men on a 400-foot ridge concealed ‘under a hedge side’ and running south from Hadley Green to the village of Barnet. Edward ‘could not see very well where his enemies lay, and he camped with all his host before them, much nearer than he supposed’. By a stroke of fortune, the King’s right wing overlapped Warwick’s left wing, and Warwick’s right wing overlapped Edward’s left. This meant that Warwick’s cannon, which he had positioned on the far right, were pointed at no one. The Arrivall states that the Earl’s soldiers ‘shot guns almost all night, thinking thereby to do great damage to the King and his host. But it so happened that they always overshot the King’s army and did them no harm, because the King’s host lay much nearer than they thought.’ Edward refused to allow his men to fire their cannon in retaliation because Warwick would then know his position and would redirect his guns towards the Yorkist army.

  All sources agree that Warwick had the larger army, and Warkworth says Edward knew he was outnumbered. Warkworth estimated Warwick’s force at 20,000, while the Arrivall claimed he had 30,000 men. Most sources agree that the King had between 9000 and 10,000 men. The King himself commanded the Yorkist centre, Gloucester the right wing and Hastings the left. Montague, who had joined up with Warwick on the road south, led the Lancastrian centre, which straddled the road from St Albans to Barnet; Exeter commanded the left wing, which was drawn up on soft, marshy ground and consisted partly of cavalry, while Oxford commanded the right wing, which was stationed to the west of the road behind a hedge. Warwick placed himself in command of the reserve, which was well-armed with the newly invented handguns, and was drawn up where the present monument to the battle – erected in 1740 – stands on Hadley Green, north of Barnet. Both armies consisted mainly of foot soldiers, and both had guns and ordnance, although Warwick was better provided with the latter. Henry VI was held in custody behind the lines with the Yorkist reserve.

  That evening, as the armies prepared to do battle, the fleet carrying Queen Margaret and her company landed at Weymouth in Dorset. The Queen had endured the most appalling voyage, having been at sea for twenty days ‘for lack of good winds and because of great tempests at sea’. Nevertheless, she remained undaunted, hoping to raise the south-west to the cause of Lancaster. This was no vain hope, for many of her chief adherents held lands and exercised political influence in the region, among them Somerset, Exeter, Devon, and Clarence, of whose defection she knew nothing.

  What Margaret did not realise was that the readeption government was already thoroughly discredited as a result of Warwick’s unpopular foreign policy, and that she had arrived weeks too late to undo the damage. Nor did she know that Henry VI had again been overthrown by Edward IV. ‘I trow’, wrote a Paston correspondent, on learning of the Queen’s arrival, ‘that tomorrow, or else the next day, King Edward will depart from hence to her-ward to drive her out again.’

  Early the next morning, which was Easter Sunday, between four and five o’clock, the King, knowing that day was approaching and, says the Arrivall, ‘notwithstanding that there was a dense mist which prevented them from seeing each other’, fell on his knees before his alerted army and ‘committed his cause to Almighty God’. He then ‘advanced banners, blew the trumpets and set upon [the enemy], at first with shot; very soon they joined and came to hand strokes, wherein his enemies manfully and courageously received them. With the faithful and mighty assistance of his supporters, who did not desert him and were as devoted to him as they possibly could be, King Edward vigorously, manfully and valiantly assailed his enemies in the centre and strongest part of their army, and with great violence.’

  The King ‘beat and bore down’ all before him that stood in his way, ‘so that nothing might stand in the sight of him and the well-assured fellowship that attended truly upon him’ Soon, both sides sent in their reserves to reinforce the embattled centres. The two left wings gave way early on, but because of the mist neither Edward nor Warwick was aware that this had happened, each believing his own side to be winning. Oxford chased the Yorkist left wing for several miles through and beyond Barnet, while Gloucester charged through a deep depression called Dead Man’s Bottom into the centre of the confused Lancastrian left wing, where King Edward, leading the Yorkist centre, was already using his battle axe to deadly effect. As Exeter wheeled round to join Warwick for an assault on Gloucester, Montague swung round also.

  Meanwhile, some of Oxford’s men had disappeared during the pursuit of the Yorkists; others took the opportunity to do a little pillaging in Barnet, and the Earl had a great deal of difficulty in getting them back into line. He then rode back to the battlefield, he and his men wearing the blazing star badge of the de Veres. In the dark and mist, Montague’s soldiers, who saw them coming first, mistook it for the King’s ‘Sun in Splendour’ badge, and fired several volleys of arrows, at which Oxford and his force of 800 men fled from the field, crying ‘Treason! Treason!’ The word ‘treason’ spread like wildfire through the Lancastrian centre and shattered morale, and it was clearly this that turned the tide of the battle. Men panicked and began to run away from the fighting. Even when Montague’s men realised what had happened, they thought that Oxford and his troops had gone over to the Yorkists and pursued and fell on them in anger. Some cried that Warwick was planning to halt the battle and come to terms with the King, which many regarded as a betrayal. There was chaos in the Lancastrian ranks, and the King took full advantage of it, leading in his reserve to attack Warwick’s centre. A furious mêlée ensued, which broke the Lancastrian line. Montague was killed, possibly by one of Oxford’s men.

  Hard-pressed in the thick of the mêlée, Warwick tried to rally his men to fill in the gap left by Montague, but failed. The panic manifested by his soldiers was infectious, and he could not prevent the increasing surge of terrified men from fleeing the battle. In desperation, he dismounted and, gathering his best knights together, cried, ‘If we withstand this one charge, the field will be ours!’ As the Yorkist cavalry came up at full speed, the Earl wielded his sword to great effect and fought bravely, as did his household knights and retainers, but most of them were cut down by mounted Yorkist knights in armour, who galloped on, leaving behind them a scene of carnage.

  Warwick, realising at this point that the day was lost, decided on flight, and made his way on foot towards Wrotham Wood where his horse was tethered. The King, knowing that victory was his, had sent a messenger cantering across the field to shout out the order that Warwick’s life was to be spared, but a group of Yorkist soldiers, who had seen the Earl making his escape, either ignored the order or did not hear it, for they bore down on him and killed him, strippi
ng his body of its armour and leaving it lying there naked. As news of his death spread, the remnants of his army lost heart and fled.

  There were heavy casualties on both sides. The King, unusually, had not instructed his men to spare the common foot soldiers, and at least 1000 Lancastrians lay dead on the field. Yorkist losses amounted to about 500, among them many of Edward’s most faithful adherents – Lord Cromwell, Lord Say, Lord Berners’ son Humphrey Bourchier, Sir John Paston and many members of the Yorkist royal household. Thomas Howard was ‘sore hurt’, while on the Lancastrian side Exeter was ‘greatly despoiled and wounded’, according to Warkworth, and left for dead on the field. Only later did he manage to make his escape. Oxford and a small band of retainers likewise fled, taking refuge in Scotland.

  John Paston, whose father had died in the battle fighting for the Yorkists, had himself fought for Warwick and fled wounded from the field with the rest of the Earl’s army. He now went into hiding, desperate with anxiety as to what might happen to him, and praying that the King would proclaim a general pardon. Edward was markedly lenient with men of the gentry class who had fought for the enemy, being concerned only to bring the magnates to justice, but John Paston did not know that. For two weeks he lay low until his money ran out. Unable to obtain credit, he wrote to his mother asking for help to pay for ‘leech craft and physic and rewards to them that have kept me and conducted me to London, and hath cost me since Easter Day more than £5, and now I have neither meat, drink, clothes, leechcraft nor money’. John Paston did in the end secure a royal pardon, as did his younger brother who had also fought for Warwick.

 
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