Battle of Empingham (Losecoat)

March 12, 1470

‘Losecote Field’

Edward’s moment for action had come: by the middle of September the fetters of restraint had been slackened and the King was visible at both York and Pontefract. Warwick had failed to raise sufficient troops to deal with Humphrey Neville; Edward now did so, scotched the rebellion and supervised the ringleader’s taking off at York on 29th September. Emboldened, he summoned his own affinity; Suffolk, Arundel, Northumberland and Essex, with Hastings and Mountjoy to a northern council, thereafter he returned to London. Warwick had failed and yet Edward made no overt moves against him, the experiences of the summer had been chastening. No sanctions were imposed on the Nevilles, Clarence and their ally Oxford, an outward show of amity was preserved. This notwithstanding, Warwick had the blood of the King’s lieutenants, the Queen’s father and brother on his hands. It was, in effect, a stalemate, one that could not continue indefinitely. Gloucester picked up the various offices in Wales which the Earl had subsumed, outwardly the Nevilles lost nothing by their treason. Sir John Paston wrote that: ‘the king himself hath good language of the Lords of Clarence, of Warwick, and of my Lords of York [George Neville] and Oxford, saying they be his best friends …. his household men have other languages’.

There was one change and this required delicacy: John Neville had remained aloof from his brother’s intrigues secure, as he imagined, in his Earldom of Northumberland. Edward was, however, being pressed to restore this great jewel to the Percy heir, a prisoner, ever since the demise of the third Earl at Towton. Edward, if he appreciated the political necessity of restoring the Percy hegemony in Northumberland, wished, at all costs, to avoid alienating so true a servant as John Neville. Compensation, on a suitable scale, had to be found. Happily for Edward, the killing of Humphrey Stafford, who had not long survived the debacle at Edgecote, had created a vacancy. The revenues from Devon would be ample recompense for the loss of the Percy lands and the pill was sweetened yet further when the King agreed to the union between Montagu’s son George and his own eldest daughter Elizabeth, this brought the Neville Earl an additional prize when he was elevated to the Dukedom of Bedford.

For Warwick too this appeared to augur well, the king had not outwardly objected to the union between Isobel and George and now a Neville, his own nephew, the lad he’d previously planned to marry to the Exter heiress, was to scoop the King’s daughter. The new Percy Earl of Northumberland, after his years of captivity, escaped from the margins and came fully into his inheritance on 1st March 1470. The Earl of Warwick was nonetheless too experienced to have any real doubts as to his future prospects; he was a marked man. The King, over the longer term, would not forget what had occurred in the summer of 1469, his wife would certainly never permit him to do so. She might smile outwardly at Warwick but this was the very man who had, on no legal pretext whatsoever, murdered her father and brother. At some point, one side or the other would have to make the first move and Richard Neville was not a patient man.   

Richard, Lord Welles and Willoughby, [14] was a leading gentry figure from the south-east corner of flat and fertile Lincolnshire. He had been active or certainly implicated in Conyers insurrection and, during the autumn and winter of 1469 – 1470 fell into enmity with his neighbour Sir Thomas Burgh of Gainsborough [15], a member of the King’s closest affinity. Welles, his son Robert and a brace of his brothers in law, Sir Thomas de la Lande and Sir Thomas Dymmock ‘took up’ Burgh’s property. Edward chose to intervene on behalf of the victim who was, after all a household knight and the King’s Master of Horse. The King’ summoned a muster at Grantham for 12th March 1470. This announcement sparked a contagion of rumours, undoubtedly fanned by Welles and his affinity, that the pretext of relieving Sir Thomas Burgh, was but a cloak to hide a wider intent to exact recompense from the county for its perceived support for Conyers’ faction that previous summer. To what extent Welles was acting as mouthpiece for a wider conspiracy is unclear but we might discern the hand of the Earl of Warwick and his new son in law.

By the beginning of 1470 Warwick was allegedly raising forces to swell the King’s muster from Warwickshire, whilst Welles and Dymmock, by now certainly his creatures, sought and were granted pardon at Westminster. Despite this apparent resolution of the local disturbance, Edward pursued his warlike preparations, sending out commissions of array and drawing out his great guns from the Tower. He delayed his departure from London just long enough to have words with his brother Clarence, whose objective may have been to hold the King back by bland assurances. The brothers met at their dowager mother’s London residence and the younger gave out that he was merely en route to his estates and the arms of his wife in the west. With this, Edward seemed content but, on quitting Baynard’s Castle [16], he joined forces with Arundel, Hastings and Sir Henry Percy and began his northward march.  Clarence, however, ventured no further west than the Hospital of St. John’s, Clerkenwell for a clandestine meeting with Welles [17] and others of his and Warwick’s affinity; he next rode north, also to join the Earl and spread the pestilience of rebellion. The flames were already being fanned: Sir Robert Welles, in his father’s absence, had flaunted outright defiance of the King; his manifesto, broadcast from every county pulpit on 4th March, suggested the royal army was intent on laying waste Lincolnshire. The rebel muster was to take place near Lincoln, at Ranby Hawe, on the following Tuesday.

By Wednesday the King, at Waltham Abbey, was aware of the scale of the disturbances and the identity of the orchestrator. Dymmock and Lord Welles were summoned for a more detailed interrogation. On Thursday, a youthful messenger from Lord Cromwell at Tattershall Castle, [18] brought further intelligence that the insurgents numbers were being swelled by recruits from the northerly shires, fantastic totals, a hundred thousand and more, were mooted. Whilst these figures were wild exaggerations, there could be no denying that the threat was potent. Edward appeared to have a major fight on his hands. This time, however, he was ready.

‘… when he [Edward] was commen unto Waltham the 6th day of March, on the morrow after, the 7th day of March, there was brought unto him word that Robert Welles, calling himself great captain of the Commons of Lincolnshire, had do made proclamations in all the churches of that shire the Sunday the 4th day of March in the king’s name, the duke [Clarence], earl [Warwick] and his own name, every man to come to Ranby Hawe upon Tuesday the 6th day of March, upon pain of death, to resist the king in coming down into the said shire…’ [19]

The King now received correspondence from his scheming brother, intimating that the Duke had judged it wiser to travel north and link up with his father in law, that both might come to his assistance. Whether the King bought this line or whether he was simply paying out the rope is not certain – he did, however, authorise both to raise forces in Warwickshire and Worcestershire. This does not necessarily imply he continued to trust either, their records argued strongly against. More likely, he hoped now to draw all his enemies out into the open and ‘see who blinked first’.

Edward had a sizeable contingent tof his affinity with him, trusted men and veterans; well furnished with ordnance. The King was the greatest captain of his day, undefeated in the field; he would not be caught napping again.      

Lord Welles and Sir Thomas Dymmock were useful pawns. Under questioning, both had admitted to a hand in the present unrest but failed to implicate either Warwick or Clarence. Sir Robert was advised that the price for his continued defiance, apart from the personal consequences of treason, would be the immediate taking off of his father. At this point Welles was poised to rendezvous with the rebel magnates, already south of Grantham; Warwick needed the rebel muster to converge with his own around Leicester whilst also causing the Yorkshiremen to march south. With his, Clarence’s and Welles’ forces thus combined, he could confront the King. Sir Robert committed the cardinal error of turning away from his confederates, marching now toward Stamford, as though seeking battle [20].

‘The king being at Huntingdon did the said Lord Welles to be examined, and Sir Thomas Dymoke and other severally, in which examination it was knowledged that in the Lord Welles all such counsels and conspirations were taken and made betwixt his son, the said Sir Thomas Dymoke, the commons and other; and that he and the said Sir Thomas Dymoke were privy and knowing of their communications, and they might have let it and did not, but very provokers and causers of the same, with other circumstances touching it. Whereupon the king gave him an injunction that he should send to his son, commanding him to leave his fellowship, and humbly submit him, or else they for their said treasons should have death, as they deserved’ [21]

Monday 12th March, saw the King encamped around Stamford, his prickers thrown out before as a covering screen; this time the rebels would not get the better of him through faulty reconnaissance. Further assurances were received from Warwick and Clarence that, by that evening, they expected to make their billets in Leicester, prior to coming up to join him. He wrote back a letter of thanks:

‘Upon the Sunday the 6th day of March [should be the 11th], the king come to Fotheringay, where he had new knowledge that his rebels were passed Grantham towards him, but somewhat they began to change their way towards Leicester; which, as it was after clearly confessed, was done by the stirrings and messages sent from the Duke of Clarence and the Earl of Warwick unto the said late Sir Robert Welles and other petty captains, desiring them to have [been] by the Monday at Leicester, where they promised to have joined with them with 20,000 men, as it appeared after in effect and by several confessions of the said captains’ [22] 

An interesting tactical opportunity now presented itself: Welles, responding to fears for his family, had played into the King’s hands. His army lay a bare five miles away, his confederates, at least for the moment, safely out of the way at Leicester:

’Sir Robert Welles being onwards on his way towards Leicester, understanding his father life to be in jeopardy, by a message brought him from his father, knowing also that the king was that Sunday at night at Fotheringay, and deeming that he would now have passed Stamford the same Monday, not intending to makeany submission ne beyng [nor bowing] in his fellowship, but disposing him to make his aprt good against the king, and traitorly to levy was against his highness, arredied him him and his fellowship that day to have set upon the king in Stamford the Monday night, and so to have distressed him and his host, and so rescued his father life; and for that intent turned with his whole host out of Leicester way and took his way towards Stamford upon that same purpose’ [23]     

Should anyone in the ranks of the royal army remain in doubt as to the seriousness of the King’s intentions, the spectacle of Welles and Dymmock being publicly executed in front of the assembled companies must have constituted a very sobering sight; their earlier pardons clean overlooked: 

‘[Edward] thought it not according with His honour ne surtied [suretyhood] that he should jeopardy his most royal person upon the same to leave the father [Lord Welles] and the said Sir Thomas Dymoke of live that such treason had conspired and wrought, as so it was thought to all the lords, noblemen and other that time being in his host; wherefore his highness in the field under his banner displayed commanded the said Lord Welles and Sir Thomas Dymoke to be executed….’ [24]

If the rebels, drawn up before the King’s forces and treated to this sanguinary spectacle were in doubt as to the consequences of treason, this must have constituted a rude awakening, though it was they who now advanced to contact. After a brief cannonade, what, in a later age, might be described as ‘a whiff of grapeshot’ the two sides collided; the royal foot advancing steadily and in good order toward their less experienced adversaries who, shaken by the volleys, shivered and broke. The fight dissolved into a rout almost before it had begun, casualties would, therefore, be light, particularly amongst the King’s men, the rebels harried from the field, would suffer far more. Losecote field was fought and the most telling evidence, the cast off liveries offered eloquent testimony of treason.   

Flight of the Conspirators

Edward’s firm action, leading to decisive victory, had confounded the conspirators; one of the dead from the field, tellingly attired in the Duke’s livery, had been carrying correspondence from Clarence to Sir Robert Welles, tangible proof of guilt. The King, returning to Stamford, could contemplate the extent of his deliverance. Through swift and ruthless action, the complete reverse of his sluggish conduct the previous year, he had thwarted a wider conspiracy. He now wrote again to his brother and cousin, bidding them disband their forces, the emergency being passed and to report to him, accompanied only by their immediate retinues.

The game was up. Receiving the King’s instructions neither Warwick nor Clarence needed to entertain many doubts; at best total submission, followed by swingeing sanctions; at worst, the headsman’s axe. Both were still at Coventry when the royal messenger, John Donne, reached them. In fact they had not proceeded to Leicester at all, recruiting was slow; their efforts to stir up more trouble in the west spluttered fitfully and without effect, the Midlands were no more enthusiastic. The pair made suitably compliant noises, intimating they would come in without delay and with scarcely more than a thousand retainers. However, as Donne pointed out to them on 15th March, the road to Burton on Trent does not lead to Stamford [25]. The peers disingenuously advised that they merely needed to contact some of their outposts before hurrying to the royal presence:

‘…the king supposing verily that they had been that Monday night at Leicester, as they afore so had written to his highness that they would have been. And it is to deem so they should have ben, or at least upon Tuesday, ne had be the king’s victory on the Monday, and that they no such number of people as they looked after, which caused them to staker [waver] and tarry still at Coventry, where the said John Donne found them’ [26]  

Edward had already advanced to Grantham where the now captive Sir Robert Welles awaited; Sir Thomas de la Lande had already been taken in the earlier rout. Their evidence damned both Warwick and Clarence as instigators of the plot and, this time, there was clear intent to dethrone the king and place the crown upon his brother’s head:

‘And this plainly, their purpose was to destroy the king, and to have made the said duke king, as they, at the time that they should take their deaths, openly before the multitude of the king’s host affirmed to be true’ [27].

Fresh intelligence confirmed the Yorkshire rebels, led by Scrope of Bolton and Sir John Conyers, staunch supporters of the house of Neville, were still under arms. Immediately Edward responded; John Neville, Lord Montagu now Duke of Bedford, was put in command of operations in the north, charged with snuffing out the conspiracy. At Grantham, the King’s southern affinity was swelled by the arrival of Norfolk and Suffolk, Lord Mountjoy and John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester [28]. By 16th March the royal army had attained Newark, additional measures were taken to deal with the flutterings in the west, whilst correspondence shuttled back and forth between Edward and the two rebel peers. The pair intimated they were bent on complying with the royal summons and would attend upon the King at Retford. More tosh, of course, as they were hoping to salvage something from the wreck of their treachery by joining the northern affinity at Rotheram. Edward’s replies were, in the circumstances moderate, he promised clemency, though would not commit to a formal safe conduct: for Warwick and Clarence this undertaking must be unequivocal. The King riposted by staging another demonstration of the penalties for treason, at Doncaster this time; Robert Welles and Richard Warren beacame the doomed players in a very public display of the headsman’s art.   

To further weaken his opponents’ position, Edward cannily offered a general amnesty, a route to escape many were happy to take [29]. For Warwick and Clarence it must, by now, be horribly clear their plans were steadily and irrevocably unravelling. Even as they pressed northwards, the King was readying his army for a further trial of strength. By sunrise on Tuesday 20th March his divisions were under arms and marching in battle array. This time there would be no contact; when his prickers trotted into Rotheram they found the streets empty; both rebel lords fled and their northern affinity dissolved. Warwick and Clarence, with such retainers they had in hand, were galloping over the stark uplands of the Pennines to seek out Lord Stanley in the unlikely hope he might, even yet, throw in with them.  They were now more hunted fugitives than rebels under arms.

Edward moved rapidly northwards; by 22nd March, his army was at York. On the 24th he issued a final warning to his brother and cousin; they had four days only remaining in which to submit – unconditional surrender, thereafter all offers of clemency were withdrawn [30]. Even before this ultimatum he had taken the precaution of writing to Fitzgerald, the Lord Deputy of Ireland, intimating Clarence was deprived of office to be replaced by Worcester whilst Lord Wenlock at Calais was apprised of Warwick’s removal. Scrope and Conyers had clearly detected which way the wind was blowing and hurried to crave the King’s mercy, whilst this was forthcoming Edward was aware of just how dangerous this Neville domination of the north could be. He had reinstated the Percy heir as 4th Earl and John Neville appeared satisfied with the estates he had received as compensation, his loyalty in the recent crisis had proved unshakeable. Clarence had, after all, been trying to stir up resentment in the south-west amongst the rump of the Courtenay affinity – he was rewarded with a marquisate.

Although Henry Percy came from solid Lancastrian stock, the emasculation of the family, as local rivals to the Nevilles, had proven dangerous. A monopoly of magnatial influence, especially in so sensitive an area, was fertile ground for disaffection and a ready source of fighting men for whom a greater loyalty to the throne might not carry anything like so much pull as the local comnnection. In the north-west Stanley was not placed to offer the rebel peers any succour, the King’s youngest brother, Richard of Gloucester still in his teens, was moving eastwards from Wales bringing further crown forces, Warwick and Clarence now fled to the south-west, relying on the Courtenay faction to assist in their escape, for flight was now the only course left open to them. Edward had already dispatched officers bearing commissions to raise the western shires; he hurried his army in their wake, arriving at Exeter on 14th April. He would allow his enemies no respite.

The Earl, knowing the situation was hopeless, had resolved to quit the realm and take ship for Calais; with him went his countess and both daughters. Isobel, Clarence’s wife was, by now, great with child. Having raised additional forces in the west, the King now marched eastwards. By 25th April he was in Salisbury, concerned his enemies might attempt a landing somewhere on the south coast. But Warwick, having sailed from Devon, was making for his old lair of Calais, pausing only to attempt an abortive cutting out action against loyal ships in Southampton harbour. The new Earl Rivers, the Queen’s brother Anthony, would have no difficulty in remembering this was the very man who had slaughtered his father and brother and who, before that had earlier humiliated him at Sandwich. The attack was seen off with loss and the fugitive earl failed to secure his own favoured ship, the refitted Trinity.

If this was disheartening, Calais was worse. Wenlock was of Warwick’s affinity but the garrison and and the marshal, Lord Duras, were more inclined to remain loyal to the crown; consequently the exiled Gascon ordered the guns run out. Warwick might have expected a salute from the massed ordnance – he did not anticipate whistling roundshot. Wenlock, as it appeared, was true to the crown and received great largesse. In fact he was playing a careful double game, outwardly Edward’s man but, in fact, faithful to his Neville allegiance, as noted by Philippe de Commynes, acting as Charles the Bold’s envoy:

‘Wherefore he [Wenlock] advised him [Warwick], as the best thing he could do, to retire into France, and not to concern himself for Calais, for of that he would give him a fair account upon the first opportunity. He did his captain good service by giving him that counsel, but none at all to his king. Certainly no man ever showed such great loyalty as Lord Wenlock, considering the King of England had made him Governor in Chief of Calais, and the Duke of Burgundy settled a large pension upon him’ [31]

There was, in such circumstances, no question of the rebels’ diminuitive fleet being able to break in by force and Duras had already requested aid from the Burgundians, should any be needed [32]. Charles the Bold was soon given cause to rue his hostility and even though an English fleet was already in the Channel, in hot pursuit, the Earl could not resist the temptation of a large Burgundian merchant convoy, with as many as three score vessels: Warwick took them all as prizes and continued to sail toward the west, gobbling up other targets of opportunity as fast as they could be sighted. The choleric Charles, fuming at this insult, prepared a squadron in the haven of Sluys, site of Edward III great naval victory in 1340. Lord Howard, commanding the English men o’war, came up with the rebel Earl and a sharp fight ensued, the outcome was indecisive but the King’s ships were at least able to relieve Warwick of some of his prizes.

With his treasury made good by the fruits of piracy the Earl sailed into the French port of Honfleur, effectively offering his sword to Louis XI. The King of France was, of course, already providing sanctuary for Warwick’s arch adversary Margaret of Anjou and he rather took fright at the notion he might become a target for retaliation both from England and from Burgundy. Warwick had been comprehensively outmatched he was not yet defeated; the Kingmaker had yet to play his trump, the neglected and largely forgotten figure of Henry VI. The paladin of York, who had shed so much blood to win the throne for Edward, who had lost both father and brother to the vengeful Lancastrians was poised to broker the most astounding alliance of his colourful career and, in so doing plunge England back into the cycle of dynastic violence that would ruin both his own house and that of Lancaster.

Edward IV, for his part, knew full well the mettle of his enemy and that his crown would never sit easy whilst the Kingmaker was at large. His presence on the continent, even without the great bastion of Calais, was cause for vigilance. It was some comfort that Warwick and Clarence had won very limited support from the magnates. Lord Stanley had flirted with their cause; Scrope had been more active but was easily cowed. Two of the Earl’s brothers in law John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury and John de Vere, Earl of Oxford had lent support, the latter had now also fled to France.

Those who had been actual leaders of the Lincolnshire rising had all been summarily dealt with. The ruthless manner of their taking off showed the King had imbibed lessons in realpolitik from his cousin, this was a different King to that which had been so easily outmanoeuvred the previous year. Those of the gentry who had been implicated, knights like Sir Geoffrey Gate, (captured in the abortive attack on Southampton), would find themselves arraigned before John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester, now appointed as Constable and whose penchant for refined brutality would garner widespread opprobrium [33]. Gate was fortunate in that he received clemency. Others did not, in all slightly more that half a hundred men, mainly of the middling sort and primarily drawn from Warwick’s affinity, shire gentry such as Sir Walter Wrottesley and Sir Edward Gray, were on the list. Thought the Lincolnshire rebellion was over peace was, by no means yet assured.  


[1] Henry had been captured in July 1465 in Lancashire – Warkworth p. 5. Harlech did not in fact finally capitulate until 14th August, 1468. 

[2] Elizabeth refused to submit allegedly as she might be too lowly for a royal wife, but she was above being the King’s whore. The King was not accustomed to refusal; see Lander, op. cit., p. 105n.

[3] An example was the union between the young John Woodville and the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, who was approaching 80! From September 1464 – 1470, every English Earl in the market for a wife was accommodated from the Woodville supply of daughters.

[4] Goodman, op. cit., p. 72.

[5] CSPM i 117 – 118,

[6] Lander, op. cit., p. 114.

[7] Ibid., p. 109.

[8] See Appendix 2.

[9] Ditto.

[10] Gillingham, op. cit., p.p. 161 – 162. 

[11] Haigh, op. cit., p. 102.

[12] Goodman, op. cit., p. 72.

[13] Ibid., p. 81.

[14] c. 1429 – 1469.

[15] Sir Thomas, (later 1st Lord Burgh) was the son of the elder Thomas Burgh, who married Elizabeth Percy in 1430, thereby acquiring the manor of Gainsborough, the present Old Hall was built by the son.

[16] Baynard’s Castle was originally an early medieval addition, studding the south west corner of London’s ring of walls, it subsequently became a palatial residence, now vanished it is commemorated by Castle Baynard Street, south of Old Victoria Street. Part of the action of Richard III takes place there.

[17] The Prior of St. Johns was Warwick’s creature and had briefly acted as Chanellor during the Earl’s ascendancy in 1469; see Gillingham, op. cit., p. 169.

[18] Tattershall Castle, in Lincolnshire, a prime example of the castle as country house, Built by Ralph, Lord Cromwell, who had been Treasurer to Henry VI in red brick and designed for comfort rather than defence, presently intact and in the care of the National Trust.

[19] ‘The Chronicle of the Lincolnshire Rebellion’ p.p. 5 – 12.

[20] Ibid., p.p. 5 – 12.

[21] Ibid., p.p. 5 – 12.

[22] Ibid., p.p. 5 – 12. 

[23] Ibid., p.p. 5 – 12.

[24] Ibid., p.p. 5 – 12.

[25] Gillingham, op. cit., p. 172.

[26] John Donne is best remembered for a remarkable triptych he commission from the artist Hans Memlinc and which shows he and his wife Elizabeth (Hastings’ sister) being presented to Virgin and Child by their saints Barbara and Catherine, now in the National Gallery, see Lander.op. cit. p.122 n.

[27] ‘The Chronicle of the Lincolnshire Rebellion’ p.p. 5 – 12.

[28] Tiptoft enjoyed a singularly grim reputation for severity.

[29] Sir William Parr was the grandfather of Henry VIII last wife, Catherine Parr, he himself gained considerable influence in the household of Edward IV.

[30] The fugitives were priced at a cash reward of £1,000 or lands with an annual income of £100

[31] All Wenlock could manage in the short term was a gift of wine to ease the suffering of Isobel, who was going through the agonies of childbirth, an added worry for her father. She survived but lost her baby. .

[32] Lander, op. cit., p. 124.

[33] Warkworth records that Tiptoft caused the victims to be hanged drawn, quartered and beheaded, with his own added refinement of anally impaling the remains of the torsos and heads on the same timber spike; see Gillingham op. cit., p. 176.

Thanks to John Sadler for the write up on the battle



Sir James Butler, Earl of WiltshireSir Thomas Dymock, executed


William Lord Hastings

Thomas de la Lande, taken prisoner

John Lord Howard

Richard Warren, executed

John Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk

Lord Welles, executed

Edward IV, King of England

Sir Robert Welles, executed

John De La Pole, Duke of Suffolk


Sir John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester


©The Richard III Foundation, Inc.


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