Battle of Tewkesbury

May 4, 1471

The Campaign of Tewkesbury

Edward had no illusions that his troubles were yet at an end. Contrary winds had delayed Margaret of Anjou’s expedition at Honfleur, the elements worked in the Yorkists favour preventing a junction with Warwick’s forces which could easily have proved decisive. On the day of Barnet the Queen made landfall at Weymouth and a further trial of arms became inevitable. Sir John Paston had fought in Oxford’s division and wrote to his mother after the fight, giving news of his own survival and giving also an impression of the fevered state of the capital, in those uncertain days of April, 1471:

Mother, I commend myself to you and let you know, blessed be God, my brother John is alive and well, and in no danger of dying. Nevertheless he is badly hurt by an arrow in his right arm below the elbow, and I have sent a surgeon to him, who has dressed the wound; and he tells me that he hopes he will be healed within a very short time, John Mylsent is dead. God have mercy on his soul; Wiliam Mylsent is alive and all his other servants seem to have escaped’ [2].

In these extraordinary times, it was small wonder that people should sense a hint of divine judgement in the air. The changes in authority were bewildering and constant. Henry VI, who had been King, then deposed and largely forgot, had been King again, but was now, again deposed. His Queen Margaret of Anjou, with her son Edward of Lancaster, was come into the West Country to attempt a further restoration. For Edward who had lost his throne to Warwick temporarily in 1469, won in back, held it then lost it again in 1470 and now, after a major trial of arms, recovered the sceptre once again, must yet again fight to hold it. Margaret had, upon landing, proceeded to Cerne Abbey to confer with her lieutenants Somerset and Courtenay, whose defection has so weakened Warwick’s army. She had every right to be concerned, for her son’s life stood at hazard should she fail, the most precious jewel of Lancaster; if Edward fell, his house fell with him. Somerset was bullish as to her prospects of raising fresh forces, despite the loss of Warwick’s army [3].

Pembroke believed his Welsh connections still held good, there was hope of support from Lancashire and Cheshire. Edward had disbanded a proportion of the army, which had fought so well for him at Barnet but, by 19th April, he had established his command post at Windsor and was garnering fresh supplies of men and materiel. Margaret, having decided the die was cast, proved equally active, carrying her recruiting banner through the far west aiming at Exeter. She hoped to raise the nucleus of her army there, before veering north and west to seek out Pembroke’s Welsh fellowship though, cleverely, she sent out fighting patrols due eastwards, to convey an impression she might be headed straight for London. The threat to the Yorkist regime, nothwithstanding the elimination of Warwick, remained potent.

By the last day of April both sides were moving toward contact. Edward, knowing he must strike swiftly to contain the threat, had moved up through Abingdon to Cirencester. He must seek to scotch the snake before the contagion of rebellion could spread from the west. Margaret, meanwhile, had gained Bath, a general engagement, at this time, was not advisable. Her forces were still too thin to confront those of the King besides; this Yorkist had a formidable reputation already. He had defeated Pembroke at Mortimer’s Cross, Somerset’s brother at Towton, dispersed a rebel army at Empingham, dealt with Warwick and Montagu.

On the first day of May the Queen turned toward Bristol, her intention being to seize a quantity of ordnance kept there – the King’s army being much better furnished with guns. She met with no resistance, possibly quite the reverse, but Edward was closing the gap, his army, by dusk, being at Malmesbury. This diversion, on Margaret’s part, was a considerable risk, for she needed to cross the Severn as quickly as possible to avoid being cut off. The nearest crossing was at Gloucester and Edward was fast narrowing the gap. Margaret was not seeking battle, she would not do so until her forces could be swelled by the Welsh, to beat the King she had, for the moment, to avoid contact. 

It is possible that Lancastrian scouts had not done their job thoroughly, and that the Queen did not, on 1st May, appreciate just how close the hounds were. By the 2nd she knew better and embarked on a dash for Gloucester and the Severn crossing. Easiest route was through Berkeley but this veered toward Malmesbury and she had no reason to doubt the watchfulness of the King’s prickers who were doing good service. Cunningly, she devised a stratagem to lure the Yorkists from the scent. The Lancastrian van was sent toward the high ground of Sodbury Hill, the southerly spur of the Cotswold Hills and the obvious ground if one were proposing to contest Bristol which was, after all, the second city of the realm [4]. The King’s provosts hurrying to seek billets in Sodbury, found themselves suddenly, and most unexpectedly, in the hands of their enemies. This misfortune completed the lure; the main body of Queen Margaret’s host passed to the west of the town and marched directly for Berkeley. It was noon by the time Edward came up to Sodbury, expecting to fight that day, only to discover the Lancastrian van was now a retiring rearguard and he had been thoroughly humbugged.     

Whilst the King’s prickers frantically scoured the ground for their vanished enemies, Edward fretted and Margaret made the most of the hiatus to put as much ground between them as possible. By that evening, after a forced march of 23 miles on a warm spring day, the footsore Lancastrians reached Berkeley, having gained a 12 mile lead over their opponents still impotently astride Sodbury Hill. A further march of 14 miles would bring them safe to Gloucester. Sometime after midnight on the 3rd May, the Queen led her weary column once more onto its line of march. When, later that morning, possibly as dawn was breaking in the east, on what promised to be another hot and wearying day, the King’s scouts brought him definite news of his enemy’s wherabouts. He had been outwitted but the game was far from finished. A hurried council of war was summoned; was the Queen aiming for Gloucester or possibly heading upstream to Tewkesbury [5]. Swiftly, as the army prepared top march on, perhaps around 5.00 a.m., a galloper was sent off toward Gloucester bidding the governor deny the enemy the river crossing at all costs and that relief was at hand. With this sound precaution, the King must next decide to follow his enemy over the flat alluvial plain or stick to the higher ground on the Cotsworld ridge. Deployed in column of divisions, the army began its hot and exhausting march.

Queen Margaret had done well; she had outmanoeuvred the greatest captain of the day and brought her army to the gates of Gloucester. But here, her luck changed, the Yorkist governor, Sir Richard Beauchamp proved resolute, the gates were barred and the town’s defences commanded the bridge, the vital bridge that spanned the Severn and spelt deliverance for the weary army. Edward’s messenger had fulfilled his task; true, she could take the place at the point of the sword but time, as Beauchamp knew, was on his side, not hers. Margaret could not risk being attacked by Yorkist reinforcements coming up as her men struggled to gain the walls.  There was simply no choice; the footsore companies must trudge the extra ten, hot and exhausting miles to Tewkesbury.

‘… upon the Friday to about ten of the clock they were comen afore Gloucester; where their intent was utterly denied them by Richard Beauchamp, and other of the king’s servants that, for that cause, the king had sent thither. Notwithstanding, many of the inhabitants of that town were greatly disposed towards them, as they had certain knowledge. Of this demeaning they took right great displeasure, and made great menaces, and pretended as though they would have assaulted the town, and won it upon them, but, as well those that kept the town as the said enemies that so pretended, knew well, that the king with a mighty puissance was near to them…’ [6]

It is a tribute to the Queen and her officers, that this raw and largely untrained army should march 24 miles in a bare 15 hours and, despite the rebuff at Gloucester, still attain Tewkesbury by late afternoon, around 4.00 p.m. [7]. The ferry at the lower Lode, one mile south-west of the settlement, was not defended but proved far from ideal as a crossing place. It would require far too much time for the whole army to get over, with the attendant peril that the Yorkists would be upon them, the troops half upon both banks. There was no alternative but to establish a defensive perimeter on a gentle ridge that swelled just to the south of the town. Edward was in hot pursuit, anxious to come to grips and prevent the crossing, anxious also to make up for the deficiencies of the previous day. As the author of the Arrivall records, the day grew hot and airless, the uplands bare of running water, whereby the encumbered troops might refresh themselves and slake the thirst that gripped them, food, equally was in short supply, the men had only their bare rations to sustain them. Both armies had with them an artillery train and it was these monsters, the great guns which dictated the pace. Each gun needed a team of oxen to draw, pioneers to level the way ahead as best as could be managed, whilst sweating gun captains and matrosses heaved and cursed their iron charges over bad ground on worse roads.

It was at Prinknash that the host moved off the ancient upland track, the Portway and, passing through Birdlip, entered Cheltenham – perhaps an hour after the Lancastrians had reached Tewkesbury. Their enemies were now but five miles distant but the army, in 24 hours, had toiled over 31 miles of difficult ground. Neither side was fit to fight but Edward was determined the foe would not slip the net a second time. So, after a much needed halt to rest and consume such victuals as could be doled out; the march, in the cool night, was resumed. A further halt was ordered at Tredington; Tewkesbury was scarcely three miles away. None of the parched and weary men could doubt that the fruit of all their labours, nearly 60 miles of hard marching in three days [8], would be a battle on the morrow.

The Battle

The campaign of Tewkesbury is in many ways more complex than that of Barnet; the marches are more extended and detailed, the ground, in some ways less certain, but the objectives of both sides remain crystal clear. The Lancastrians needed to get safe across the broad reaches of the Severn whilst the Yorkists must prevent them. Despite Queen Margaret’s best and sustained efforts, strenuous marches and clever ruses, a battle on the east bank of the river could not be avoided. The Arrivall contends that the Queen’s officers had chosen their ground well:

‘Upon the morrow following, Saturday the 4th day of May, [the king] apparelled himself, and all his host set in good array; ordained three wards [divisions]; displayed his banners; did blow up the trumpets; committed his cause and quarrel to Almightyt God, to our most blessed lady his mother, Virgin Mary, the glorious martyr Saint George, and all the saints; and advanced directly upon his enemies; approaching to their field, which was strongly in a marvellously strong ground pight [placed], full difficult to be assailed’ [9].

Two roads led to the town of Tewkesbury: looking from the east, the left hand way came from Gloucester, along which the Lancastrians had come, whilst that on the right, from Cheltenham, was the passage followed by the Yorkists. A narrow cross lane, like the bar of a capital ‘A’ linked the two, a mile or so south of the town, between Gupshill Manor and the site of Bloody Meadow. On the swell of rising ground north of the lane, parallel to it, the Lancastrians were deployed. Colonel Burne, in his assessment of the ground, finds that the terrain is less enclosed than the chronicler suggests, even allowing for subsequent clearance and drainage. Queen Margaret had delegated tactical command of her army to Somerset, the most experienced of her commanders and he had, in the circumstances, chosen his ground well, given that the need to fight had largely been forced upon him. Southwards from Tewkesbury the land rises to a level plateau with an open, cultivated area, known as the Gastons. To the south-west, as the ridge declines, a stream runs over the Bloody Meadow and into the Avon, north of its confluence with the mighty Severn [10]. Southwards and to the east is another low ridge, with Stonehouse farm now located on the crown. A further slight emminence, wooded at the time, and called the Park, lies south of the stream.

Our understanding of the ground is hampered by the fact the modern road cuts diagonally across the field, passing by the right flank of the Lancastrian centre. Somerset placed his divisions between two watercourses, his left by Swillgate Brook and the right resting on Coln Brook. The total frontage is some 700 yards, which would allow the comfortable deployment of a force perhaps 5,000 strong [11]. The scrub and timber, hedges and mires which may have hindered the Yorkist advance were the main impediment to the attackers. There appears to be no suggestion that the defenders had the time, nor indeed the energy, after their fatiguing marches, to construct field works or dig ditches.     

Somerset himself took the right of the line, command of the centre was entrusted to Edward of Lancaster; the Prince, now aged 17, had been bred to hate the Yorkist faction and thirst for their blood. Today he would have his chance, advised by the veterans Lord Wenlock and Sir John Langstruther, Prior of St. John. This choice of Wenlock was somewhat ironic, a former adherent of Warwick, his nominee at Calais, who had fought for the Yorkists at Towton, reflected the dangerous fusion of diehard Lancastrians and turncoat Yorkists. On the left, John Courtenay, titular Earl of Devon commanded. His brigade stood to the left of the Cheltenham road, deployed between the highway and the stream.

Such ordnance as the army possessed, was placed between the foot divisions in the usual way. In the strong morning light, Queen Margaret and her son, neither of whom had been in England for eight years, rode solemnly along the line to cheer the men. Whether the Queen’s poor English was sufficient to permit a rousing address is unclear [12], but her son was the grandson of Henry V, who had his baptism of fire at Shrewsbury, over three score years before and whilst still a youth. It remained to be seen if this Edward could emulate his illustrious forbear. They were not long kept waiting, Edward was anxious to engage and his army came from the Cheltenham Road in the calm of first light, the tramp of thousands of harnessed men echoing through the narrow lanes. The Yorkists crossed the Swilgate Brook at Tredington, beginning to echelon to the left, pivoting on the present location of Stonehouse farm. Edward, with his officers, will have been well to the fore; this ground afforded a good view of the enemy line and confirmed the strength of their disposition.

As the army deployed from column into line the King replaced Hastings, who had led the van until this point, with his brother Gloucester. This was not an exercise in favouritism, the left would face Somerset’s right and the circumstances thus demanded a proven officer in command. Hastings was a trusted adherent who, in terms of loyalty, had never faltered. His performance at Barnet had, however, been desultory, even allowing for the serious disadvantage of being outflanked at the outset. Peter Hammond takes the view that Edward felt his energetic younger brother was simply more capable. With the van, on the left, facing Somerset, Gloucester’s extreme flank, protected to a degree, by the Coln Brook, the remaining two divisions deployed to their right. The lane, cutting across from the two larger roads, lay to their front and the King took command in the centre, keeping Clarence, as ever by his side  whilst Hastings, his flank resting on the stream, now had the right opposite Devon.  

As the two forces stood, fully arrayed and some 400 yards apart, silk banners and burnished plate brilliant in the morning light, the engagement began with an artillery duel. In this the Yorkists had the greater weight of shot and must have gained an early advantage, the fearful crack of the great guns reverberating, vast clouds of vile sulphurous smoke drifting over the field. It is unlikely that skipping roundshot caused many casualties on either side but the battering would prove a frightful test of nerve. The science of gunnery, especially on the field, was relatively new and if the guns had not yet acquired their full killing power and dominance, the effect of bombardment, especially on raw troops, would be considerable.

To simply stand and ‘take it’ requires discipline together with high morale and even these can swiftly be eroded by the nerve-shattering roar of the cannon. A Devon ploughman dragged but recently from the field was not accustomed to such vast noise, such hellish flame and smoke, as though the very doors of the inferno were opening before him. He was not prepared for the wicked skipping of the iron shot, turning files into mangled screaming bundles of ruined flesh and shattered bones, not prepared to have his comrade’s brains liberally splashed over him. Both sides were at extreme range but an archery duel does seem to have taken place, very likely the bowmen stepped forward to shoot, though again, it is probable that neither side suffered particularly heavy loss as a result:

‘Netheless the king’s ordnance was so conveniently laid afore them, and his vaward so sore oppressed them, with shot of arrows, that they gave them right-a-sharp shower. Also they did again-ward to them, both with shot or arrows and guns, whereof netheless they ne had not so great plenty as had the king’ [13]. 

Even if the actual loss was trifling, Somerset would be keenly aware his men could not endure this torment for long; we have no inkling as to the duration of the cannonade but it was probably of a fairly short span, perhaps ten or fifteen minutes at the very most. Then the Duke launched his attack. The plan was sophisticated and bold; he could perceive that Gloucester’s left flank, even with the burn flowing by, was unsupported: he had also spotted the potential of the small rise which stood half a thousand yards further west, just to the east of the Gloucester road. It would, given the lie of the land, be possible for him to move a significant body of men, unseen by his enemy, over to this hillock, heavily wooded and position them for an attack on the exposed flank of the Yorkist line.

The Duke’s line of advance would be effectively hidden by the stands of timber; a screen of troops would be left in the line to both complete the illusion and support the attack. At the same time Wenlock would advance the centre and thus pin the enemy line whilst Somerset’s attack rolled up the flank. As the guns belched smoke, Somerset led his commanded party on a march to the west, crossing the T junction where the lane met the Gloucester road, swinging westwards and approaching the hillock, fully screened by the rise. They were able to move undetected to the easterly flank of the eminence:

‘In the front of their [the Lancastrians] field were so evil lanes, and deep dykes, so many hedges, trees and bushes, rhat it was right hard to approach them near, and come to hands: but Edmund, called Duke of Somerset, having that day the vaward, whether it were for that he and his fellowship were sore annoyed in the place where they were, as well with guns-shot, as with shot of arrows, which they ne would nor durst abide, or else, of great heart and courage, knightly and manly advanced himself with his fellowship, somewhat aside-hand the king’s vaward, and, by certain paths and ways therefore afore purveyed, and to the king’s party unknown, he departed out of the field, passed a lane [the Gloucester road] , and came into a fair place or close, even afore the king where he was embattled and, from the hill that was in that one of the closes, he set right fiercely upon th’end of the king’s battle [author’s italics] [14]

King Edward had not been compleely blind to the potential of the high ground west of the hillock – the Park and he had detached two companies of billmen from the centre. It is likely that this commanded party, chosen men, would have taken station on the southern edge of the wooded hillock so that, as Somerset completed his deployment, they were poised to assail his exposed right flank! It was a very singular situation. As the Lancastrian division surged forward against Gloucester’s flank, they achieved an immediate advantage, imperilling the Duke’s entire position. Gloucester, despite his youth, displayed a genius for command, swinging his men around to form a front facing their attackers. A stout hedge, at the base of the hill, provided a valuable barrier behind which the Duke’s men could re-form their lines relatively unmolested. As this manoeuvre was taking place the remaining two divisions of the King’s army began a leftwards movement to close the gap otherwise created by Gloucester’s shift.

As the position stabilised, melee begining in earnest, the Yorkist detachment flung themselves against Somerset’s exposed flank and rear. The full element of surprise, upon which Somerset was counting, had not been achieved though the blow placed Gloucester in difficulties, only partially relieved by the unexpected pressure from the Yorkist commanded party. Now, if Wenlock launched his attack from the front, the day could still end well for the Red rose. No attack came, Wenlock stayed supine as the tide began, quite rapidly, to turn against Somerset’s division, the Yorkists had steadied and Gloucester could be reinforced without hindrance. This must have been galling for Somerset; his plan was sound but depended on timing and on the full co-operation of his officers. As it was, the battle was being fought piecemeal, surprise and momentum gone, his men, themselves attacked and soon very much on the defensive.

‘The king, full manly, set forth even upon them, entered and won the dyke, and hedge upon them, into the close, and with great violence, put them up towards the hill and, so also, the king’s vaward, being in the rule of the Duke of Gloucester’ [15].

The crisis point for the Yorkists came and went. Wenlock’s inactivity decided the action; Gloucester’s men began to exert pressure on Somerset’s isolated attackers who, unsupported and discomfited, refused to stand, breaking rearwards, back the way they’d come or scrambling for refuge in the Park. The rout hotly pursued by the victors who, in the aptly named Bloody Meadow, took a fearful toll of their beaten adversaries. The ground toward the Avon soon choked with the detritus of battle, abandoned arms and harness with a garnish of corpses

‘… for the said spears of the king’s  party, seeing no likeliness of any bushment in the said wood-corner, seeing alos good opportunity t’employ themselves well, came and brake on, all at once, upon the Duke of Somerset, and his vaward, aside-hand, unadvised, whereof they, seeing the king gave them enough to do afore them, were greatly dismayed and abashed , and so took them to flight into the park, and into the meadow that was near, and into lanes and dykes, where they best hoped to escape the danger: of whom, netheless, many were distressed, taken and slain…’ [16]

Somerset survived; probably he was mounted, survived to confront the unfortunate Wenlock. The taint of treachery hung heavy in the air again, Wenlock was a former Yorkist, his inactivity could have been due to the fog of war, uncertainty, faintheartedness or outright betrayal. The Duke clearly favoured the latter option, for he intemperately dashed out his subordinate’s brains! Whilst his rage may be understood, the effect on the shaken morale of the Lancastrian remnant can be imagined; under pressure from the Yorkist centre and right, they simply gave way, rout, like contagion spread unchecked. As the dam burst a tide of fugitives spilled towards Tewkesbury, the previous scenes enacted in Bloody Meadow were repeated:

‘In the winning of the field such as abode hand-strokes were slain incontinent; Edward, called Prince was taken, fleeing to the town wards, and slain, in the field’ [17].

For the house of Lancaster this moment spelt the doom of all hopes for, amongst the bloodied bundles clothing the stricken field, were the mortal remains of Edward of Lancaster [18]. The Prince had had his test, his baptism of fire, the chance to wrest back his father’s crown and had failed. For Margaret of Anjou this would be the most telling blow, her spirit finally crushed by the loss of her cherished son, sacrificed on the altar of ambition. Lancastrian survivors, including Somerset, fled to the Abbey wherein they sought to claim sanctuary; Prince Edward and the luckless Wenlock were already dead, as was John Courtenay and Sir John Beaufort [19]. These battered survivors in the Abbey were presently joined by King Edward IV, who came in not for sanctuary, but to give thanks to God for his victory and, in a mood of magnanimity, pardoned his surviving enemies skulking there. In law, however, it transpired the Abbey did not have the requisite legal status and the fugitives suddenly found their pardons worthless. On 6th May they were tried by Gloucester, as Constable, and Norfolk as Marshal inevitably being convicted of high treason. Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset. Sir John Langstrother, Sir Hugh Courtenay and Sir Gervase Clifton, along with several others, next took their final journey to the block; some, such as Sir John Fortescue [20], Sir Thomas Ormonde and Sir Henry Roos, were more fortunate and received clemency. The Tewkesbury campaign was ended.

Margaret of Anjou, who had been the mainspring of the Lancastrian cause for so long, was taken the next day and conveyed to captivity in the Tower, almost an empty gesture for she was utterly broken. Later she was moved to less uncomfortable confinement at Wallingford Castle under the more sympathetic care of the Duchess of Suffolk [21]. Edward had added to his considerable laurels with yet another stunning victory and had dealt most effectively with the Lancastrian threat; Somerset and Edward of Lancaster were dead, Queen Margaret a captive, her army destroyed. Yet the King’s labours were not yet at an end; the fine balance of the English polity had been disturbed by continual ripples of dissent; now there was talk of more trouble brewing in the north.  Having seen the convicted traitors dealt with in the confines of the Market Square in Tewkesbury, Edward, on 7th May, set off northwards.

En route to Worcester, the King received the news that Queen Margaret was taken and with her Anne Neville, her daughter in law and now a widow. By 11th May, the royal army had reached Coventry; commissions were sent out to raise further forces to confront any northern rebels. The latter, however, proved to be in fairly short supply. The old Neville affinity was ground down and Percy remained steadfastly loyal, the rising was no more than a scattering of isolated disturbances and most hastened to seek the King’s peace. Northumberland came himself to Coventry on 13th May, no more than a few household knights in his train, a clear indication the north was held in check, Edward was satisfied.

The Bastard of Fauconberg

Matters in the south, particularly in London itself, were less satisfactory; the author of these troubles was Thomas Neville, the Bastard of Fauconberg, cousin to both Edward and Warwick. He had been an adherent of the Neville faction, commanding the Channel squadron with the same buccaneering elan as his illustrious cousin. His command had not been distinguished by any tactical successes but he landed in Kent with several companies drawn from the Calais garrison, on or around 2nd May, with him a brace of stout Neville adherents, Sir Geoffrey Gate and Sir George Brook.  Kent, as before, seemed ripe for mischief and his fellowship soon swelled to perhaps a couple of thousand; the Mayor of Canterbury, Nicholas Faunt, proved sympathetic [22].

From Sittingbourne, he sent correspondence to the burgesses in London, demanding free passage for his army, but promising the men of his host would behave and pay for all they took. The city fathers were swift to reply, denying the request, affirming their loyalty to King Edward and expressing disbelief at Fuaconberg’s asurances of good behaviour [23]. They pointed out that the rebels were effectively without a cause, Warwick, Montagu, Edward of Lancaster and Edmund Beaufort were dead. This letter finished with the helpful suggestion that the Bastard would do best to seek terms from the King. Fauconberg was unlucky in that the City was held by a posse of staunch Yorkists, both Earl Rivers and the Earl of Essex were present, each with a strong fellowship and the Tower was stuffed with men and ordnance. The Mayor, John Stokton and Recorder, Thomas Urswick, both inclined to the King’s faction and the burgeses generally dreaded the notion of an army of freebooters loose in the streets. Apart from the lure of easy spoil, the only asset to be had from London was the person of Henry VI as a talisman to ignite fresh risings.

These strong sentiments failed to deter Fauconberg who, on 12th May, began a series of assaults upon the city both by land and from his ships which had sailed up the Thames. A timber outwork, or barrier, at the southern end of London Bridge, was torched, as were various commercial premises by St. Katherine’s, on the north bank. These were no more than probes, intended to sniff the extent of opposition. But the burgesses had been thorough – the Thames was lined with palisades, studded with ordnance. London would prove a very tough nut indeed. On the 13th the Bastard led his fellowship westwards, along the south bank to Kingston. A crossing here would have exposed the city to an escalade through the northern suburbs but Rivers had several boats stuffed with troops, keeping station with the rebel forces, ready to bar any passage. Time was not on Fauconberg’s side, Edward was on his way and the royal army could be relied upon to deal swiftly with so inferior a force, even if the men could be brought to stand. It is possible that Rivers pointed these salient facts out to Fauconberg in the course of a parley on Kingston Bridge [24]; if so the ploy worked even though Edward’s arrival was less imminent than the Earl may have suggested. The Bastard could not afford to have his small force caught between a superior force and a hostile city, and so withdrew.

He was not yet done though; his army was encamped between Lambeth and Southwark in St. George’s Fields, and he proceeded to attempt the city by storm. This was a thoroughly considered plan, putting in simoultaneous attacks at a number of points to force the defenders into spreading their resources thin. A battery from the ships was entrenched to bombard the city and provide covering fire for infantry assaults on London Bridge. The Bastard’s ships ferried comanded parties to the north bank where they laid on at the Aldgate and Bishopsgate; these attackers were reinforced by a substantive force from Essex, drawn perhaps by the lure of sack.

At all the danger points citizens, bolstered with men at arms from the affinities of both Rivers and Essex, hastened to resist the attackers. The mayor and burgesses commanded companies of chosen men, who dashed from danger point to danger point shorring the defence. The attacks were pressed home with great resolution and the barrier at the Aldgate fell, houses were set on fire, clouds of smoke adding to the din and confusion.

‘… wherefore the Bastard loosed his guns into the city, and brent at Aldgate and at London Bridge; for the which brenning, the commons to London were sore wroth, and greatly moved against them: for and they had not brent, the commons of the city would have let them in, maugre of the Lord Scales’ [Earl Rivers] head, the mayor and all his brother’ [25]

The crisis came here, at Aldgate, even with the barrier lost and in flames the stout portcullis held, but the defenders were shaken and ripples of panic could be felt. The local alderman, Robert Basset, reinforced by the Recorder, Urswick, took the bold decision to raise the portcullis and mount a sally. The Londoners, in stiff fighting, pushed the attackers back towards St. Botolph’s church, then, as the contest hung in the balance, Rivers, choosing his moment, launched a flank attack with his household men, issuing from the Tower postern. The rebels were seen off with loss. This deliverance at Aldgate provided the signal for a general counter-attack. Essex led the charge at Bishopsgate – the city’s gunners had bested Fauconberg’s captains with concentrated counter battery fire. The beleaguered defenders on the Bridge, driven from the southern end, where more than a dozen houses were set ablaze, held the attackers off with more, well-sited ordnance. Everywhere these counter-attacks were pressed home with great resolve, the rebels, already flaky, deprived of covering fire, gave ground and finally fled, routing some five miles to Blackwall whilst numbers were cut down as they ran, or scrambled for safety aboard their ships.

More accustomed to counting houses and guild halls than the melee, the burgesses had done good service, though the opportune presence of Rivers’ and Essex’ men in the city, giving a professional edge to the defence, had significantly helped to tip the balance. Though beaten, with his survivors clinging to the north bank being withdrawn by the ships, Fauconberg did not yet fully conceded defeat, his battered army, lighter by several hundred casualties, clung on at Blackheath for half a week. The ships, however, were withdrawn to Sandwich and the Bastard, with only his professional retainers from the Calais garrison soon followed, leaving the rump of his army leaderless and abandoned.

On 21st May King Edward entered London in triumph, whilst the rebels at Blackheath melted away. The Mayor, the Recorder, John Crosby, a sheriff and nine aldermen received knighthoods for their sterling work in holding the city. In the King’s train were both royal dukes, those of Norfolk, Suffolk and Buckingham, a swathe of earls, including Percy, a cluster of lords their retinues marching with burnished arms, proud banners displayed and, riding captive in a carriage, Margaret of Anjou. It was akin to a Roman triumph, culminating in a service at St. Paul’s. Gloucester, energetic as ever, next led the van towards Kent to settle matters with Fauconberg; the bastard had undoubtedly opened negotiations for his surrender after his repulse. On 26th May, after the bulk of the royal army marched in the wake of Gloucester’s division, Fauconberg formally submitted, surrendering his still impressive fleet of nearly fifty assorted vessels [26]. As the Bastard was bending his knee, the King was at Canterbury, opening an enquiry into the recent troubles; Nicholas Faunt paid for his adherence with his life, as did numerous others throughout the troublesome county. Several of the Essex men who had joined in the attack on Aldgate ended their careers with severed heads displayed above the gate they had failed to storm. Canterbury and Sandwich suffered civic penalties; those not hanged by the neck were, in the parlance of the day, hanged by the purse, swingeing fines were levied on the disaffected [27].

Warkworth gives us a succinct account of the King’s actions in Kent:

‘And after that, the king and all his host rode into Kent to Canterbury, where many of the country that were at Blackheath with the Bastard, were arrested and brought before him; and there was hanged, drawn and quartered, one Fuant of Canterbury, that was loving to the Earl of warwick; which entreated the bastard for to depart from his host; and many divers men of the country were hanged and put to death’ [28]

By the end of May, the King had sufficient leisure to write to his brother in law, Charles the Bold and his former host, Louis of Bruges, informing them of his great victories; the Burgundians ordered bonfires and other celebrations to witness the Yorkist deliverance. Though England was safe, Calais remained uncertain and the garrison did not formally submit until July – Hastings was sent out as governor, with Howard as his deputy, that they carried funds to make good the perennial accrued salaries guaranteed a heartfelt welcome.

When, on 21st May, the King had recovered London, there was one detail outstanding, one final task need to complete the destruction of the House of Lancaster. That night Henry, late King of England was finally put down. The Arrivall ascribes his death to natural causes and perhaps the poor man had sufficient cause to wish himself dead. It is probable that Gloucester supervised the act, even if, contrary to what Shakepeare would have us believe, he did not bear the knife himself. Richard was Constable of England, such a chore was his responsibility but the instruction could only have come from the King, This was not vindictiveness, merely housekeeping; with his son dead and his wife captive, he was just a loose end. Warwick’s Re-adeption and Margaret’s attempt doomed him as surely as the executioner’s blade.

‘And the same night that King edward came to London, King Herry, being inward in prison in the Tower of London, was put to death, the 2st day of May, on a Tuesday night, between eleven and twelve of the clock, being then at the Tower the Duke of Gloucester, brother to King Edward, and many other; and on the morrow he was chested [placed in a coffin] and brought to St. Paul’s, and his face was open that every man might see him; and in his lying he bled on the pament there…’ [29]

Gloucester’s involvement became more direct in the telling. Warkworth, no friend to the House of York, merely states he was spresent in the Tower at the time the old king is supposed to have been killed. By the time we come to Sir Thomas More’s account Richard is the murderer. The sources roughly seem to agree that the time of death was late evening on 21st May, sometime before midnight; this is the date and time given by Warkworth, though the Arrivall differs somewhat [30]. 

On the following morning the dead body of Henry VI was carried to St. Paul’s with suitable ceremony. It remained there for the next 24 hours, with the face of the corpse exposed – this sufficed to show that the old king was dead and that, presumably, his death was due to natural causes. A funeral service was held in Black Friars on the 23rd, then the remains were further conveyed, again with due solemnity, by barge to Chertsey for interrment. Edward did not stint on the expense, nearly one hundred pounds was spent on the ceremonies, Henry was a failed ruler but nonetheless, still a king, and one who had ruled for as long as most people had been alive. With Henry interred, the final shroud could be drawn over the House of Lancaster; it was now and for a second time, the Yorkist Age.


[1] Bisham Abbey: This was founded as a community property by the Templars, taken over by Edward II, when the order was suppressed. For a time, in the Scottish wars the captive queen of Robert the Bruce was housed there. Acquired by the 1st Earl of Salisbury in 1337, it became the final resting place for his successors. .

[2] PL 169 – 170.

[3] Edmund Beaufort had served with Charles of Burgundy buring the campaign and battle of Montlhery, (Pierre de Breze was amongst the casualties on the French side).

[4] Burne, op. cit., p. 119.

[5] The Severn could be successfully crossed in three places: by the bridge at Gloucester which was, however, dominated by the city’s defences. By the ferry a mile or so south of Tewkesbury, which was undefended, but some 10 miles further north. Or, further north still, by another 6 miles, the crossing at Upton on Severn

[6] The Arrivall p.p. 18 – 30.

[7] Beauchamp in fact made a sally against the Lancastrian rearguard and, in the skirmish that followed, captured several of their guns: see Burne, op. cit., p. 124.

[8] Both sides had marched some 59 miles, for a tally of the relevant distances, see Burne, op. cit., p. 125 (table).

[9] The Arrivall p.p. 19 – 30.

[10] The name of Severn is said to derive from that of an unfortunate Germanic princess Savren, who was ritually drowned in the waters following a defeat. 

[11] As to numbers; it is lilkely the Lancastrians could field some 5,000 – 6,000 men, the Yorkists rather less, see P.W. Hammond, The Battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury  (England 1990), p. 95: each division of the respective armies would contain 1,500 – 1,800 soldiers allowing for a tactical reserve.

[12] Tradition asserts the Queen watched the battle from Tewkesbury Abbey; see Hammond, op. cit., p. 94.

[13] The Arrivall p.p. 18 – 30.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Edward of Lancaster was most probably slain on the field or in the rout. Correspondence from Clarence to Henry Vernon, dated 6th May, refere to the Duke’s brother in law being ‘slayn in playn bataill’.  A note from the Milanese ambassador of 2nd June, says the Prince was taken and killed. For a full discussion; see Hammond, op. cit., Appendix 2 p. 123..  

[19] He was Somerset’s brother-in-law.

[20] Sir John Fortescue had been chief Justice under Henry VI and had borne exile with Queen Margaret, he was eventually pardoned, see Hammond op. cit. p. 101.

[21] The Arrivall p.p. 18 – 30.

[22] A former adherent of the Earl of Warwick.

[23] Hammond, op. cit., p. 105.

[24] Ibid., p. 107.

[25] Warkworth p.p. 19 – 22.

[26] The Bastard of Fauconberg controlled the rump of Warwick’s navy, an asset that could not be left in such dangerous hands. His accommodation with the King was shortlived; whether either side intended a lasting accord is perhaps doubtful. In September, he with another illigitimate brother, William Neville was fomenting trouble in the north, or it was expedient to so accuse them. On 28th, September 1471 the Bastard was executed and his severed head spiked atop London Bridge, facing kent, a suitable irony; see Hammond, op. cit., p.p. 112 – 113.

[27] The Commissioners appointed to conduct the enquiry into the matter of the Essex, Kent and Surrey rebels were Lord Dinham and Sir John Fogge. The commission was chaired jointly by the Earl of Essex and Sir William Bourchier. The men of Essex seem to have fared worst, paying heavier fines; see Hammond, op. cit., p. 115.

[28] Warkworth p.p. 19 – 22.

[29] Ibid.

[30] The death of Henry VI has been controversial both as to the exact timing and also the extent of Gloucester’s involvement. Though Warkworth is supported by the GCL in asserting the old king was killed on the 21st – some sources suggest the following day; this may arise out of the time, late in the evening, when the deed is said to have been done: see Hammond, op. cit., Appendix 3, p. 127.


Sir Henry Beaumont of Wednesbury, knighted after battle

Sir Maurice Berkeley of Beverstone, knighted at Tewkesbury

Sir John Bingham of Welcome Bingham, knighted after battle

Sir Humphrey Blount of Kinlet, knighted after battle

Sir Edward Brampton, godson to Edward IV

Sir William Brandon of Sohan Court, knighted at Tewkesbury

Sir John Brooke, Lord Cobham, knighted after battle

Sir George Browne of Betchworth, knighted after battle

Sir John Clay of Cheshnut, knighted after battle

Sir Richard Corbet of Moreton Corbet, knighted after battle

Sir Thomas Cornewall of Berrington, knighted after battle

John Courtenay of Exminster and Kenn, knighted and made a banneret at Tewkesbury

Sir Philip Courtenay of Kingston and Molland, knighted

Sir John Crocker of Lineham, knighted after battle, standard bearer to Edward IV

Sir Richard Croft of Croft, knighted after battle

Sir James Crowner of Tunstall, knighted on the field after battle

Sir John Donne of Kidwelly, knighted after battle

Sir Henry Ferrers of Peckham, knighted at Tewkesbury

Sir John Ferrers, knighted after battle

Sir Robert Green of Hayes, knighted after battle

Sir Henry Grey of Crawdon, knighted and made banneret after battle

Sir Thomas Grey, Lord Ferrers, Marquis of Dorset, part command of the right wing

Sir Robert Harrington of Badsworth, knighted at Tewkesbury

Sir John Harley of Brampton, knighted after battle

Sir Ralph Hastings o fHarrowden and Wanstead, knighted at Tewkesbury and created banneret

Sir Richard Hastings, knighted at Tewkesbury

Sir William Hastings, Lord Hastings, commanded the right wing

Sir John Heveningham of Heveningham, created knight banneret

Sir Roger Kynaston of Middle and Hordley, knighted at Tewkesbury

Sir Nicholas Latimer of Duntish, created knight banneret after Tewkesbury

Sir John Lingen of Sutton and Stoke Edith, knighted at Tewkesbury

Sir Nicholas Longford of Longford, knighted at Tewkesbury

Sir Thomas Montgomery of Faulkborn, joined Edward IV’s army at Nottingham, fought at Barnet and Tewkesbury, escorted Margaret of Anjou home to France

Sir Simon Montfort of Coleshill, created knight banneret after Tewkesbury

Sir Christopher Moresby of Scaleby and Windermere, knighted at Tewkesbury

Sir Williwm Motton of Pickleton, knighted at Tewkesbury

John Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, hereditary Earl Marshall of England, presided over the trial of the Lancastrian prisoners with Richard, Duke of Glouceste

Sir George Neville, Lord of Abergavenny, knighted at Tewkesbury

Sir John Parr of Westminster, knighted at Tewkesbury

Sir Henry Pierrepoint of Holbeck Woodhouse, knighted at Tewkesbury

Sir John Pilkington of Pilkington and Sowerby. knighted at Tewkesbury

Edward Plantagenet, King Edward IV, commanded the Yorkist forces

George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence, brother to Edward VI and Richard, Duke of Gloucester, fought with the middle ward of the army

Richard Plantagenet, Duke of Gloucester, later Richard III, brother to Edward IV and George, Duke of Clarence, commanded the left wing of the Yorkist army

Sir Poole, knighted at Tewkesbury

Sir Laurence Rainsford of Rainsford, Queen Margaret stayed at Gupshill Manor before the battle; afterwards the manor house was in the possession of the Rainsford family

Sir Richard Ratcliff, knighted at Tewkesbury

Sir Roger Ree of Woodham Ferrers, knighted at Tewkesbury

Sir Terry Robsart of Norfolk, knighted at Tewkesbury

Sir John St. Lo of Chew Magna, knighted at Tewkesbury

Sir William Sandys of The Vyne and Andover, Hants, knighted at Tewkesbury

Sir John Savage of Clifton, knighted at Tewkesbury

Sir John Saunders, knighted at Tewkesbury

Sir John Skrene of Essex, knighted at Tewkesbury

Sir John Stanley of Elford, created knight banneret

Sir William Stanley of Holt, created knight banneret

Sir Thomas Strickland of Sizergh, knighted at Tewkesbury

Sir Roger Tocotes of Bromham, created knight banneret

Sir James Tyrell of Gipping, knighted at Tewkesbury

Sir Thomas Vaughn, in exile with Edward IV, fought at Barnet and Tewkesbury

Sir John Willoughby, knighted at Tewkesbury

Sir Henry Wingfield, knighted at Tewkesbury

Sir Thomas Wingfield, knighted at Tewkesbury

Sir Edward Wodehouse of Kimberley, knighted at Tewkesbury 





Sir John Arundel of Lanherne, received a general pardon on 19 July, 1471, for being at Tewkesbury

Sir Humphrey Audley, executed after battle

Henry Barron, killed in battle

John Basset, taken prisoner and later pardoned, died in 1485

Sir Robert Baynton of Farleston, taken prisoner and later pardoned, died in 1472

Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, commanded the Lancastrian army, executed after battle

John Beaufort, Marquesss of Dorset, killed in battle

Sir William Boteler of Warrington, died 8 June, 1471 from wounds in battle

John Butler, Earl of Ormond, reported killed in battle

Thomas Butler, Earl of Ormond, received a pardon after battle

Sir William Cary of Cockington, executed after battle

Robert Clerke, executed after battle

Sir Gervaise Clifton of Brabourne, executed after battle

Sir Hugh Courtenay, executed after battle

John Courtenay, Earl of Devon, son of Hugh Courtnay, killed during battle

Walter Courtenay of Exeter, killed in battle

Thomas Cruyws of Cruyws Morchard, according to family tradition either died from wounds received in battle or executed after battle

Jhn Daunt of Wootton-under-edge, killed in battle

Sir John Delves, executed after battle

Edward of Lancaster, Prince of Wales, killed on the field of battle

Sir William Fielding of Lutterworth, killed in battle

Sir Thomas Fitzhenry of Monnington, reported slain by Warkworth, but mentioned in August 1471 as being pardoned

John Flory, standard bearer to the Duke of Somerset, executed after battle

Sir John Fortescue, pardoned after battle

Sir Thomas Fulford, pardoned after battle

Sir John Giles, pardoned after battle

Mr. Gough, executed after battle

John Gower of Clapham, sword bearer to Edward of Lancaster, executed after battle

Sir William Grimsby of Grimsby, pardoned after battler

Sir Edward Hampden of Beckley, killed in battle

William Hemmer, died in battle

Sir Nicholas Hervey of Eastbury in Godalming, killed in battle

Robert Jackson, executed after battle

William Joseph, King’s secretary, received pardon on 17 December 1471

Sir Robert Knollys, killed in battle

Lechfield of Westminster, beheaded after battle

Sir William Lermouth of Bamburgh, killed in battle

Sir John Lewkenor of West Grinstead, killed at Tewkesbury

Queen Margaret of Anjou, taken prisoner after battle but pardoned as “Ladye Margaret qwene”

Dr Ralph Makerell, Parson of Risby, companion of Queen Margaret and John Morton, pardoned by Edward IV after battle

Lewis Miles, Lancastrian squire, beheaded after battle

Dr. John Morton of Bere Regis, afterwards Bishop of Ely, Archbishop of Canterbury and Cardinal, pardoned after battle

Sir William Newburgh of East Lulworth, executed after battle

John Parker, squire, pardoned by Edward IV after battle

Sir Seinclere Pomeroy of Berry Pomeroy, killed in battle (?) post mortem states he died on 31 May 1471

Sir Henry Roos of West Grinstead, executed after battle

Sir John Seymour, knight, killed in battle

Sir Thomas Seymour, knight, killed in battle

Thomas Tarlaway, killed in battle

John Throckmorton of Haresfield, pardoned after battle

Sir Thomas Thresham of Sywell, executed after battle

John Turnbull of Calais, beheaded after battle

Sir John Urman, killed in battle

Sir William Vaux of Harrowden, killed in battle

John, Lord Wenlock of Someries, joint commander of the Lancastrian centre, killed by the Duke of Somerset

Sir Robert Whittingham of Salden, killed at Tewkesbury

John Walleys, pardoned after battle

Henry Wrottesley, killed at Tewkesbury

John Wroughton of Broad Hinton, Lancastrian squire, pardoned after battle




Battle of Tewkesbury
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