7 Key Battles in the War of the Roses
7 Key Battles in the War of the Roses

7 Key Battles in the War of the Roses

Patrick Lynch - October 8, 2016

7 Key Battles in the War of the Roses
www.times-series.co.uk (Battle of Barnet 1471)

5 – Battle of Barnet – 1471

In the decade since Towton, quite a lot had happened but not much it took place on the battlefield. There had been battles at Hexham among others but one key event took place in 1465. The hapless Henry VI was once again captured by Edward and was imprisoned in the Tower of London. However, Warwick the Kingmaker was disillusioned by Edward IV’s rule and began a rebellion in 1469. He defeated the king’s forces at Edgecote Moor that year and imprisoned the monarch.

A counter attack forced Warwick to release the king and the Kingmaker fled to France. He returned to English soil in 1470 and helped release Henry VI while Edward was forced to flee to the Netherlands. Henry was restored as king but not for long as Edward returned to England on 14 March 1471 with a small army.

On 14 April, Edward’s force of around 12,000 men met Warwick’s 15,000 man army at Barnet. Edward attacked at 4am without realising how close the enemy actually was. The thick night fog was still prominent and as it transpired, the armies were located in such a way that an advantage could be gained if either army’s right side could wrap around the opposition’s left side. The Lancastrians spotted this first but their achievement in overwhelming the Yorkist left side had no real impact as the fog had damaged visibility so neither side could tell who had the advantage.

This confusion was to cost the Lancastrians dearly; one of their groups mistakenly attacked an ally in the belief that they were Edward’s men. A cry of ‘treachery’ went up and caused mass panic in the Lancastrian ranks. Edward quickly sent his reserves in to destroy the enemy and Warwick’s brother was killed. Warwick attempted to flee but died in the melee. Estimates on the number of casualties vary from 4,000 to 10,000.

7 Key Battles in the War of the Roses
Perry Miniatures – Battle of Tewkesbury 1471

6 – Battle of Tewkesbury – 1471

Edward didn’t have much of a chance to savour his win at Barnet as Queen Margaret had arrived at Weymouth on the day of the battle and quickly increased the size of her army. She was dismayed to learn of Warwick’s death but the queen elected to march north to Wales in order to augment her army with the aid of Jasper Tudor.

Edward learned of his enemy’s plans and quickly moved to intercept them before they could cross the Severn at Gloucester. The Duke of Somerset was in command of the Lancastrian army and was forced to stop for supplies in Bristol; this turned out to be a mistake as it enabled Edward to catch up. Somerset arrived at Gloucester only to find the gates were closed. The exhausted Lancastrians limped on towards Tewkesbury and realised they had to stand and fight.

While Somerset had a slight advantage in manpower (6,000 to approximately 4,000-5,000), his tired troops failed to succeed in a flanking manoeuvre which demoralised them. Once Edward led his men in a charge down the centre of the enemy lines, the Lancastrians offered only token resistance. The Lancastrians were pushed back to the river and hundreds drowned as they looked to escape. Up to 2,000 of Somerset’s men died whereas only 500 or so Yorkists perished.

Somerset and Edward, Prince of Wales were executed after the battle while Margaret also surrendered and was ultimately imprisoned. Soon after Tewkesbury, Edward put down a Lancastrian force commanded by the gloriously named Bastard of Fauconberg and on 21 May 1471, Henry VI was executed in the Tower of London. This marked the end of the Lancastrian royal family but crucially, Henry Tudor was able flee to France. He was the leading male Lancastrian claimant left and while his claims to the throne may have been reasonably tenuous, he was able to make a case for the crown and was destined to change the course of British history.

7 Key Battles in the War of the Roses
www.bbc.co.uk (Henry VII)

7 – Battle of Bosworth Field – 1485

Edward IV became undisputed king in 1471 and reigned until his death in 1483 when he was succeeded by his son Edward V. However, Edward and his brother Richard, Duke of York, were declared illegitimate by Parliament as the marriage between their parents was invalid because the king had a pre-contract of marriage with someone else. Edward IV’s brother became King Richard III in 1483 and it’s likely that the illegitimacy claim was just a way of justifying his usurpation of the throne. Richard probably had his nephews killed although The Princes in the Tower mystery is still one of the most enduring in British history.

Richard III has been vilified throughout history but this could have simply been a case of the Tudors rewriting history. In the meantime, Henry Tudor was in exile in France and his mother urged him to stake his claim for the throne now that Edward IV had died. After a failed attempt to land in England, he finally crossed the English Channel with French assistance and landed in south Wales in August 1485. Although he initially only had 2,000 men, he managed to gain support so by the time he faced Richard’s army near Ambion Hill which is south of Market Bosworth in Leicestershire, his army totalled 5,000 men.

Even though Richard’s army numbered at least 10,000 (up to 15,000 according to some accounts), he was to ultimately lose the battle. Henry was inexperienced in combat and was sensible enough to allow John de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, to command the troops. Another issue was the presence of the Stanley’s (Sir William and Thomas) who had a 6,000 man army. While they had discussions with Henry prior to the battle, they did not immediately take part. Instead, they hung back and waited to see what would happen before making a decision.

At one point in the battle, Richard spotted Henry at the rear of his force and noticed that he wasn’t well defended. He made the fateful decision to try and end the battle there and then and he charged at his rival for the crown. Henry sensibly did not try to engage in the ensuing melee and some of Oxford’s pike men protected the Tudor until extra bodyguards arrived to force Richard back.

William Stanley saw what was happening, made his move and sent his men into battle on Henry’s side. Although Richard had to retreat initially, he refused to flee and threw himself into battle once more. He is supposed to have said: “God forbid that I retreat one step. I will either win the battle as a king, or die as one.” It was the latter outcome for Richard as he was eventually surrounded and hacked to death. When his skeleton was found in 2013, 10 wounds were found including 8 to the skull. Once news of his death spread, his army fell apart and Henry had his victory and his crown. Indeed, he was crowned Henry VII that very day on a nearby hill.

This was essentially the end of the War of the Roses although Henry did have to deal with a pretender called Lambert Simnel in 1487. Simnel claimed to be Edward, Earl of Warwick who was the leading male Yorkist claimant to the throne. Henry dealt with the matter at the Battle of Stoke Field that year and actually pardoned Simnel. The Tudor Dynasty was to reign until the death of Elizabeth I in 1603.

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