Battle of Tewkesbury, 4 May 1471

Into Exile
Help from Warwick
To England!
The Tewkesbury Campaign
The Battle of Tewkesbury
Aftermath

The battle of Tewkesbury (4 May 1471) was a Yorkist victory that saw the death of the Lancastrian heir, Prince Edward, and ended any realistic chances that the Lancastrians could overthrow Edward IV.

Into Exile

The Lancastrian cause had suffered a series of blows at the start of the 1460s. 1459 had been a good year for Margaret of Anjou and Henry VI. They had prepared for war and when the Yorkists made their move they were badly outnumbered. At Ludford Bridge (12-13 October 1459) the Yorkist leaders had realised that their uprising had failed and abandoned their army, fleeing into exile. Richard of York went to Ireland, while Richard Neville, earl of Salisbury, his son Richard Neville, earl of Warwick and York's son Edward of March reached Calais.

Things went badly wrong in 1460. The exiles at Calais landed at Sandwich in June, advanced on London and defeated the Royal army at Northampton (10 July 1460). Henry VI was captured, but his wife and son escaped. When York finally reached London in September he attempted to claim the throne, but was rebuffed by the peers. Eventually he came to an agreement with Henry, who would remain on the throne for the rest of his life, but who made York his heir (Act of Accord). The young Prince Edward was disinherited.

Battles of the Wars of the Roses
Battles of the
Wars of the Roses

This led to a brief Yorkist revival. Rebellions broke out around the country and when York went north to deal with the most dangerous of them he was killed at Wakefield (30 December 1460). Queen Margaret advanced towards London, defeating Warwick at the Second Battle of St. Albans (17 February 1461). Warwick had brought Henry with him to the battle, but lost him in the rout. Henry was reunited with his family, and the Lancastrians briefly threatened London.

This comeback was ended by the young Edward of March, who proved to be a more capable leader than his father. He defeated an army of Welsh Lancastrians at Mortimer's Cross (2 February 1461) then beat the Lancastrians into London. He stopped there long enough to claim the throne as Edward IV and then headed north to deal with the main Lancastrian army. The decisive battle of this phase of the war came at Towton on 29 March 1461. The Lancastrians suffered a crushing defeat, only softened by the escape of the Royal party.

Margaret and Henry reached Scotland, and for the next few years they attempted to keep control of an enclave of Northumberland, with help from Scotland and France. Queen Margaret visited France briefly in 1462 and then went into long term exile with Prince Edward there in August 1463. Henry VI remained in the north, ruling a fraction of his kingdom. Even this was lost after the Battle of Hexham (15 May 1464). Henry was nearly captured after this battle, but escaped to spend the next year in hiding in the north of England. He was finally captured on 13 July 1465 and spent the next five years in the Tower of London.

Help from Warwick

This might have been the end of the Lancastrian cause if it hadn’t been for the ambition of the earl of Warwick. He wasn't happy with only being the second man in the kingdom, and in 1469-70 he made two attempts to seize power. In 1469 his allies defeated Edward's allies at Edgecote (26 July 1469), and he briefly controlled the king. Edward was soon able to re-establish his independence, and at the start of 1470 Warwick made another attempt to take power, this time with the help of Lincolnshire rebels. This time Edward was victorious, defeating the rebels at Losecote Field (12 March 1470). Warwick and his ally George, duke of Clarence (Edward's oldest brother) were forced into exile. When they couldn't get into Calais, they were forced to seek refuge in France.

Louis XI realised that this gave him a chance to restore Henry VI to the throne, and gain England as an ally against his eastern neighbour Burgundy. On 22 July 1470 Warwick knelt before Queen Margaret at Angers, and after this public display of contrition the two sides soon came to an understanding. Warwick promised to invade England and restore Henry VI to power. In return his daughter Anne Neville would marry Prince Edward - once again Warwick was attempting to get his grandchildren onto the throne. Neither Queen Margaret nor Prince Edward would accompany the invasion. Jasper Tudor would represent the Lancastrians while Anne would remain in France. Clarence still had a minor part in the plot - he would become Duke of York - but he would no longer be close to the throne, and his long term future in a restored Lancastrian England must have worried him.

King Edward was aware that Warwick would attempt an invasion, and so he positioned a joint Anglo-Burgundian fleet in the Channel. This would delay Warwick, but medieval warships weren’t really capable of a prolonged blockade and he would eventually be able to slip past. First Edward needed to be pulled away from the south coast, and this was done in the traditional way, with a revolt in the north. This time the revolt broke out in the North Riding of Yorkshire and was led by Warwick's brother in law Lord FitzHugh of Ravensworth. The news reached Edward in August, and he rushed north to deal with the rebellion. He was at York by 14 August and Ripon by 16 August, and faced with the sudden appearance of the Royal army the rebellion collapsed and Lord FitzHugh fled into Scotland. Edward then made a crucial mistake, and remained in the north into September, possibly in an attempt to make sure that Montagu and Percy were still loyal.

On 9 September the weather that had been keeping Warwick in France broke, and he was able to set sail. The invaders landed in Devon and split up. Jasper Tudor went into Wales, while Warwick went to Bristol, where he recovered the artillery he had abandoned earlier in the year. He then moved towards Coventry, raising a sizable army as he went. He wouldn't need it, for this time his brother Montagu had decided to desert Edward. In late September he attempted to capture Edward at Doncaster. The king was dangerously isolated with his army scattered in their quarters, and his only option was flight. By 30 September he was at King's Lynn and on 2 October he sailed into exile.

To England!

On 6 October Warwick entered London in triumph. Henry VI was found in the Tower and was publically acclaimed as king. This period is known as the 'readeption' government, and while it lasted Warwick was finally the power behind the throne. He had a difficult job. Henry was just a figurehead, but Margaret of Anjou would expect to rule, and her son Prince Edward was now seventeen and would soon demand power. Warwick also had to satisfy the Yorkist lords who hadn't fled with Edward - events had take place too fast and without a battle, so there were no forfeitures, but he would also have to find lands for the returning Lancastrians. Edmund Beaufort, the Lancastrian fourth Duke of Somerset was soon back in the country, and others would surely follow. Even so Edward was now in exile with a tiny band of supporters, while Warwick had the support of his powerful brother Montagu. The biggest problem for the 'readeption' government was that Margaret of Anjou didn't move. She remained in France over the winter of 1470-71, thus missing the chance to get the Lancastrian regime firmly established in England.

At first Edward's chances looked poor. He had been welcomed by Louis of Gruthuyse, Charles the Bold of Burgundy's governor of Holland, but the Duke himself couldn't decide what to do. He had supported Edward, but his main aim was to keep England as an ally against the French, or at least neutral. If Henry VI's new government would agree to that, then Charles might never have supported Edward. This was probably never an option - Warwick's support for a French alliance had been one of the causes of the original breach with Edward, so he was unlikely to change his mind now. In December Louis XI repudiated the peace treaty with Burgundy, and by the end of the month Charles had provided Edward with £20,000, a base, troops and part of his fleet. Edward's army embarked at Flushing on 2 March, and were finally able to set sail on 11 March. The tiny fleet sailed up the east coast, and eventually landed at Ravenspur, a lost port on the south-eastern corner of the Yorkshire coast (in the area of Spurn Point).

At first Edward struggled to gain support. He was refused entry to Hull and only allowed to spend one night in York. Support slowly grew as he moved south, but the key moment early in his campaign came on 20 March when Montagu missed an apparent chance to attack Edward at Sandal. From there Edward moved south, slowly gaining strength, until he ran into Warwick at Coventry. The next key moment in the campaign came on 3 April when Clarence publically changed sides, bringing with him the powerful army he had officially raised to support Warwick. Edward offered battle outside Coventry, but Warwick refused to fight. Edward then bypassed Warwick and his army and made a dash for London. He was able to gain access to the city on 11 April, gaining a valuable addition of arms from the Tower. Edward then marched back out of London, and on 14 April defeated Warwick at the battle of Barnet. Warwick was killed in the battle, as was Montagu. Edward had defeated one part of the alliance against him, but on the same day Queen Margaret and Prince Edward finally landed back in England.
 
On 24 March Queen Margaret and Prince Edward embarked ready to sail for England, although poor weather delayed them. News that they had embarked reached London in early April, and convinced Edward Beaufort, duke of Somerset and John Courtenay to leave the city and travel west to meet the Queen. This had helped Edward occupy London, and thus played a part in Warwick's defeat at Barnet.

On 15 April Queen Margaret met Somerset and Courtney (recognised as earl of Devon by the Lancastrians) at Cerne Abbey. According to the Arrivall they brought news of Warwick's death at Barnet, although this may have taken a few more days to catch up with them. They were able to convince Queen Margaret to continue with her campaign and not return to France. Part of their argument was that the death of Warwick would actually make it easier to raise a Lancastrian army, as many of their supporters were refusing to fight while Warwick was still on their side. They also promised to raise a powerful army in the south-west. Warwick's death would certainly have made a political settlement after a Lancastrian victory more straightforward, but for the moment it had denied them an experienced commander, lost them his troops, given Edward control of London and with it the central government, as well as of the person of the king. Warwick's death had actually left the Lancastrians in a rather vulnerable position.

Queen Margaret now had to decide which direction to move. She had two main options - head east directly towards London and try and defeat Edward before his army could recover from the damage it had suffered at Barnet, or head north-east, cross the Severn and break out into the north, where she could unite with any troops Jasper Tudor could raise in Wales or the northern Lancastrians. In turn Edward had to move west but avoid picking the wrong option and end up out of position.

The Tewkesbury Campaign

Queen Margaret decided to take the northern route. Her first priority was to cross the River Severn, ideally using the bridges at Gloucester. She had moved west to Exeter to help raise her army, but now turned north-east and moved towards Bath. In an attempt to confuse Edward she sent fore-riders east as she went - from Exeter they went to Shaftsbury and Salisbury and from Wells to Brunton and Yeovil, in both cases on the road that the Lancastrians would need to take to reach London.

Edward wasn't fooled. He moved slowly at first, going to Windsor to hold the Feast of St. George and the Garter Ceremony. He mustered an army said to have been 5,000 strong at Windsor, and then on 24 April began a slow westward movement reaching Abingdon by 27 April. Only when it became clear that the Lancastrians were indeed heading north-east did he pick up the pace, and moved west towards Gloucester at speed.

On 29 April Edward reached Cirencester. The Lancastrians were approaching Bath from the south-west, and Edward was thus in an excellent position to block their route to Gloucester and the Severn bridges. For once in this campaign Edward was out-thought by his enemies. The Lancastrians knew that he was seeking battle, and took advantage of that. They made sure that Edward learnt that they were heading for Bath, and intended to offer battle somewhere north-east of that place on Wednesday 1 May. On Tuesday 30 April the Lancastrians reached Bath, and Edward abandoned his westward march to turn south and head towards Malmesbury.

On the night of 29-30 April he was camped three miles to the south of Cirencester, but on 1 May there was no sight of the Lancastrians. Edward moved to Malmesbury, but he then discovered that the Lancastrians had eluded him, turning west to make for Bristol. On 1 May the Lancastrians were welcomed into Bristol, where they received money, men and extra guns.

Remarkably the Lancastrians were able to repeat the same trick. This time they suggested that they would be willing to fight at Sodbury Hill, close to Chipping Sodbury. Outriders were sent east from Bristol towards Chipping Sodbury, and on 2 May Edward took the bait, moving south-west towards Sodbury Hill. His outriders ran into Lancastrian scouts but no army. Edward advanced to the hill, where he spent the rest of the day while his scouts attempted to find the Lancastrians.

While Edward was looking for a battle at Sodbury Hill, the Lancastrians were heading north-east along the Severn. Their next target was Gloucester, where there was a bridge across the city, but they needed quick access to the city. At about 3am on the morning of Friday 3 May Edward was informed of the Lancastrian move. His first action was to send a message to Sir Richard Beauchamp, Edward's governor of the town and castle of Gloucester. In 1471 the only way to the Severn bridge was through the fortified town, so the Lancastrians needed quick access. Edward then ordered his army to advance rapidly north-east along the drove road along the edge of the Cotswolds, a better road than the valley route being used by the Lancastrians.

The Lancastrians reached Gloucester at 10am on 3 May, but found the gates barred against them. They threatened to besiege the city, but Beauchamp knew that they were bluffing - Edward was far too close for the Lancastrians to risk getting stuck outside Gloucester - and the gates remained closed. The Lancastrians were forced to move on, and headed for the next river crossing, at Tewkesbury.

The Lancastrians reached Tewkesbury by about 4pm, but to their horror they discovered that the ford at Lower Lode (downstream from the town) wasn't passable. The next passage over the Severn was at Upton upon Severn, but to reach Upton they would have to cross the Avon. This would have involved moving their troops through the streets of Tewkesbury and then crossing a complex series of narrow and badly maintained bridges over the Avon. It would have been impossible to attempt this difficult crossing with Edward's army so close behind, and so the Lancastrians were forced to stand and fight. Despite their best efforts the decisive battle of the campaign would be fought without their Welsh or northern supporters.

Edward's men advanced thirty five miles on 3 May, following the drove road along the Cotswolds. This was an easier route than the Lancastrian road near the Severn, but was somewhat lacking in water. Edward was informed that the Lancastrians had stopped in the early evening. He paused at Cheltenham to allow his men to eat and rest, and then advanced to within three miles of Tewkesbury. The night before the battle was probably spent at Tredington.

The Battle of Tewkesbury

The battle was fought on a field called 'The Gaston', which was located south of Tewkesbury. The Lancastrians faced south, with their left flank protected by the River Swilgate and their right flank by Southwick Brook. The Swilgate also ran behind their position, between the Lancastrians and Tewkesbury Abbey. To the west of Southwick Brook was a heavily wooded hill, then used as a deer park. The Lancastrian position was protected by sunken lanes, dikes and some heavy undergrowth.

We know the command structure of the two armies, but we are less sure over their deployment. The two armies were both organised into three 'battles' - the vanguard, main body and rearguard. These were their positions on the march, but in most battles the vanguard formed the right of the line, the main body the centre and the rearguard the left.

In the Yorkist army Richard of Gloucester commanded the vanguard, King Edward had the main body and William, Lord Hastings, commanded the rearguard.

In the Lancastrian army Edmund Beaufort, fourth duke of Somerset, commanded the vanguard, Prince Edward officially commanded the centre, but with real power exercised by the experienced John, Lord Wenlock, while John Courtenay, earl of Devon, commanded the rearguard.

If the two armies had been arranged in the normal battle formation, then Gloucester would have faced Devon, Hastings would have been against Somerset and King Edward against Prince Edward, but according to the Arrivall Gloucester began the fighting and his attack was made against Somerset's men. Later in the battle Somerset gets his men around Gloucester and attacks King Edward's battle.

There are two normal solutions to this problem. The first is to suggest that the Yorkists reversed the normal order of deployment, putting Gloucester and the vanguard on the left where they would face Somerset and the best of the Yorkist troops. The main problem with this is that it requires Somerset's flanking attack to get all the way around to the back of the Yorkist army to hit King Edward.

The alternative solution is that the Yorkists attacked in their marching order, with Gloucester, the archers and gunners in the front line, Edward in the second line and Hastings as a reserve. In this version Gloucester's attack hits the Lancastrian front line. Somerset's flanking movement brings him alongside the Yorkist army, allowing him to attack from the side, hitting the left flank of King Edward's battle. The Lancastrians could also have been in column, with Somerset in the front line getting hit by the worst of the arrow storm, or in a line, in which case Somerset's position on the right would put him in the right place to start his outflanking move. In this account we are going to assume that the Yorkists were fighting in a column.

One deployment is less controversial. As he approached the battlefield Edward noticed the forest to his left. The Lancastrians are said to have launched a surprise attack from a similar feature at Towton, and so Edward decided to send a small force of 200 mounted spearmen to flush out any possible ambushers. If they didn’t find anyone then they were attack when they thought it would be most useful.

Gloucester's battle began the battle with a bombardment of the Lancastrian lines. The Lancastrians were subjected to a mix of archery and the fire of hand guns and larger guns. The Lancastrians had some guns and archers of their own, but not as many, and suffered under the heavy Yorkist bombardment. Somerset's battle is said to have suffered the most.

Somerset now decided to try and outflank the Yorkist army, using the broken ground and tree cover to the west of the battlefield. He managed slip away from the front line, and using a hidden lane worked his way past Gloucester's vanguard. He probably moved along Lincoln Green Lane, and emerged on a hillock to the west of the Edward IV's main battle. Somerset planted his banners on the hill and then charged into the attack.

This was playing into Edward's strengths. He was a tall impressive figure and an experienced fighter, and he led his men in a determined fight-back. The rest of the Lancastrian army appears not to have done anything, and this allowed Gloucester's vanguard to turn left and join in the battle on the flanks. Somerset was now outnumbered, and he ordered his men to pull back to their banners and take up a better defensive position. Just at this moment Edward's 200 mounted spearmen attacked Somerset's exposed flank, and his battle collapsed. Edward managed to stop most of his men from pursuing Somerset's defeated men, although there must have been some pursuit as many of the fleeing Lancastrians were said to have been killed in a field near the Avon that became known as 'Bloody Meadow'. Somerset himself managed to reach sanctuary in Tewkesbury Abbey.

The Yorkists were now free to concentrate on the remaining two Lancastrian battles, led by Prince Edward and the earl of Devon. The bombardment and the destruction of Somerset's battle appear to have taken the heart out of the remaining Lancastrians, and this part of the battle was short. The Lancastrian lines broke and the soldiers attempted to flee. The Tudor historian Edward Hall reported that Somerset had returned to the main Lancastrian army after the defeat of his battle, accused Lord Wenlock of treason, and killed him, thus eliminating the Lancastrian leader in the centre of the line. The fleeing Lancastrians suffered heavy losses, amongst them Somerset's brother John Beaufort, John Courteney, earl of Devon, and most significantly of all Prince Edward.

Inevitably a number of different traditions developed around the death of the prince. The Arrivall has him killed during the retreat. Warkworth added that the Prince called out to his brother-in-law Clarence for mercy, but was ignored and killed by foot soldiers. A later tradition, in which the Prince was captured, taken before Edward IV and executed after getting the best of a brief verbal exchange, is almost certainly an invention. The death of the Prince effectively ended the Lancastrian cause, at least during Edward IV's life. Henry VI was still alive, but his days were now numbered. The Lancastrian heir was Henry Tudor, earl of Richmond, but his claim was rather indirect and he was almost completely unknown in England.

Aftermath

The most controversial events of the day came after the fighting was over. All accounts agree on a basic outline of events - Edward IV went to Tewkesbury Abbey, where he issued a pardon to at least some of the Lancastrians who had taken refuge in the Abbey. Somerset and other Lancastrian leaders were then seized and removed from sanctuary, tried and executed.

The details differ greatly. The most positive spin is that Edward went to the Abbey to offer thanks for his victory, issued a general pardon to all but the Lancastrian leaders and then removed the traitors from an abbey that didn't have the right to offer then sanctuary in the first place.

The most hostile account, in the Chronicle of Tewkesbury Abbey has Edward enter the Abbey with his sword drawn and kill some of the Lancastrians on consecrated ground. A middle ground is that he entered the Abbey during the pursuit, but was calmed down by a priest. A pardon was then offered, which included the Lancastrian leaders, but Edward then broke his word and had Somerset removed from sanctuary. Perhaps the most likely alternative is that Edward issued his pardon in the excitement of the victory and perhaps without realising that Somerset was actually in the abbey.

Whichever account is true, on 6 May Somerset, Hugh Courtenay and other Lancastrian leaders were tried in Tewkesbury in front of Richard of Gloucester, the Constable, and the Duke of Norfolk, who was also the Marshal. The Lancastrians were found guilty and beheaded in the market square. However Edward's vengeance was largely limited to men who had previously sworn obedience to him as king and had then broken their word. Those who had always been Lancastrians were generally pardoned. Edward also avoided any mutilations or displays of bodies, even treating Prince Edward's with respect.

On 7 May Edward left Tewkesbury and headed north towards Worcester, on his way to Coventry to deal with a revolt that had broken out in the north. On the same day he learnt that Margaret of Anjou and her party had been captured at Little Malvern Priory. Queen Margaret was now a broken women - the son who she had nurtured and protected for long, and who had been the main hope of the House of Lancaster, was dead and her cause was over.

Edward placed one last crisis. Thomas Neville, the Bastard of Fauconberg, and commander of a Lancastrian fleet, had raised a revolt in Kent, Essex and Surrey, with a core of troops from the Calais government. He now threatened London, with the aim of freeing Henry VI, but he also threatened Queen Elizabeth and the infant Prince Edward. On 8 May Fauconberg was close to London and sent a letter to the city council asking for permission to pass through. On 9 May the council refused and announced that they would defend the city against the rebels, no doubt encouraged by news of Tewkesbury.

On 11 May Edward reached Coventry, where he paused. On the next day the Kent rebels were at Southwark, and Fauconberg's fleet was moored near the Tower of London. On the same day the rebels attempted to fight their way over London Bridge, but they were repulsed. On 13 May Fauconberg moved west in an attempt to cross the Thames above London, but this failed and he returned to Southwark.

On the same day Henry Percy, earl of Northumberland, arrived at Coventry, with the news that the northern revolt had collapsed. Edward was free to turn his attention south, and on 14 May he sent an advance guard towards London. On the same day Fauconberg made his most determined attack on the city, but once again he was repulsed. Fauconberg remained close to London until 18 May, but his army then broke up. Fauconberg returned to his fleet, but surrendered it in return for a pardon on 27 May. He was executed in September, although the reason isn't clear.

On 21 May Edward made a triumphant entry into London. Richard of Gloucester led the parade in recognition of his performance at Barnet and Tewkesbury, while Margaret of Anjou brought up the rear in a carriage. That night Henry VI died in the Tower, officially from 'pure displeasure and melancholy', but there was no doubt at the time that Edward had had him killed.

The death of Henry VI and Prince Edward meant that Henry Tudor was now the Lancastrian heir. For much of 1471 he was in Wales with his uncle Jasper Tudor, and for a few months they managed to elude capture, even successfully defending Pembroke Castle. By September it was clear that there was no point fighting on and they attempted to escape into exile in France. Bad weather forced them to land in Brittany, where they became virtual prisoners for the next decade. In 1473 John de Vere, earl of Oxford, attempted to land in Kent, and then seized St Michael's Mount, which he held until February 1474, but this small-scale siege posed no threat to Edward IV.

The battle of Tewkesbury should have ended the Wars of the Roses, but in 1483 Edward died unexpectedly. His son, now Edward V, was a minor and within a few weeks his uncle Richard of Gloucester usurped the throne as Richard III. His actions gave new life to the Lancastrian cause, and in 1485 Henry Tudor invaded, beginning the campaign that ended at Bosworth.

Edward IV and the War of the Roses, David Santiuste. A look at the military career of Edward IV, the often overlooked winner of the main part of the War of the Roses, and a king who ruled peacefully for nearly twelve years before dying a natural death. [read full review]
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Books on the Middle Ages - Subject Index: War of the Roses

How to cite this article: Rickard, J. (5 March 2014), Battle of Tewkesbury, 4 May 1471, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_tewkesbury.html

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