So passed Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, the so-called ‘Kingmaker’. On the Continent, it was probably considered that the apprentice had bested the master. Edward’s own thoughts were surely more complex. If Warwick had never truly been a mentor he had once been a valuable ally, and many of Edward’s closest supporters would have been sorry to see Warwick die. Yet, in darker moments, Edward must have felt he had removed a parasite: Warwick had restricted Edward’s freedom of movement for most of his adult life, and had finally revealed himself to be malign. But Edward spent little time in reflection now. After much-needed rest, Edward and his army returned to London, where they were ‘welcomed and received with much joy and gladness’.1 He went straight to St Paul’s Cathedral, where he was received by Cardinal Bourchier and a thanksgiving Mass took place. The following day Edward commanded that the bodies of the two Neville brothers should be brought to St Paul’s and exposed to the common gaze. The citizens of London would, of course, have been used to seeing the grisly remains of defeated noblemen, but Edward did not see the corpses as trophies; nor was the display intended to act as a deterrent. The bodies were treated with respect – they were not mutilated – and the display was presumably to confirm that Warwick and his brother were really dead. After two days the bodies were released to be buried at Bisham Abbey, where they were laid to rest alongside their father, the Earl of Salisbury.
Doubtless Edward’s badge of the ‘rose-en-soleil’ was much in evidence on the streets of London at this time. And yet, in the West Country, storm clouds were gathering. On the very day of Edward’s victory at Barnet, on Easter Sunday, Margaret of Anjou had landed at Weymouth, accompanied by her son Edward, his wife Anne, John Langstrother the Prior of St John, and Lord Wenlock. Her arrival had been imminently expected since January, when she and her party had reached Dieppe. However, Margaret did not attempt a crossing until 24 March, embarking at Honfleur, although bad weather forced her to turn back. A successful crossing was not possible until 13 April. One can only speculate as to what might have happened differently had Margaret arrived in England earlier. Although bad weather obviously played a part, we have seen that Margaret was reluctant to risk the life of her son until the country was secured – even though Prince Edward himself might well have been eager to return to England as soon as possible.
The following day Margaret lodged at Cerne Abbey, and here she received the Duke of Somerset and the Earl of Devon.2 Somerset and Devon may have brought the news of Warwick’s catastrophic defeat, which must have hit Margaret hard; but Somerset and Devon argued that, paradoxically, ‘for that loss, their party was never the feebler, but rather the stronger’. According to the Arrivall the nobles promised Margaret that ‘they should assemble so great puissance of people in divers parts of England, truly assured unto their party, that it should not more lie in the King’s power to resist them’. Naturally, the author of the Arrivall was not privy to these discussions, but it is plausible to assume that Somerset thought in these terms, even if Margaret did not. For men like Somerset, who were hoping to achieve their ‘rightful’ place – both in terms of land and office – as well as vengeance for dead relatives, Warwick’s demise had simplified matters greatly. Indeed, a report from Bruges to the court of Milan (dated, ironically, 7 May), based on the testimony of a Spaniard who had left London on 24 April, related that
there are many who consider the Queen’s prospects favourable, chiefly because of the death of the Earl of Warwick, because it is reckoned she ought to have many lords in her favour, who intended to resist her because they were enemies of Warwick.3
Edmund Duke of Somerset is invariably characterised as a ‘die-hard’ Lancastrian, although we have seen that he preferred Burgundy to life at the Lancastrian court in exile. However, even if any tensions had existed between them earlier, Margaret was surely now grateful to have the service of this bellicose, experienced and determined man. From this point Somerset took a prominent role. He threw himself into recruiting men throughout the West Country, and appears to have been highly successful. Although Warwick’s agents had already been busy in the area, the presence of Somerset, as well as Devon, seems to have concentrated the local gentry’s minds. This was possibly because they ‘reputed them old inheritors of the country’.4 The Lancastrian army mustered at Exeter, where Margaret stayed for two weeks, and there she was joined by local notables such as Sir Hugh Courtenay of Bocconoc and Sir John Arundel of Lanherne. According to the Arrivall the Lancastrians ‘raised the whole might of Devon and Cornwall’.5From Exeter the Lancastrians marched on the Glastonbury road to Taunton, and then on to Wells. By 30 April the Lancastrians had reached Bath. Margaret’s army continued to attract new recruits, even though, at Wells, the Lancastrians’ behaviour must have alarmed the local inhabitants: they sacked the Bishop’s Palace and stormed the prison, releasing all the prisoners.6
Yet everything did not go the Lancastrians’ way in the West. For instance, the powerful Sir Nicholas Latimer, who had previously fought with Henry Duke of Somerset, and was appointed Sheriff of Somerset and Dorset under the Readeption government, chose to follow the lead of his new lord, Clarence, and ignored his former Lancastrian ties. As ever, men everywhere faced hard choices. Shortly after the Battle of Barnet Sir John Paston – doubtless still nursing his wounds – wrote to his mother that:
The world I assure you is right queasy, as you shall know within this month; the people here fear it sore. God has shown Himself marvellously like Him that made all and can undo again when Him list [sic] and I can think that by all likelihood shall show Himself as marvellous again, and that in short time.7
The Battle of Barnet was a great triumph for Edward, but everyone knew there would be further struggles to come: the ultimate outcome remained in God’s hands. Paston was an optimist, even in adversity, although he may soon have received news to bolster his faith. As Margaret’s army grew daily in the West, Jasper Tudor was gathering troops in Wales, and Edward received disturbing news of Lancastrian risings in the north. However, as Malcolm Mercer has shown in a recent article, the extent of gentry support for the Lancastrian cause must not be overstated, even in the West Country.8 As usual many men, if they had not already committed themselves, lay low, waiting for the crisis to pass. But even if they did not flock to Edward’s banner, it seems increasing numbers of Englishmen concluded that God would remain with the Yorkists. Edward’s victory over Warwick had fully restored his reputation and many people must have castigated themselves for having underestimated their former King. The City of Salisbury pledged forty men to join Somerset, but ultimately sent the men to fight for Edward instead; as early as 16 April the city recorded that Edward was ‘both de facto and de jure King of England’.9 On the road to Exeter, at Chard, Prince Edward had despatched a message to the burghers of Coventry, the city that had been the virtual capital of Lancastrian England during the late 1450s and, more latterly, a powerbase for Warwick. Nevertheless, the city now decided to back the cause of York, and sent both the message and its messenger to King Edward at Abingdon. Such victories were small, but they must have buoyed Edward immensely.
In London, Edward had learned of Margaret’s landing by 16 April, and he reacted to the new threat with the same sense of decision and vigour that was the hallmark of all his actions since his return to England. Barnet had been one of the most hard-fought of all the battles of the Wars of the Roses, and Yorkist casualties must have been heavy. Both armies had been fully engaged, and one of the Yorkist ‘battles’ had been routed. The Arrivall talks of Edward making provision for the sick and wounded – ‘right many in number’ – and implies the army had been largely disbanded.10 Von Wesel paints a harrowing picture of the Yorkists’ return to London:
Those who had set out with good horses and sound bodies returned home with sorry nags and bandaged faces, some without noses.11
Messengers were therefore sent out throughout the kingdom calling for fresh troops.12 Proclamations declared Margaret and her adherents to be traitors, and set out Edward’s own claim to the throne. Above all Edward needed able-bodied men, but his army also needed new military equipment. Although time was short, Edward’s preparations seem to have been thorough: ‘purveyed he artillery, and ordnance, guns and other, for the field great plenty’.13 John Warley was given responsibility for the equipment of Edward’s army; such men are the unsung heroes of the Wars of the Roses. On April 17 he was given license
to take wheelers, cartwrights and other carpenters, stonecutters, plumbers and other workmen for the works of the King’s ordnance, bombards, culverines, fowlers, serpentines and other cannons and powder, sulphur, saltpeter, stone, iron, lead, and other necessaries for them, crossbows and bolts, bows, arrows, bowstrings, langdebeves, lances, glaives and hammers and other necessaries and carriage for the same and horses called hackneys.14
The passage quoted is particularly interesting because it makes clear the extent of the support network needed to maintain artillery. Edward probably acquired some of his guns from Warwick’s defeated army.
Edward sent out word that his army was to muster at Windsor, where he prepared to celebrate the Feast of St George and the annual Garter Ceremony. As we have seen, during Edward’s reign the Order of the Garter took on renewed significance, and Edward maintained a great affection for Windsor.15 Although membership of the Garter was sometimes granted for political reasons, it was also a symbol of personal closeness to Edward, and in this instance he would surely have used the Garter Ceremony as a means to create an ‘esprit de corps’ amongst his chief captains. The army that joined Edward at Windsor is generally estimated to have been around 5,000 strong. This was not an inconsiderable force by contemporary standards, although it was probably smaller than most armies that fought during the Wars of the Roses.16 Before leaving Windsor, Edward needed to wait for the reports of his scouts, because he was unsure of the Lancastrians’ immediate intentions. As the Arrivall puts it, the Lancastrians, in the West Country, were in ‘an angle of the land’.17 They had two choices. First, the Lancastrians could move towards London, either by way of the south coast, which would allow them to join with Warwick’s partisans in Kent, or more directly by way of Salisbury. Second, they could move north, crossing the Severn in order to join with Jasper Tudor, who had now landed in South Wales. The second option would also allow them to recruit in Cheshire, traditionally the home of skilled archers and a former source of support for the Lancastrian cause.
Edward’s dilemma shows, once again, that the notion both sides in the Wars of the Roses always adopted ‘battle-seeking’ strategies needs to be nuanced somewhat. It is worth briefly considering previous strategies, as they must have been in the opposing commanders’ minds as they formulated their plans. In the winter campaign of 1460–1 the Lancastrians had, for the most part, pursued a quasi-Vegetian strategy. They avoided set-piece battles and preferred to make use of ruses (as at Wakefield) and surprise attacks (as at St Albans II). Only at Towton, after the Yorkists may have thwarted a surprise attack at Ferrybridge, did their leaders totally commit their forces to the hazards of the field. Yet Edward’s greatest strength as a commander lay in his ability to fight and win offensive engagements on ground that was not of his own choosing. In the campaigns of 1461 and 1471 Edward aggressively sought open battle, regardless of terrain, weather or any other circumstances. The Lancastrians must have been aware that on this occasion Edward would be relentless in his pursuit of an engagement, and this would have been a powerful psychological weapon on Edward’s behalf.
Although as tacticians the Lancastrian leaders were to show considerable flair, unlike Edward they lacked the boldness or confidence to march on London. As in 1461, the Lancastrian leaders made the fateful decision to eschew the advance on London and instead to move north. However, they made an attempt to sow confusion within the Yorkist ranks, sending out foreriders from Exeter to Salisbury via Shaftesbury, and from Wells to Brunton and Yeovil. The intention was surely to persuade Edward that the Lancastrians would move on London via Reading. The gambit failed, although whether this was due to the strength of Edward’s intelligence system or astute calculation is unclear. Edward moved northwest, leaving Windsor on 24 April, making for Cirencester, where he arrived on Monday 29 April, via Abingdon. Here, Edward learned that the Lancastrians were approaching Bath and intending to offer battle. But the following day Edward’s scouts brought no news of the Lancastrians so the Yorkists advanced a few miles to Malmesbury. Here Edward received frustrating news. Although the Lancastrians had indeed been at Bath on 30 April, they had now moved: not north-east towards Malmesbury but west. On Wednesday 1 May the Lancastrians were welcomed into the City of Bristol.
Evidently Edward had been deliberately misinformed of the Lancastrians’ intentions, although the extent to which the Lancastrian manoeuvres constituted a grand strategy is not certain. Certainly Bristol offered considerable advantages. Here the Lancastrians gained ‘money, men and artillery’.18 Bristol was noted as a centre for the manufacture of artillery, and at least one prominent citizen joined the Lancastrian army in person; Nicholas Hervey, the city’s recorder, was later to be killed in action. However, assuming the Lancastrians were still reluctant to meet Edward in battle, the diversion to Bristol made their position precarious, because the Yorkists were now in a position to cut them off from the Severn crossings. Even so, if the Lancastrians had placed themselves in a trap, they now extricated themselves with considerable skill. Once again they employed deception. As before, they offered battle, on 2 May, this time naming a specific place. This was ‘Sodbury Hill’, probably to the east of modern Chipping Sodbury. However, although the Lancastrians did indeed leave Bristol on 2 May, marching towards the Yorkists, they quickly turned north, now aiming to cross the Severn at Gloucester. It is difficult to understand why Edward should have been taken in by the same ruse as before, although the Lancastrian ‘cover story’ was given credence when their foreriders ‘distressed’ their Yorkist counterparts in Sodbury itself. Edward’s army arrived at ‘Sodbury Hill’ by noon. Edward himself initially took position on the ‘hill’ itself, presumably at the site of the Iron Age fort, which offers superb views of the surrounding countryside. In the absence of other certain news, Edward waited here for the rest of the day, although doubtless scouring the horizon with increasing trepidation.
At 3am the following morning Edward received the news he must have dreaded. Now that he realised the Lancastrians’ intention was to cross the river at Gloucester, he sent messengers to Richard Beauchamp, the governor of the town and castle, warning him of the Lancastrians’ approach and commanding him to hold the town until Edward’s army could relieve him (during the Middle Ages, in order to cross the Severn bridge from the English side, one had to pass through the City of Gloucester itself, which was strongly fortified). Edward’s messengers must have arrived just in time. The Lancastrians, who had rested briefly at Berkeley, were aware of the need to maintain their advantage, and had decided on a night march to Gloucester. They reached the city at around 10 o’ clock in the morning but found the gates barred against them. Beauchamp’s garrison must have been small, and the Lancastrians made a show of besieging the town. Nevertheless, Beauchamp was resolute and the Lancastrians were forced to the next crossing, at Tewkesbury. Here they hoped to ford the Severn at the Lower Lode. But as the Lancastrians wearily resumed their march Beauchamp may have done Edward further service: Hall recounts a story that Beauchamp sallied out, attacked the Lancastrian rear, and captured some of their guns. Edward himself was now on the road to Tewkesbury, following the less onerous and more direct route across the Cotswolds, in furious pursuit of the Lancastrians.
The Lancastrians reached Tewkesbury at about four o’ clock. They were, understandably, ‘right weary for travelling, for by that time they had travelled 36 long miles [day and night], in a foul country, all in lanes and stony ways, betwixt woods, without any good refreshing’.19 In the previous three days the Lancastrians had in fact covered nearly 60 miles, a remarkable achievement, and their leaders had displayed determination and cunning. But Edward and his army had matched them all the way: on 3 May the Yorkists covered an astonishing 35 miles, a great distance for a medieval army.20 The foot soldiers must have been pushed extremely hard.21 Ultimately, however, the army could only move as fast as its supply train – as well as the carts carrying the precious Yorkist artillery. The animals that pulled the Yorkist carts and wagons must have been driven even harder than the men. Nevertheless, the main challenge facing the Yorkists must have been lack of water. The Yorkists’ route – across the ‘champain’ [champagne] country’ of the Cotswolds – would have been much easier than the one followed by the Lancastrians, although the weather was hot, and here too there was a lack of good ‘refreshing’:
[Edward’s] people could not find horse meat, nor man’s meat, nor so much as drink for their horses, save in one little brook, where was full little relief it was so soon troubled with the carriages that had passed [through] it.22
Disappointingly, the Arrivall tells us nothing about Edward’s own conduct during the march, although his personal role must have been considerable. As General A.P. Wavell explains,
in sustained pursuit, mobility is dependent mainly on the personal will and determination of the commander-in-chief, which alone can keep alive the impetus of the troops.23
Other evidence suggests Edward possessed the kind of charisma that can persuade, as well as command, and he would surely have given his troops his own version of a ‘little touch of Harry in the night’. According to Mancini, ‘if [Edward] saw a newcomer bewildered at his appearance and royal magnificence […] he would give him courage to speak by laying a kindly hand on his shoulder’.24 We have seen that Edward was happy to walk among the crowds of common people in Burgundy. On the road to Tewkesbury Edward asked much of his troops, but they responded to his call.
At Tewkesbury, the Lancastrians now had to accept they had lost the race. To their horror, they discovered the ford at the Lower Lode was not passable. Even if they had been able to continue – the author of the Arrivall believed the footmen could go no further – they would now have faced another series of challenges. The next crossing of the Severn was at Upton upon Severn, although to reach Upton would have first meant crossing the Avon north of Tewkesbury, using a complicated system of bridges. The way to the bridges was through the cramped streets of Tewkesbury, and the bridges themselves were narrow and in a poor state of repair. To navigate this series of obstacles would have been a logistical nightmare, and the Lancastrian leaders were acutely aware that Edward and his army were now only a few miles away. They were rightly concerned that, if they had continued, Edward would have ‘fallen upon them […] to their most disadvantage’.25 Brought to bay at last, the Lancastrians resolved to fight.
The Lancastrians had failed in their objective to cross the Severn, and were forced to give battle against their will. There could be no hope of reinforcements – by the time they heard news of the battle, Jasper Tudor and his Welshmen had only reached Chepstow.26 But the Lancastrians still had one considerable advantage – they had the choice of ground. Although Queen Margaret may have rested for the evening at Gupshill Manor, or perhaps in Tewkesbury Abbey’s lodging house, the rest of the army seems to have camped for the night in an enclosed field, or ‘close’, called the Gaston, to the south of the Abbey.27 Here, too, the Lancastrians decided they would make their stand. The Lancastrians took up a strong defensive position, ‘a marvellous strong ground’:
In front of their field were so evil lanes, and deep dykes, so many trees and bushes, that it was right hard to approach them near.28
It is not clear whether the Lancastrians had fortified their ‘field’ in the manner of Ludford Bridge or Northampton, although the existing natural defences might have seemed formidable enough. The River Swilgate would have provided additional protection to the rear and their left flank. The Lancastrians’ right flank was bounded by the Southwick Brook; beyond this stream was a heavily wooded area, which was then a deer park.
Any fortifications would have taken time to prepare, and the Lancastrian commanders must have been worried about the possibility of a surprise attack. Doubtless the Lancastrians passed yet another restless night. The Yorkists’ evening is likely to have been more relaxing, insofar as the night before a battle could ever be. Edward had reached Cheltenham when he heard of the Lancastrians’ arrival at Tewkesbury, and their decision to offer battle. Edward halted the march, and ‘somewhat comforted himself, and his people’. He allowed his army to rest, and to eat and drink, finally using up the supplies that had been so carefully husbanded. After eating and drinking their fill, the Yorkists pushed on towards Tewkesbury. The Yorkist army camped for the night within 3 miles of the Lancastrian position, probably at Tredington. Although he might have slept little, Edward surely rested content, secure in the knowledge that his enemies could no longer escape him. As Goodchild perceptively notes, ‘though they had not chosen the place, [the Yorkists] had full control of the time’.29
On the morning of the battle the Yorkists made the usual preparations, including the familiar rituals before battle was joined:
Edward […] displayed his banners, did blow up the trumpets, committed his cause and quarrel to almighty God, to our most blessed lady his mother, the Virgin Mary, the glorious martyr Saint George, and all the saints; and advanced, directly upon his enemies.30
Presumably the Yorkist battle plan was formulated in advance at Tredington, using the reports of scouts. However, as his soldiers slowly made their way onto the field, Edward must have taken advantage of an elevated position to survey the battlefield for himself. Following the Arrivall’s account, it seems Edward drew upon his experience of previous battles in order to adjust his plans. As we have seen, the Lancastrians had previously employed deception in their tactics. Edward, when making his own final dispositions, was determined that the Yorkists would not, on this occasion, be taken unawares. He noticed the wooded area covered by the deer park, to the west of his position, and was concerned that it could conceal enemy units – presumably cavalry – which would be in a position to attack the flanks and rear of his army once battle was joined. He therefore despatched a ‘plomp’ of 200 mounted ‘spears’ to investigate the area,
giving them charge to have a good eye on that corner of the wood, if case that any need were, and to put themselves in ‘devoure [service], and, if they saw none such, as they thought most behovefull for time and space, to employ themselves in the best wise as they could.31
It is unfortunate that we do not know the name of the man who commanded the ‘plomp because he was later to do Edward great service.
We know little else for certain about the rest of Edward s dispositions. The Arrivall tells us that Edward deployed the rest of his army in the traditional three ‘battles’. Richard Duke of Gloucester led the vanguard (perhaps as an acknowledgement of his prowess at Barnet), Edward himself commanded the centre, and the rearguard was entrusted to William Lord Hastings. But historians have struggled to make sense of the two armies deployment. The Arrivall has Edward’s ‘vaward’, under Gloucester, starting the battle, with Somerset s division (which formed the Lancastrians vanguard) taking the brunt of the Yorkist assault. When medieval armies deployed with their ‘battles abreast, the vanguard was usually deployed on the right, which means that Gloucester should have faced Devon, not Somerset. It has been suggested that Edward, taking note of Hastings’ failure at Barnet, and Gloucester s relative success, revised his formation accordingly, so that Hastings would face Devon, whereas Gloucester would have to deal with the more warlike and experienced Somerset.32 But the simplest solution, as James Bennett suggested many years ago,33 is that the three ‘battles went into action in column, which would make sense if the Lancastrians had taken up a fortified position with a fairly narrow front.
As we have seen, late-medieval tactics were much more flexible than historians of the period often suppose. Many of the Yorkist archers seem to have been concentrated in Gloucester s ‘vaward , although they would have surely been supported by men with staff weapons and a select group of men-at-arms under the personal command of the duke himself. Much of Edward s strength would have lain in his main ‘battle . As ever, Edward himself, with many of his nobles and their retinues, would have taken position in the centre, with the levies deployed on the flanks. In this instance, Hastings rearguard might have consisted of a reserve of light cavalry, from which were drawn the 200 spears of the ‘plomp . Battle dispositions in the Middle Ages can only ever be speculative, although this formation shares common elements with the battle plans described above.34 The Lancastrians may also have deployed in column, with their most reliable troops in the van. But from what we know of the course of the battle, it seems likely that the Lancastrian army was arranged in a more ‘traditional defensive formation. This could have entailed three ‘battles of footmen abreast, with such archers as the Lancastrians had initially deployed to the front, and perhaps also to the flanks.
What of Edward’s ordnance, of which we are told he now had ‘great plenty’? In the fog at Barnet presumably any field pieces were of little use, but at Tewkesbury guns were to play a greater role. The artillery would probably have been deployed on the flanks. If there is any truth in Hall’s account of the Yorkists capturing some of the Lancastrians’ guns at Gloucester, then to see their own artillery ranged against them cannot have helped the Lancastrians morale. There may also have been scope at Tewkesbury for Edward’s ‘black and smoky sort of gunners’ to do him good service once again. In this instance the handgunners may have been effectively employed by Edward as skirmishers.35 Assuming Edward did obtain crossbows, crossbowmen may also have been used in this role. The crossbowmen and handgunners – who would also have been protected by pavises – would have used the natural cover available in order to get close enough to harass the Lancastrian line, although they would surely have been ready to fall back quickly if necessary.
The Lancastrians were outgunned. The Yorkists also held the advantage in terms of archers, and their missile assault must have been fearsome:
the King’s ordnance was so conveniently laid afore them, and his vanward 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 of arrows and guns, whereof they had not so great plenty as had the King.36
The Yorkist attack must have taken a terrible toll, and in an ‘archery duel – with the Yorkists well supported by gunpowder weapons – there could be only one winner. But the Duke of Somerset now made a daring move that could have changed the outcome of the battle:
Edmund, called Duke of Somerset, having that day the vaward, whither it were for that he and his fellowship were sore annoyed in the place were they were, as well with gunshot, as with shot of arrows, which they neither 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, and came into a fair place, or close, even afore the King where he was embattled, and, from the hill that was in one of the closes, he set right fiercely on the end of the King’s battle.37
This passage has caused the most debate among historians of the battle. The ‘lane’ is likely to have been Lincoln Green Lane, which was then a road leading to Deerhurst and, eventually, to Gloucester. At least some of the Lancastrian soldiers are likely to have followed this road on their way to Tewkesbury, which would explain how it had been ‘purveyed in advance. The road followed the bottom of the valley, which was uncultivated, and it is therefore likely to have been obscured by trees and bushes. The ‘hill is likely to have been the hillock in Southwick Park, only a few hundred yards down Lincoln Green Lane. So the road Somerset took seems fairly clear, although his intentions are less certain.
Was Somerset a hothead, like the French nobles at Agincourt, or was the Yorkist bombardment simply too much to be borne? Or was this manoeuvre pre-arranged? Ingenious arguments have been produced to explain how Edward could have been taken by surprise. There is the suggestion, for example, that Somerset left a screen of men to mask his advance.38 Yet, as Chris Gravett notes, there is no real indication Edward was completely taken by surprise.39 The Arrivall says that the path was unknown to the Yorkists, although this does not suggest, of course, that Somerset s advance was entirely hidden until he arrived in the close ‘afore the King . Goodchild tentatively suggests Somerset s ‘fellowship may have been a small group of mounted men, which would have allowed them to move at speed, and this is plausible from a tactical point of view.40 However, the Arrivall’s account of the ensuing struggle does seem to imply that Somerset attacked in force, and so presumably dismounted. Moreover, the trees and bushes that may have obscured the road would have provided Somerset with much-needed cover from Gloucester’s archers, but a group on foot, including heavily armoured men-at-arms, presumably several hundred strong, could scarcely have moved in silence, completely out of sight. Ultimately, it is most likely that Gloucester’s vanguard had succeeded in its primary objective, which was to draw the Lancastrians out of their fortified position, and that Somerset’s manoeuvre was indeed a spontaneous reaction to the Yorkist assault. Whereas theArrivall s account is ambivalent, the chronicler Warkworth is unequivocal: Somerset ‘went out of the field, by the which the field was broken’.41
Watching events unfold in front of him, Richard of Gloucester must nonetheless have been deeply concerned. As Somerset s ‘fellowship moved, the Yorkist ‘skirmishers’ – the crossbows and Burgundian hand-gunners – probably made a hurried withdrawal, expecting to be the target of the Lancastrian attack. To the left, Yorkist archers are also likely to have fallen back, reluctant at this early stage to ‘come to hands with the Lancastrians’ elite troops. Ideally, Gloucester must have hoped the Lancastrians would make a direct frontal assault. The Lancastrians would have walked into the ‘arrow storm , assuming his archers still had arrows in reserve,42 and Gloucester would have been confident that his men-at-arms could hold off any survivors, at least long enough to be reinforced by Edward’s main ‘battle’. But Somerset’s oblique line of advance meant Gloucester now faced a dilemma. With the Lancastrian vanguard now ‘aside hand , and the other Lancastrian ‘battles now facing him, although still yet to move, Gloucester faced the possibility of being caught in a pincer movement. It must have been tempting to retreat, yet to fall back could have led to panic. Presumably Gloucester tried to rally his men and grimly held his ground.
Reaching the crest of the hillock, Somerset prepared to attack. Somerset, with his own banner of the portcullis floating above him, would have been able to see Edward s banner, now only a few hundred yards away. He would have pointed out the Yorkist leader to his men, telling them the end of the war was within their grasp. With a great shout, the Lancastrians charged down the slope. This was the crucial point of the battle. Whatever the origin of Somerset s decision to attack, he had now adopted the ‘decapitation strategy that had served numerous armies well during the Wars of the Roses. His engagement with the Yorkists centre ‘battle was surely no accident. If Edward was killed, or if his division routed, the whole army is likely to have disintegrated. Edward, not for the first time, rose to the challenge magnificently:
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.43
Like all generals in the ‘heroic’ mould, from Alexander the Great onwards, once Edward was in the line fighting with his men he could only be aware of what was directly in front of him and could only react to that. As we have seen, the conduct of a leader in combat is crucial. But in a very interesting passage, the fifteenth-century writer Du Bueil suggests a leader needed the same qualities in the heat of battle as when formulating his strategy:
often things happen so suddenly that there is no time to think of anything. But a good man of war should always be thinking about what he may be faced with; and, when the moment comes, he should act with ardour. But this ardour comes from coolness; for everything should be thought through in cold blood beforehand, how to act when the situation comes up, so that it will be a deliberate, calculated plan.44
A split second of uncertainty could have been fatal. But Edward, as ever, did not hesitate.
Fighting generals also need to choose worthy captains, capable of exercising independent command and in this, too, Edward was successful. If Gloucester had been initially perplexed by Somerset s manoeuvre, his speed and decision now vindicated Edward s trust in him. The morale of the Yorkist army must have been buoyed greatly by seeing their leaders fighting in their midst. Their initial attack repulsed, it appears the Lancastrians fell back upon the natural defences of the dykes and hedges – and here the fighting must have been bitterly contested. But the Lancastrians must have been heavily outnumbered, and ultimately their line could not hold in the face of the Yorkists’ ferocious assault. The Tudor writer Vergil relates, at a critical point in the battle, that Somerset drew his men back to their standards, so that ‘being close together, they might more easily resist’.45 Vergil’s account of the later Battle of Bosworth is excellent, almost certainly based on the recollections of veteran soldiers, and here, too, his account provides plausible detail. It would make sense if Somerset drew his men back from the grim struggle around the dykes, with the Yorkists now breaking through, attempting to rally them on higher ground. But it was at this moment that the commander of the Yorkist ‘plomp saw his chance to act. Emerging from the trees, the Yorkist light cavalry smashed into the Lancastrians’ flank. Now assailed on all sides, the Lancastrian ‘fellowship’ disintegrated. There was no chance of a fighting retreat, and the Lancastrians ran for their lives, hotly pursued by Yorkist horsemen.
Somerset himself escaped, eventually seeking shelter in the Abbey, but Hall claims he first returned to the Lancastrian lines. When he encountered Lord Wenlock, still ‘stood looking on’,46 Somerset is said to have called him a traitor – presumably for failing to support the attack -then struck him dead with one blow of an axe to the head. What should we make of this extraordinary story? Certainly, Wenlock was killed in the battle, but, as we have seen, the sources of many of Hall s anecdotes are unclear. In the absence of more contemporary supporting evidence, Hall’s account must once again be used with great caution. Nevertheless, Hall s use of anecdote was carefully selective, and here he draws attention to a crucial point. Should Wenlock have supported Somerset? Although he was a veteran soldier, Wenlock was by inclination a politician, and he had now changed sides several times. It would be understandable, in a civil war, for his inactivity to be interpreted as treachery; similar accusations were to be levelled at the Earl of Northumberland after the Battle of Bosworth. But there are numerous parallels for this scenario where a commander’s loyalty was not in question. For example, at Formigny in 1450, a division of English archers sallied out in an attempt to silence the French artillery.47 Although the attack was initially successful, it was not supported by the English commander, Sir Thomas Kyriel. The French were able to bring up reinforcements and the English were ultimately overwhelmed. Wenlock must almost certainly be absolved of treachery, although the Lancastrians failure to advance in support of Somerset must remain a puzzle. There is too much we cannot ever know about the Lancastrian leaders on the day of the battle – particularly with regard to their state of mind – and about the men they commanded.
Back in the ‘close’, perhaps seeing Somerset himself take to flight, Edward and Gloucester realised the Lancastrian vanguard was finished as a viable fighting force. They successfully restrained their men from pursuit, which was probably now left to the Yorkist cavalry. Edward now launched a general assault on the remaining Lancastrians, who – for reasons that are now obscure – had continued to trust in their defensive position. There may have been a direct frontal attack, although some of the Yorkists probably followed the paths and lanes recently used by Somerset. This would have allowed Yorkist men-at-arms – perhaps including Edward himself – to smash into the Lancastrian flank, rolling up their line. Possibly a group of Lancastrian nobles and their retinues made a desperate last stand – the Earl of Devon was killed on the field, among others – although Yorkist casualties were light, which suggests the Lancastrians quickly broke and fled. But with the rivers Avon, Severn and Swilgate barring their way to safety, the Lancastrian ‘field’ had become a deathtrap and the Yorkists gave no quarter. Many must have died on or near the narrow bridge near the Abbey; others seem to have drowned in a mill race. Still others must have tried to reach the ford at the Lower Lode, but many of these – perhaps including the survivors of Somerset s vanguard – were caught and killed in a narrow field that is still known today as ‘Bloody Meadow . Lord Hastings role in the battle is obscure, although he may now have organised the pursuit; Yorkist horsemen seem to have chased Lancastrian fugitives for several miles. At Didbrook, near Winchcombe (about 10 miles from Tewkesbury), some Lancastrian survivors appear to have been killed in the church.48
Somewhere amidst the carnage of the rout, the Lancastrians greatest fear was realised: Prince Edward of Lancaster was killed. Later writers produced imaginative reconstructions of the Prince s death. Vergil, for example, has Prince Edward taken captive and then brought to face the Yorkist leaders.49 After a sharp exchange, where the Prince displays his ‘bold mind , Edward IV thrusts him into the arms of his commanders, and the latter waste no time killing young Edward in cold blood. But according to theArrivallPrince Edward was ‘taken fleeing toward the town wards and slain in the field’.50 Warkworth – who lacked any motive to be circumspect about controversial details – concurs, but adds the imaginative detail that the desperate prince called out to the Duke of Clarence for mercy.51 Nevertheless, although Clarence was, of course, still the Prince’s brother-in-law, he was as stone. Once Prince Edward fell into the hands of the Yorkists his fate was sealed, although the manner of his death remains uncertain.
Edward himself pursued the Lancastrians as far as the Abbey, where many of the fugitives – including Somerset and Langstrother – had fled. According to Warkworth, Edward entered the Abbey with a drawn sword; the Chronicle of Tewkesbury Abbey goes further.52 According to this source the Yorkists entered the Abbey in arms, plundered it, and even killed some of the Lancastrian fugitives on consecrated ground. Warkworth claims Edward was only restrained from more bloodshed when a priest –perhaps Abbot Strensham himself? – bravely confronted the King with the sacrament in his hands. There is a rather formulaic element to this story – a pious man of God calms a warrior who is still in the heat of battle – but there does appear to have been some sort of standoff between Edward and the Abbot. According to the Arrivall, Edward refused to accept the Abbey could grant sanctuary to traitors but agreed to grant a general pardon to the rebels. Nevertheless, the Lancastrian leaders were taken into custody. Warkworth alleges the leaders were included in the pardon but Edward then broke his word. This is a grave charge and the Arrivall rather evades the issue. In this text the prisoners captured in the Abbey were grouped together with others taken ‘in other places of the town . By doing this the author appears to have deliberately shifted the emphasis away from the disturbing events that occurred on consecrated ground.53 It seems inconceivable, however, that Edward would have granted Somerset a pardon. Perhaps he had offered a selective pardon, which excluded Somerset and several others, although this was initially misunderstood. But for now Edward considered there should be no more bloodshed, and it was time to mark his victory. Forty men who had distinguished themselves were knighted on the field of battle; this was followed by a thanksgiving Mass in the Abbey.
Two days later, Somerset, Langstrother, Hugh Courtenay and several others were tried according to the Law of Arms, with Gloucester acting as judge in his capacity as Constable; alongside him was the Duke of Norfolk, as Marshal. Predictably found guilty, the captives were publicly beheaded in Tewkesbury s market square. Yet Edward s summary justice was tempered by discretion. He consciously eschewed the savagery that had followed earlier battles of the Wars of the Roses, or the barbarities of his former constable, Worcester. There was no further mutilation or ‘setting up , and his enemies bodies were treated with respect. Langstrother s body, for example, was encased in lead and taken to London for burial; other Lancastrian nobles, including Prince Edward, were buried in the Abbey. It should also be noted that nearly all those executed had, at some stage, accepted Edward s rule. Several who had consistently followed the cause of Lancaster were pardoned. These included non-combatants such as Sir John Fortescue, but also soldiers such as Sir Henry Roos.
Edward left Tewkesbury – the site of yet another brilliant victory – on 7 May. Although he had been informed of risings in Kent as early as 3 May, his army marched north, towards Coventry via Worcester. Edward was most concerned about the Northern risings – given the events of the previous year, this was surely understandable. Moreover, Margaret of Anjou – who of course had not been on the battlefield in person – was still at large. Although much of her power had always been predicated on her status as the mother of the Prince of Wales, if she was allowed to escape to Wales or to the north, she could still conceivably act as a rallying point for the Lancastrian cause. However, on the road to Coventry, and shortly after his arrival in the city, Edward received two good pieces of news. First, he learned Margaret of Anjou had been captured, hiding in a ‘poor religious house , and was now ‘at his commandment , along with Anne Neville and several other members of her entourage.54 Margaret was now almost certainly a broken woman – her long and tenacious struggle on behalf of Lancaster was finally at an end – although Edward would surely have wanted to see this with his own eyes. Second, on 13 May Edward received the Earl of Northumberland, who informed him that, as a result of the Yorkist victory at Tewkesbury, the Northern rising had collapsed. Some of the leaders were now in Northumberland’s custody and the City of York, a centre of unrest, had put itself at the mercy of the King.
However, the news from the south was disturbing. Thomas Neville, the Bastard of Fauconberg – who had previously been involved in piracy and now commanded a large fleet – had raised the men of Kent, Essex and Surrey, and was threatening to invest the City of London by land and sea. Clearly, his main aim was to rescue Henry VI from his captivity in the Tower. Ominously, Fauconberg s army was much more than a rabble; at its core were members of the Calais garrison, England s most professional soldiers. They were well supplied with firearms from the garrison’s arsenal.55 Nevertheless, Edward seems to have been confident that the defences of London would hold. Certainly he would have expected the presence of several noblemen in the city, including Earl Rivers and the Earl of Essex, to stiffen the city s resolve. Although Edward must have known of the threat posed by Fauconberg several days earlier, he did not set out for London in person until 16 May (however, a strong advance guard of 1,500 men was sent on 14 May). His calculations proved correct. On the road, Edward would have been informed that Fauconberg had assaulted the city in force on the 14th, but that the city had been successfully defended. He would have learned that Rivers, in particular, had distinguished himself, and that the citizens were also fighting stoutly on his behalf. After this reverse Fauconberg seems to have lost the stomach for further confrontation: his fleet sailed the same night, doubtless preparing his retreat. Although his army remained at Blackheath for three more days, it made no further attacks. On 18 May, with Edward’s arrival now imminent, Fauconberg left, accompanied only by his soldiers from Calais (the remaining troops were obliged to fend for themselves). Perhaps Fauconberg had already negotiated a pardon, because, while his companions took ship for Calais from Sandwich, he decided to remain. As Edward approached London on 20 May, he must have felt the war was almost at an end.
On 21 May, Edward entered London like a Roman Emperor. His army marched into the city with banners displayed and trumpets blaring. Gloucester, undisputedly one of the heroes of the campaign, was given the honour of leading the procession. In the rear was a carriage in which sat the humbled Margaret of Anjou – a powerful symbol of Edward s victory.56 The same night, Henry VI died in the Tower. Although the author of the Arrivall would have us believe Henry passed away due to ‘pure displeasure and melancholy’,57 there can be no doubt that Henry met his death on Edward’s orders. As one foreign observer put it: ‘King Edward has chosen not to have the custody of King Henry any longer […] He has in short chosen to crush the seed.’58 Oliver Cromwell described the execution of Charles I as a ‘cruel necessity’; Edward surely thought of Henry s death in similar terms. Edward s position was now secure, yet still he did not rest. Gloucester was sent to receive the surrender of Fauconberg (who was later executed for new, unspecified treasons), whereas Edward himself led his army into Kent. It was, in effect, a punitive expedition; as Warkworth put it, he returned to London ‘with much good[s] and little love’.59 Edward took the liberties of the Cinque Ports into his own hands, exacted large fines, and there were numerous executions.60 Certainly, Edward s treatment of the Kentish rebels was uncharacteristically harsh, although his commissioners in Essex and Surrey, the Earl of Essex and Sir William Bourchier, appear to have been even more severe.
The last embers of the Lancastrian resistance flickered in South Wales. Incredibly, Jasper Tudor – elusive and resourceful as ever – continued to trouble the local Yorkist commanders until September, when he finally surrendered Pembroke Castle. Tudor fled to exile in Brittany, where he was to remain for the rest of Edward s reign. He was accompanied by his nephew, Henry Earl of Richmond, the son of Margaret Beaufort, a hitherto obscure young nobleman who was now the last surviving hope of the Lancastrian cause. In the autumn of 1471, Henry Tudor s chances of success must have seemed very slim indeed. Edward was now the undisputed master of England. His right to rule would never be seriously challenged again. Although he could not have known it, Edward, still not thirty years old, had fought his last battle.