Military history


Henry VI: after Towton, the Lancastrian royal party reached Scotland and the protection of Mary of Guelders, the Queen Regent. From there border raids were mounted in support of the great Northumbrian fortresses still in Lancastrian hands. But these never threatened the new Yorkist regime. And in 1463, Edward’s truce with Louis XI, the new King of France, meant that Scotland, France’s perennial ally, would no longer shelter Henry and he became a fugitive in the North of England, passed from house to house until captured and taken to the Tower of London. Here he spent five years in reasonably treated confinement until his ‘Readeption’, more puppet king than ever, between September 1470 and April 1471. With Edward IV back in control, Henry was swiftly back in the Tower. This time, as we have seen, not for long.

Edward IV and Warwick the Kingmaker: in the early years of his reign, Edward was happy for Warwick to act as his chief minister. Relations between the cousins were good until 1464 and Edward’s secret marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, a poor Lancastrian widow, on May Day. It remained a secret until the summer, when Warwick’s negotiations for a royal French marriage for Edward were so far advanced that Edward had to reveal his true marital state. This was a humiliation for Warwick in the eyes of Europe and though, on the surface, it seemed that relations were repaired, in truth ‘never was there amity between them again’. By 1469 the two were leading the opposite sides in a Yorkist civil war. As before Towton, there was an astonishing series of switches of fortune, until, in one of the greatest changes of allegiance in English history, Warwick made his peace with Margaret of Anjou, Edward was forced into exile and Warwick ‘readepted’ Henry VI. Warwick deserved the title of Kingmaker for his exploits in 1460–61, but even more for those of 1470–71. But Edward was not finished: in March 1471 he landed, just as Henry IV had done, at Ravenspur in Yorkshire;and, just like Henry IV, he claimed not the kingdom, but his Duchy. Through a combination of guts, charisma and luck, Edward expanded his forces until, on 14 April, Easter Sunday, he defeated Warwick at Barnet. Warwick was killed, so was his brother John, Marquess Montagu. George Neville, now Archbishop of York, was disgraced. With Fauconberg having died in 1463, the power of the Nevilles was at an end.

Margaret of Anjou: in 1463 Margaret and Prince Edward went into exile, shuttling between France and Burgundy before living in some poverty on a pension provided by her father. But by 1468 the situation had changed. The marriage of King Edward’s sister, Margaret of York to Charles, Duke of Burgundy sealed an anti-French alliance. King Louis, fittingly nicknamed ‘the spider’, now had a use for Margaret again. He brought Warwick and Margaret together politically, but not militarily. Margaret’s largely French army did not land until the very day of the Battle of Barnet. Once again Edward IV marched to prevent Margaret’s forces joining up with Jasper Tudor’s Welsh recruits;he achieved this at Tewkesbury on 4 May. This was the battle that secured Edward’s throne for twelve years, before he died prematurely due to his excessive lifestyle. The Lancastrian Edward Prince of Wales, now seventeen, was killed at Tewkesbury, either in the rout or, more darkly, after being captured, roughly handled by King Edward and passed to his younger brothers to be butchered in cold blood. Margaret was captured and imprisoned in the Tower. After the deaths of her husband and her son, she was no longer of any threat or any value to Edward IV;in 1475 she was sent back to France, neglected by both her father and then Louis. She died in 1482.

Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset: Somerset remained Margaret’s general. He coordinated the Lancastrian resistance from the Northumbrian castles. However, he surrendered Bamburgh on Christmas Eve 1462 and came to terms with Edward. They even shared a bed. But in November 1463 he rejoined Henry VI in Northumberland and sought to establish a foothold in the Far North of England. It was short-lived. He was defeated by Warwick’s brother John, Lord Montagu, at Hexham in May 1464 and summarily executed.

Henry Holland, Duke of Exeter: Exeter went into exile with Margaret. After defeat at Barnet, he was imprisoned in the Tower. His poor state of health and marriage to the King’s sister probably saved his life, but he lost everything else. He was divorced and divested. That he was allowed to join Edward’s expedition to France in 1475 is probably more surprising than his fate on the return sea voyage. He drowned. Foul play seems a certainty.

The Papal Legate – Francesco Coppini, Bishop of Terni: Coppini never became a Cardinal. Pius II, for short-term political considerations, accused Coppini of having exceeded his authority and dismissed him from his Bishopric in 1462. Pope Pius completed the job for posterity, by blackening Coppini’s name in his memoirs.



From late medieval times, surgeons used ‘Wound Men’ illustrations to indicate the types of battle injury they would need to treat. The sophistication of the armour of the time is a tribute to the power of the weaponry it was designed to deflect. The Wound Man graphically shows the impact against unprotected areas. The so-called ‘naked men’, those with inadequate protection, would have been very quickly dispatched during a rout on a battlefield where surrender was not sanctioned and escape was difficult.

This ‘Wound Man’ is from Gerssdorff’s Feldbuch der Wundartzney (1517).

Photograph: Dr Jeremy Burgess / Science Photo Library

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