Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Tactical positioning

On the morning of St Tecla's day, Sunday September 23rd 1459, Salisbury was approaching Market Drayton via woodland from the direction of the town of Newcastle-under-Lyme in the north east when he was warned by his scouts that his route was blocked on Blore Heath by the army of the King, and upon arrival, Salisbury drew up his forces in opposing battle order to the north of Blore Heath.
The 'great hedge' behind which Audley arrayed his army is stillvisible today.
Audley's position
James Touchet, Lord Audley was the principle Lancastrian commander, in charge of at least 6-12,000 men. Having camped overnight on Blore Heath he had been able to choose an excellent defensive spot, to the south side of the battlefield. The pronounced valley of the Crumbledale (still visible today) allowed Audley to shelter his sizeable army from view, and he possibly hoped to catch the Yorkists by surprise as they emerged from the dense woodland to the north of Blore Heath. His large army and cavalry would be at their most effective on open ground, which made Blore Heath an excellent choice for a location to engage the Yorkists.
Coincidentally, James Touchet, Lord Audley and William Montague, Earl of Salisbury, the great-grandfathers of the leaders of the two armies at Blore Heath, had fought side by side at both Crecy and Poitiers at the beginning of the Hundred Years War.
At dawn Audley formed his troops behind a large hedge, which faced sloping open heath land. A few hundred yards in front of this position was a narrow, steep-sided valley through which flowed a brook. On the other side of the valley, just out of the range of a skilled bowmen, was Salisbury's position. Thus, if Salisbury and his army wished to launch an attack, they would have to cross the brook whilst under bombardment from archers, proceed up the slope across open ground, and then finally fight their way through a sizable hedge. Coupled with the fact that Audley had by far the larger force, it seemed that Salisbury had almost no hope of victory.
some views of Audley's position (click to enlarge)
Salisbury's position
Salisbury's forces numbered around 3-6,000 armed men, and as they advanced onto Blore Heath, they could see the flags and pikes of their enemy above a distant hedgerow. Salisbury realised that he was going to have to stand his ground - he couldn't move around Audley to the west because of the river Tern, nor could he move east because he would be hindered by dense woodland. Instead, he formed a defensive position. Salisbury was the more experienced of the two commanders, and he put his knowledge to good use in setting up in opposition to Audley. He drew up his forces in battle order on the northern side of Blore Heath, just out of range of the Lancastrian archers, so that now both sides faced each other across Hempmill brook. In accordance with his military expertise, Salisbury had his men dig ditches and drive sharpened stakes into the ground as defensive precautions. Salisbury was aware that the Queen had other forces in the area, and was careful to dig a large trench to protect his rear. He realised that he would not be able to mount an effective attack because his force was heavily outnumbered, and was therefore going to have to be prepared to repel an advance by Audley. To protect his right flank from Audley's archers he arranged the wagons which carried his supplies in a circle, or laager.
some views of Salisbury's position (click to enlarge)
Prelude to battle
Thus the two armies faced each other across Blore Heath. It is no understatement to say that England's future depended on the events about to unfold. It was still unclear at this point whether the bitter dispute which had arisen between the houses of Lancaster and York could be reconciled, or whether the rightful claimant to the throne would be decided by conflict. However, it was a near certainty that if blood were spilled on Blore Heath, then there would be little opportunity for reconciliation, and England's first major civil war would be underway.

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