Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Fighting and the Outcome

Audleys charge, by Richard Simm

So the two armies of Lancaster and York lined up in readiness for battle on Blore Heath. It was clear that tactical advantage was by far in favour of the Lancastrians. Audley's army outnumbered the Yorkists by two or three to one, they had dug themselves into an excellent defensive position and had had plenty of time to prepare for the battle. By contrast, the Yorkists found themselves in battle order with little preparation, in hostile territory and vastly outnumbered. The Yorkist soldiers are said to have prepared for death by kissing the ground where they stood, believing that they were now on the spot where they would live or die.
Clear details of exactly what took place during the battle are impossible to attain. Instead, a picture has emerged based on various contempory sources, which sometimes differ. The picture of what happened is therefore based on an interpretation of various sources.
In keeping with traditions of Medieval battles, the first act could well have been a 'parley', or conversation, between leaders of both armies. This was a last attempt at peaceful reconciliation, as it was in no-ones interests to stand and fight. However, the situation was intractable, and war was an inevitability.
The opening phase of the battle was an archery duel between both armies, who would push forward their archers to bombard the opposing forces. The longbow was the most devastating range weapon of Medieval times, having proved its worth at Agincourt some 30 years earlier, but both armies were out of range of each other and casualties would have been slight. Similarly, cannon was starting to make an appearance on battlefields, and though a largely ineffective anti-personnel weapon, demonstrations at the re-enactment are testament to the noise which is produced. This must have terrified the inexperienced foot soldiers of both sides, who would never have heard such loud noises before.
Cannon had started to be used during the 15th century. Was Blore Heath the first battle on English soil which saw the use of gunpowder?
Salisbury knew that he was in a difficult position. He was outnumbered, and in hostile territory with limited supply, and aware that the Queen could well be assembling other forces in the area. He realised that mounting an attack on the Lancastrians would be suicidal, and therefore his only chance was to initiate the commencement of hostilities, which he did by goading the Lancastrians into leaving their defences and making an attack. He achieved this brilliantly by feigning a retreat from the centre of his position, which persuaded a section of the Lancastrians to leave their defences (possibly without orders to do so), charge across the open ground and attempt to cross Hempmill brook. At this point, the Yorkists swung around and returned to their original positions. They were now able to slaughter many of the advancing Lancastrians, who were floundering with heavy armour and weapons, on the muddy slopes of Hempmill brook, with a hail of arrows. Seeing that the attack had failed the Lancastrians quickly fell back.
some views of the Yorkist position (click to enlarge)
After their initial failed attack, the Lancastrians regrouped and attacked once again, with Audley leading forth his well-armoured mounted squires and gentry, possibly to extricate the wounded of the first attack, or possibly to attack more forcibly. This time the Lancastrians were able to successfully cross the brook and assault the Yorkist position. It was during the second attack that Lord Audley was himself killed, reputedly by Sir Roger Kynaston of Stocks near Ellesmere who later added Audley's coat of arms to his own to commemorate the event. After the battle, the spot where Audley fell was marked with a cross, which has since been replaced, and stands to this day.
Following the death of Audley, command of the Lancastrian forces fell to Lord Dudley, who was more than aware of the failures of the previous cavalry-led attacks, and resolved to assault the Yorkists on foot. Around four thousand Lancastrians marched forward to engage the enemy, and a period of intense hand-to-hand combat ensued for a period of around half an hour, though the remainder of the Lancastrian forces held back giving no assistance. The assault began to fail, and as was common in Medieval battles, a number of the Lancastrians decided to save their own skins and defected to the Yorkist side. This was the final blow, and the Lancastrian assault collapsed. The Yorkists took the initiative and pressed forward to force the rout of the Lancastrians.
The battle itself had lasted all afternoon, but the ensuing rout continued until dawn the following day. The Lancastrian forces retreated hurriedly to the south west, but were mercilessly pursued and slain by the victorious Yorkists.

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