Monday, March 11, 2013

The Wars of the Roses II

The remains of Wigmore Castle, near Mortimer's Cross battle field

      1460 - 1461

bulletThe severity with which Margaret of Anjou treated the Yorkists produced a reaction against her government.
bulletIn June 1460, Warwick invaded from Calais. He was welcomed in Kent and London because he had gained a reputation for attacking the French who obstructed English trade. (The Tower of London's Lancastrian garrison refused to surrender.)
bulletWarwick was accompanied by Edward, Earl of March (Richard of York's son), and Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury. Edward was only eighteen years old, but already assuming military leadership.

bulletInspired by Warwick's success, Richard of York returned to England with his younger son, Edmund, Earl of Rutland, and rapidly made apparent his intention of seizing the throne. The lords refused to countenance this action, but they did agree (October 1460) that Richard should succeed on Henry VI's death. (The rumor that Edward was really not Henry VI's son may well have influenced them.)
bulletAlthough the Yorkists controlled the king and London, Lancastrian forces were still in command of much of the country. In December 1460, Richard of York sallied forth from Sandal Castle against a Lancastrian army that was stronger than he realized.

The Micklegate where heads were exhibited
Richard's forces were routed at the Battle of Wakefield (30 December 1460.) Richard himself was killed along with his son Edmund of Rutland and Salisbury's son, Thomas Clifford. Salisbury was executed soon after the battle, and his head and that of Richard (wearing a paper crown) were displayed above the gates of the city of York.

bulletEdward, Earl of March had been gathering armed support in the the west of England (Mortimer lands) at his stronghold of Wigmore Castle. The Earls of Pembroke (Jasper Tudor) and Wiltshire (James Butler) had brought forces from abroad (French, Breton and Irish) to help the Lancastrian cause.

Kingsland church
near the site of the Battle of Mortimer's Cross.
Its Volka Chapel was built as a place to say mass for the souls of those that died in the battle
The Battle of Mortimer's Cross (2 February 1461) was fought and won by Edward, Earl of March. The  Lancastrian army under Owen Tudor(who had married Henry V's widow, Catherine of France) and Jasper Tudor was defeated. Jasper fled and Owen was executed.

Meanwhile, Queen Margaret and the Lancastrian army, fresh from the victory at Wakefield, marched south (plundering Yorkist adherents as it went.) Warwick's forces were waiting to meet it at St Albans.
In the Second Battle of St Albans (17 February 1461) it was the Yorkists' turn to suffer betrayal. A Kentish squire (Lovelace) gave Margaret information about Warwick's defensive position that allowed her army to turn his forces' flank, and then changed sides in the midst of the battle. Warwick had to beat a hasty retreat with the remains of his forces towards Edward's army in the West.
Margaret regained custody of Henry VI (who during the battle had spent the time singing little songs to himself.) Her troops celebrated their victory by looting the town and convent of St Albans - so greatly alarming the citizens of London, that they closed the city's gates to Margaret.

The skull of a soldier killed by a sword/axe blow at the Battle of Towton.
The recapture of Henry VI triggered Edward's declaration that he was the "true" king of England (March 1461.) When
Margaret's army marched north towards York, Edward - joined by Warwick's forces - adopted an interception course. The two armies met at Towton, Yorkshire

bulletThe Battle of Towton - the bloodiest battle in the Wars of the Roses - took place on Palm Sunday, 29 March 1461. It involved 40,000 or more troops and as many as three in four of the realm's adult noblemen were present.
The Lancastrian forces, led by Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, deployed on a ridge on the road between Saxton and Towton, with the small River Cock (or Cocke) on their right.Despite the poor weather conditions - driving snow - Edward opted for immediate attack. The Yorkist archers advanced and (using the following wind in their favor) fired a salvo of arrows. Firing into the wind, the Lancastrian response was largely ineffective.
Both sides advanced and engaged in hand-to-hand combat with swords and axes. The chaotic fighting lasted for hours. Randolph Dacre (Baron Dacre) was killed by fire from a line of trees concealing Yorkist supporters.
It seemed that the superior numbers of Lancastrian forces moving forward to control the slight ridge ending in Castle Hill were winning the fray, when John Mowbray (3rd Duke of Norfolk) arrived with an additional Yorkist contingent.The disheartened Lancastrian soldiers were pushed back across "Bloody Meadow," and finally broke and fled. Many were drowned in the River Cock, and many cut down by Yorkist cavalry. One contemporary account stated that 28,000 men died and though this figure is probably excessive, Towton certainly had a very high death toll.

Warwick and Edward left London with a large army and marched north. Henry VI had established an apparently strong defensive position just south of Northampton, with its back to the River Nene. A strong central force of archers was assisted by artillery. The day was very wet and the Yorkist army advanced into driving rain as well as arrows. However, the weather also rendered the royal field artillery useless.
When the Yorkist army reached the defensive line, Edmund Grey (Lord Grey of Ruthyn) decided to change sides. He ordered his men to surrender, and the Yorkist army poured in against the undefended Lancastrian flank.
In brief, bloody fighting, Humphrey Stafford, 1st Duke of Buckingham was killed with a number of other royalist captains. Warwick had given orders to spare common soldiers if possible, and casualties were light. Henry VI was captured and taken back to London, at which point the Tower of London's garrison surrendered.

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