Category Archives: Local history

Curtain-Up on the Wars of the Roses: The Battle of Wakefield (1460)

Cast your mind back over 550 years.

You have arrived in Wakefield. It is Tuesday, 30th December 1460. It is only mid-afternoon; but darkness comes early at this time of the year.

In the gathering gloom, you walk the short distance to Wakefield Green, Between Sandal Castle and the River Calder. Wakefield Green is sadly littered with many dead bodies. Sandal Castle, lately occupied by Richard Duke of York, is strangely silent. Over by the River Calder, you espy a crowd of foot-soldiers loitering on Wakefield Bridge.  Plucking up your courage you wander across to the soldiers. They are gruff; but not unfriendly. They are retainers of Lord Clifford, the well-known Lancastrian supporter.  They tell you that they are guarding the place where earlier in the day Lord Clifford killed a prominent Yorkist leader, Lord Rutland. You are surprised and saddened by their news, as Lord Rutland is only 17 years old. A Renaissance Prince has been cut down in his prime. How could such an outrage have been allowed to happen?

The Battle of  Wakefield. 30th December 1460

  • In 1460, the forces of King Henry VI had been furiously engaged with the supporters of Richard, Duke of York, in what is commonly known as the Wars of the Roses. By December, Richard had taken part of his forces (about 9,000 soldiers) to his castle at Sandal, near Wakefield. Richard’s commanders included his own son, Edmund (Earl of Rutland) and Richard (Earl of Salisbury). Richard’s strategy was aimed at overpowering King Henry’s forces in Northern England.
  • However, the Lancastrians had called Richard’s bluff. They had secretly assembled an army twice the size of Richard’s force in West Yorkshire. This Lancastrian Army was commanded by Henry Beaufort (3rd Duke of Somerset), Henry Percy (3rd Earl of Northumberland) and Henry (9th Lord Clifford).
  • Having previously reached Sandal Castle on 21st December, Richard’s army had then quit the safety of the castle nine days later. Historians are still uncertain why Richard of York made such a strategic mistake. There are several theories:-

(i)                Richard’s Army was growing short of supplies, and so his army needed to forage for provisions.

(ii)              Only part of the Lancastrian Army was visible on Wakefield Green, at the foot of Sandal Castle. The rest were hidden in nearby woods. Richard of York therefore thought that his forces were not at risk.

(iii)            There is a possibility that both sides had agreed a temporary truce. Truces were very common in medieval warfare, and were virtually always respected.

  • Whatever the reason, Richard of York‘s decision was a blunder. Although daylight hours were restricted in late December, the Lancastrian Army, 18,000 strong, soon overwhelmed the Yorkist Army (only half the Lancastrian strength). In this military rout, virtually the entire Yorkist leadership was eliminated. Richard of York was killed in battle; Edmund Of Rutland (wounded and defenceless) was hacked down on Wakefield Bridge. The Earl of Salisbury did escape from the battlefield, only to be executed the following day.

Impact of the Battle of Wakefield

Historians regard the Battle of Wakefield as marking a decisive step in the Wars of the Roses. As Professor Michael Hicks has written, the Battle of Wakefield “raised the stakes yet further…….From Wakefield on, every victorious side systematically despatched any opposing leaders who fell into their hands, thus making the results more decisive.”  [‘The Wars of the Roses’, by Michael Hicks (2010), page 160].

The Lancastrians had certainly raised the stakes by killing young Rutland. They went even further after the battle. They beheaded the bodies of Richard of York, Edmund of Rutland and Richard of Salisbury. They also beheaded the bodies of Sir Thomas Neville and William, Lord Harrington. The former was the fourth son of Richard of Salisbury: the latter was Salisbury’s son-in-law. The Lancastrians then had these severed heads placed on the various gateways of York.

A contemporary chronicler, added: “The head of the Duke of York they also in contempt crowned with a paper crown.” [EHD, Volume IV, edited A.R. Myers, page 286

Conclusion

I entitled this Blog: ‘Curtain-Up on the Wars of the Roses’, and this title is deliberate. Shakespeare used the Wars of the Roses as the backcloth to his cycle of  three plays on the reign of King Henry VI. Shakespeare clearly knew his historical sources, including the contemporary source above mentioned, which is referred to in his play: “The True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York and the Good Henry the Sixth” {3 Henry VI}.  In Act 1, Scene 4 of this play, Shakespeare creates a magnificent inter-play between the captive Richard of York and Margaret of Anjou (Henry VI’s queen). In a famous speech, Margaret humiliates Richard of York. She finishes by putting a paper crown on Richard’s head:

“A crown for York, and lords, bow low to him.

Hold you his hands whilst I do set it on.

Ay, marry, sir, now looks he like a king,

Ay, this is he that took King Henry’s chair,

And this is he was his adopted heir.”

 

The rhyming couplet that concludes Margaret’s dramatic actions again reveals Shakespeare’s historical knowledge. Two months before the Battle of Wakefield, King Henry VI had agreed to Parliament’s Act of Accord, by which Henry had ‘adopted’ Richard of York as heir to his throne.

Finally, the ‘Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary’ defines the term ‘curtain-up’ as “the beginning of something which is very exciting or dramatic”.  My 2013 Blogs (regular and monthly) will focus on a key period of the Wars of the Roses between 1450 and 1461. This explosive period in English History was full of dramatic personalities and exciting events. I hope my readers  will find my historical  jottings  equally exhilarating and theatrical.

Question.

In the above Shakespearean Scene, what famous appellation does Richard of York bestow on Margaret?

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Filed under Battles in Britain, British Kings and Queens, Civil War, Edward IV, Famous women, Feminism, Henry VI, Lancastrians, Local history, Margaret of Anou, Medieval battles, Medieval government, Medieval History, Military History, Neviles, Red Rose, Richard Duke of York, Shakespeare, Wakefield, Wars of the Roses, White Rose, York, Yorkists, Yorkshire

The Medieval Dimension of Scottish Nationalism: King David of Scotland and Henry, 22nd May, 1149.

Before I begin this month’s extended Angevin Writ, I would like to welcome to our Angevin ranks Sir Gerald de Fengge, knight of the shire of York. Sir Gerald is a well-known scholar and writer of sagas.

It is exactly seven weeks since my last blog entry, on 1st April, and I hope you Angevin loyalists out there have not become too frustrated at this interlude. There are two possible Angevin anniversaries in May for me to discuss. The first is the 859th anniversary of Henry II’s marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine, which took place on the 18th May, 1152. The second is the knighting of Henry (then 16 years old) by King David of Scotland, which took place at Carlisle, on 22nd May, 1149, exactly 862 years ago today. It did not take me much time to opt for the latter date for my May Blog entry. Not only have I already analysed Eleanor’s role in the Angevin Empire in my previous blog entry; but I obviously do not wish to detract from another famous royal wedding, celebrated only a few weeks ago……..

Another important event in May (this time in 2011), was the elections to the Scottish Parliament, held on 5th May. As is well known, this election resulted in a sweeping victory for the SNP, which gained 69 out of a grand  total of 129 parliamentary seats, thereby giving the SNP an outright majority. However, at second sight, this apparently stunning electoral performance by the SNP in Scotland masked two geographical anomalies. The SNP conspicuously failed to get any electoral support in the north and south ‘border areas’ of Scotland: Orkney & Shetland in the North, and the Scottish Border Counties in the South (Ettrick, Roxburgh, Berwickshire, Galloway and Dumfries). Both these border regions of Scotland returned MSP’s favourable to the continued Scottish union with the rest of the UK. It is my contention that this political peculiarity can only be explained by analysing the medieval dimension.

When Henry was knighted by his great-uncle, King David of Scotland, at Carlisle on 22nd May 1149, he was very much aware that his great-uncle had seized the opportunity, created by the political weakness of King Stephen of England, to annexe to Scotland the northern English counties of Cumberland, Westmorland and Northumberland. Henry was pleased to be knighted by a king, as it strengthened his own claims to the English Crown; but for the same reason, Henry could never accept the permanent loss of the northern English counties. The death of King David, almost exactly four years after Henry’s investiture, on 24th May 1153, gave Henry his chance. David was succeeded by his grandson, King Malcolm IV, and King Henry II (as he then was) was able to force the young Scots King in 1157 to surrender the three northern counties to his growing Angevin Empire. It was a shrewd move. In 1174, King William I of Scotland (‘The Lion’), brother of Malcolm IV (who had died unmarried in 1165), invaded Northern England. The Scots invasion was part of the ‘Great Rebellion’ against Henry. William I’s invasion was a complete failure. Northumberland remained loyal to Henry, and the Northern English Army, led by Roger of Estouteville, significantly Sheriff of Northumberland, routed the Scots Army at Alnwick on 13th July 1174, capturing King William in the process. Henry II made peace with William, but seemingly on harsh terms. King William had to surrender to Henry his castles at Edinburgh and Stirling (in central Scotland), and Roxburgh, Berwick and Jedburgh (in the Scottish borders). In practice, the Treaty was not so harsh. Henry never garrisoned Stirling, in the heart of Scotland, and actually returned Edinburgh to William in 1186. In contrast, Henry significantly retained possession of the border castles until his death in 1189. Henry went further, in 1185, he returned the Earldom of Huntingdon to the Scots. It was granted to King William’s younger brother, David.

So how are these Angevin events over 800 hundred years ago of relevance to the current political situation today, in 2011?  Firstly, they indicate how inter-twined were the kingdoms of Scotland and England, which suggests that the SNP would have a difficult task today in trying to disentangle such a relationship. Maybe even more importantly, they  indicate that the Anglo/Scots border region of Roxburgh, Berwick and Jedburgh (directly part of Henry’s Angevin Empire) will probably always want to remain loyal to the UK ‘Angevin Empire’.

Perhaps on an even lighter note, should a SNP dominated Scotland ever decide to leave the UK, then perhaps it should do so minus both its southern Border Regions and Orkney & Shetland. Who knows, perhaps a UK nation excluding such a truncated Scottish State might then even re-unite with Normandy and Brittany to resurrect Henry’s Angevin Empire? This is not so fanciful as it sounds. My loyal Angevins will have been heartened  by the creation of the ‘Arc Manche’ Assembly in 2005. The Assembly’s purpose is to integrate Southern England and Northern France into a Cross-Channel State, funded by the EU’s Community Initiative. Just think of it, the Angevin Empire re-born!

Question

As often happens, I would like to leave my Angevin followers with a brainteaser. Orkney & Shetland do not identify with the SNP. Perhaps this is because these islands only became part of Scotland in the later medieval period, in 1468.To which nation did they previously belong?

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Filed under Angevins, British Kings and Queens, Devolution, Henry II, History, Local history, Medieval History, Politics, Scotland, UK 2011 Elections

Towton Revisited: rescuing the country from Lancastrian misrule!

Before I launch into this month’s blog on the Angevin Empire, I must take time to remind my readers that yesterday, 29th March 2011, was a major historical landmark. It was the 550th anniversary of the battle of Towton. As I live not too far from Towton, this important armed confrontation is of especial consequence; but of course, Towton’s real historical significance is twofold. To begin with, it is the greatest battle ever fought on British soil. Estimates of the size of the rival Lancastrian and Yorkist armies will always vary; over thirty years ago, the  late Professor Ross suggested that perhaps the total number  of men  involved in the battle may have been as high as 50,000. This is an amazing figure, particularly so when one considers that the total population of England in the mid-fifteenth century could not have been much higher than 2.75 million, if that.                                                                                    Secondly, the glorious victory at Towton helped to consolidate the position of the newly crowned Yorkist king –King Edward IV. Edward IV’s first reign as king of England, between 1461 and 1470, was not without its problems; but at least the national finances recovered, after the depredations of Henry VI’s reign. Edward IV fought in five major battles in the Wars of the Roses: Northampton, July 1460; Mortimer’s Cross, February 1461; Towton, March 1461; Barnet, April 1471; and Tewkesbury, May 1471. All five battles were Yorkist victories. Few kings share Edward IV’s enviable military record. Yet there is more to Edward IV than simply military success, and, as Christine Carpenter has suggested: “He should be acknowledged as one of the greatest of English kings.” (Christine Carpenter: ‘The Wars of the Roses’, Cambridge University Press, (1997), page 205.)

Wreaths of red and white carnations or roses are still regularly placed on the site of the battle at Towton; but the battlefield itself is all used by local farmers for growing a variety of crops. The site of another great civil war battlefield is geographically close to Towton: Marston Moor. Marston Moor, fought in 1644 between royalist supporters of King Charles I and the forces of Parliament, was quite probably the military turning-point in the Civil War of 1642-1646. One feels that, with two great battles in such close proximity, a proper museum should be built within the locality, commemorating both great battles. Such a museum would probably be a prime tourist attraction, as well as having obvious potential for school visits. I suppose that the present financial stringency would make such a scheme unlikely – but, as it says in the Acts of the Apostles: ‘Your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams’ (Chapter 2, Verse 17). I hope I can put myself in the position of having a vision of a museum being built in the near future, to commemorate these two great civil war confrontations.

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Filed under Battles in Britain, Civil War, Edward IV, History, Local history, Medieval History, Military History, Museums, Wars of the Roses, Yorkshire