Friday, 30 April 2010

A New Government is Formed

Although King Henry was in Yorkist hands, Margaret of Anjou and Prince Edward were still inconveniently at large, and were (eventually) to form a focus of Lancastrian opposition, thus becoming even more inconvenient. The Earl of Wiltshire and Ormonde had fled from Nothampton, as had Bishop Wayneflete and Bishop Booth. Somerset was still besieged in Guisnes and Northumberland was in the north. Devon (at one time a Yorkist but now firmly Lancastrian) was in his own shire.

It was necessary to form a new government and it was more or less as narrowly based as the last Yorkist administration, heavily reliant on Nevilles and Bourchiers. George Neville (Warwick's brother) became Chancellor. Viscount Bourchier (York's brother-in-law) was made Treasurer.A certain Robert Stillington was made Keeper of the Privy Seal. Parliament was summoned with a view to achieving a new settlement, Richard Duke of York naturally receiving a summons even though technically still under attainder.

The Tower (18 July) was taken. It was on this occasion that for some reason Warwick had certain members of Exeter's household executed, though most of the garrison - including Scales - were allowed to toddle off where they would. Scales was subsequently murdered by a mob, but this was not Warwick's fault.

Most of Henry's jewels and ready cash had been stolen during July, so the government was even more penniless than usual. Warwick negotiated the surrender of Guisnes - which involved letting Somerset go free but at least secured Calais and thus London's trade with the continent. However the regime remained weak pretty much everywhere outside the South East and its control over the far West, the North and most of Wales was more nominal than actual.

The House of Stewart Takes Sides

The following post is by Stephen Lark, and all credit belongs to him. Thanks for the contribution, Stephen!

Three weeks after Northampton, a Scottish army gathered in the grounds of Roxburgh Castle, determined to add to Lancastrian woes. The castle had been in English hands almost continuously since Edward I’s time, although it was not in good condition. James I had attempted to take it on several occasions but his assassination in 1437 halted the strategy due to the minority of his son.

James II came of age at the end of the following decade and determined to recapture Roxburgh and other Border castles. Henry VI’s difficulties aided James in this as his armies took Abercorn and Threave in 1455, formerly held by the Earls of Douglas. James’ character was passionate – hinted at by a prominent facial birthmark and an interest in guns. 1457 saw him order “Mons Meg”, a particularly large cannon.

James’ army lay siege to Roxburgh as July 1460 gave way to August. “Mons Meg” had already misfired once, killing its skilled French gunner but it was repaired as the English army remained inside the castle. On August 3, James took the decision to test-fire his cannon again – Neil Oliver suggests that this was a grand romantic gesture for his queen, Marie of Guelders – with fatal effects. The cannon shattered, a shard severed James’ leg, he died almost instantaneously - and the garrison surrendered.

Roxburgh Castle was soon demolished and a wooden structure added to the site in the 1540s, but not for long. A “James II Holly” marks the spot where a Scottish King died, at his moment of long-planned triumph, in the grounds of the C18 Floors Castle, still the home of the Dukes of Roxburghe. Kelso lies to the east - James III was crowned a week later at its Abbey, his mother serving as Regent until her death in 1463. Either side of the site are the Teviot and Tweed. “Mons Meg”, reconstructed again, sits in Edinburgh Castle.

2010 marks the 550th anniversary of the end of the siege – and August 2 will be a Bank Holiday in Scotland.


The Lancastrian army was drawn up in the grounds of Delapre Abbey behind a prepared defence of ditch and palisade and on the face of it was in a very strong position. On the other hand they had the River Nene at their back, less than an ideal tactical situation. Presumably they were confident their defences were likely to withstand the Yorkist attack because no sensible person wants to retreat across a river in the immediate aftermath of a defeat.

The morning of 10 July was spent in fruitless negotiation. Warwick kept finding ways to ask for an interview with Henry VI and Buckingham (Lord Constable and Henry's military commander) kept finding ways of saying 'no.' Whether discussion would have achieved anything is questionable, but maybe the Lancastrian leaders feared that Henry would settle for some compromise and were confident of victory.

It is one of the curiousities of the Wars of the Roses that the side that attacked boldly tended to win over the one holding a defensive line. At two o' clock in the afternoon the Yorkists went forward in heavy rain - well, it was England in July! The Lancastrian cannons did not appreciate the weather and worked poorly and it may be that the archers' effectiveness was also reduced, as bow-strings were very vulnerable to water. (Archers usually hid their strings under their hats if marching in wet weather.)

However the key factor was the decision of Lord Grey de Ruthin, on the Lancastrian flank, to change sides. It is highly unlikely that this was a spur of the moment decision, although how exactly the defection was arranged is unknown. (I can only assure you that Alianore Audley was not involved.)

Anyway, instead of fighting Grey's men assisted the Yorkists over the ditch and stakes, and then joined them. The Lancastrian flank was thus cruelly exposed and rolled up. Within half an hour the battle was over.

Acting on orders, the Yorkist soldiers were particularly keen to hunt down and kill the enemy nobles, knights and gentlemen, while disregarding the escaping common soldiers. Buckingham, Shrewsbury, Egremont and Beaumont were all killed. Henry VI was captured in his tent and treated with due respect.

(Grey de Ruthin's grandfather, as readers of Within the Fetterlock will recall, was a strong supporter of Bolingbroke, and his mother, Constance Holland, was Henry IV's niece. It is perhaps surprising that a peer with such an impeccable Lancastrian background should defect, but he became a staunch Yorkist and was created Earl of Kent by Edward IV in 1465. He outlived the Yorkist dynasty, surviving until 1490.)

Monday, 26 April 2010

Warwick's Invasion of England

It is sometimes said that England has never been successfully invaded since 1066. This is of course complete cobblers - Warwick's successful invasion of June 1460 was neither the first since that date nor the last.

Nevertheless the invasion of England is not an easy task and requires command of the sea, which Warwick possessed. He has often been criticised for his military shortcomings but he was a very able admiral and popular with his sailors, many of whom had defected from Henry VI's forces to join him.

The Yorkists published a manifesto from Calais which was a pretty standard late medieval proposal of rebellion, promising loyalty to the King but attacking his advisers especially, in this case, Shrewsbury, Wiltshire and Beaumont. (The Queen and Prince were not mentioned; more surprisingly nor were Exeter and Pembroke.)

Lord Fauconberg (Warwick's uncle) led an advance party to secure a bridgehead at Sandwich, and on 26 June Warwick, Salisbury and March landed there, accompanied by the Papal Legate, Francesco Coppini, who was accredited to Henry VI. They were received by no less a person than the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Bourchier, later to crown Edward IV, Richard III and Henry VII in his long career. They recruited heavily in Kent, a strong area of Yorkist (and more particularly Neville) support. London fell to them on 2 July without resistance, although the Tower held out under Lord Scales.

The Yorkists had already given Coppini a written pledge of their loyalty to Henry VI, and given the Kentishmen/Men of Kent the same line. Warwick now swore a public oath of loyalty at St. Paul's, although he used the occasion to set out their principal grievances once more. It is likely that the Londoners were sympathetic, but they would also have been keen that the Kentish Brigade should not get out of hand (as they had at the time of Cade's Rebellion, 1450) and the leadership at least probably feared to burn all their bridges with Henry VI. The oath was politically convenient all round.

Salisbury remained in London to conduct a siege of the Tower, but Warwick, March and the bulk of the army marched north. A very considerable royal army was in the field to meet them and on 10 July the forces met at Northampton.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Richard, Duke of York in Ireland

I am no expert on Ireland in the Middle Ages, but I am doing my best here. Essentially there were three main groups: 1. The English - these people were new or relatively new immigrants, thought of themselves as English and tended to live in the area round Dublin (the Pale) where the English government had some sort of control. 2. The Anglo-Irish - this group included some very powerful families who controlled large chunks of Ireland. They were of English (or Norman) descent but did not necessarily have much regard for the English government. Some of the families were in a state of semi-permanent feud with one another. 3. The Gaelic or 'Old' Irish. Mainly descended from the indigenous population they generally had no regard for the English government at all, except when under duress. Warriors had particularly high status among this group and they often fought among themselves, as well as with the other sectors.

Elements of all these groups formed temporary alliances with one another as it suited them, and the hold of the English government was actually quite tenuous. Few English kings showed any interest in Ireland - Richard II was a very rare exception - and it was no longer even a source of net revenue.

That Richard, Duke of York, was a successful Lieutenant of Ireland is in some ways surprising. He was an aristocrat to his finger tips, and not generally noted for his people skills. If he had strengths they lay in his relative honesty and relative efficiency as an administrator and soldier. York failed miserably the unite the English nobility behind him, and yet he seems to have been well-regarded in Ireland. (In contrast to John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, who was positively hated in the same role.)

York had spent several years in Ireland, and it seems his political skills came to the fore, particularly in his relationships with the great Anglo-Irish families, without whom it was impossible for him to function effectively as Lieutenant. He was also generally successful in the field against the Gaelic Irish, which strengthened his position, and after his flight from England he encouraged or allowed the Irish Parliament to pass legislation which left the country almost, but not quite independent, Henry VI's sovereignty being reduced to little more than a cipher. It was even declared that the introduction of English Privy Seal Letters into Ireland was a breach of the country's liberties. In return the Parliament voted York men and money, and rejected Henry VI's attempts to remove York from office. The duke was not quite King of Ireland, but he was something very close.

In March 1460 Warwick left Calais with a fleet of twenty-six ships and sailed to Waterford to consult with his party leader. The conference quickly moved to Dublin, where an attempt was made to produce a strategy for the invasion of England. The intention was for the landings to be co-ordinated, Warwick in Kent, York in the north. However, for whatever reason, York was delayed, and by the time he arrived home the fighting was over - for the time being.

The next post will deal with Warwick's successful campaign.