Heworth Moor Skirmish
It is hard not to compare the competition between the great families of England in the 15th century with drugs cartels today. Their conflicts were concerned not with ideology but with personal greed and ambition, regardless of the consequences for others, and with the control of constantly disputed territory. Because of the nature of the rivalries this could also be a question of survival. And the central authority – the weak-minded Henry VI in this case – was incapable of resolving the situation. There is something too of The Godfather in one of the most significant early moments in this escalating conflict, when it appears an assassination was planned to take place during a bridal procession.
The North of England was dominated in the early 15th century by the Neville family of Middleham , which had profited by the ill-judged rebellions of the Percy family in 1403 and 1405. The Percy lands had been forfeited and Percy leaders exiled. When Henry V welcomed a new generation of the family back into the national fold he did not restore all of their lost estates, the fact that some remained with the Neville’s doubtless a source of tension between the rivals.
Petty clashes between the factions – attacking one another’s tenants, damaging property and so on – were regular occurrences, though they could also work together when facing a common enemy, raiders from Scotland.
The granting of the bishopric of Carlisle to a Percy in 1452 created resentment in the Neville family. The Percies in the face of the implied threat began to gather greater armed retinues. An unpleasant moment arrived when a Percy estate, Topcliffe in North Yorkshire, was raided by the Nevilles, seeking one of the Percies most active in recruiting armed followers, Lord Egremont.
In August 1453 a flash-point came about. Lands that had once belonged to the Percies had just fallen into the hands of the Nevilles via the marriage of one of their number with the heiress of Lord Cromwell, granted the lands some time before. Lord Egremont gathered what amounted to an army, probably numbering around 1000 men, to ambush the bridal party, intercepting it at Huntington a few miles outside York . Either warned of the danger, or simply careful, or perhaps making a show of power, the head of the Neville family Richard Earl of Salisbury had brought a considerable entourage with him to accompany his son and new daughter-in-law.
Insults were exchanged, and there was some violence, but with the sides more or less balanced Egremont decided against a full-scale attack. The Neville party made haste to reach their destination, their stronghold at Sheriff Hutton.
No deaths are recorded at the clash, but it was significant in creating further bad-blood, the Nevilles reacting swiftly with an attack on a Percy household in Catton.
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