Battle of Tewkesbury

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Battle of Tewkesbury

Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire The 4th of May 1471 AD

The final battle of the Wars of the Roses , unless Bosworth is included as part of the conflict, took place at Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire.

On the very day Warwick died at the Battle of Barnet his ally Queen Margaret landed at Weymouth , bringing a small force of French mercenaries with her. This was a desperate gamble to wrench back the throne from Edward IV . Henry was in the Tower, at Edward’s mercy. Edward had consolidated his power with the victory at Barnet. He had learned from his military career, and was certainly a more capable general than Somerset, Margaret’s war leader. And Edward knew the power of the gun. His forces were better equipped with cannon and arquebus than the Lancastrian force.

Margaret had to recruit an army as she progressed from Weymouth to her goal, Wales, where she intended linking with the forces of Jasper Tudor. Edward tracked her, keen to end the conflict decisively. To do this he had to prevent Margaret crossing the Severn to Wales. The Lancastrians were confounded by the city of Gloucester shutting them out, stopping the crossing there, so they went on to Tewkesbury, but circumstances meant they had to stand and fight.

The army commanded by Somerset was probably slightly larger than Edward’s – estimates vary. Somerset perhaps had 5,500 men, the King a few hundred fewer. But Edward’s force was better trained, better organised, better led, and better equipped. The result was almost inevitable.

Battle commenced early on the 4th May with a test of firepower, the Yorkists certainly superior in this exchange.

Part of Somerset’s division attempted a flank attack, but were beaten back by Richard Duke of Gloucester (the future Richard III ). It may be that Lord Wenlock, commanding another Lancastrian division, betrayed Somerset, or at least failed to support his thrust, leaving Somerset outnumbered. Legend has it that Somerset brained Wenlock with an axe for his cowardice or treachery.

When a mounted force of some 200 spearmen hit the Lancastrian line from the rear panic broke out in the red rose troops. Panic turned to rout, and rout to slaughter as the fleeing Lancastrians were penned into a killing ground, now known as Bloody Meadow, with steep banks either side, a river behind, and the disciplined Yorkist troops surging into them. Perhaps one in three of the Lancastrians died there, the 17-year-old Edward Prince of Wales among them. It is not known if he died fighting, or was summarily executed.

Somerset sought sanctuary beyond the river in Tewkesbury Abbey , but was executed two days later after the swiftest justice. Queen Margaret was captured, held for years until a ransom was paid for her by the French. The death of Edward Prince of Wales meant that with one more blow the Lancastrian cause would have no male figurehead.

Days after the battle Henry was murdered in the Tower , though the Yorkists claimed he died of melancholy! When Henry’s body was exhumed in modern times his skull was found to have matted blood on it. It is thought likely that Richard Duke of Gloucester himself did the foul deed.

Tewkesbury ended the wars. For 14 years the country would enjoy peace, for not only had the figureheads gone, but many Lancastrian nobles had perished at Tewkesbury and at Barnet.

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