Tension had been rising between the rival factions in court. Both sides had begun to strengthen their retinues and were jostling for strategic advantage. Amid this mutual suspicion, the Duke of York called for his supporters to join him at his stronghold at Ludlow. Queen Margaret had been doing similar in the Midlands, an area that the Earl of Salisbury would need to pass through to rendezvous with the Duke of York. The gathering of large armies would have made the likelihood of war seem high. Queen Margaret decided to land the first blow, which resulted in the Battle of Blore Heath on 23rd September 1459.
The Queen’s Orders
She ordered Lord Audley to intercept Salisbury’s force to devastate the Yorkist hopes before they had combined. Audley chose a strong defensive position at Blore Heath to meet the Yorkist army.
The Battle of Blore Heath
At a supposed 10000 strong, Audley’s force outnumbered Salisbury’s by roughly 2 to 1. Plus, the Yorkists would have to traverse a beck before making an assault. Following the traditional exchange of arrows, Salisbury opted to use a ruse.
The centre of the Yorkist line drew back as if in retreat. Upon seeing this, the Lancastrian cavalry charged, trying to rout their foes. However, the Yorkists, instead of fleeing, simply returned to their original positions and used the beck against the Lancastrians.
Lord Audley killed
Many were killed and a second assault was launched, in which Audley was killed. Lord Dudley then ordered an assault by foot soldiers. This too failed and saw many Lancastrians change sides. The Lancastrian army then fled, being chased down by the Yorkists for several miles. Salisbury quickly regrouped and made for Ludlow, aware that other Lancastrian armies were in the area.
Antiquarians on the Battle of Blore Heath
The Battle of Blore Heath was covered quite extensively by antiquarians. Below follow extracts from some of these histories, which draw upon earlier historians work.
Lord Audley was encamped on Blore Heath near a little river: Salisbury posted himself on the other side, as if he meant to guard the pass, and hinder his being attacked; then suddenly feigning a fear, he retired in the night, marching so as, at break of day, his enemies could still see the rear of his army. This retreat, which seemed to be with precipitation, inspiring the Royalists with ardour, they began to pass the river in disorder, imagining that they had nothing to do but pursue the flying enemy. But, whilst they were in this confusion, some being over the river, others in the water, and others ready to pass, the Earl of Salisbury returned, and fell upon the troops already over, who had scarce time to draw up.
Snape, Rev. William, ‘The Battle of Blore Heath in 1459’, The Gentleman’s Magazine, LXXXII, Dec 1812, pp602-05.
Lord Stanley and Blore Heath
Thomas, Lord Stanley, was ordered by Queen Margaret to muster his retinue and assist in intercepting the Earl of Salisbury. Lord Stanley did raise his forces. However, on the day of the battle his force remained close to the clash but did not engage on behalf of either party. For Stanley the situation was complex. Not only had he only just inherited his title and lands, but he was also related to the Neville family through marriage and a recipient of Royal patronage. The day after the battle Lord Stanley wrote to both parties.
Links on the Battle of Blore Heath
Battle of Blore Heath from one of my other sites.
Battlefields Trust. Account of the battle and information about the battlefield and context.
Blore Heath 1459. Battlefield project’s website.
He knewe the slaightes, stratagems, and the pollecies of warlike affaires’: Richard Neville, earl of Salisbury, and the battle of Blore Heath – The History of Parliament
Heritage Gateway. Entry on the Battle of Blore Heath.
The battle of Blore heath by Francis Randle Twemlow
ARMS, TACTICS, AND GENERALSHIP.
(A) Arms and Tactics in the Battle of Blore Heath.
It has already been said that the Yorkists had no artillery, and do not appear to have made any serious use of gunpowder ; and the same remark applies to the Lancastrians. Both armies were of the old-fashioned type, relying upon the long bow as their missile weapon, and upon pikemen and billmen and armoured horsemen for fighting at close quarters. Weapons of war were much what they had been in the reign of Edward III. ; the only difference being that the armour now worn was thicker and heavier, to afford more complete protection against arrows. This of course added to the weight that men and horses had to carry, and greatly impeded all offensive movements. Moreover, though the horses had now bards on their heads and breasts, they were still without protection from flank attack ;wounded horses were worse than useless, for they made confusion worse confounded, and mounted cavalry were at a great disadvantage against archers posted behind cover. For these reasons, and as the result of experience gained in the Scotch and French wars, it had become customary for armies to act upon the defensive whenever possible ; and also for knights and men-at-arms to fight on foot. Time after time victories had been won by adopting- a crescent-shaped formation ; the recessed centre formed of pikemen, assisted by dismounted cavalry and knights ; and the advanced horns composed of archers, concealed or posted behind obstacles. The heavily armed men were able to arrest the onslaught of the enemy, and the archers took advantage of this to gall their flanks and rear with flights of arrows. Against the Scots these tactics had succeeded at Dupplin Moor in 1332 (which was what the lawyers call the ” leading case “), at Halidon Hill in 1333, at Neville’s Cross in 1346, and at Homildon Hill in 1402. The French had given way before them at Crecy in 1346, and at Poictiers in 1356 ; and the Spaniards, to whom they were still a novelty, at Navarette in 1357, and at Aljubarotta in 1385. The only way to meet them successfully was by resolutely refusing to attack.
Audley’s assumed response
We should have expected that Audley, bearing these considerations in mind, would have dismounted most of his horsemen, and taken up a defensive position on the rising ground to the South of the defile, posting archers on his right flank opposite to Netherblore, and also in the curtilage of Bloreheath mill, and a third body of them in the centre to guard the lane that crosses the valley ; and that he would have kept a mounted reserve to frustrate any unlooked-for move on the part of the enemy, and to make a counter attack, or take up the pursuit, in the event of his defence proving successful. But we are not told that he did anything of the kind ; he seems to have only thought of carrying out the orders of his Royal mistress in the spirit in which they were given, and of riding down and capturing his opponents.
Waurin on Blore Heath
Waurin, whose information came from a Yorkist source, says that at daybreak Salisbury and his men could see their adversaries behind a great overgrown hedge, with only the tips of their pennons showing above it. From which it would appear that the Yorkists, on emerging from the Rowney Wood on to Bloreheath, looked across the defile (which would be hidden from their view) to the rising ground beyond it ; and there saw their enemies screened by the hedge of the village cornfields. Waurin also tells us of the overweening confidence of Audley’s men, and how cheaply they held their foes.
(B) Salisbury s Defensive Measures in the Battle of Blore Heath.
Salisbury and his army, on the other hand, were actuated rather by the patient and phlegmatic temperament of their chief, the Duke of York. They did not act rashly, but with prudence and resolution ; and in their arrangements displayed much of the wisdom of the serpent. Being greatly outnumbered, they felt no strong confidence in the result ; but determined to sell their lives dearly, and to adopt the defensive tactics which experience had shown to be the best. Halting on the North side of the defile, under the shelter of the Rowney Wood, they dismounted and proceeded to fortify a position. In their front was the slope, with the brook at the bottom of it ; and on their left this afforded very complete protection, not only because the brook banks were steep, but also on account of the fences and ditches surrounding the mansion and lands of Netherblore ; their flank resting upon the wood. Opposite to their centre and left there seem to have been no artificial obstacles, but only the slope and brook. In places the slope was steep, almost precipitous ; but in others it was more gradual, and at some distance from the brook, which ran between low banks. And their right was very weak, being unprotected and entirely ” in the air.” This part therefore received special attention, as we learn from Waurin ; a laager of carts and horses all fastened together was formed, stakes were driven into the ground to protect their front, and their rear was secured by an intrenchment. It is probable that the right flank of the Yorkists was opposite to Bloreheath mill, but out of bowshot from it, and a little to the West of Audley’s Cross.
The front and ground to be crossed at Blore Heath
The length of front which they had to cover was something over half a mile, and their force would give them about five men to each yard of ground. It is likely that the knights and men-at-arms would be posted in the centre, where the ground was more flat, and where a lane crossed the defile. They would of course be assisted by archers on their flanks and wherever cover could be had or the ground was favourable. The left of the position, being less vulnerable, would require fewer men ; but the right, being weak, would want every one that could be spared. We may suppose that the line was divided into three sections, each under its own commander, and each composed partly of spearmen and partly of archers. Having completed their preparations, we are told that they prostrated themselves on the ground, and worshipped in the most humble and devout manner.
Ramsay, James Henry (1892) “Battle of Blore Heath” in Lancaster and York: A Century of English History (A.D. 1399–1485), Volume II, Oxford, United Kingdom: Clarendon Press, pp. p. 214–
Cigarette Card: George Arents Collection, The New York Public Library. “Battle of Blore Heath [September 23rd, 1459]. (Earl of Salisbury; the battlefield; the memorial cross [Audley’s Cross].)” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47dd-b2e0-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99