The Battle of Nibley Green was fought on 20th March 1469/70*. It is notable for having been the last battle between private baronial armies in England. Whilst the participants in this battle were supporters of the rival factions within the wars of the Roses, this battle was part of an ongoing feud between the Berkeley and Lisle families. The use of violence in this feud is a reminder that the outbreak of a civil war did not make local disputes go away.
Nibley Green is situated in Gloucestershire. It is roughly half way between the important Medieval towns of Gloucester and Bristol. More importantly for the context of the battle, it is also roughly halfway between Berkeley and Wooton-under-Edge. This part of the South-West had seen many disputes over land, rights, and political offices in the years leading up to the outbreak of a wider civil war. It is the area in which the more famous dispute between the Bonnville and Courtenay families had taken place. So too was it close to where the Duke of York had, as Lord Protector, used a show of force to bring a baronial siege to an end.
The Berkeley Inheritance
This particular dispute was the result of inheritance and stretched over several generations. Maurice, 9th Berkeley, had two sons, Thomas and James. Thomas inherited the Lordship to become 10th Lord Berkeley and married Margaret, heiress to Lord Lisle. Thomas and Margaret’s marriage produced one child, Elizabeth. Elizabeth did not inherit the Berkeley title or lands as her uncle, James, was alive and became the 11th Lord Berkeley. James had children by both his first and second wife. His heir was his son from his first marriage, also called James. From his second marriage he had a son named William, who in turn inherited the title Lord Berkeley. William was the second husband of Isabel Mowbray, a wealthy women with royal lineage.
Context: Rival Claims through different means
The dispute arose over the rights to Berkeley Castle. When Thomas died in 1417 the castle was supposed to pass to his male heir. However, the Earl of Warwick, Richard Beauchamp was married to Thomas’ daughter and as one of the most powerful men in the country, simply took possession of the castle. James, 11th Lord, eventually managed to take possession of his inheritance through legal channels. It was not the end of the matter though. In 1451 the castle was seized by Richard Beauchamp and Elizabeth’s grandson, Thomas Viscount Lisle. For eleven weeks he held Lord Berkeley as a prisoner.
An unforgotten issue
This dispute over rights was not forgotten. The Beauchamp to Lisle line maintained their claim, the Berkeley claim however was based on male lineage which legally had more substance at that time. In 1469/70 the dispute became violent once more. There had been a truce of sorts, the Countess of Shrewsbury, Viscount Lisle’s mother, and James, 11th Lord Berkeley, had come to arrangements by which some manors could be held for a nominal rent. It suited both parties to ensure peace following the losses within the Lisle household in the latter phase of the Hundred Years War. When James died, William became Lord. He was less diplomatic, and arguments soon turned to challenges.
Obligations and Patents
The challenges were very chivalric in nature, calling on the other to defend their honour. The text of the exchange was translated and recorded in the ‘Descriptive catalogue of the charters and muniments in the possession of Lord Fitzhardinge at Berkeley castle‘.
My most trusty and welbeloved frend, I grete ye wele, praying ye hartely that ye will remember the matter that ye and I comoned of last, And for your matter, it is spede, your patent is spede of five markes and Wotton Parke, with all that belongeth theirto, and your obligacion also, and all other that ye understand that can prevaile you to grante them, fee by patent, terme of life.[From William, Lord Berkeley]
Chivalric Challenge and Acceptance
The conditions of these obligations date back to the inheritance as it stood at the death of Maurice, 9th Lord Berkeley. In particular Lord Lisle and Lord Berkeley, in 1469/70, are in dispute over arrangements for the Manor of Wotton.
William, called lord Berkeley, I marveill ye come not forth with all your carts of gunnes, bowes, with oder ordinance, that ye set forward to come to my manor of Wotton to bete it down upon my head: I let you wit, ye shall not nede to come soe nye ; for I trust to God to mete you nere home with English men of my one nation and neighbors, whereas ye by suttle craft have blowin about in divers places of England, That I should intend to bring in Welshmen for to destroy and hurt my one nation and Cuntry ; I lete the wit, I was never soe disposed nere never will be ; and to the proof hereof I require thee of knighthood and of manhood to appoynt a day to meet me halfway, there to try between God and our two hands all our quarrel and title of right, for to eschew the shedding of Christian menns bloud, or els at the same day bringe the uttermost of thy power, and I shall mete thee ; An answere of this by writinge, as ye will abide by, according to the honor and order of Knighthood.
Thomas Talbot the Viscount Lisle.
Trial by Battle
Viscount Lisle has made use of a slur, calling into question William’s right to a title. He also calls upon him to solve the matter according to the honour and order of Knighthood. Put simply, he is challenging his foe to Trial by Battle.
The reply was also very much couched in the chivalric tradition. William, Lord Berkeley notes the falsehood of Lord Lisle’s claims and asserts his right to the title. He then sets out his acceptance of the challenge and presents the location of Nibley Green as being suited for a clash of arms to settle the matter.
We fight at Nibley Green[This lord William receiving this letter at Berkeley Castle, the same day returneth this answer].
I marveill greatly of thy strange and lewd writing, made I suppose by thy false untrue Counsell that thou hast with the Hugh Mull, and Holt : As for Hugh Mull it is not unknown to all the worshipfull men of this Relme, how hee is attaynt of falsenes and rasinge of the Kings records; And as for the false mischevous Holt, what his rule hath be to the destruction of the King’s lege pepull in my lordship of Berkeley, as well to the hurt of their bodyes, as the losse of their goods against Goddys lawe, consciens and all reason it is openly known, Soe that every worshipfull man should refuse to have them in his fellowship: and also of his own free will undesired of mee, before worshipfull and sufficient witnes, was sworn on a masse booke, that hee never should bee against mee in noe matter that I had a doe, and espetially in that untrue title that ye clayme, which ye hold my lyvelode with wronge, and where thou requirest mee of knighthood That I should appoynt a day and mete thee in the myd way between my manor of Wotton and my Castle of Berkeley, there to try betwyxt God and our two hands all our quarrell and title of right, for to eschewe the schedding of Christen mens bloud, or els the same day to bring the uttermost of my power, and thou would mete me, As for the determining betwixt our two hands of thy untrue clayme, and my title and right of my land and inheritance thou wottest right well there is noe such determinacion of land in this Relme used, And I ascertaine thee That my livelode, as well my manor of Wotton as my Castle of Berkeley, beentayled to mee by fine of record in the Kings Courts by the advice of all the Judges of this lond in that dayes being ; And if it were soe that this matter might bee determined by thy hands and myne, the King our Soveraigne lord and his laws not offended, thou shouldst not so long desire but I would assone answere thee in every poynt that belongeth to a Knight : for thou art, God I take to record, in a false quarrell, and I in a true defence and title, And where thou desirest and requirest mee of knighthood and of manhood to appoynt a day, And that I should bee there with all the power that I could make, and that thou would mete mee half way, I will thou understand I will not bring the tenth part that I can make, And I will appoint a short day to ease thy malitious hart and thy false Counsell that is with thee : faile not to morrow to be at Niblyes green at eight or nine of the clock, And I will not faile with Gods might and grace to meete thee at the same place, the which standeth in the borders of the livelode that thou keepest untruly from mee, redy to answere thee in all things, That I trust to God it shall be shewed on thee and thine to thy great shame and disworshipp, And remember, thy self and thy false Counsell have refused to abide the rule of the grete lordis of this lond, which by my will should have determyned this matter by thy evidences and mine, And therefore I vouch God to record and all the company of heaven, that this fact and the scheddinge of Christen mens bloud which shall be atwixt us two and our fellowshipps, if any hap to bee, doth grow of thy quaryll, and not of mee, but in my defence, and in eschewing of reproche, and onely through thy malitious and mischevouse purpose and of thy false Counsell, and of thy own simple discretion ; And keepe thy day, And the trouth shall be shewed by the marcy of God.
The Battle of Nibley Green – Scarcity of Sources
There are very few sources for the Battle of Nibley Green. The most detailed account is in The Lives of the Berkeley by John Smyth of Nibley. Smyth was a Steward of the Berkeley Household writing in the 17th century. His accounts are based upon the family records and local folklore. His version is preceded by two other historians, John Leland and William Campden. These accounts are light on detail of the battle. Some further information can be obtained from King’s Bench records as the dispute was not resolved by the battle.
Ther was great harte burning betwixt the Lorde Berkeley fo. 51. and the Lorde Lisle for the maner of Wotton Under Egge, in so much that they pointid to fight, and meting yn a medow at a place caullid Nebley, a Berkeley’s archers sodainly shotte sore, and the Lord Lisle lifteting up the visar of his helme was by an archer of the forest of Dene shotte in at the mouth and oute of the nek : and a few beside beyng slayn Lisle menne fled : and Berkeley with his menne straite spoilid the maner place of Wotton, and kepte the house. Berkeley favorid Henry the 6. parte. Lisle favorid Edwarde the 4.
Elsewhere Leland notes:
There hath been a very greate campe of menne of warre on an hille now caullyd Nebley c over growen with wodde aboute the mydle way betwixt Wotton Underege and Dersley d but nerer to Wotton. The Lord Lisle was slayn with an arow by one James Hiatte of the forest of Deene yn Nebley paroch
William Camden on the Battle of Nibley Green
Camden’s comment is very limited, noting the place and outcome:
…remembreth the slaughter of Sir Thomas Talbot Viscount Lisle, here slain in the time of King Edward 4. in an encounter with the Lord Barkley, about possessions, since which time hath continued suits between their Posterity until now lately they were finally compounded.
Account of John Smyth
John Smith provides some detail as to the way in which the battle was fought. He also suggests how the armies were arrayed and their sizes. The main drawback with Smyth’s account is that he is largely reliant upon oral tradition. And he began writing his history some 135 years after the battle.
That within thirty two yeares laft, by reason of my dwelling at Nibley, and of my often resort to Wotton and to the villages adjoyning, I have often heard many old men and weomen in those places, as Wittm Longe, John Cole, Thomas Phelps, Adrian Jobbins, Thomas Dykes of Woodford, Thomas Roberts of Woodford, Wiftm Legge of Wike, John Smyth of Nibley, mother Birton, mother Purnell, mother Peeter, and others, many of whose parents lived in the time of king Edward the fourth, and moft of themselves were born in the time of king Henry the seventh, as their leases and copies declared, some of them one hundred and ten yeares old, divers an hundred, and none under fourscore, relate the reports of their parents kinsfolks and neighbours present at this skirmifh, fome with the one lord, and others with the other; and of such as carryed victualls and weapons to fome of .thofe companies, as this lords party lay clofe in the utter skirts of Michaellwood chace, out of which this lord Berkeley brake, when hee first beheld the lord Lifle with his fellowship descending down that hill from Nibley Church, and after climbed up into trees, (being then boys of twelve, and sixteen yeares,) to fee the battle : And how the lord Berkeleys number wasf ‘ about one thousand, and exceeded the other in greatness : That the place of “Staild ‘ was at sowlefhard, whence this lord Wiftm fent upon the lord Lifle the first shower of his arrowes ; That one black; Will;, (foe called) should shoot the lord Lifle, as his beaver was up ; And that Thomas Longe father of the faid Wiftm was fervant to one of them who helped to carry the lord Lisle when hee was flayne, and of many other perticularyties, (which I purposely omit,) not poffible almoft by fuch plaine Country people to be fained : And that a spetiall man of the lord Lifles company was then alfo flaine, and buryed under the great stone tomb which yet remaines in the south fide of Nibley Church yard ; infomuch as I cannot otherwise but deliver them as | truths And much the rather for the full difcourfe thereof which old M’ Charles Hiet, (whose great grandfather James is one of the Def’f in the faid appeale,*) at Berkeley Castle the; 25 of September 1603, which my felf then heard foe perticularly delivered from the; relation of his father and grandfather as if the; fame had; been but yesfterday : The; faid lord; Henry; himselfe seconding most of what Mr Hiet related, from the; reports of divers others made to himselfe in his youth, fome of whom were then born and of the; age of discretion, as his Ld?p then affirmed : But enough of these traditions and reports, wherein I have exceeded mine own Inclination because this passage is of moft remarkableness in this family ; And the; bloud now spilt was not cleane dryed up till the; seaventh year of kinge James, as after in many places of these relations appeareth: thus did all the; sons joyne in revenge of the; innocent bloud of that virtuous and princely lady their mother, malitioufly spilt at Gloucefter seaventeen yeares before by Margaret this viscounts grandmother, and whose heire and ward hee was this wound flroke the; deeper for that the; blowe thereof swept away all her issue male from the; earth, And in the; fame quarrell where in the; bloud of the; faid lady Berkeley was fhed, as formerly is written.
The Battlefield at Nibley Green
Extracts from Gloucestershire’s Forgotten Battle, Nibley Green 1470 by Peter Fleming and Michael Wood on the North Nibley website provides a modern assessment of the likely Battlefield, troop movements, and the site of a mass grave.
Outcome and Consequences of the Battle of Nibley Green
Lord Lisle was killed in the battle as were an estimated 150 men. The battle did little to solve the dispute over inheritance. That was not fully resolved until 1609. In the interim a settlement was imposed that granted the lands to William, Lord Berkeley but on the condition that a pension was paid to Viscountess Lisle from the estates.
*Dating of documents varies due to the change to the start of the Calendar Year from 25th March (Ladies Day) to the current system of using 1st January. Consequently you will see this battle being dated to either 1469 [old] or 1470 [modern].
Further Reading on the Battle of Nibley Green
Fitzhardinge, Francis. Descriptive catalogue of the charters and muniments in the possession of Lord Fitzhardinge at Berkeley castle. Bristol, C.T. Jefferies and Sons. Also via HathiTrust
Maclean. John Sir. The lives of the Berkeleys, lords of the honour, castle and manor of Berkeley, in the county of Gloucester, from 1066 to 1618; with a description of the hundred of Berkeley and of its inhabitants, by John Smyth of Nibley. Gloucestershire Archaeological Society. https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/000772672