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Battle of Tewkesbury

The Battle of Tewkesbury was fought on 4th May 1471. It came a little over two weeks after Edward IV‘s victory over the Earl of Warwick at Barnet. Margaret of Anjou and the Prince of Wales‘ force had landed at Weymouth in April. Having joined with loyalists such as the Duke of Somerset, they began a march towards South Wales, where they intended to join with Jasper Tudor. Edward IV was alert to the threat. He regrouped and marched to intercept the Lancastrian army before it’s two components had merged. This was achieved at Tewkesbury, where he was able to force a battle.

The Battle of Tewkesbury

…the same nyght they pight them in a fielde, in a close even at the towndes ende; the towne and the abbey, at theyr backs; afore them, and upon every hand of them, fowle lanes and depe dikes, and many hedges, with hylls, and valleys, a right evil place to approche, as cowlde well have bene devised.

Historie of the Arrivall of Edward IV in England and the Final Recoverye of his Kingdom from Henry VI A.D. 1471

Battle of Tewkesbury from MS Ghent
Battle of Tewkesbury from the Ghent Manuscript

The Lancastrian force had reached the banks of the River Severn at Tewkesbury. It was here that they learnt of the Yorkist army being within close proximity. The Duke of Somerset, as the military commander, had a decision to make. He could try to get the army across the river, or stand and fight. A river crossing would take time and risk the army being attacked at its weakest, with half of the force on either side of the river. Somerset had little choice but to prepare to face the army of Edward IV.

Location of the Battlefield at Tewkesbury

The location of the Battlefield is identified in some early sources. John Leland cites a monk from the monastery at Tewkesbury:

Eodem anno 3. No. Maii Edwardus Princeps Henrici 6. filius venit cum exercitu ad
Theokesbyri, et intravit campum nomine Gastum…. Nomina occisorum in bello Gastiensi prope Theokesbyri

John Leland quoting a monk

This identifies the site of the battle as being in a field called Gastum and noting that dead were buried at the Abbey. There is an area which has been called Gastum Field since the period. The area spreads from Lincoln Field, by the abbey, towards the vineyards to the north, Gupthill Farm to the east and to the area known as Bloody Meadow to the west. It was a pasture in 1471, becoming enclosed as seven fields by the mid 1820’s.

Tewkesbury Abbey from the east. Photo taken by Velela.
Tewkesbury Abbey from the east. Photo taken by Velela.

The Battle of Tewkesbury

A defensive position was adopted by the Lancastrian force. It took advantage of the physical landscape and the slight advantage that they are believed to have had in terms of men in the field. The advantages offered by the position and weight of numbers were not decisive though. Edward IV had in this train more artillery than his foe possessed. As the Lancastrians formed up, his ordinance and archers were unleashed upon the positions:

Upon the morow followynge, Saterday, the iiij day of May, [the Kynge] apparailed hymselfe, and all his hoost set in good array; ordeined three wards; displayed his banners; dyd blowe up the trompets; commytted his caws and qwarell to Almyghty God, to owr most blessyd lady his mothar, Vyrgyn Mary, the glorious martyr Seint George, and all the saynts; and avaunced, directly upon his enemys; approchinge to theyr filde, whiche was strongly in a marvaylows strong grownd pyght, full difficult to be assayled. Netheles the Kyngs ordinance was so conveniently layde afore them, and his vawarde so sore appresyd them, with shott of arrows, thay they gave them right-a-sharpe shwre. Also they dyd agayne-ward to them, bothe with shot of arrows and gonnes, whereof netheles they ne had not so great plenty as had the Kynge.

Historie of the Arrivall of Edward IV

Battle of Tewkesbury. Map showing the way that the battle progressed
19th century map of the Battle of Tewkesbury

Ordinance and Arrows

The aerial assault on the Lancastrian lines resulted in a redeployment. The Duke of Somerset moved his men from the defensive positions in the ‘closes’ into more open field, opposite the King’s own battle.

by certayne pathes and wayes therefore afore purveyed, and to the Kings party unknown, he (Somerset) departed out of the field, passed a lane, and came into a fayre place, or cloos, even afore the King where he was enbattled, and from the hill that was in one of the closes, he set right fiercely upon th’end of the Kings battayle….

Historie of the Arrivall of Edward IV

The Duke’s objective appears to have been an attempt to outflank part of the Yorkist army. This would split and reduce the effectiveness of fire from the Yorkist ordinance and split the waves of arrows. By presenting a moving target, that was drawing closer, the advantage would again return to the Lancastrians. Alternatively, Edward Hall suggests that the Duke of Somerset responded to a feigned retreat orchestrated by the battle commanded by the Duke of Gloucester. In this instance he may have wished to press for a quick overturning of that element of the Yorkist army, which could lead to a rout of his foe.

The duke of Gloucester, which lacked no policye, valyantly with hys battayle assauted the treche of the Quenes campe, whom the duke of Somerset with no lesse courage defended, the duke of Gloucester for a very politique purpose, with all hys men reculed backe.

Edward Hall


Whatever the Duke’s thinking, he was to be disappointed very quickly.  The Vanguard of the Lancastrian army had been lured into an ambush:

whan the Kynge was comyn afore theyre field, or he set upon them, he consydered that, upon the right hand of theyr field, there was a parke, and therein moche wood, and he, thinkynge to purvey a remedye in caace his sayd enemyes had layed any bushement in that wood, of horsement…

Historie of the Arrivall of Edward IV

According to the Arrivall, this had an immediate impact. In the area now known as Bloody Meadow, much of the Vanguard were:

…were gretly dismaied and abasshed, and so toke them to flyght into the parke, and into the medowe that was nere, and into lanes and dykes, where they best hopyed to escape the dangar….

Historie of the Arrivall of Edward IV

Attempt to group and the death of Lord Wenlock

The Duke of Somerset managed to return to the main body of the Lancastrian army. Much of it was in disarray. The Vanguard was partially in flight and the other components of the army had not advanced in unison with the Duke. It is impossible to verify this account but the Tudor chronicler Edward Hall offers a rather brutal account of the consequences of this lack of cohesion. John, lord Wenlock, is said by Hall to have been slain as a result of his command not moving forward. Not by the Yorkists. At the hands of a furious Duke of Somerset:

But whether the Lord Welocke dissimuled the matter for kynge Edwardes sake, or whether hys harte serued hym not, still he stode lokyng on seyng the Lord Wenloke standynge still, after he had reuyled hym, and called him traytor, with his axe he strake y braynes out of his hedde

Edward Hall

Lancastrian flight from the Battlefield

Whether Wenlock was killed by the Duke of Somerset or Yorkists is hard to prove. Either way, his battle was also now in a state of confusion. With the vanguard in flight the Yorkists attacked the Lancastrian centre, under Wenlock’s command. They soon broke and men of all ranks turned and attempted to flee the field.

many of them were slayne, and, namely at a mylene, in the medowe fast by the town, were many drownyd; many rann towards the towne; many to the churche; to the abbey; and els where; as they best myght.

Historie of the Arrivall of Edward IV

Execution of the Duke of Somerset
Execution of the Duke of Somerset. Ghent Manuscript

Battle of Tewkesbury: Outcome

Among those slain was Prince Edward. The Duke of Somerset and several other leading commanders sought refuge and Sanctuary in the church of the Abbey of Tewkesbury. Others ran or rode as far as they could from the Yorkists who were intent on chasing down the remains of the Lancastrian enemy. Queen Margaret, who legend has it had watched events from the Abbey, also took flight.

Those in the abbey were removed by force in the coming days. They were tried and executed. Queen Margaret was found soon afterwards. She handed herself over and was placed under house arrest. Margaret remained in England under supervision until 1475, when she was ransomed back to France as part of negotiations that resulted in the Treaty of Picquigny.

Painting by John Gilbert showing Queen Margaret of Anjou being taken prisoner after the Battle of Tewkesbury
Queen Margaret being taken prisoner. Oil painting by John Gilbert

The Lancastrian Cause after Tewkesbury

The Lancastrian’s were not quite finished as a force though. King Henry VI remained alive, but in captivity, in the Tower of London. The Tower itself was not safe. London was being besieged by the Bastard of Fauconberg as the Battle of Tewkesbury was fought. Henry VI died shortly after the Yorkists returned to London, presumed to have been killed at the orders of Edward IV. The Siege of London was lifted and after a brief period of apparent good grace, the bastard of Fauconberg was executed. It left few senior Lancastrians alive, the Earls of Pembroke and Oxford being the two who would continue to present a problem to Edward IV. A relative of the Lancastrian line, Henry Tudor, also remained, though he fled to Brittany under the care of his uncle, Jasper Tudor Earl of Pembroke.

The Battle of Tewkesbury: Source Material

Croyland Chronicle Account

The Croyland Chronicle offers an account of the Battle. This account explains the Lancastrian strategy. Those who had been exile would sail to the south west and join with loyalists in the area. From here the Queen, Prince Edward, Duke of Somerset along with the Earl of Devon and Lord Wenlock would lead the army north. It was anticipated that as they travelled through the west country that the army would grow in size. The objective once they had reached Gloucester was to press north, into Cheshire and Lancashire. Here they would form a large army with the addition of renowned archers from the north west of England. Oddly, the chronicle makes no reference of the intention to join with the force arrayed by Jasper Tudor shortly after the army had passed Gloucester. It does though make it clear that the plan was feasible. Indeed, it goes as far as to say that the plan was sound, except for the unexpected speed of Edward IV’s march south, victory at Barnet, then march to cut off the Lancastrians at Tewkesbury.

Little is said of the way in which the battle itself was fought. Instead the Croyland account notes the impact on the Lancastrian cause, listing those slain. It is also notable that the account immediately moves into the Siege of London and Edward’s suppression of the fickle people of Kent. With the battle of Tewkesbury all but putting an end to a Lancastrian claim to the throne, it is often the case that the threat to London and unrest in Kent is overlooked.

Croyland Account

It so happened that whilst king Edward, on embarking from Flanders, had, contrary to his intention, been carried by the violence of the tempests to the coasts of Yorkshire, the queen had set sail, with her followers, from Normandy, and making a direct passage, had landed in the counties of Cornwall and Devon. The queen’s army now increased daily, there being many in the west who espoused the cause of king Henry in preference to the pretensions of all others. Upon this, Edmund, duke of Somerset, who had been an exile from his childhood, and who was next in rank in the whole army after prince Edward, with his brother, John Beaufort by name, Thomas, earl of Devon, John, lord Wenlock, and brother John Lancostrother, prior of the order of Saint John throughout England, deliberated in council how they might contrive most speedily to pass along the western coast, and, making their way by Bristol, Gloucester, and Chester, reach Lancashire, where great numbers of men skilled in archery were to be found: for they felt quite confident that the nobles and people
in those parts, beyond all others throughout the kingdom, were well affected to the Lancastrian line. Nor perhaps would they have been deceived in forming this opinion, had not king Edward used such great expedition in marching from London with a small body of troops to meet them, in order that their,
further passage might be intercepted; an object which was accordingly effected in the county of Gloucester.

When both armies had now become so extremely fatigued, with the labour of marching and thirst that they could proceed no further, they joined battle near the town of Tewkesbury. After the result had long remained doubtful, king Edward at last gained a glorious victory. Upon this occasion, there were slain on the queen’s side, either on the field or after the battle, by the avenging hands of certain persons, prince Edward, the only son of king Henry, the duke of Somerset, the earl of Devon, and all and every the other lords above-mentioned. Queen Margaret also was taken prisoner and preserved in safety, in order that she might be carried to London, there to appear before the king’s triumphal car; which was accordingly done.

But, while these things were going on, and while king Edward, graced with this twofold victory, would seem, in the judgment of all, most undeniably to have proved the justice of his cause, the first of many of the malignants was not averted, and especially in Kent ; for the hands of these people were still extended [against the king]. Some men of this description, being instigated by certain of the remains of the earl of Warwick’s mercenaries, mariners and pirates from Calais, met together and placed themselves under the command of one Thomas, the Bastard of Falconbridge ; after which, some by land, and others by the river Thames, reached London from the most distant parts of the county. Here having surveyed all the inlets and outlets of the city, they studied with all their energies how they might possibly subject this most opulent city to their ravages. For this purpose, they brought up ships, which they had prepared for the purpose, almost into the very port, in order that, putting on board the whole of their spoil, they might obtain subsistence by means thereof in other quarters. With this object, many of them collected together upon London Bridge, and many others on the opposite side of the city at the gate which bears the name of Bishopsgate; where they made most ferocious assaults, and laid waste everything with fire and sword, in order, by some means or other, to effect an entrance. The vestiges of their misdeeds are even yet to be seen upon the said bridge, as they burned all the
houses which lay between the drawbridge and the outer gate, that looks towards the High Street of Southwark, and which had been built at a vast expense.

God, however, being unwilling that a city so renowned, and the capital of the whole kingdom of England, should be delivered into the hands of such wretches, to be plundered by them, gave to the Londoners stout hearts, which prompted them to offer resistance on the day of battle. This they were especially aided in doing by a sudden and unexpected sally, which was made by Antony, earl Rivers, from the Tower of London. Falling, at the head of his horsemen, upon the rear of the enemy while they were making ferocious assaults upon the
gate above-mentioned, he afforded the Londoners an opportunity of opening the city gates and engaging hand to hand with the foe; upon which they manfully slew or put to flight each and every of them. Then might you have seen all the remnants of this band of robbers hastening with all speed to their ships and other hiding-places.

These abandoned men being thus routed and put to flight, both citizens, guests, and strangers, were greatly rejoiced thereat, as well as all other persons who had taken refuge in the place for the sake of additional safety during the ravages of this tempest. All these events took place in the month of May, shortly before the feast of the Ascension of our Lord.

On the vigil of this feast, king Edward entered London in state for the third time, with a retinue for greater than any of his former armies, and with standards unfurled and borne before him and the nobles of his army. Upon this occasion many were struck with surprise and astonishment, seeing that there was now no enemy left for him to encounter. This prudent prince however, frilly understanding the fickle disposition of the people of Kent, had come to the resolution that he would not disarm until he had visited those ravagers with condign
punishment for their misdeeds at their own doors. For this purpose, he proceeded into Kent with his horse in hostile form; having done which, he returned, a most renowned conqueror and a mighty monarch ; whose praises resounded far and wide throughout the land, for having achieved such great exploits with such wondrous expedition and in so short a space of time.

Croyland Chronicle

Warkworth Chronicle account of the Battle of Tewkesbury

The Warkworth account of the battle needs perhaps to be read with the fact that Warkworth is almost as far removed from Tewkesbury as it is possible to get in England. News of the battle that is recounted within the chronicle is at best second hand information rather than being an eyewitness account of events. Nontheless, it is an interesting source. This chronicle hints at the location of the battle, talking of the field, River Severn, and the fact that the Lancastrian force stayed outside of the town of Tewkesbury.

Reference to the fighting is limited. The chronicle limits this section to the taking of the field, and the Lancastrian flight from it. More important to the monkish author of this account is the list of those who died, and the nature of those deaths. As may be expected from an account penned by a monk there is reference to Lancastrians being taken from the abbey at Tewkesbury. Yet, the writer is not particularly damning of this deed. Is that because he was unaware of the full details, or simply nonplussed at the act?

Warkworth Account

And on Ester mounday was brought tithingys to them, that Kynge Edwarde hade wonne the felde at Barnett, and that Kynge Kerry was put into the Toure ayene. And anone ryghte thei made oute commaundementes, in the Quenes name and the Prynce, to alle the weste countre, and gaderet grete peple, and kepte hire wey towarde the toune of Brystow. And when the Kynge herd that thei were landede, and hade gaderede so myche peple, he toke alle his hoste, and went oute of Londone the wennysday in Ester weke, and manly toke his waye towarde them ; and Prynce Edwarde herd therof; he hastede hym self and alle his oste towarde the towne of Glouceter, but he enteryd not into the towne, but held forthe his wey to the towne of Teukesbury, and ther he made a felde ferre from the ryver of Saverne; and Kynge Edwarde and his oste came uppone hym, the Saturday the fourth day of Maij, the yere aforeseide of oure Lorde a Ml. cccclxxj., and the xj yere of Kynge Edwarde. And Edmunde Duke of Somersett, and Sere Hugh Curteneye, went oute of the felde, by the whiche the felde was broken ; and the moste parte of the peple fledde awaye from the Prynce, by the whiche the feld was loste in hire party. And ther was slayne in the felde, Prynce Edward, whiche cryede for socoure to his brother-in-lawe the Duke of Clarence. Also ther was slayne, Curteney the Erie of Devynschyre, the Lorde Jhon of Somersett, the Lorde Wenloke, Sere Edmunde Hampden, Sere Robart Whytyngham, Sere William Vaus, Sere Nicholas Hervy, Sere Jhon Del vis, Sere William Feldynge, Sere Thomas Fiztharry, Sere Jhon Leukenore, knyghtes; and these were taken and behedede afterwarde, where the Kynge hade pardoned them in the abbey cherche of Teukesbury, by a prest that turnyd oute at his messe and the sacrament in his handys, whanne Kynge Edwarde came with his swerde into the chirche, requyrede hyme by the vertu of the sacrament that he schulde pardone alle tho whos names here folowe ; the Duke of Somersett, the Lorde of Seynt Jhones, Sere Humfrey Audeley, Sere Gervis of Clyftone, Sere William Gremyby, Sere William Gary, Sere Thomas Tresham, Sere William Newbrugh, knyghtes, Herry Tresham, Walter Curtenay, Jhon Florey, Lowes Myles, Robart Jacksone, James Gowere, James Delvis, sonne and heire to Sere Jhon Delvis; whiche, uppone trust of the Kynges pardone yevene in the same chirche the Saturday, abode ther stille, where thei myght have gone and savyd ther lyves; whiche one monday aftere were behedede, notwhitstondynge the Kynges pardone. And afterward these ladyes were takene, Quene Margaret, Prynce Edwardes wyf, the secunde dowghtere of the Erie of Warwykes, the Countasse of Devynschire, Dame Kateryne Vaus. And these were taken, and not slayne; Sere Jhon Fortescu, Sere Jhon Sentlow, Sire Kerry Roos, Thomas Ormonde, Doctour Makerell, Edward Fulforde, Jhon Parkere, Jhon Bassett, Jhon Wallys, Jhon Thromere Throgmertone, and dyverse other men. And there was takene grete good, and many good horse that were brought frome beyond the see.

Warkworth Chronicle

Image Credits

Featured Image: Edward IV raises his gauntlet in victory, as Henry VI’s son, the Prince of Wales, is brought to him. Unknown, possibly Jean Spifame – MS 1168 at the Besançon, image from French Ministry of Culture. Public Domain, Via Wikipedia

The Battle of Tewkesbury, as illustrated in the Ghent manuscript. Public Domain. Via Wikipedia.

Tewkesbury Abbey from the east. Photo taken by Velela. Released to Public Domain. Via Wikipedia.

The execution of the Duke of Somerset after the battle. Ghent manuscript. Public Domain. Via Wikipedia.

Map of the battle of Tewkesbury. James Henry Ramsay (1859–1925) – Ramsay, James Henry (1892) “Battle of Tewkesbury” in Lancaster and York: A Century of English History (A.D. 1399–1485), Volume II, Oxford, United Kingdom: Clarendon Press, pp. p. 379 Public Domain Via Wikipedia

Margaret of Anjou Being Taken Prisoner After the Battle of Tewkesbury. John Gilbert 1875. The queen, on a white palfrey, guarded by numerous men-at-arms, is riding across a level meadow; the walls and abbey of Tewkesbury seen in the distance; cloudy sky. (From p. 26 of a Royal Academy of Arts exhibition catalogue published by Wm. Clowes and Sons in 1901.) Public Doman. Via Wikipedia.


English Heritage Battlefield Report

UK Battlefields Resource Centre, The Battlefields Trust

The Battle of Tewkesbury


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