Scarborough in the Wars of the Roses

Scarborough is a port and town on the Yorkshire coastline. The town is sited next to two natural bays and is overlooked by a large medieval castle built on high ground overooking the towns maritime interests. In the Wars of the Roses Scarborough was of significance as a port. It housed ships that harassed the Lancastrian enclave in the north east. Later, these vessels defended against invasion, and acted as protection in the Anglo-Hanse War. It also served as a staging post for the naval aspect of the 1482 Invasion of Scotland and formed part of Richard III’s defences against the expected Tudor invasion. 

Scarborough’s strategic importance

Scarborough’s natural bays and geographical location make it a very important location in terms of coastal defence. Archaelogical finds show that the site of the castle has been used from the Bronze Age through to the 17th century as a military coastal defence site. In the 15th century this military function remained significant. The site had been attacked from the sea on several previous occasions: the Vikings and Scottish assailants being the most notable.

Scarborough in the 15th century

Aa the Wars of the Roses broke out,Scarborough, along with Hull, had the capacity to dominate and control maritime activity in a large part of the North Sea. This was of importance when the Scots allied themselves with the Lancastrians following the Battle of Towton. Scarborough was firstly a likely landing site for any seaborne flanking maneovre but also one of the most suitable ports from which to harass the Lancastrian-Scottish forces in the North East. Similarly, the port had a function in deterring any French activity in support of the Lancastrian regime along the Yorkshire coast.

The French and Scottish Threat

Coastal raiding by French ships, either endorsed by the French crown or as opportunistic raids, were a threat to all of England’s ports. In the period 1455-87 there were a number of well documented attacks from the sea: Sandwich, Southampton, and Jersey were all subject to raids. Scarborough too suffered at the hands of French raiders. The Croyland Chronicle notes of Richard III’s reign that:

At the commencement of the second year of his reign, on giving some attention to maritime affairs, he had lost some ships, together with two captains of the greatest bravery. Sir Thomas Everingham and John Nesfeld, Esquire, above-mentioned, who were taken by the French near the town and castle of Scarborough.

Croyland Chronicle

The perceived level.of risk from France fluctuated over the period. The 1450s had seen coastal raids continue after the supposed end of the Hundred Years War. The 1460s saw some acts of opportunistic piracy, primarily on the south coast – but as French shipping was supplying troops, munitions, and supplies to the Lancastrian held castles in the far north, and to Scotland, the risk of Scarborough’s shipping being targwtted was high. The 1470s demonstrated how susceptible to assault the Yorkshire coast was, as Edward IV and his supporters landed at several points between Ravenspur and Scarborough at the start of his campaign to reclaim the throne. As relations with Scotland broke down in the early 1480s Scarborough along with Newcastle and Hull was in a state of readiness. These ports also served as points from which ordnance and other materials could embark in supporr of the invasion of Scotland and siege of Berwick in 1482.

The Tudor Threat and Richard III

Having landed on the Yorkshire coastline in his brothers successful invasion of 1471, Richard III was fully aware of the vulnerability of the sparsely populated Yorkshire coast. If he as part of his brothers force could land opposed by little other than bad weather, so too could a force invading on behalf of Henry Tudor. And it was the same coastline that had, in 1399, acted as Henry Bolingbroke’s landing beaches as he returned from the continent and seized the crown from Richard II.

Armed with personal experience of landing in the region, and fully aware of the fate of his namesake in 1399, Richard III chose to make Scarborough a naval stronghold from where a fleet could protect the vulnerable Yorkshire coast. He oversaw these preparations in person. In 1484 he visited Scarborough at least two times, being the last English (or British) monarch to tske residence in Scarborough Castle. The importance of Scarborough, and its close ties to Richard III from his time as ‘Lord of the North’ also saw the king provide the town with particularly beneficial royal patronage. This came through replacing the towns status as a borough with that of becoming a county in its own right. In simple terms, its loyalty, importance, and potential were so important to Richard III that he rewarded the town with the highest form of civic patronage available.


Stories from Scarborough – Richard III in Scraborough: Fact or Fiction?

English Heeitage – Scarborough Castle

Meandering Through Time – Richard III and Scarborough

Scarborough Maritime Heritage Centre – Map of Medieval Scarborough

Scarborough Civic Society – The Bolts. Medieval part of of Scarborough. Part of a heritage walking tour written by the society.

Yorkshire Archaeological & Historical Society – variety of booklets for sale on various aspects of Scarborough history. – Medieval Scarborough : studies in trade and civic life


Scarborough Castle from the NW. Humphrey Bolton. Via Wikipedia.

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