Manual Tewkesbury 1471: The Last Yorkist Victory

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2. It was sparked by a Lancastrian push to depose King Edward IV of the House of York

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There they hoped to cross the River Severn by the town's bridge whilst concurrently protected by the city's defences. Edward set out in pursuit and sent messengers ahead to Gloucester informing the Governor, Sir Richard Beauchamp, that he was approaching. Upon the arrival of the Lancastrians, Beauchamp flatly refused to open the city gates.

With Edward now just hours behind them, the Lancastrians had little choice but to march on to Tewkesbury, the next crossing point over the River Severn.

Tewkesbury 1471 - The Last Yorkist Victory

But here there was no bridge - instead crossings were made by ferry and to ship the entire army across would take hours. When the Lancastrians arrived in the late afternoon, it was too late to commence a crossing and besides Edward was too close; rather than risk a rout of his force as they attempted to cross the Severn, Somerset prepared defensive positions assuming a battle would be fought next day.

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Edward's force, unable to make Tewkesbury before dark, camped at Tredington around 2 miles to the south-west. The size of the two armies is a matter of some conjecture. Some historians suggest Somerset had the larger force but he was clearly very cautious of the opposition; possibly because he lacked faith in a significant portion of his own army whilst also noting how effective Edward's had been at Barnet.

He deployed in the traditional three battle array. He commanded the vanguard whilst the centre was nominally under the command of Edward, Prince of Wales although effective control was exercised by Lord Wenlock, a turncoat who had formerly been a Lancastrian at St Albans and then Yorkist at Towton before changing sides once again. Edward IV also deployed in three battles. He commanded the centre although effective control may have been delegated to the Duke of Clarence. Somerset deployed his force to the south of Tewkesbury Abbey with his position protected by a hedge-lined road that ran east-west in front of his line.

His intent was to conduct a flank attack on the Yorkists concurrent with Lord Wenlock attacking with the rest of the Lancastrian army in the centre.

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However, Edward IV foresaw the danger to his left flank and positioned a small force of spearmen on the high ground to the west, a wooded area known as The Park. The battle commenced with an exchange of artillery fire. It is likely the Yorkists had the better of this for they inevitably brought ordnance with them from Barnet. The Lancastrians probably only had a limited number of guns that they had collected at Bristol. Somerset now commenced his flanking action.

Using the topography, trees and a screen of additional soldiers as cover, he slipped round to the west of the main battle and launched his flank assault on Edward's left.

The Yorkist infantry was caught unawares by Somerset's attack and started to fall back but then the Lancastrian plan unravelled; Wenlock did not attack in the centre as planned and, seeing the main assault on the left, Edward deployed his spearmen to surround Somerset's force. Now faced with attacks on two sides - from both the Yorkist left and the spearmen - Somerset's men fell back and then broke. The troops fled the battlefield with many attempting to escape across the field now named 'Bloody Meadow'; a not so subtle reference to the slaughter that followed.

Somerset escaped and returned to his own lines where he promptly killed Wenlock with a battle-axe for his failure to attack. The battle, however, was lost; the Lancastrian centre was now leaderless and the entire army broke into rout. Many attempted to escape by swimming the River Severn. The Lancastrian losses were in the region of 2, Whether he was killed in battle or subsequently murdered is uncertain. Another account suggests he was found in the immediate aftermath of the battle, identified and summarily executed. Either way Edward IV knew that whilst the Prince lived there would always be a rival who would be a rallying call for opposition to his rule.

Battle of Tewkesbury - Wikipedia

Furthermore this was the grandson of Henry V, the great Warrior King, whose historical exploits were held in much higher esteem than the lacklustre reign of Edward IV; from the Yorkist perspective the Prince of Wales could not leave the battlefield alive. Somerset was also targeted and, despite seeking sanctuary in Tewkesbury Abbey, was dragged out where he was tried and executed in the subsequent days. Overall the battle was a decisive Yorkist victory with the only viable Lancastrian heir eliminated. This cleared the way for Edward to arrange the murder of Henry VI, who was already a prisoner in the Tower of London , and achieved the virtual annihilation of the Lancastrian line and imprisonment of Queen Margaret.

Edward would now rule as undisputed King for the next 12 years but his unexpectedly early death would open a final opportunity for the Lancastrian cause. This helped create conditions suitable for the very last Lancastrian claimant - Henry Tudor - to invade and whose victory at the Battle of Bosworth Field ended the Yorkist era. Baldwin, D Richard III.

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