I have long wanted to attend the re-enactment of the Battle of Shrewsbury and also visit the church of St Mary Magdelene. In 2022 I finally managed it.
It was touch and go, although I had booked my train ticket some weeks back. These days such an excursion demands a lot of effort and I have to be in the right mood. Moreover, extreme heat or rain would make it a definite no-no.
As it was, I woke early and found myself in an unusually positive and energetic mood. So after a hurried breakfast, it was off to Piccadilly Station to catch the 8.30 train, which was well filled. Unfortunately, it seemed to be the occasion of a day excursion for the Manchester Loudmouth Club, and I wished myself in possession of sound-cancelling headphones. However, the train was reasonably comfortable – although I was not sure I’d have been happy with the seats had I been taking it to its final destination: Milford Haven.
Shrewsbury, though, is little more than an hour away. Having missed one of the rare buses that go remotely near the target destination, I decided to lash out on a taxi, and a cheerful driver took me to the ‘Battlefield 1403‘ as the venue is known. Within two hours of leaving home, I was chatting to Alex Marchant at her bookstall.
For those who have visited Tewkesbury Festival, this is rather like a smaller version of the same thing. Great fun, with plenty of people to talk to. They usually operate two battles a day, as well as offering a variety of other attractions.
After taking an early lunch at the onsite cafe, I spent some more time with Alex, trying to assist in selling books to the punters. Alas, my legs are not what they were, and standing in one place for any length of time gives me issues. So after a while, I decided I had to quit the field. I was, however, determined to visit the church.
We were on the high ground once occupied by the rebel army, and the church is quite a fair walk away at the lower level where Henry IV and his team were based. I have visited the place before (so long ago that Midland Red were still running the buses) but at the time I failed to appreciate how well Henry Hotspur had chosen his defensive ground. To advance up that slope into a storm of arrows must have required considerable courage. This was apparently the first battle with English war bowmen on both sides, which helps to explain the heavy casualties.
Hotspur had the bowmen of Flint and Cheshire on his side. Although Henry IV had the larger army, many of the men were hastily recruited shire levies. It may be an exaggeration to call it a case of amateurs against professionals, but there was certainly an element of that. The King had several important noblemen with him, but most were in their late teens or very early twenties, including the young Earl of Stafford, who commanded the right. Stafford was killed early in the battle and his division was completely routed. Meanwhile, on the left, the young Prince of Wales (future Henry V) was badly wounded by an arrow to the face. It left him scarred for life. He also had to endure a gruesome piece of medieval surgery and was probably fortunate to survive the day.
That Henry IV ended up winning must be classed as an achievement, despite his superior numbers. It could very well have proved to be his equivalent of Bosworth. However, it was a victory bought at the cost of many brave lives.
The church of St Mary Magdelene was built, it is said, over the grave pit where many of those brave men still lie. It was intended as a College of Priests, with no fewer than six priests to say perpetual masses for their souls.
As you will see from the link, it was not actually paid for by Henry IV, although naturally he was credited with founding it. As is the case with Fotheringhay College, he got his name on the papers and some of the prayers. Well, he needed the masses!
By Victorian times the church was a ruin, but the local landowner paid for its restoration. Consequently, the roof and the interior fittings are Victorian. It’s still worth a visit though. On this special day it was open – normally you have to borrow a key from ‘Battlefield 1403’.
All in all, a grand day out.