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The Battle Of Shrewsbury, 1403

In order to appease (as he hoped) the Percy family Henry IV granted them all those parts of southern Scotland that they could conquer. Despite advice from Northumberland that royal assistance was not needed he set out in the summer of 1403 to march to the borders with a small army to support their siege of Cocklaws Castle.

On reaching the Midlands, Henry received news that the Percys were in revolt; after some initial hesitation he summoned the levies of several counties to his banner and force marched to Shrewsbury, arriving there just before the rebels.

At Shrewsbury was Henry’s son the Prince of Wales, who was responsible for defending the English marches from Owain Glyndwr. The Prince, who was aged about 16, had until recently enjoyed the advice and support of Hotspur’s uncle, Thomas Percy, Earl of Worcester, a very experienced soldier who had served John of Gaunt and been steward of Richard II’s household. However, Worcester had deserted, taking with him more than half the Prince’s men. Unfortunately it does not appear how many men we are talking about – the state of royal finances was such that it was probably hundreds rather than thousands.

Hotspur had come south to Chester with an advance guard of two hundred men, presumably mounted. These included the Scottish Earl of Douglas, captured at Homildon the previous year, but now an ally. At Chester he denounced Henry IV as “Henry of Lancaster” and proclaimed Richard II, whom he promised would appear at a rendezvous at Sandiway in a few days. This was sufficient to raise a considerable army in Cheshire itself. It is likely that other recruits came from Flint and other parts of North East Wales and from Shropshire. To these of course were added Worcester’s contribution. Northumberland remained in the North. Either he genuinely fell ill, or he was blocked by Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland, or he simply moved too slowly.

Hotspur’s strategy is not clear. Glyndwr, with whom he was presumably in alliance, was many days march away in the south west of Wales. The most likely explanation is that he decided to seize Shrewsbury, which could then have served as a gateway to England for Welsh forces. There is also reason to believe that Hotspur expected reinforcement (that he did not receive) from various English peers. (The chronicler Hardyng reports that some years later Henry IV discovered a casket of letters sent by his nobles to Hotspur at this time. ) After the battle the Duke of York and others were accused of complicity, but absolved from blame by Henry himself. The men of Chester mustered at Sandiway as promised, but needless to say, Richard II did not join them.

It’s a straight road from Sandiway, through Tarporley and Whitchurch to Shrewsbury. Arriving on the outskirts Hotspur realised that Henry IV had forestalled him.

Hotspur chose a good defensive position about three miles north of the town. The ground sloped slightly upwards towards the north, meaning that the King’s men would have to advance uphill against some of the finest archers in England. There were also a number of small ponds, complicating offensive movement.

The sizes of the forces are not known; one source says that there were 20,000 dead. This is obviously absurd. Nevertheless everyone seems agreed that it was an exceptionally hard fought battle, and there were significant casualties

A guesstimate of mine would be that Hotspur had around 5000 men and the King a few more, maybe 7000. By and large the Percy army would be of better quality – more “professional” because it recruited from areas noted for warriors. Many of the King’s men would be amateur county levies from relatively peaceful shires.

Hotspur’s principal known commanders were his uncle, Worcester, and the Earl of Douglas. These were both experienced warriors, particularly Worcester. The important Cheshire knights, Vernon and Venables seem to have been next in rank.

As far as men of rank were concerned, apart from himself Henry IV’s most experienced commander by far was the renegade Scot George Dunbar, the Scottish Earl of March, a personal enemy of Douglas. The Prince of Wales and the earls of Kent, Arundel, Stafford and Warwick were all inexperienced young men in their teens and early twenties.

The Earl of Stafford was the husband of Henry’s cousin, Anne of Gloucester. Just prior to the battle he was created Constable of England (replacing Northumberland) and given command of the van.

The likely line up of the royal army being:

Prince of Wales     King         Stafford

(Left)                    (Centre)      (Right)

The battle opened with the traditional exchange of arrows, the shooting of the men of Cheshire being particularly devastating. Stafford was killed very early in the battle and the Prince was severely wounded in the face – though he continued to fight after treatment.

Hotspur and Douglas led an attack on the royal standard. Their objective was simply to kill the King. Fighting around Henry was bitter, and his standard bearer, Sir Walter Blount, was killed. It is known that Henry himself was engaged personally in the fighting.

Hotspur’s men thought that they were winning. A cry of “Henry Percy -King” rose from them. But then Hotspur was struck down – possibly by a stray arrow and the cry changed to “Henry Percy – dead”. The rebels routed off the field, pursued for miles by relentless royalists.

Worcester was taken alive, and executed next day in the town of Shrewsbury. As were Vernon and Venables. Douglas was treated as a POW and eventually allowed to return to Scotland. Northumberland was tried, but eventually released having been found guilty only of ‘trespass’ by Parliament – he was to rebel again, and be killed in battle like his son. (Henry was careful never to give another political opponent a Parliamentary trial.)

One King’s side many knighthoods were given, and there were also grants of confiscated lands. Edmund Earl of Kent was apparently created a KG on the field, a distinction so unusual that it suggests some act of exceptional personal bravery.

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Bewdley’s King Edward IV Charter

Bewdley Edward IV Charter

I lived in Bewdley from 1976 to 2011 and discovered that there was a charter given to the town by King Edward IV in 1472 and that in 1972 the town had held some very successful Quincentenary celebrations.

I found a book called “Bewdley: A Sanctuary Town” in the town library. This stated that King Edward IV had granted the charter in recognition of the fact that the bowmen of Bewdley had fought for his brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, at the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471 and that he had also made Bewdley a sanctuary town. In those days my knowledge of the Wars of the Roses was very limited due to the fact that while studying our country’s medieval history I had not been very attentive at school.

Some years later, having joined the Richard III Society and being infinitely more informed on the subject, I was very pleased that the town I lived in had a Ricardian connection. Indeed it had more than one Ricardian connection. Tickenhill Palace, which is just outside the town, was part of Edward’s Mortimer inheritance and would have almost certainly belonged to Richard when he was King. It is also famous because Henry Tudor’s son Prince Arthur was staying at Tickenhill when he was married by proxy to Catherine of Aragon. The dreadful “Tudors” having acquired the Yorkist Kings’ Mortimer inheritance

In Ribbesford Church, which is the church associated with Tickenhill, there is a window that has fragments of medieval glass. There is very definitely a boar and something that could be a falcon and fetterlock. The boar is a St Anthony boar and in a discussion with Geoffrey Wheeler, a prominent member of the Society, we decided that it probably wasn’t anything to do with Richard. However, since then I have discovered that Richard took the St Anthony boar as his badge when he was younger and his motto in those days was “Tant le Desiree” which means” I have long desired this” or “I have desired this so long”. So possibly the boar at Ribbesford has something to do with the young Richard.

Bewdley was on the road to Ludlow as there was a ford across the River Severn so it is possible that the York family stayed at Tickenhill on their way to Ludlow. Leland says that in 1483 King Richard III gave 20 shillings towards the building of the first Bewdley Bridge. Is it possible that he came to Bewdley on his Coronation journey? It is not that far from Worcester.

I attended a Heritage Open Day at Bewdley Guildhall and saw King Edward’s charter for the first time. A friend of mine, Graeme Wormald, was there on that day and he introduced me to the then Town Clerk David Flack. Graeme told us that he had been Mayor of Bewdley when the charter had been found. It was found, when the old Borough Council offices were being converted into flats, in a pile of boxes, which had been damaged because they had been stored in a damp shed. Some workmen found the charter along with others given to the town by King James I and Queen Anne. All the beautiful colours that would surely have been on them were washed away. They were rescued and we are very lucky to have what remains today.

Fortunately David was very interested in history and when I told him about the society he agreed that the Worcestershire Branch could visit the Town Clerk’s office to view the charter. I liaised with him and this resulted in Pat Parmenter, the Worcestershire Branch Social Secretary, arranging the branch AGM at the George Hotel in Bewdley and booking a time beforehand to view the Edward IV Charter at the Town Clerk’s office.

That appeared to be that, the Branch had explored the Ricardian connection as far as it possibly could and Ralph Richardson, the Worcestershire Branch Chairman, wrote to David Flack and asked permission to include Bewdley in the new publication of Ricardian Britain. David very kindly agreed. However, that was not all.

The Worcestershire Branch always mans a stall at the Tewkesbury Battlefield re-enactment. The 2003 re-enactment was slightly different because Dr Michael Jones, the author of “Bosworth 1485 Psychology of a Battle”, was attending to give several lectures based on his book. It had been arranged that we would take it in turns to man the stall and to attend some of the lectures.

 

The first lecture was entitled Medieval Battles and Chivalry: A Code of Conduct? which set the scene for his second lecture Richard III as Military Commander: The Battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury. Dr Jones said that in medieval times there was no regular army but that men fought for the lord of the manor near to where they lived or could be ordered to fight when the King instigated a commission of array.

Throughout medieval times Kings and great lords were too grand to know who had actually fought for them in any particular battle. They would obviously remember the names of the nobility but not the humble soldiers. Edward IV was no exception to the rule perpetuated by his predecessors. There was however one exception, King Richard III.

This was evidenced by the fact that in 1477, while still Duke of Gloucester, Richard “made an endowment to Queens College Cambridge that not only honoured the memory of his father and brother Edmund, killed at Wakefield, but also remembered by name the relatively humble soldiers who had fought and died under his standard at the civil war battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury on 14 April and 4 May 1471. Richard’s bond with these former servants went beyond the contemporary norms of due respect and gratitude. Here he showed a keen personal regard for them”. Dr Michael Jones: Bosworth 1485 Psychology of a Battle Tempus Publishing Page 101.

 The remainder of the lecture was equally as fascinating and so I did not think of the significance of Dr Jones’ words until I returned home that night. I had always assumed that Edward knew that the Bewdley bowmen had fought in the vanguard at Tewkesbury with Richard and that was why he rewarded the town with a charter, but obviously this was not the case. So the only other explanation was that someone had told him and that someone must have been Richard.

The next morning, back at the re-enactment, I asked Dr Jones if he thought that my deduction was right. He said that he thought that it was and it was good to have some other evidence of what he had been saying at his lecture.

Later on in the year Bewdley Civic Society had another heritage day and the council regalia and all the treasures that belong to the town were on display, including the Edward IV Charter. Again Graeme and David were there and I told them about the Dr Michael Jones lecture and they were very interested. I started to actually read the charter and was very disappointed to see that the charter had been granted after “humble supplication” from the Burgesses of Bewdley and no mention of Bewdley bowmen fighting for Richard Duke of Gloucester. However, Graeme assured me that this was the way that charters were applied for, and the fact that the charter also says “on account of certain considerations very moving to us” is a clue to his reasons for granting the charter.

I believe that this proves that Richard was an unusual man for his time. He appeared to care about the people under his command and obviously wanted to reward them for their efforts on his behalf during what was an extremely hard task leading the vanguard at Tewkesbury. The 1472 Charter had allowed Bewdley to hold a market and this would have increased the prosperity of the town and made it a flourishing market town.

It is a great shame that the Charter didn’t survive in its original glorious colour like the King Richard III Gloucester Charter but at least it was saved when it could so easily have been thrown away.

As I mentioned before Leland says that Richard contributed 20 shillings towards the building of the first Bewdley bridge in 1483, so even when he was going through a huge upheaval in his life and indeed the country was in turmoil, he found time to donate money to the town whose bowmen had helped him to success in the Battle of Tewkesbury twelve years previously.

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