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BLOOD OF ROSES (A Novella of Edward IV’s Victory at Towton)

Richard, Duke of York and his second son Edmund were killed at the battle of Wakefield at the bitter end of  1460. Within weeks, the Duke’s eldest son Edward was on the road with a mighty army, seeking revenge–and a crown.

The novella BLOOD OF  ROSES by J.P. Reedman covers the period  from the Duke’s death to Edward’s Coronation on June 28 1461. Edward’s early battles are curiously sidelined  in most fiction, despite their importance, while his amorous pursuits often seem to take the fore! This ‘slice of life’ fiction book tries to redress that balance slightly.

In February 1461 Edward fought the first of his battles for the throne at Mortimer’s Cross, where the parhelion, the Three Suns, appeared  in the sky. Edward sensed the fear and doubt growing in his men at the sight of this phenomena, and, aged only 18, showed great cleverness in convincing them it was a GOOD omen–the sign of the Holy Trinity. The battle went decively for the Yorkists, with Jasper Tudor’s father Owen being executed in Hereford’s town square. Legend says a deranged lady took his head and sat on the market cross crooning to it as she brushed its hair…

With Edward were the Croft family of Croft Castle, which is on the Welsh borders. This is the family made famous by the letter sent from Ludlow to the Duke of York by his young sons, Edward and Edmund, asking for bonnets and other items. At first reading, one section of the letter seems to  be against bullying behaviour by the Croft sons, who were also at Ludlow, but is in fact, on second reading,  against the ‘odious and demeaning’ treatment of them, a fact recently noted by Dr John Ashdown-Hill. Richard Croft went on to serve Edward IV (so clearly no  friction there!), then Richard III and Henry Tudor.

Mortimer’s Cross was a great victory but there was then a distinct setback when the Earl of Warwick was defeated by the Lancastrians at St Albans, and King Henry, until then a Yorkist prisoner, taken  to rejoin his wife, Margaret of Anjou. Nonetheless, Edward entered London and was proclaimed king, although he sworehe would not wear the crown until he had defeated his enemies utterly. Gathering his army, he began a hard march north.

At Ferrybridge, the Lancastrians attacked the Yorkists over the damaged bridge crossing the Aire, in a night-raid led by Lord Clifford, the presumed murderer of Edmund of Rutland, who had appeared suddenly with his ‘chosen’ men, the Flower of Craven. At first the Yorkists were thrown into disarray, with Lord Fitzwalter being hewn down the moment he stepped from his tent to see what the commotion outside was about. Luckily, William Neville, Lord Fauconberg, the most experienced commander of the Yorkist host, took the lead and crossed near Castleford to attack the Lancastrian flank. Fauconberg was a small-framed man, often described as ‘little Fauconberg’ who had a long military career, having served in France, including at the famous Siege of Orleans. He was an uncle of Edward, being the third son of Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland and his wife Joan Beaufort (Edward’s maternal grandparents.) Fauconberg  made short work of Clifford’s Flower of Craven, and Clifford himself was killed, mostly like by an arrow when removing his gorget.

Then the Yorkist army pushed on to Towton, fought on Palm Sunday and in a fierce snowstorm. Some have questioned the possibility of a  snowstorm that late in the year, but looking at our recent March weather, it is not impossible at all that there was indeed heavy snow! The bad weather was advantageous to the Yorkists, with the worst of the weather being at their backs and driving into the faces of their enemies. The Lancastrian archers were at a distinct disadvantage with the strong wind blowing their arrows astray.

The battle was hard fought, nevertheless, as the Lancastrian forces far outnumbered those of the Yorkists. However, when the Duke of Norfolk’s contingent arrived, led by John Howard, the battle finally turned in Edward’s favour. A rout ensued and the battlefield became a killing field. The waters of nearby Cock Beck ran red with blood and filled with bodies. The area was afterwards called Bloody Meadow.

It was the bloodiest battle ever fought on English’s soil, with figures as high as 28,000 stated for the casualties. Even given the exaggeration of the chroniclers of the day, it was undoubtedly a huge amount of slain. In recent years some of the remains of the fallen have been recovered, mostly around Towton Hall, where archaeologists recently found the remains of Richard III’s chapel to the fallen soldiers subsumed into the inner fabric of the hall. The skeletons recovered showed the terrifying brutality of medieval warfare–shattered skulls, slashing injuries, facial mutilation, slicing marks that may have been the removal of ears…

Chivalry died a death upon this field of blood. But England had a new king–Edward of York, the Sunne in Splendour.

BLOOD OF ROSES IS AVAILABLE IN KINDLE AND PRINT FROM AMAZON

BLOOD OF ROSES

 

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The Tewkesbury Medieval Festival 2015

 

King Edward's camp above Bloody Meadow.

King Edward’s camp above Bloody Meadow.

I’ve been wanting to attend this festival for at least 20 years and finally everything came together this year and I was able to take my family with me for an orgy of medieval shopping, weaponry, costumes and merchandising followed by the re-enactment of the Battle of Tewkesbury on part of the original site of the battlefield and later ‘storming of the Abbey’ in the evening. People attend for many reasons – many to soak up the atmosphere and watch the weird and wonderful sights as the weekend unfolds, some for the history and some for the crac. Re-enactors travel across Europe – I saw stall holders from Prague, Lithuania, Germany and France this year and many take it seriously, making their own costumes with great attention to detail and demonstrating artisan skills such as wood carving, metal working, armoury and medieval crafts as well as the obligatory plastic sword and shield sellers for the many children who come to exercise their imaginations.

The hard-core re-enactors camp in two areas – King Edward’s Yorkist camp on the slope above the battlefield area or in Queen Margaret’s Lancastrian encampment close to the line of ditches where men were cut down in the rout across Bloody Meadow. Their tents and pavilions are fascinating to walk around with glimpses of wooden camp beds and carved chests, goblets and cooking fires as well as heraldic banners and pennants fluttering in the breeze and the sound of medieval bagpipes and the hurdy-gurdy man adding to the atmosphere.

Re-enactor's camp

Re-enactor’s camp

It requires a complex accommodation though to visit the festival, especially with children and maintain contact with the real history which is being commemorated over this weekend. The scale for one thing. The festival guide explains that the real battle was fought over a larger area than the arena and showground and parts have been subsequently built on or turned into the nearby golf course yet Gupshill Manor, where Queen Marguerite spent the night prior to the battle, seems incredibly close to the action. You wonder what her personal bodyguard consisted of and whether much sleep was had by this woman who had fought so hard for so long and was about to lose everything. The manor house is now a pub and looks comfortable enough for a queen who had survived many changes of fortune, fled and re-grouped, lead armies and gone into exile. It was built in 1408 and we can imagine the kind of facilities it might have offered to Marguerite. You imagine her fatigue, racing up country from Weymouth, spooked by the news of Warwick’s defeat at Barnet and fearful for her son’s safety as he sought to prove himself on the field. Bath, Bristol – to get much needed but cumbersome ordinance, then Gloucester, which had kept the gates shut against her. Did she still feel like the outsider, the unpopular French princess, mistrusted by the English people who had landed in England as a strategic piece in the wider power-play of European politics. Where did her loyalties lie and how had they changed over time? A French agent at the English court, loyal to her French family who became the living symbol of the end of English glory in France through the terms of her marriage, a queen consort faced with a frighteningly unworldly husband who needed to lead from behind the throne, to live multiple lives in one in order to survive and protect her son’s interests and surrounded by ambitious men with their own agenda for gaining power. Had the English people ever factored highly in her consciousness? They had fought and died in their thousands for her cause and against her cause and tomorrow she would watch anxiously again from the side lines as her destiny was decided by men hacking each other to death and her son was either crowned with glory as the new hope for the House of Lancaster or destroyed during the attempt. What if Edward, Prince of Wales was captured alive and imprisoned, what if he was betrayed by another turncoat, as Clarence and Warwick had turned out to be? If her army was defeated could she run and live to fight another day or would she wait on news of her son’s fate for without him what was there to fight for? Everyone knew that Henry VI would never be more than a tormented pawn for the next strong man to step up to mark. Marguerite must have been completely aware that if her son died that his blood would sign her husband’s death warrant. Edward IV had held off from the cardinal sin of regicide for a decade for a number of reasons – he didn’t want to kill an anointed and ‘saintly’ king, he knew that popular sympathy would make a martyr of Henry once he was safely dead. Henry was a weak point rather than a figurehead for Lancastrian hopes, his son increasingly posed a more significant threat to the Yorkist regime, even if he remained in exile. However, in the all-or-nothing push to re-assert her claims, Marguerite was risking her husband’s life as well as her son’s. Edward IV was fresh from victory at Barnet and he wanted it finished and was prepared to make unpalatable decisions to secure ultimate victory. He had allowed Warwick to undermine his kingship, to manipulate his younger brother into open treason, had been imprisoned and sanctioned, suffered exile and humiliation and now he had a baby son to fight for too.

Troops advance.

Troops advance.

Tewkesbury would be no Towton – estimated numbers are a fraction of the bloodbath which ushered Edward IV to power in 1461. The Lancastrians had a slight numerical advantage – approximately 5-6000 against 4-5000 hastily mustered Yorkist troops. Both armies were tired after the chase up-country and the weather was hot for May. Marguerite’s hopes lay in a victory on the field that would buy her time to rendezvous with loyal forces in the Welsh marches, a dream of hearing the news that her hated rival had been killed on the field and, perhaps most importantly, a moment for her son and heir to shine and prove God’s favour for the House of Lancaster in such terms that public opinion would shift. If Edward, Prince of Wales could only emerge as a plausible military commander, the strong male heir so longed for since Henry Vth died prematurely and left a power vacuum at the heart of the monarchy.

Of course Marguerite’s hopes were dashed into a thousand pieces. By the end of the battle her son was dead, the Lancastrians routed or penned in the Abbey church and her great chance to re-gain power, status and what she saw as her God-given position as Queen of England lay in ruins. It is hard not to feel sympathy for Marguerite at this devastating point of her life or to fail to consider just how much choice she had in the path that her life had taken whatever you make of the contemporary sources about her decisions and character.

Lancastrian prisoners are taken from Tewkesbury Abbey for trial and summary execution in the marketplace.

Lancastrian prisoners are taken from Tewkesbury Abbey for trial and summary execution in the marketplace.

So, we return to a parched meadow, just outside a small English market town. The re-enactors look like a Graham Turner painting brought to life, the smoke drifts across the field of battle and the canons make the children jump and hold their ears. After the battle people drift off, mostly unconscious that bones may still lie buried beneath their feet.

Queen Marguerite's long journey to Tewkesbury.

Queen Marguerite’s long journey to Tewkesbury.

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