Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Wars of the Roses

Henry A. (Harry) Payne: Choosing the Red and White Roses in the Temple Garden, 1910

Of all the incidents that are associated with particular places, none stands out more vividly than the scene told by Shakespeare, of the first beginning to the Wars of the Roses in the Temple Garden. Richard Plantagenet, with the Earls of Somerset, Suffolk, and Warwick, Vernon, and a lawyer, enter the Temple Garden ("Henry VI." Pt. I. Act 2, sc. iv.). Suffolk. Within the Temple Hall we were too loud; The garden here is more convenient. Plantagenet. Then say at once if I maintained the truth, Or else was wrangling Somerset in the error? The direct answer being evaded, Plantagenet continues- Since you are tongue-tied and so loath to speak, In dumb significants proclaim your thoughts; Let him that is a true-born gentleman, And stands upon the honour of his birth, If he suppose that I have pleaded truth, From off this brier pluck a white rose with me. Somerset. Let him that is no coward nor no flatterer, But dare maintain the party of the truth, Pluck a red rose from off this thorn with me. Warwick. I pluck this white rose with Plantagenet. Suffolk. I pluck this red rose with young Somerset. Vernon. I pluck this pale and maiden blossom here, Giving my verdict on the white rose side. Lawyer (to Somerset) ... The argument you held was wrong in you, In sign whereof I pluck a white rose too. Plan. Now, Somerset, where is your argument? Som. Here, in my scabbard, meditating that Shall dye your white rose in a bloody red. Plan. Hath not thy rose a canker, Somerset? Som. Hath not thy rose a thorn, Plantagenet? Plan. Ay, sharp and piercing to maintain his truth; Whiles thy consuming canker eats his falsehood. Som. Well, I'll find friends to wear my bleeding roses, That shall maintain what I have said is true. Warwick. And here I prophesy this brawl to-day, Grown to this faction in the Temple-garden, Shall send between the red rose and the white A thousand souls to death and deadly night.


Since Shakespeare’s day, popular perception of the Wars of the Roses has been confused by the propaganda of partisan supporters of the White or the Red, or by those who see the whole affair as a minor dynastic squabble. It is true that their significance in the history of the art or practice of warfare is small. And while the Wars were not the general bloodbath Shakespeare described for the Elizabethan stage, the royal house of Plantagenet was wiped out...along with other noble dynasties beside. Modern historical research, however, has shown that the era was no better nor worse than those that came before and after.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Second Battle of St Albans – 17 February 1461

Detail from Graham Turner‘s Battle of st Albans.Fought on the 22nd May 1455, this was the first battle of what would become known as the Wars of the Roses.

Kingmaker, Earl of Warwick, still only thirty-three, had not waited for his young ally before leaving London. With the queen far in the north, he mustered the men of Kent to add to his own men and the Burgundian mercenaries he had acquired. Many of the Burgundians arrived carrying early handguns that fired lead shot, something never before seen in England. The earl reached St Albans when shocking news arrived of just how close the army from the north now was. There was little choice but to set up around St Albans and prepare the town for its second dose of war. Warwick’s thirty-year-old brother John was with him and they set up wooden palisades to protect the town and laid caltrops, nets dotted with spikes designed to break up cavalry charges by injuring the horses.

Tension north of London must have reached melting point. The queen’s army had descended south, with Scotsmen in tow who had been promised their pay in whatever they could pillage as they passed. Warwick was moving north to meet them. Both sides had scores to settle and folks in every part must have feared for their property and their lives. Gregory’s Chronicle tells of a butcher who led a band of men in the king’s name to a fight at Dunstable, where they encountered a detachment of the Scots, perhaps seeking out their booty. The butcher led the ragtag band of raw recruits onto the field but they were slaughtered, 800 men perishing due to the ‘simple guidance’ of the butcher. Gregory laments that soon after the fighting, either for shame at his dismal performance or for the loss of all of his goods to the Scots, the butcher hanged himself.

The tide seemed to turn in Warwick’s favour as the queen’s army approached St Albans the day after the butcher’s failure at Dunstable. By then, 17 February 1461, many of the Scots had fled, either growing concerned by the distance between them and their homes or else already so heavily laden with their pay that they saw no further need to fight. Gregory estimates that less than 5,000 men remained in the queen’s force. That was still an impressive number. Campaigning in the winter was all but unheard of and it was almost two months into this round of brutal exchanging of blows. All of her army wore the livery of her son the Prince of Wales, bands of black and crimson with an ostrich feather badge. It was clear that she was calling men to her in the name of the dispossessed heir of the House of Lancaster rather than his father.

Andrew Trollope was to play a prominent role in the coming fighting once more. Having left the Yorkist cause at Ludlow and possibly contributed to tricking the Duke of York out of Sandal Castle at Wakefield, he led a lightning strike into the town of St Albans, catching those within the city unawares and driving them away. This allowed him to catch John Neville’s large force, set up outside the town, in a pincer movement with the rest of the queen’s army. Around 2,500 men died in the intense fighting. In an early blow, a large contingent of Kentish men took up their weapons and walked away from the field. Their leader, a man named Lovelace, had been captured at Wakefield but released upon giving his oath never to take up arms against the queen and her prince again. He and his men deserted Warwick to maintain his honour.

Either in the sudden confusion or because of the cold, damp weather, Warwick’s expensive artillery failed. Gregory recounts that there were not only the new fangled handguns, firing either lead shot or unusual double-flighted arrows, but also wildfire, the weapon of terror deployed against London by Lord Scales. All failed to be deployed, some backfiring in the hurry to react, guns blowing up in the faces of their operators and wildfire turning viciously back upon those who would use it. Although Warwick probably had far superior numbers the tactics of the queen’s army maximised the advantages of the tight streets of the town and the element of surprise.

Warwick and the other lords fled. King Henry had sat beneath a tree as the battle had raged, singing and laughing, completely oblivious to the carnage about him and the stakes involved in the fighting. Lord Bonville and Sir Thomas Kyriell stayed behind to protect the king when all others fled, passing up their own opportunity to make good their escape. Henry assured them that they would not be harmed while they were with him for the protection and loyalty they showed. Margaret had the men seized and with the encouragement of the Duke of Exeter and the Earl of Devonshire placed them on trial for treason the next day. Their judge and jury was the seven-year-old Prince Edward, who duly pronounced a sentence of death upon the two men for their crimes. William Bonville was nearly seventy years of age and Kyriell was only a few years younger. Both must have been bewildered at the sentence passed by a little boy, doubtless at the instigation of his mother and two lords with land interests in Bonville’s homeland in the West Country. Once more, land disputes played a pivotal role in the vicious feuding below the surface of the Wars of the Roses. Bonville had turned to the Yorkist cause at Northampton and may have been responsible for guarding Henry there after his capture, giving Margaret a thin motive for revenge too.

King Henry was reunited with his wife and son. On the battlefield, Henry knighted his young son and then watched on as the boy knighted several others in turn. The first was Andrew Trollope, stalwart of the king, queen and prince’s cause. Trollope had been wounded trying to cross the net of caltrops. With his foot painfully pierced he had not been able to move any further. Gregory reports that Trollope, with a modesty that was probably false, knelt before Prince Edward and told him ‘My lord, I have not deserved it for I slew but fifteen men, for I stood still in one place and they came unto me’. Sir Andrew’s star was in the ascendant. His service had turned the tide of the struggles more than once in favour of Queen Margaret’s party and his rewards were coming.

No party appeared capable of the act of clemency or kindness that might soothe the worst of the fighting. Too many now had personal vendettas to follow, land and money to gain from seeing rivals destroyed and their own fortunes too closely aligned with one party or the other to give an inch. There was no mercy in England now. There was one odd exception to this rule. Warwick’s brother John was captured for a second time, yet just as he had after Blore Heath he escaped punishment once more to be inexplicably released. In light of the fates of Bonville and Kyriell, the leniency shown to John Neville, who had led the vanguard of Warwick’s army in the fields outside St Albans, defies belief.

The queen’s unexpected victory against the previously undefeatable Earl of Warwick, who headed west to meet his cousin Edward, sent London into panic. The city was terrified that Margaret, who had no love for the capital, would exact a cruel price for the city’s support of Warwick. She had promised the remaining Scots soldiers payment in loot and London was the main prize. The city officials fell into a frenzy. Margaret sent the Duchess of Buckingham, the widow of the old duke, to negotiate and promise that no harm would come to the city, its inhabitants or their property. Dubiously, the mayor and aldermen wrote to the queen assuring her of their loyalty and good will. When soldiers were seen approaching the gates shortly after, possibly led by the Duke of Somerset, the citizens attacked them, killing many and driving the rest away. The mayor and aldermen panicked even more, gathering food and money in carts to send to supply the queen’s army in the hopes of appeasing her. When the citizenry learned of the plan they seized the keys to the gates, locked them tight and divided the carts of provisions among themselves.

In an uncharacteristic act of acquiescence Margaret decided to take her army back northwards. Fear of the Scots would never work for her and those that had already left were pillaging their way back home, taking property, money and even the beasts that worked men’s lands, leaving them with nothing. Her heartlands were north too, in the Midlands, and maintaining a siege of London with a dwindling, cold, tired army who just wanted their home and hearth was hardly practical.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Armchair General Towton Recreation

Armchair General Towton Recreation

The last time Seimon asked me to help out with a photo shoot I ended up with 12 stone of American G.I. plus his parachute gear suspended from my waist... I couldn't walk properly for days. I should have realised that Seimon's photo shoots are never quite a straightforward "stand there and smile," type affair.

The Guns of the Battle of Bosworth, 1485

The Guns of the Battle of Bosworth, 1485

EDITOR'S NOTE: The November 2012 issue of Armchair General magazine features ACG Board Member and internationally-renowned forensic archaeologist Douglas D. Scott's article "Battlefield Detective: The Case of the Small Lead Ball." The diminutive (less than 30mm) lead ball - fired by a small cannon during the 1485 Battle of Bosworth - helped battlefield detectives, at long last, discover the true location of one of history's most famed battles.

Monday, March 14, 2016


In the absence of royal initiative in England, however, there were others who were willing and able to wield the strength derived from a force of ships to intervene in the increasingly complex struggles between competing factions and claimants to the throne. This is most clearly seen in the case of the Earl of Warwick, but the Duke of Burgundy and the king of France were also prepared to provide naval forces to support their favoured candidate for the English throne.

Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick had been captain of Calais since 1456 and had taken the opportunity afforded by a relatively secure base to build up a squadron of ships. These were used in the manner most likely to advance the fortunes of the Earl himself and the Yorkist cause, which, at that time, he supported. To many English men his naval exploits in the Channel were a welcome sign of ‘enterprise upon the see’. Jack Cade’s proclamation in 1450 at the outset of the Kentish rebellion had bewailed the facts that, ‘the sea is lost, France is lost’. The French raid on Sandwich in August 1457 had been a humiliating reminder of the impotence of English defence. Now John Bale, himself a merchant and a ship-owner, could laud Warwick in his chronicle, praising his ‘greet pollecy and dedes doyng of worship in fortefieng of Cales and other feates of armes’. To modern writers Warwick’s deeds seem at least semi-piratical but to his contemporaries his attack on a Spanish squadron of 28 sail off Calais in early June 1458 and his taking of around 17 prizes out of the Hanse fleet returning with Bay salt later the same summer were victories to savour. It even seems not to have affected his reputation that the first engagement was not entirely successful. John Jernyngham’s letter to Margaret Paston which gives details of the encounter, recounts how he and his crew boarded a large Spanish ship but were unable to hold her. He concludes, ‘and for sooth we were well and truly beat’. The point to contemporaries was that Warwick, who was in fact bound by an indenture of November 1457 to keep the seas, seemed to be acting energetically and speedily even if not all his opponents were clearly ‘the londes adversaries’.

His activities in 1459 and 1460 demonstrate with greater force the way in which the possession of a squadron of ships with experienced crews was greatly to the political advantage of both Warwick personally and the Yorkist cause. After plundering Spanish and Genoese shipping in the Straits in the summer of 1459, Warwick, who had joined the Yorkists in England, seemed to have miscalculated when he was forced to flee from the battle of Ludford Bridge. He reached his base in Calais safely, however, and from that point acted with great skill. Lord Rivers and Sir Gervase Clifton for the king had by December managed to impound Warwick’s ships in Sandwich harbour. The Crown also mustered a small force under William Scott to patrol off Winchelsea to repel any attack by Warwick.

Warwick had many friends in the Southern counties, perhaps beneficiaries of his earlier actions in the Channel. Through them he was well aware of the Crown’s plans. In January a force from Calais commanded by John Dinham, slipped into Sandwich early in the morning, while Rivers was still abed, and persuaded Warwick’s erstwhile shipmasters and crews to return with them to Calais. The royal government attempted to counter this loss by commissioning further forces to serve at sea against Warwick. The Duke of Exeter in May 1460 in fact encountered Warwick’s fleet at some point to the east of Dartmouth and arguably had the opportunity at least to damage very severely the Yorkist cause if not put paid to it entirely. Yet as the Great Chronicle of London put it ‘they fowght not’. Richmond sees this as ‘one of those critical moments when action was essential but was not forthcoming’. In his view Warwick had what the Crown did not, a fleet and a fleet which was used to keep the sea. The use of that fleet was an important factor in the course taken by the domestic politics of England and to Richmond sealed the fate of the Lancastrians.

In 1470, Warwick was personally in a much weaker position. He may still have had some vessels of his own; on his flight from England, after the failure of his intrigues on behalf of the Duke of Clarence, pursued by Lord Howard, he had taken prizes from the Burgundians. He could not, however from his own resources hope to mount an invasion of England to restore his new master Henry VI. He and Queen Margaret were dependent on the aid of Louis XI of France to provide such a fleet. This aid was forthcoming because of the seeming advantage to France in the restoration of the Lancastrians and their adherence to an alliance against Burgundy. Both English and Burgundian naval forces, however, were at sea all summer in an endeavour to keep Warwick’s French fleet in port.

Their efforts seemed successful; by August Warwick’s men were demanding their pay and the people of Barfleur and Valognes had had enough of their presence. A summer gale then dispersed the Yorkist ships at sea and Warwick sailed across unopposed landing on 9 September near Exeter. By the end of the month Edward IV was himself a fugitive restlessly watching the North Sea from his refuge at Bruges with Louis de Gruthuyse, the Burgundian governor of Holland. If he in his turn was to regain his throne his need also was for ships. The Duke of Burgundy was perhaps more discreet in his support for his brother-in-law than Louis XI had been for his cousin, Margaret of Anjou. In March 1471, however, Edward left Flushing with 36 ships and about 2000 men and once ashore at Ravenspur by guile and good luck recovered his Crown.

In the 20 or so years from 1455, therefore, it can be argued that the possession of the potential for naval warfare could be of great advantage to those who wished to be major players in both internal and external politics. No very great or glorious encounters between the vessels of rival powers took place in the Channel or the North Sea. The typical action was that of the commerce raider; a brief violent boarding action ending probably in the surrender of the weaker crew in an attempt to save their skins. Kings and other rulers possessed very few or no ships of their own and were reliant on the general resources of the maritime community. Yet, despite this, the perception of the pressure, which could be exerted by a fleet in being, was more widely appreciated. Warwick has been held up as the individual whose actions demonstrate this most clearly and it is hard to argue against this opinion.

He, perhaps, until the fatal moment on the field at the battle of Barnet, also had luck. Would he have fared well if Exeter had attacked off Dartmouth in 1460? The reasons for Exeter’s loss of nerve are not really clear. Exeter had many warships including the Grace Dieu, built by John Tavener of Hull and formerly Warwick’s own flagship. The Great Chronicle of London speaks vaguely of Exeter’s crews being unwilling to oppose Warwick while the English Chronicle states baldly that Exeter was afraid to fight. Waurin, a Burgundian chronicler, has a circumstantial account of Warwick approaching the coming conflict with great circumspection, sending out fast small vessels ahead of the main fleet to gather intelligence and then calling a council of war of all his ship masters.47 The decision was taken to attack with vigour and maybe the sight of Warwick’s ships coming on at speed with the advantage of the wind terrified Exeter. His lack of courage was certainly a disastrous blow for his party.

On a wider canvas, the situation in these waters as far as the relations between rulers goes has become much more open. In the first third of the century the conflict between England and France was the dominant factor with other states being drawn in as allies of one or the other combatant. After the middle of the century states pursued their own commercial and political interests in a more fluid situation. Naval power was diffuse, not necessarily concentrated in government hands, and the advantage might swing quickly from one state or group of traders to another.

Duration of Military Campaigns – WARS OF THE ROSES

Although warfare between Englishmen for control of the government or possession of the Crown occurred from the 1450s to the 1490s, fighting was not continuous throughout the period. The military campaigns of the WARS OF THE ROSES were few, intermittent, and brief.

From the first Battle of ST. ALBANS in May 1455 to the Battle of STOKE in June 1487, adherents of the houses of LANCASTER and YORK engaged in thirteen major battles, such as those at TOWTON, BARNET, and BOSWORTH FIELD; several smaller encounters, such as the Battles of TWT HILL and HEXHAM; and numerous raids, rebellions, and assaults on castles. However, most of this fighting across a span of more than thirty years was compressed into a few active phases of two to three years, within which large armed forces were actually in the field for only a matter of weeks. The main periods of active campaigning occurred between the autumn of 1459 and the spring of 1461, the summer of 1469 and the spring of 1471, and in the autumn of 1483 and the summers of 1485 and 1487.

Being an island kingdom, England had not experienced the nearly continuous warfare that the HUNDRED YEARS WAR and other conflicts and rebellions had brought in the previous century to FRANCE, BURGUNDY, and other continental states. As a result, England lacked the standing armies (and the arbitrary taxation that supported them) that had developed in France under CHARLES VII and in Burgundy under Dukes PHILIP and CHARLES. The only ongoing military establishments in fifteenth-century England were a royal bodyguard of 200 archers created in 1468, the 1,000-man CALAIS garrison, and the forces raised at Crown expense by the wardens of the marches to defend the borders with SCOTLAND. The important role that elements of the Calais garrison had in the outcome of several battles, such as LUDFORD BRIDGE in 1459, illustrated how nonmilitarized England was.

This lack of military experience meant that England lagged behind the continent in the use of ARTILLERY and handguns and in the development of military fortification. Whereas an avoidance of pitched battle and a highly developed siegecraft characterized continental warfare, the Wars of the Roses witnessed almost no sieges, no sacks of major towns, little pillage or destruction of the countryside, and a series of brief campaigns and pitched battles, the winner of which usually gained immediate control of the government. In his MEMOIRS, the Burgundian chronicler Philippe de Commines observed that the English “were the most inclined to give battle” and that when fighting erupted in England “one or the other of the rivals is master within ten days or less” (Gillingham, p. 28). With sieges largely unnecessary and the problem of supply making it difficult to keep large armies in the field for long periods, active campaigning, as shown in the following table, occupied less than year and a half of the more than thirty-year period encompassing the Wars of the Roses.

Further Reading: Gillingham, John, The Wars of the Roses (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1981); Goodman, Anthony, The Wars of the Roses (New York: Dorset Press, 1981); Ross, Charles, The Wars of the Roses (London: Thames and Hudson, 1987).

Monday, January 4, 2016


Edward III had seven sons. Of those who survived infancy the four eldest were: his heir - Edward (the Black Prince), Lionel (Duke of Clarence), John of Gaunt (Duke of Lancaster), and Edmund Langley (Duke of York). As the Black Prince predeceased his father by a year, it was his son who eventually succeeded to the throne in 1377, becoming Richard II.

Richard's reign witnessed both peasant revolts and aristocratic conspiracies. Successive disputes with the nobility eventually led to his downfall. In 1399, Richard's cousin Henry Bolingbroke, the eldest son of John of Gaunt (Edward III's third son), usurped the throne, had Richard executed and founded the ruling dynasty of Lancaster as Henry IV.

Henry's claim to the throne rested on his being the next surviving male heir. Unfortunately for him, there was a rival claim through the line of Philippa, daughter of Edward III's second son - the Duke of Clarence. Philippa had married Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March, by whom she had a son; thus founding the claim of the House of Mortimer.

In 1425, Richard Duke of York, the grandson of Edmund Langley (Edward III's fourth son) was to inherit the Mortimer claim through his maternal uncle. He was to prove a formidable rival to his distant cousin, the weak-minded Henry VI of the House of Lancaster who alienated the Duke by borrowing vast sums of money he never repaid.