Wars of the Roses
The Wars of the Roses were a series of wars fought between supporters of the houses of Lancaster and York (whose heraldic symbols were the red and the white rose respectively) for the throne of England. They were fought in several periods between 1455-1485 and both sides were in control at different times. Shropshire, like the rest of Britain, was involved in the struggle and it will be useful to give an overview. Though the names of the rival houses derive from the cities of York and Lancaster, the corresponding dukes had little to do with these cities. The lands attached to the Duchy of Lancaster were mainly in Gloucestershire, North Wales and Cheshire, while those of the Duchy of York were spread throughout England, though many were in the Welsh Marches.
1455 – Henry VI won the First Battle of St Albans against Yorkist rebels.
1459 – Richard Duke of York claimed the throne but he was forced to flee the country. One of his supporters, the Earl of Warwick, invaded England from Calais and captured Henry VI at the Battle of Northampton. York returned to the country and became Protector of England but was dissuaded from claiming the throne.
1460 – Richard Duke of York moved north to suppress Lancastrian rebels and was killed at the Battle of Wakefield. The Lancastrian army advanced south and released Henry VI after the Second Battle of St Albans. They subsequently retreated north and the Yorkist eldest son was proclaimed King Edward IV.
1461 – Edward IV won the Battle of Towton.
1465 - Henry VI was captured once again.
1470 – Edward IV forced into exile and Henry VI restored to the throne.
1471 - Edward IV returned to England and won the Battle of Barnet. The Lancastrian heir Edward was executed after the battle and Henry VI was murdered in the Tower of London several days later.
1483 - Edward IV died. His son and heir, Edward V, only ruled for 3 months and was never crowned. His uncle Richard of Gloucester deposed him and became Richard III.
1485 – Richard III was killed by Henry Tudor at the battle of Bosworth and became Henry VII. He married Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV, to unite and reconcile the two houses.
Battle of Blore Heath 1459
This was one of the first major battles in the War of the Roses and was fought on 23rd September 1459. Blore Heath (SJ714352) lies 2 miles east of Market Drayton and is actually just in Staffordshire. Richard Duke of York had decided to centralise his forces around Ludlow and then attack the Lancastrian forces of King Henry VI. He ordered the Yorkist forces of Lord Salisbury, based at Middleham Castle in North Yorkshire, to march to Ludlow where they would link up with the rest of the Yorkist army. This plan was discovered by Queen Margaret of Anjou (Henry VI’s wife) who ordered Lord Audley to intercept them. The Lancastrian forces of Lord Audley were mainly tenants from his estates in Shropshire and Cheshire, whom he had raised quickly on receiving the Queen's summons. Although over 60 at the time, Audley had previous military experience, having been co-leader of an English army sent to France in 1431 and being one of the nobles who helped suppress Jack Cade’s Rebellion in 1450.
Audley chose the barren heathland of Blore Heath to set up an ambush. On the morning of the battle, his force of some 10,000 men took up a defensive position behind a “great hedge” on the south-western edge of Blore Heath. This faced the direction of Newcastle-under-Lyme from which Salisbury was approaching. Yorkist scouts spotted Lancastrian banners over the top of a hedge and immediately warned Salisbury. As they emerged from the woodland, the Yorkist force of some 5,000 men realised that a much larger enemy force was awaiting their arrival. Salisbury, instead of withdrawing his army, immediately arranged his troops into battle order, just out of range of the Lancastrian archers. To secure his right flank, he arranged the supply wagons in a defensive circular formation to provide cover to the men. Fearing a rout, Yorkist soldiers are reported to have kissed the ground beneath them, supposing that this would be the ground on which they would meet their deaths.
The two armies were separated by about 300 yards of barren heathland. A steep-sided, wide and fast-flowing brook ran between them and made Audley's position seemingly impenetrable. Initially, both leaders sought to parley in an attempt to avoid bloodshed but this was unsuccessful. The conflict opened with an archery duel between the longbows of both armies but this proved inconclusive because of the distance between the two sides. Salisbury, aware that any attack across the brook would be suicidal, employed a ruse to encourage the enemy to attack him. He withdrew some of his men just far enough that the Lancastrians believed them to be retreating. The Lancastrians launched a cavalry charge and, after they had committed themselves, Lord Salisbury ordered his men to turn back and catch the Lancastrians as they attempted to cross the brook. This resulted in heavy casualties for the Lancastrians, who withdrew and then made a second attack. This was more successful, with many Lancastrians crossing the brook, and led to a period of intense fighting in which Lord Audley himself was killed by Roger Kynaston.
The death of Audley meant that Lancastrian command fell to the second-in-command Lord Dudley, who ordered an attack on foot with 4,000 men. This attack also failed and around 500 Lancastrian soldiers joined the enemy and began attacking their own side. At this point, all remaining Lancastrian resistance collapsed and their army fled. The Yorkists pursued the fleeing enemy for miles across the countryside. At least 2,000 Lancastrians were killed in the battle and nearly 1,000 Yorkists. Salisbury was concerned that Lancastrian reinforcements were in the vicinity and was keen to press on southwards towards Ludlow. He made his camp on a hillside near Market Drayton that later took the name Salisbury Hill (SJ670328). He employed a local friar to remain on Blore Heath throughout the night and to periodically discharge a cannon in order to deceive any Lancastrians nearby into believing that the fight was continuing.
Audley was buried in Darley Abbey in Derbyshire but a cross was erected at Blore Heath after the battle to mark the spot where he was killed. It was replaced with a stone cross in 1765 and Audley's Cross stands on Blore Heath to this day. Roger Kynaston was summoned to the Court of King Edward IV, 18 months after his accession in 1461, and knighted. The King also gave him some of Audley’s lands in Myddle and Hordley and allowed to incorporated emblems of the Audley coat-of-arms (ermine and a chevron gules) into his own.
Battle of Ludford Bridge 1459
This was a bloodless battle fought on 12th October 1459 around Ludford Bridge (SO512741). Richard Duke of York had been joined by this time at Ludlow by Lord Salisbury and Lord Warwick, together with their forces. Even after the Yorkist victory at Blore Heath, however, the forces available to Henry VI and Margaret outnumbered those of Richard by two to one. The Yorkist army tried to move towards London but found their path blocked by the Lancastrian army with King Henry VI himself at its head. They fell back to Worcester and Richard sent written protestations of his loyalty to Henry. These were ignored so Richard retreated to Ludlow.
His troops excavated a defensive ditch in a field on the opposite side of the River Teme from Ludlow, near the bridge which gave the battle its name. They also constructed barricades of carts in which cannon were emplaced. However, morale was low because the royal standard could be seen flying in the Lancastrian army and it was known that King Henry himself was present in full armour. For much of his reign, King Henry had been regarded as an ineffectual ruler and he had even lapsed into madness for periods of several months at a time. Richard and his supporters had maintained that they were only opposed to Henry's evil counsellors. Now they realised that their army would probably refuse to fight against King Henry himself. Among the troops brought by Warwick from Calais were 600 men led by Andrew Trollope, an experienced soldier. During the night, Trollope and his men defected to the Lancastrians. On hearing this, Richard, Salisbury and Warwick crossed the bridge at midnight and went into Ludlow, ostensibly for refreshment. They then abandoned their army and fled.
At dawn on 13th October, the leaderless Yorkist troops knelt in submission before King Henry and were pardoned. Sir Roger Kynaston, who had killed Lord Audley at the Battle of Blore Heath, was charged with high treason. However, the penalty of attainder was not inflicted for he and many others received the royal pardon in 1467 on payment of a fine. Richard had abandoned not only his troops but also his wife Cecily Neville (Duchess of York), his two younger sons and his daughter, who were found standing at the Ludlow Market Cross when the Lancastrians arrived. They were placed in the care of her sister Anne, wife of Humphrey Stafford (Duke of Buckingham). The Lancastrian troops proceeded to plunder the town and castle of Ludlow, becoming drunk on looted wine and committing many outrages. Henry and his army then returned to Coventry.
Although it had appeared that the country had been united behind King Henry at the time of the Battle of Ludford Bridge, within a short time the behaviour of Henry's court had prompted many complaints that Lancastrian favourites were enriching themselves at the expense of the King and populace. It was these grievances which Richard had first used as pretext to take arms against Henry's court in the early 1450s. Within six months of the battle, Warwick was able to land in Kent with popular support from London and the south east of England. He then marched into the Midlands and, aided by treachery in the Lancastrian army, he captured King Henry at the Battle of Northampton.
Events at Wem 1459 & 1483
Wem used to have a substantial castle and, during the War of the Roses, the town supported the Lancastrian side. When the Yorkist Earl of Salisbury passed by on his way to Ludlow in September 1459, he stopped to tear down the castle and town walls. He also tore down the St Peter & St Paul’s Church, since its tower could be used to spy on his movements. A stone figure on the west wall of the church tower is believed to be Ralph Greystock, Baron of Wem, who rebuilt the church and tower afterwards.
In 1483, Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, was part of a scheme to install Henry Tudor on the throne. The plan was that he would invade from Wales, while Henry came in by sea but bad timing and weather wrecked the plot. King Richard III's spies informed him of Buckingham's activities, so royalist forces captured and destroyed the bridges across the River Severn. When Buckingham and his army reached the river on 15th October, they found it swollen and impossible to cross because of a violent storm. Buckingham was trapped and had nowhere to retreat as his Welsh enemies had seized his home castle after he had set out with his army. He thus abandoned his plans and fled to Wem, where he hid in the house of his servant, Ralph Banastre. The servant, however, turned his master over to the Sheriff of Shropshire and Buckingham was imprisoned in Shrewsbury Castle. King Richard III at that time was in Salisbury quelling an insurgency and he ordered that Buckingham be taken there. Buckingham was subsequently beheaded without trial in the market place.