Stories From English History: II - Alfred J. Church

The Two Roses (Continued)

The death of the Duke of York did not do as much harm to his cause as one might have thought it would have done. He was a clever man, and of a much finer and more generous temper than any, we may say, of the nobles of his time, but he was not a skilful general. His son Edward, who succeeded him, was in this respect much superior, though he was a much worse man. And in something of the same way the death of the Earl of Salisbury was an advantage. The whole power of the family now came into the hands of his son, the Earl of Warwick, and Warwick, like Edward, was a cleverer man than his father.

Just seven weeks after the battle of Wakefield, the Yorkists suffered another defeat. Warwick was anxious above all things to keep London, which was, indeed, the chief strength of his cause. He got together in haste all the troops that he could, and marched thither. Queen Margaret, who was as anxious to gain the great city as he was not to lose it, had come from the north, though she had not used all the speed that she might. Her soldiers were bent on plundering, and she did not, perhaps could not, keep them in order. The two armies met at St. Alban's, and Warwick was defeated.

And now, if the Queen had pressed on at once, the Lancastrians might have been successful. This time, it would seem, her husband stopped her. He could not bear to think that the savage soldiers, who had done so much harm in England already, should plunder and burn the capital city of his kingdom. He persuaded the Queen to wait till the Londoners, who were greatly in favour of the other party, should make a regular surrender of their city. And while she waited the opportunity was lost.

The Duke of York's son, the young Earl of March, was in the west of England when the news of his father's defeat and death reached him. On February 2, 1461, he met the Lancastrians, under the command of Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke, at Mortimer's Cross in Herefordshire, and defeated them. Jasper fled from the field. His father Owen, who, thirty-three years before, had married Katharine of France, the fifth Henry's widow, was with him. The stout old man refused to fly, was taken prisoner, carried to Hereford, and beheaded there.

Edward went on towards London, and was joined on the way by Warwick. The Queen, who had not been able to keep her troops together, did not wait for their coming, but retreated northwards. The young Duke entered London, and without waiting for the assent of Parliament, caused himself to be proclaimed King by the title of Edward IV.



It was no time for him to sit still and enjoy his new dignity. In the course of a few days he and Warwick marched northwards, and met the Lancastrians, who were under the command of the Duke of Somerset, at Towton, a village about ten miles south-west of York. The battle that followed, fought on March 29 (Palm Sunday), 1461, was the greatest, if we regard the numbers engaged, and one of the most important, ever fought in this country.

The Duke of Somerset posted his army on some high land in front of the village of Towton. On his right was a steep slope, going down to the beck or brook called the Cock. This is commonly a small stream, but it was then in flood, and could not be crossed. On his left there was another slope, not so steep, but still steep enough to make an attack difficult. In front also the ground fell, but more gently. His great fault was, according to a recent writer, that he crowded his men too much together, and so lost the advantage of his larger numbers. Something of the same kind had been done by the French at Agincourt. King Edward and Warwick came on from the south, unseen because of a snow-storm which was blowing from that direction, and was therefore driving into the faces of the Lancastrians. But they could see better than they were seen, and sent volleys of arrows among the enemy. These tried to return them, but to little purpose. The Yorkists drew back when they had discharged their arrows; when the volleys of the enemy began to fail they came on again. At last the Lancastrians were provoked to leave their post, to descend the slope in front, and to climb that which rose on the opposite side of the valley to where the Yorkist army stood. And still the snow beat fiercely in their faces. The fight went on fiercely for many hours. About noon the Duke of Norfolk, who had been some miles behind, came up with fresh troops from Ferrybridge, at which place he had crossed the Aire, and fell on the left flank of the Lancastrians. Still they held out; it was late in the afternoon before they broke and fled. Many were slain on the field of battle; it is said that as many as 30,000 bodies were buried at Towton, and many were drowned in the flooded brook. By the end of the day the Lancastrian army had ceased to be. No prisoners were taken. Never have Englishmen fought so savagely as they did in the War of the Roses.

Even after this Queen Margaret did not give up hope. She had still some friends in England, and she now began to look for help to the enemies of her country. She gave up Berwick-upon-Tweed to the Scotch, and she pledged Calais to the French, and got some soldiers in return. The great house of the Percies was still on her side, and so were others among the nobles of the north. They fought for her at Hedgeley Moor and were beaten; they fought again at Hexham, and met with the same fate. King Henry was at Hexham, but soon fled from the field. He escaped, though three of the servants who waited on him were taken. For a year he was in hiding, and was then discovered, and taken to London. Queen Margaret, who had her son, then eleven years old, with her, fled towards the Scottish border. She went through not a few hardships and dangers before she could make good her escape. She fell among a party of plunderers, but contrived to get away while they were quarrelling over their booty. A few hours afterwards she met—so the story runs—one of the outlaws who haunted the great forest of Hexham. She told him that she was the Queen of England, and that the boy with her was the heir to the English crown; and she begged him to protect, if not herself, at least the child. The man was moved by her prayers, and found a hiding-place for mother and son till their friends could arrange for their escape to France.

The battle of Hexham was fought on May 15, 1464. About a month afterwards Warwick took Bamborough Castle, the last place in England that held out for the Lancastrians, and for six years the land had peace.