Stories From English History: II - Alfred J. Church

"The End Of The King-Maker"

Edward had not long been King before a quarrel began between him and his powerful subject, the Earl of Warwick. Warwick was a prudent statesman, and thought that the King could not do better than marry a French princess. This would strengthen him on his throne, because it would prevent the French King, who was the nearest and most powerful of his neighbours, from helping the House of Lancaster. But Edward wanted, as indeed was quite natural, to please himself in the matter of marrying. He had fallen in love with Lady Elizabeth Grey of Groby, daughter of a certain Lord Rivers who had fought on Henry's side in the War of the Roses. This lady he married in 1464. Warwick was greatly displeased at this, and became still more angry when he found that the King was disposed to raise his wife's kinsfolk to power. Then another cause of difference came up. Warwick still desired an alliance with France, but the King was more disposed to make friends with the Duke of Burgundy, Charles surnamed the Bold, and promised to give him his sister Margaret for wife. Edward and his brother the Duke of Clarence were not on good terms, and the Duke made friends with Warwick, whose daughter he married in the year 1469. In this year the quarrel between the King and Warwick broke out into open war. There was a rebellion in the north, which the Earl and his friends secretly encouraged. The King was not strong enough to put it down, and was actually made prisoner, his keeper being Warwick's brother, the Archbishop of York. About the same time the Queen's father and brother, who had been taken prisoners at a battle in Northamptonshire, were put to death. Warwick was now the real ruler of England; but in the next year King Edward contrived to escape, and Warwick had to fly from the country. He now made up his mind to break with King Edward altogether, and to put Henry again upon the throne. By the help of King Louis of France, he made friends with Queen Margaret. Shortly afterwards he returned to England, where his brother, Lord Montague, had been busy raising an army. And now Edward, in his turn, was compelled to fly from the country, and to take refuge with his brother-in-law, the Duke of Burgundy. The Duke, while pretending to favour neither of the two parties, secretly helped him, and Edward returned to England. In Yorkshire, where he landed, having been driven out of his proper course by a storm, he was not well received, but as he went southward, great numbers flocked to join him. The Duke of Clarence, "false, fleeting, perjured," joined him, and when he reached London he was at once admitted within the gates, and found the citizens ready to help him with both money and men. Warwick had followed him from the north, and King Edward lost no time in turning back to meet him. He marched to Barnet, taking King Henry from his prison in the Tower with him.

Warwick, who had with him the Earl of Oxford, and his brother, Lord Montague, had encamped on the table-land which lies to the north of Barnet. Edward marched up Barnet Hill without being hindered, passed through Barnet town, and drew up his army on the southern part of what is now known as Hadley Green. The country was covered with a thick mist, and it seems that neither of the two commanders knew exactly where they were, or where the enemy was to be found. King Edward, in particular, meaning to draw up his army in line over against that of the Earl of Warwick, drew it up really far too much to the right. The mistake really turned out to his advantage, for the cannonade which the enemy directed during the night on his left wing, or rather where they supposed the left wing to be, did no harm, the balls falling in an empty space. About five o'clock in the morning—it was Easter Day, April 14, 1471—the trumpet sounded for battle, and King Edward's men began to move forwards. No regular plan of attack could be carried out, so thick was the mist. Whenever it grew lighter for a time, and this company or that could see a portion of the enemy, there was some fierce fighting. Then it became thicker again, and the combatants were almost obliged to hold their hands. At first the battle seemed likely to go against King Edward. Lord Montague and the Earl of Oxford found his left wing very weak, and drove it before them in confusion. Some of the flying soldiers took refuge in the houses of Barnet town, some tried to hide themselves in the great forest called Enfield Chase, which in those days came close up to the town. A few even fled as far as London, carrying with them false tidings of how King Edward's army had been altogether defeated. But, thanks to the mist, the rest of the army knew very little of what had happened, and fought on as bravely and cheerfully as if nothing had gone wrong. On the other hand, the pursuers took to plundering the houses of the townsmen, and their leaders had much trouble in gathering them together again and putting them in good order. When they had done this to the best of their power, and were making their way back to the field of battle, another misfortune happened to them, and of this also the mist may have been, in part at least, the cause.

Battle of Barnet


They came upon the centre of their own line of battle, and being taken by them for enemies were received with a shower of arrows. One reason for this mistake is said to have been that the Earl of Oxford's men wore a badge that was very like that of King Edward's soldiers. These latter had on their coats a sun with rays streaming from it, while the Earl of Oxford's badge was a star with five points. The one may well have been taken for the other, especially on a misty day. Certain it is that the right wing, when coming back to the battle, received a volley from their own friends. Some of them set up a cry of "Treachery! treachery!" and fled from the field, the Earl himself being among them. The archers too, when they found out what they had done, were not a little disturbed. King Edward saw at once the confusion among his enemies, and felt that the time was come for striking a great blow. He had kept in reserve behind his first line some companies of horse and foot. These were of course quite fresh, while the rest of the two armies had been fighting ever since dawn, that is for nearly five hours. King Edward himself led them on, and fought at their head. There was not a stronger or more skilful man-at-arms than he in either army, and that day he fought more fiercely than ever. The Earl of Warwick's line was soon broken through, and though here and there small parties of his men continued to resist, the victory was beyond all doubt with King Edward. By an hour before noon all was over, though the pursuit may have lasted some time longer. The King-maker and his brother, Lord Montague, were found dead on the field. An obelisk, set up about a hundred and fifty years ago, marks the spot where, according to tradition, the two were slain. Another memory of the battle is preserved in the name of "Dead Man's Bottom," given to a hollow in Hadley Wood. The two brothers were buried in Bisham Abbey.

But King Edward had one more battle to fight before he could enjoy his kingdom in peace. On the very day of the battle of Barnet, Queen Margaret landed at Weymouth, and was joined by some of the old friends of her cause. Her first intention had been to march on London, but when she heard of Warwick's defeat and death, she turned westwards. Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke, was raising troops in Wales, and if she could join him her chances of victory would be much improved. She got as far as Gloucester, but the Governor of the city would not admit her men within the walls. Thus they were not able to cross the Severn, as they had hoped to do, by Gloucester bridge. They now marched northwards, hoping to get across the Avon at Tewkesbury, and so make their way to Worcester, and from Worcester into Wales. King Edward was following them, and at Tewkesbury was so close behind that they could not hope to make the passage of the Avon without fighting. Queen Margaret was for moving on, but the soldiers were utterly wearied, for they had marched more than forty miles within the last twenty-four hours, and their leaders resolved to fight where they were. The two armies were about equal in numbers; but King Edward was a far better leader than Somerset, and his soldiers were in better condition. Anyhow the battle was soon over. Somerset, who would probably have done better if he had remained in the strong position which he had taken up, and been content to defend himself, saw, as he thought, an opportunity of attacking the enemy, and fell upon the left wing of Edward's army. He was beaten off, and falling back upon his own lines, put them into confusion. King Edward now charged the centre of the Lancastrians. It broke and fled, and the day was lost. As there is a "Dead Man's Bottom" near the field of Barnet, so there is a "Bloody Meadow" by the side of the Avon below Tewkesbury. Probably the name marks the place where the fugitives, unable to cross the river or get into the town, were slaughtered by the conquerors. Here, it may be, Prince Edward, the last heir of the Lancastrian line, was slain. It seems tolerably certain that he fell either in the battle or in the pursuit. Shakespeare's story—if indeed the play of Henry VI. be Shakespeare's—is that he was taken prisoner, and brought before King Edward, and that, haughtily maintaining his right to the throne, he was stabbed by the King and his two brothers, the Dukes of Clarence and Gloucester.

The battle of Tewkesbury was fought on May 4, 1471. On the twenty-second of the same month the body of Henry VI. was exposed to public view in St. Paul's Cathedral, London. It was said that he had died a natural death, but no one doubted that he had been murdered, and most people believed that the murderer was Richard, Duke of Gloucester.

Queen Margaret, who had been taken prisoner at Tewkesbury, was kept in prison till the year 1476 when Louis XI., King of France, ransomed her by paying fifty thousand gold crowns. But as she was allowed to leave England, she was obliged solemnly to give up all her claims to the crown, and King Louis got in return for his money a surrender of all her rights to the provinces which she should have inherited from her father and mother. She died in 1481.