Fought on 4 May 1471, the Battle of Tewkesbury resulted in the violent deaths of an imprisoned king, an heir to the throne and many prominent noblemen. But it also led to a period of political stability in England that provided some respite from the Wars of the Roses. Here are 10 facts about the significant clash.
1. It pitted the Houses of York and Lancaster against one another
By this point the rival houses had been competing for power in England for nearly two decades.
2. It was sparked by a Lancastrian push to depose King Edward IV of the House of York
Edward had himself deposed Lancastrian King Henry VI 10 years before at the Battle of Townton. Following the battle, Henry went on the run but was captured and imprisoned in 1464 and his wife and son exiled in France.
The Yorkist king’s hold on the throne appeared secure at first but after he fell out with his powerful cousin, the 16th Earl of Warwick, Warwick joined forces with the Lancastrians and mounted a push to restore Henry to the throne.
3. The Lancastrian army was led by Henry’s wife
Margaret of Anjou was a powerful woman and a key figure in the Wars of the Roses. Before her husband was deposed by the Yorkists in 1461, she had ruled England in Henry’s place as a result of his frequent bouts of insanity. And when Warwick wanted to mount a push against Edward, the earl had been forced to seek approval from the exiled Margaret.
Margaret had arrived in England a few weeks before the battle and her army was on its way to Wales when Edward’s forces caught up with it at Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire.
4. The Lancastrians took up a defensive position close to Tewkesbury Abbey
Built in the early 12th century, this former Benedictine monastery still stands today and is open to the general public.
5. The Yorkists were slightly outnumbered by the Lancastrians
Though the attacking force, the Yorkists had a smaller force of around 5,000 men to the Lancastrians’ 6,000. Working in the Yorkists’ favour, however, was the fact that the exhausted Lancastrian army had been forced to abandon some of its artillery a day before the battle. This artillery had then been captured by Yorkist reinforcements and Edward’s army went into the battle with more guns than the Lancastrians.
6. A field on which part of the battle was fought is to this day known as the “Bloody Meadow”
Fleeing members of the Lancastrian army attempted to cross the River Severn but most were cut down by the Yorkists before they could get there. The meadow in question – which leads down to the river – was the location of the slaughter.
7. The battle resulted in a decisive victory for the House of York
Many other fleeing Lancastrians drowned in the rivers Swilgate and Avon or were killed by pursuing Yorkists. Margaret and Henry’s son Edward, the Prince of Wales, was meanwhile summarily executed by the Yorkists after being found in a grove.
8. Many Lancastrian nobles and knights sought sanctuary in Tewkesbury Abbey
But the abbey was not an official sanctuary (though that may not have stopped Edward) and, two days after the battle, Yorkists dragged the Lancastrians out and they were later executed. Among those dragged out of the abbey was Lancastrian commander the 4th Duke of Somerset.
9. King Henry was killed shortly after
On 21 May, Edward passed through London on his way to suppress a Lancastrian uprising in Kent (the fight against the Lancastrians wasn’t over, even after the decisive Tewkesbury victory). That night, the imprisoned Henry was killed in the Tower of London, likely on the orders of Edward.
10. But Margaret got away again
A few days after the battle Margaret wrote to Edward and told him she was “at his commandment”. After being taken prisoner by the Yorkists she was ransomed by her cousin, the French king, Louis XI, and lived out the rest of her days in France.