Battle of Edgecote

July 26, 1469


Such failure sparked a wave of popular discontent, the taxpayers felt cheated, lawlessness appeared to be rife; all of this grousing was not, of course anything new, complaining is the taxpayers’ right and medieval Englishmen were no lovers of taxation. This time the rumblings of unrest swelled to danger level, particularly in the north, where two shadowy figures; Robin of Redesdale (“Robin-Mend-All) [8] and Robin of Holderness [9] emerged to provide focus for discontent. The principal manifesto of these apparently disparate rebels was, firstly the burden of taxation and secondly, in the case of Robin of Holderness, that the rightful Percy heir should be installed as Earl of Northumberland, replacing Montagu.

To this Neville responded with vigour, capturing Robin of Holderness and striking off his head at York. If the East Riding was pacified, the upland dales of Northumberland were not and Robin of Redesdale appeared by June, 1469 in Lancashire where he was able to continue his work of agitation. Edward sensed the threat but not its magnitude. By 18th June he was at Norwich, in the process of touring East Anglia and he proceeded first to the shrine Walsingham, then on to Fotheringay where he spent an unhurried week with Queen Elizabeth. It was 5th July before he reached Stamford and five days thereafter moved forward to Newark. During June and early July he made provision for a limited muster, summoned ordnance from the Tower, whilst issuing commands to both Pembroke and Devon to raise their local forces and bring these to him in the East Midlands. Such limited measures seemed more precautionary than urgent, and suggest a want of intelligence on the King’s part.

From Stamford he requested a company of archers be sent by the burgesses of Coventry; a few days later, the tone of the request had sharpened, as many men as possible were urgently required; the threat was suddenly imminent. Edward now fell back to Nottingham for his scouts had finally brought news of the enemy, very disquieting news. Robin of Redesdale, no will o’ the wisp outlaw, but a rebel general, in command of large forces, was on the march. Exactly how substantial were these numbers was unclear but it was evident the King was considerably outnumbered. What was also becoming clear was that Robin had some very powerful backers; the Earl of Warwick, George Neville, Archbishop of York, (Chancellor till Edward dismissed him) and with them, none other than the King’s own brother George, Duke of Clarence.

It would not be difficult to detect Warwick’s guiding hand in the drafting of the rebel manifesto: The King was guilty of excluding those senior magnates whose counsels should prevail, in favour of a coterie of parvenus which included both Pembroke and Devon, together with Lord Audley, Earl Rivers and the other Woodvilles. The manifesto cited the inglorious reigns of Henry VI, Edward II and Richard II – all of whom had been deposed by force [10]. The officers of this rebel army included Sir William Conyers of Marske and his brother, Sir John. Both were from Warwick’s affinity, the latter steward of the lordship of Middleham. With them were Warwick’s nephew, Sir Henry Fitzhugh and a cousin Sir Henry Neville. The constitution of the rebel army thus exhibited a very distinct Neville bias. Edward was culpable in that he had not seen this coming. He now faced the strong possibility of an attack by superior forces whilst his own were either busy mustering or, as in the case of Pembroke and Devon, still too far distant to lend succour. The pretext of re-comissioning Warwick’s ship the Trinity – refitted at Sandwich, and ready by the early part of June, had enabled the two Neville brothers and Clarence to perfect their plans. Flaunting the King’s prohibition, the Earl proposed to marry his eldest daughter Isobel to the royal Duke. By the end of the month he had pre-empted the King’s correspondence to the burghers of Coventry and requested them to place troops at his subsequent disposal.

Archbishop Bourchier proved amenable in the matter of granting a licence for the forthcoming wedding - this was to hand by 1st July and by the 6th the wedding party was sailing for Calais. The ceremony then took place, rather hurriedly, with George Neville officiating and John de Vere, Earl of Oxford, another of Warwick’s brothers-in-law, in attendance. This step, once taken, provided the signal for a full insurrection. The Nevilles now openly circulated copies of the rebel manifesto, adding their own endorsement. The muster was set for 16th July at Canterbury – as ever the Kentishmen flocked to Warwick’s banners and, some four days after the initial muster, he was on the road to London with substantial forces at his command. Edward, meanwhile, remained stationary at Nottingham, his best hope lay in the contingents of Pembroke and Devon, hurrying now toward him. At the same time, the northern rebels were also on the move, avoiding contact with the King’s command and looking to link with Warwick, cutting Edward off from his capital.

By 25th July the rebel army under Robin of Redesdale was set on a collision course with the combined forces of Pembroke and Devon. The latter’s capability was significantly eroded by a petty dispute which arose over contested billeting arrangements. Both divisions were to camp at Edgecote but the marshals bickered over the scarce billets, and the senior officers allowed themselves to be drawn in, both Herbert and Stafford were highly conscious of their honour and the latter seems to have rather flounced off, taking his archers with him and they encamped nearer to Banbury. Pembroke’s men were stationed with the river Cherwell guarding their exposed frontage, prickers brought news that rebel forces were in the field and that the morrow would witness a general engagement.

In the warm summer’s dawn the northerners attempted to push across the river barrier and come to strokes with the Welshmen. It was now that the lack of missile troops began to tell, Pembroke’s bills fought hard and well, but deprived of archers, suffered loss and finally had to give ground, conceding the crossing. Robin of Redesdale, perceiving his advantage put in fresh attacks, the Welsh resisted manfully, their dogged courage being rewarded, sometime after midday when elements of Devon’s force at last began to come up. This might have been sufficient to stem the tide had the rebels not also received reinforcements. These were from the van of Warwick’s army, a detachment of horse, led by trusted and experienced knights; Sir William Parr, Sir Geoffrey Gate and a professional captain, John Chapman.

These fresh arrivals put heart into the rebels and dismayed the King’s men who now thought the Nevilles were upon them in force. The exhausted Welsh simply gave way, their resolute companies dissolving in rout, sweeping Devon’s latecomers from the field. Pembroke and his brother Sir Richard Herbert who had done valiant service that day and fought the last, were both taken and promptly executed, perhaps as many as two thousand of their Welsh retainers lay around them [11]. Rebel losses are unrecorded but these cannot have been light, Sir William Conyers, ‘Robin of Redesdale’ himself had fallen, with Sir John assuming leadership. Devon, for the moment, escaped though his nemesis was not long delayed. The King’s position was now critical, he had been depending on his western affinity; their destruction left him completely exposed. Campaigns such as Mortimer’s Cross and Towton had secured Edward’s reputation as an effective and dynamic commander. By contrast his performance in 1469 is woeful. Not only had he been outmeanouvred and left impotent at Nottingham, whilst the decisive events occurred elsewhere, but he had stayed a spectator whilst his available forces were destroyed at Edgecote and his lieutenants eliminated. He also appears to have been surprised at the popular support for the rebels; thereafter, his customary clemency towards the commons was less assured[12].

He remained ignorant of the disaster until he had quit Nottingham and marched as far south as Olney, still thinking to meet with the reinforcements under Pembroke and Devon at Northampton. By the time news of their destruction reached him it was too late and morale amongst his own slender forces collapsed, the men simply deserted leaving the King isolated and obliged to surrender himself to George Neville. The Archbishop, rather ominously, appeared before his sovereign in full harness; Edward, the King, was now a captive of the Nevilles and the Kingmaker. Warwick, on paper, had achieved much. He had successfully mobilised his northern affinity and kept the King guessing, whilst binding the feckless Clarence through marriage. He had capitalised on support in the south-east to carry out a brilliant pincer movement, isolating Edward, decimating his available troops and ridding himself of a handful of rivals.

The Kingmaker was now in control, that was not in question, but what, exactly, did he control and what were his longer term political objectives. He had no real support from the magnates, he controlled the person of the king but, as York had found out before him, rule by proxy simply did not work. Besides, Edward IV was not Henry VI, the Earl had had the better of him, but the game was far from over. Edward was still King, if Warwick had any notion of replacing him with Clarence, presumably by showing the King was a bastard, he showed no intention. Indeed he continued to treat his cousin with the deference due to his degree. Nonetheless, Edward remained a ‘guest’ of the Nevilles, firstly at Warwick Castle, then north to their great fortress of Middleham. Written nearly two decades after the events it describes, the account of the second Croyland Continuator provides a vivid record of the aftermath’s of Warwick’s seeming triumph:

‘For the people, seeing their king detained as a prisoner, refused to take any notice of proclamations to this effect, until, having been entirely set at liberty, he had made his appearance in the city of York; after which the enemy were most valiantly routed by the said earl, and the king, seizing the opportunity, in the full enjoyment of his liberty came to London’ [13].

The uncertainty of the perceived interegum prompted a rash of disturbances, private feuds and general lawlessness. Humphrey Neville of Brancepeth, from the Lancastrian branch, was stirring up fresh troubles in Northumberland. Warwick found he was unable to respond; he lacked any authority to act on behalf of the crown. Men had flocked to his banner to remove unfit counsellors, not to replace the King, that task had been accomplished – the Nevilles no longer possessed a current manifesto. Blatent self-interest was no substitute, the Woodvilles were unpopular but many of the magnates owed their advancement to the King, the rest had grown used to the stability of his rule; the alternative of an over-mighty subject in charge of the realm purely for his own ends offered no attraction whatsoever.
While in Calais, the Earl of Warwick and the Duke of Clarence inspired a series of rebellions in the north to draw Edward IV northwards. In July the considerable forces of 'Robin of Redesdale', Sir John Conyers who was one of Warwick's retainers, forced Edward to move north to Nottingham. Here he waited for William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke and Humphrey Stafford, Earl of Devon to bring their retainers from Wales and the West Country.

 


                                         Yorkists                                              Lancastrians

John Eynton

William Burgh

Sir Richard Herbert, executed

Sir Geoffrey Cate

Sir William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, executed

John Chapman

 

Sir Henry Neville, killed in battle

Sir William Conyers

Thomas ap Roger, killed in battle

Sir Henry Fitzhugh, killed in battle

Sir Humphrey Stafford, Earl of Devon

Sir Henry Neville, killed in battle

 

Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick

 

Sir William Parr

©The Richard III Foundation, Inc.

 

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