LIC Blog

On this day ... Tewkesbury

The news reached London only two days after the battle of Barnet. Two short days! Why my Lord of Warwick would scarce have been cold before those ships put in at Weymouth. What must his wife and daughter have felt when they heard? But it was the other cargo that put fear into the hearts of Londoners, for the former Queen, Margaret of Anjou was back. And this time she'd brought her son, Prince Edouard, with her to reclaim the throne of England.

Rumour had it that she'd been advised by the Dukes of Somerset and Devon to ride west towards their strongholds. Probably Exeter or maybe Bristol.

When King Edward received the news from his agents, he sent back twice their number with a single command: find where she is, what's her strength and where she's headed. Then he dispatched my lords of Gloucester and Hastings to muster a new army to march as soon as could be.

On the 19th April the King left London to travel the few miles to Windsor. He took with him wagonloads of harness and all the cannon salvaged from Warwick's camp. And there he waited.

He sent for me on the 22nd and gave me my orders. I can't say that I liked them, but he is my lord the King. And then again he has the way of putting a man at his ease and making it all seem so right.

He was celebrating St. George's Day on the 23rd, when his men brought news that Somerset was leading his army north towards Bristol, although some sizeable bands had been seen probing east towards Salisbury. King Edward reckoned the old witch was hell-bent on crossing the Severn at Gloucester to join forces with that bastard Jasper Tudor, and get her precious lamb to safety. So next day, Wednesday the 24th, the Royal army marched for Gloucester. Young Richard of Gloucester took the vanguard with the old lecher Hastings in the rear. The King commanded the centre and made sure that brother George stayed close. My men rode with the Duke of Clarence's bodyguard.

We made good time, arriving at Cirencester on the 29th April. But the weather was hot - too hot for April in full armour and miles to go. 

We were en route to Malmesbury, when the scouts galloped straight to the King. Somerset had changed plan. He'd swung east from Bristol and was holding Sodbury, whilst the rest of his troops came on. It looked like we were all set for a pitched battle - that, or the very next day.

The three battalions of the army reached Sodbury Hill at night fall on the 1st May. That gave us a grand view of the town. Everyone bedded down for the night. I've no stomach for meat before a killing, but I can sleep anywhere. So it came as a shock to be woken at dawn to learn that Somerset's men had gone. He'd only sent a small body of men into Sodbury, just enough to trick our scouts into thinking he wanted a fight.

The King was livid to realise he'd fallen for the ruse. His brother Clarence didn't seem to mind though, just grinned like a loon. Messengers were dispatched for Gloucester. That was the nearest bridge over the Severn. The governor of the town was to bar the gates to Lancaster at all costs.

We broke camp and marched like ants through the Cotswolds. I'll never forget the heat and the dust.

There was precious little drinking water left and the wine-cart stayed under heavy guard all the way. The King was ignoring Gloucester. If the city did its job, then Lancaster would be running to cross the river at Tewkesbury. If we got there first, well they'd have to fight. But even if they arrived before us, it would be too late to ferry an army of 5,000 across. They couldn't risk splitting their men and us arriving to slaughter those on the east bank.

We arrived as darkness fell. The scouts reported that Lancaster was encamped on this side of the Severn less than a mile hence.

Our mounts were exhausted. We'd lost a hundred men from heat exhaustion and thirst, but our spirits rose. Tomorrow Saturday 4th May all our troubles would be behind us.

The King didn't move us into position early next morning. He made Lancaster wait.

And sweat.

We took up position facing them across very rough ground. They had a couple of streams protecting their flanks and a hillock on our left. Young Gloucester wheeled his men towards the hillock, whilst I stayed with the King and the Duke of Clarence in the centre.

I kept thinking of those orders he'd given me, and prayed I'd not be needed.

If only Somerset had kept his nerve. He had a good defensive position. The ground in front of his men, opposite to Gloucester was a mass of hedges, thorn and dykes. We'd lose a lot of good men trying to force our way across it and up hill to assault his battalion.

The ground ahead of the King and Hastings was much better. Opposite King Edward, the command was nominally young Edouard's. In reality old Wenlock held the reins of power with Devon on his left.

If only Somerset had stayed put.

But the King didn't let him. He let loose all the artillery we'd dragged from London. I don't count those monsters as being much use. Usually they blow up in your face or miss the target by a mile. But on that day they scythed through Lancaster's men like butter. Then he let loose an arrow-storm to compound their misery.

Somerset could feel his men losing their courage. They had to do something and the only thing was to charge down at us.

Once combat starts you've eyes for nothing else.

The dust rolled over the groups of men striking at each other with shattering effect. I'd seen the King fight at Barnet and was glad to be on his side. Suddenly all hell broke out on the left. Gloucester's men came pushing and shoving into our ranks as though the devil himself were after them. We'd no idea that Somerset had mounted a flank attack on Gloucester under cover of those hedges and ditches. The King now found himself fighting on two fronts, as he struggled to regain control. If his men turned and fled, all was lost. He didn't know what had happened to his little brother, but the way he wielded that pole-axe said there'd be hell to pay if he'd lost him. Clarence was almost mad with fury, as he laid into Somerset's men to support his brothers.

Without warning the tide of battle shifted and Gloucester's men fought their way back into the fray, forcing Somerset's attack to stall, crumble and break. The Duke had gambled and lost. The rot soon set in and the Lancastrian army turned and fled across the meadow towards the Severn.

Next thing I knew the Duke of Clarence was yelling for horses and we followed him in pursuit of some knights dressed in very expensive armour. My lads and I began to count up ransom money. The Lancastrians were on foot and we overtook them near the old mill. My troop rode ahead and cut them off. The only thing to do was surrender. But Clarence had other plans.

We outnumbered them three to one.

As the Duke sat on his horse, his bodyguard dismounted, drew swords and charged the knot of men surrounding a figure by the mill door. He was clearly important. His armour must have cost a fortune.

One by one his retainers were clubbed to the ground or crippled with a blow, until he was left alone. Desperately he dragged off his helmet and cried to the Duke that he was Edouard of Lancaster, his brother-in-law. He pleaded for his life. Two of the Duke's men pinned his arms to the wall of the mill, whilst another stabbed him twice in the throat.

I glanced away. Poor boy.

I saw the look of pleasure on Clarence's face that day as the blood poured to the ground.

Then I remembered my orders from the King. He never could trust Clarence.

I just wish he had turned traitor in battle that day.

It would have been a real honour to have stuck him like a pig.