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Richard Ill's usurpation drove many Yorldsts to support Henry Tudor, the hitherto hopeless last Lancastrian. The 1483 rebellion was easily suppressed. In 1485, Henry Tudor's rapid march made Richard fight before his muster was complete. But at Bosworth he was betrayed by the nobles who backed him in 1483. The invasion of the 'Yorkist' imposter Lambert Simnel in 1487 did not seriously trouble Henry VII, since he attracted little support. Stoke, the last battle of the Wars of the Roses, has the reputation of a close run affair. It was not. Henry VII was not betrayed by his partisans, unlike Richard III.
After the murder of Henry VI in the Tower, and the death of his heir Edward in 1471, Edward IV enjoyed twelve years of peace. He died prematurely in 1483, leaving as heir the twelve year-old Edward V. Edward IV had made his brother Richard the greatest noble in the north, a power he now used to usurp the throne, causing a new civil war. During August 1483, former servants of Edward IV, his widow's family, and the duke of Buckingham (who was instrumental in Richard's usurpation), accepted that Edward V was dead, and plotted to make an obscure Lancastrian exile, Henry Tudor, king. There were risings across southern England in October, but in Wales, Buckingham attracted no support and Richard encountered little resistance. By the time Henry was proclaimed king in Cornwall the revolt was dead. Richard survived in 1483 because his magnate backers, Norfolk, Northumberland, and Stanley, remained loyal. The surviving Yorkist plotters joined Henry and his Lancastrian companions in Brittany.
During 1484, Richard was based centrally at Nottingham awaiting an invasion which never came, as Henry Tudor was unable to secure foreign backing. This waiting exhausted Richard's resources. Henry Tudor formally landed in Wales on 7 August 1485, with a few hundred mainly Yorkist exiles and 4,000 French mercenaries. They marched rapidly through Wales, seeking to fight before Richard could complete his muster. Henry gained little support, but no attempt was made to stop him either. He was in touch with the Stanley family, who promised to defect. Richard, at Leicester, was also eager for battle as he detected signs of crumbling loyalty.
The battlefield at Bosworth cannot be located precisely, but a broad outline of the fighting is possible. The battle lasted some two hours. Richard's forces considerably outnumbered Henry's army of around 5,000 men. His large vanguard of cavalry, infantry, and archers attacked and was pinned by Henry's smaller vanguard. Richard led his household around the melee to attack Henry's own force, threatening Henry's life. However, Sir William Stanley, waiting on one side, committed his force of 3,000 to crush Richard's isolated troop. According to Henry's court historian, Polydore Vergil, 'king Richard alone was killed fighting manfully in the thickest press of his enemies... his courage was high and fierce and failed him not even at the death which, when his men forsook him, he preferred to take by the sword rather than, by foul flight, to prolong his life'. Richard's death ended the battle. Richard's charge was a desperate gamble rather than a brilliant manoeuvre: he had failed to keep the loyalty of the nobles who brought him to the throne (Lord Stanley and Northumberland, who profited greatly from the usurpation, did not fight) and risked his life before committing his whole army.
Henry VII represented Yorkist legitimism as well as Lancaster, making his position more stable than Richard's, but early in his reign he was vulnerable. In 1487, an impostor was crowned in Ireland as 'Edward VI'. In June, two surviving Ricardians, the earl of Lincoln and Lord Lovel, landed in Lancashire with 2,000 German mercenaries, paid for by Edward IV's sister Margaret of Burgundy, and up to 5,000 Irish levies. Support in Yorkshire was disappointing, despite the region's connections with Richard III, and York refused to admit the ill-disciplined Irish. However, Northumberland failed to deal with the rebels. Henry awaited the support of the Stanleys and precise news of Lincoln's route in the east Midlands, before intercepting the rebels at East Stoke, south-west of Newark. He had a large army, whose vanguard alone sufficed to defeat Lincoln's forces. The poorly equipped Irish were of little threat to Henry, and the German mercenaries were too few in number. Unlike in 1485, this time there was no treachery among the King’s chief supporters. This battle of Stoke marked the end of the Wars of the Roses because it was the last time Henry VII had to fight a pitched battle against a pretender.
In 1469, Edward IV was captured after his former ally Warwick destroyed his forces at Edgecote. He was more alert in 1470, defeating the rebels at 'Losecote field', but Warwick escaped after both sides manoeuvred skilfully. By the end of 1470, Edward was an exile, after Warwick's alliance with Margaret revived the Lancastrian cause. Edward IV invaded in March 1471, seizing the initiative to defeat his enemies separately, forcing battle at Barnet and Tewkesbury, before they joined forces. Fauconberg's attack on London was the only town siege of the wars. The city authorities resisted, knowing that Edward was approaching.
In 1469, Warwick and Edward's brother Clarence harnessed popular discontent to gain control themselves. Warwick met up with an army of his Yorkshire tenants to isolate Edward from London and intercept the earls of Pembroke and Devon who were leading men to Edward at Nottingham. Pembroke's Welsh men-at-arms were defeated near Banbury (battle of Edgecote, 26 July) where he fought unsupported by Devon's West Country archers, possibly due to a quarrel. However, Warwick could not command obedience; in September he released Edward, who apparently forgave him. In early 1470, Warwick tried again. A Lincolnshire rising was intended to join Warwick at Leicester on 12 March, to trap Edward between them and a Yorkshire army. However, Edward was alert. The Lincolnshire rebels tried to ambush Edward near Stamford, before he could unite his forces at Grantham, to save their leader's father from execution. Warned by his spies and scouts, Edward routed them at 'Lose-cote field'. By 18 March, his army growing every day, Edward had put his army across Warwick's way into Yorkshire. But then Warwick's vanguard feinted towards Rotherham and, as Edward advanced to fight, he escaped across the Pennines. Edward could not follow at once, owing to the lack of provisions in the thinly populated uplands and the need to pacify Yorkshire. Warwick and Clarence escaped to France where king Louis XI, in order to gain English support against Burgundy, reconciled the arch-enemies Margaret and Warwick and funded an invasion. Although Edward easily dealt with a rising of Warwick's retainers in Yorkshire (August 1470), in early September a storm scattered Anglo-Burgundian ships in the Channel, allowing Warwick to land. When Warwick's brother Montagu defected, Edward barely escaped to Burgundy, and Henry VI was restored to the throne.
In March 1471, Edward sailed for England with almost 2,000 troops, including 300 hand-gunners provided by the duke of Burgundy. An Italian diplomat reported that 'men think he will leave his skin there'. In the following weeks, Edward took calculated risks to defeat Warwick and Margaret (who was still in France) separately, while they failed to concentrate their forces. Since Edward landed in Yorkshire where he had few supporters, he claimed only his family lands. The dominant local landowner, Northumberland, let him pass, while Montagu at Pontefract failed to intercept his small force. A bold advance on Newark dispersed some 4,000 Lancastrians, and then Lord Hastings led in the first significant support of 3,000 well-equipped men. At the end of March, Warwick sensibly withdrew into the walled town of Coventry, refusing battle. Although Clarence, with 4,000 men, defected to Edward (3 April), greater reinforcements joined Warwick. Edward broke the deadlock by seizing London (11 April). Warwick had to follow, and Edward advanced with less than 10,000 to confront his larger army at Barnet. In the dark, Edward pushed his men forward for a dawn attack to neutralize Warwick's artillery. Owing to this, the armies were not aligned, so when Edward attacked after four o'clock on Easter Sunday (14 April), his outflanked left fled, pursued by Warwick's right. But in the dense mist, the rest of his army fought on, oblivious. His right enveloped Warwick's left, but the battle was decided in the centre. After three hours of intense combat, in which Edward fought prominently, Warwick's army broke. Casualties were heavy: more than 1,000 dead were reported, among them Warwick and Montagu. The same evening, Margaret landed in the south-west.
Rather than strike before Edward replaced his losses, the Lancastrians decided to join their supporters in the northwest and Wales, which required them to cross the Severn. To deceive Edward they made feints towards London. Edward remained in the Thames valley, keeping both routes covered, then advanced 30 miles (48km) on 29 April to guard the Severn at Gloucester. The Lancastrians successfully lured Edward south by appearing to offer battle, while their army refreshed itself at Bristol before a forced march overnight to Gloucester. Fortunately for Edward, the constable refused them entry, condemning them to march to the next crossing at Tewkesbury. Having covered 50 miles (80km) in 36 hours, the Lancastrians were too exhausted to cross that afternoon. Consequently, Edward's army was able to catch them, covering more than 30 miles (48km) on 3 May on the open downland, to camp 3 miles (5km) away. Although the Lancastrian strategy had failed, they held a strong site on a low ridge for the now unavoidable battle. Goaded by Yorkist artillery and archery, Somerset led the Lancastrian right down to attack Edward's centre, using the close terrain to approach unseen. However, his division was squeezed between the Yorkist centre and left, then routed by a surprise attack by 200 men-at-arms Edward had concealed in a wood. The Yorkists then defeated the Lancastrian centre and left separately. The Lancastrians in the north collapsed following Tewkesbury, but in Kent, Thomas Fauconberg (a cousin of Warwick) threatened London with a considerable force. News of Edward's victory emboldened the city authorities to resist, a course of action unusual in the Wars of the Roses. Guns were mounted on the river wall and the gates were protected with bulwarks and guns. Fauconberg's assaults on London Bridge and the city gates (1 2 and 14 May) were beaten off. His ships' guns mounted on the south bank of the Thames were overwhelmed by London's artillery. The approach of Edward's advance guard hastened the dispersal of Fauconberg's men.
In December 1460, the Lancastrians mustered a new army, and killed Richard of York at Wakefield. This began a prolonged mid-winter campaign, involving most of the English nobility. Margaret brushed Warwick aside at St Albans, but failed to occupy London, allowing Edward of York to be declared king. He pursued the Lancastrians to Yorkshire, where two days of heavy fighting culminated in his victory. Although he was dilatory in snuffing out the last Lancastrians in Northumberland' they were not a serious threat.
The most intense fighting of the Wars of the Roses took place between 1460-61. While Margaret waited at Coventry for York to invade from Dublin, she failed to send adequate forces to defeat the Yorkists at Calais. Some 2,000 Yorkists seized a bridgehead at Sandwich (June 1460), and by promising good government attracted men in Kent, and cash and transport in London. Warwick advanced in two columns (4 and 5 July) until the Lancastrian position was known. Rain and negotiations slowed the advance. Although many contingents were still on the road, the Lancastrians were confident in their fortified camp near Northampton. But when the Yorkists attacked on 10 July, 'the ordnance of the king's guns availed not, for that day was so great rain that the guns...were quenched and might not be shot' (Anonymous London chronicler). The Kentish foot played a notable role in the assault. In barely half an hour, the Lancastrian army was in flight, betrayed by Lord Grey who let Warwick in. The casualties, around 300 in number, were mainly Lancastrian, and King Henry was captured.
York was no longer content to rule through Henry VI, but by claiming the throne himself (October 1460) he rallied support for Margaret and her son Edward. Margaret's army mustered at Hull (December), advancing to Pontefract . Rather than allow winter to discourage the Lancastrians, York and Salisbury marched north (9-21 December) to rescue their partisans in the north and to forestall defections. At York's castle of Sandal (Wakefield), they were dangerously isolated, and were surprised and defeated outside their defences in an obscure fight (30 December). York and Salisbury headed the list of the dead. Margaret's army then advanced menacingly southwards. Warwick's decision to fight close to London was wise, but at St Albans he first moved his army out of its fortified camp, then failed to locate the Lancastrian army. Somerset skilfully approached from the north-west to attack the Yorkist rear (17 February 1461) with his most reliable troops, the lords' retinues. In both armies food was scarce and the levies unreliable. The Yorkist vanguard put up a fight, but Warwick failed to rally the main body, and his Burgundian gunners could not get their cumbersome weapons into action. The Yorkists escaped into the dusk, abandoning Henry. Margaret then made a crucial error. Her withdrawal to Dunstable to await supplies from London allowed York's son Edward, victorious over the Welsh Lancastrians at Mortimer's Cross (2-3 February 1461), to reach the city, where he was proclaimed king as a last resort to justify continued rebellion. Margaret fell back in order to raise fresh troops in the north. Edward's vanguard followed on 9 March, the main division two days later, joined by contingents en route.
The armies raised for the March 146i campaign were the largest of the Wars of the Roses - possibly over 20,000 on each side, many of whom had been under arms since before Christmas. On 28 March, Yorkist patrols found the bridge over the river Aire destroyed and defended so, as the Yorkist bishop George Neville wrote 'our men could only cross by a narrow way which they themselves made and over which they forced a way at sword point, many men being slain on both sides'. Lancastrian failure to reinforce their vanguard, while Edward fed in his whole army, led to them losing a strategic obstacle. The Yorkists camped in snow and bitter cold, and next morning found the Lancastrians drawn up 6 miles (10km) away near Towton, anxious to settle the matter. A strong wind favoured the Yorkist archers, but the Lancastrian cavalry routed Edward's cavalry and pursued them. The battle was decided in their absence by the melee between the dismounted men-at-arms. The Lancastrian army, composed of many different retinues, may have lacked cohesion, and it broke after a long struggle. Many were killed as they fled, especially at Tadcastet, where the bridge had been broken to impede the Yorkists. Towton has the reputation as one of Britain's bloodiest battles, but even figures reported at the time of from 9,000 to 28,000 dead, would seem to be exaggerations. It effectively gave Edward control of England, but Henry VI escaped and Lancastrians maintained a foothold in Northumberland. Edward's inability to find reliable constables for border fortresses allowed the Lancastrian cause to revive, until his diplomacy ended Franco-Scottish support for Margaret. Then, in 1464, Warwick's brother, Lord Montagu, defeated the Lancastrians in two skirmishes. The royal siege guns, sent by sea from London, were needed only at Bamburgh. The execution of captured Lancastrian leaders, and the capture of Henry VI in 1465, extinguished support for the Lancastrian cause in England. Their last stronghold, Harlech, fell in 1468.
In these early campaigns, the issue was control of Henry VI. In 1452, York failed owing to his political isolation. In 1455, he was joined by the Nevilles, but victory at St Albans could not guarantee control of Henry VI for long. The stakes were raised in 1459 when Queen Margaret determined to remove York. His army refused to fight the king in person, but the Yorkist leaders escaped. They invaded from Calais and captured Henry at the battle of Northampton. Subsequently, York claimed the throne himself.
In February 1452, Richard of York first tried to remove Henry VI's favourite, Somerset, by force. The Lancastrian army at Northampton cut off York at Ludlow from his partisans in eastern England. When London and Kent failed to support him, he 'marvellously fortified his ground with pits, pavises, and guns' (Benet's Chronicle) - a tactic from the French war - south of the Thames near Dartford. When the king's army arrived, neither side was eager to fight and after negotiations York disbanded his forces. In 1455 , York tried again, backed by two powerful lords, Salisbury and his son Warwick. Avoiding the mistakes of 1452, they swooped on the royal army at St Albans (22 May 1455) before it was assembled. Lancastrian forces held the narrow streets of the unwalled town for an hour, but fled leaving around fifty dead when Warwick's men broke through some back gardens into the market place. The Yorkist lords killed their rivals, the duke of Somerset, Percy the earl of Northumberland, and Lord Clifford, but could not control Henry VI for long. The slide into war was led by the dominant figure at court, Henry's wife Margaret. The armies mustered in September 1459. Salisbury won a stiff skirmish at Blore Heath (23 September), but only poor co-ordination of the royal forces let him join York at Ludlow. The Yorkists boldly advanced to Worcester to avoid entrapment west of the Severn, but then fell back before the Lancastrians, until near Ludlow at Ludford Bridge they made 'a great deep ditch and fortified it with guns, carts, and stakes' (Gregory's Chronicle). The same night, the Yorkist leaders fled, dishonourably but sensibly: their army was demoralized; its elite troops from the Calais garrison were about to defect; and the presence of Henry VI with many lords in the Lancastrian army made many on the Yorkist side unwilling to fight.
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