Blore Heath - 23rd September 1459

Looking west from Loggerheads across the battlefield

Nobody seems to know how this battle was conducted. Accounts range from suggesting two armies bumbled down the road and ran into each other to it being the outcome of a successful cunning plan.

 

Fortunately the area where it happened is known but unfortunately a key memorial erected where one of the leading protagonists died in battle or by execution is inaccessible. It stand on private land and at the time of this visit in September 2010 it was in the middle of a maize crop!

 

The battlefield is at Grid Reference SJ 714352 and the Battlefields Trust has some useful maps at www.battlefieldstrust.com/ . There is also a helpful guide at www.bloreheath.org/walk1.php . Heed the warning about walking beside the A53 and don’t try it , there is no footpath, it’s unpleasant and dangerous with no verge in places. If you wish to skip the last part of the walk to Mucklestone church emerge from The Folly at the A53 and make your way back to the car park at Loggerheads using the footpaths. Some of the local names have changed since 1459, Burnt Wood (previously Rowney or Rounhay Wood) was larger. The Folly did not exist and the Hempmill brook was broader and dammed in places to form fish ponds. The land was enclosed in later years.

 

References listed in the Afterword include the English Heritage website where there is an excellent analysis.

The battlefield looking north-east from Blore Heath village, Loggerheads is to the right background

Some say the Wars of the Roses (which were not named as such at the time) were caused by Edward III leaving his descendants equally strong, powerful and wealthy. When his grandson Richard II (son of the deceased Black Prince) ruled weakly he was murdered in 1400 and problems arose over the succession. The Lancastrians claimed the throne as descendants of Edward III’s second son (John of Gaunt [Ghent]) with Henry IV ruling followed by his son Henry V who became the famous victor of Agincourt in 1415. On his death in 1422 Henry VI of Lancaster succeeded aged 18 months. A Regency Council was appointed led by his father’s surviving brother John of Lancaster/Plantagenet, Duke of Bedford. Henry VI was crowned King of England in November 1429 and King of France in December 1431. He assumed full powers when he became of age on 13th November 1437 at 16 years.

 

In 1445 Henry VI married Margaret of Anjou who was a very determined lady with a mind of her own. His loss of the territories gained by his father was not helped by his autocratic and incompetent chief minister, Henry Beaufort 3rd Duke of Somerset. In 1453 Henry VI suffered a serious mental breakdown and Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York and next in succession to the crown, became the Lord Protector. He imprisoned Somerset and replaced other incompetents. In that same year, and after 9 years of marriage, Queen Margaret bore a son which potentially re-established the Lancastrian dynasty.

 

Two years later in 1455 Henry VI recovered from his illness, re-assumed his duties and restored Somerset. York lost patience with the bungling that ensued and after raising an army of 3,000 men he marched on London. Henry VI met York in battle at St Albans where Somerset was killed and he, the king, was captured.

 

Richard re-assumed power and sought the king’s pardon but Queen Margaret firmly disagreed with any concession. Afraid that her son would never become king she wanted Richard’s head and over the next two years she raised supporters to her cause. They were very active and nearly killed the Earl of Warwick, an ally of the Duke of York, during a visit to London in 1458. When Warwick became subject to threats of murder or execution on false charges his father, the Earl of Salisbury, a wealthy landowner with estates in Yorkshire, declared enough was enough and called for the Yorkists to take charge. He began to assemble a military force and Margaret feared that he would combine forces with the Duke of York’s men from Wales, currently in Ludlow. She intensified her recruiting and ordered Lord Audley, (James Touchet, 5th Baron) who was at Market Drayton with a force of 15,000 men, to capture Salisbury before he reached Ludlow.

Burnt Wood from which the Yorkists advanced westwards

As anticipated, Salisbury set off for Ludlow with 4,000 men in September 1459 although the actual move surprised the Lancastrians. Margaret was at Eccleshall, 14 miles south of Stoke, and realising that Salisbury could be intercepted somewhere on a line between Stoke and Stafford Audley moved eastwards to do so. After that the accounts vary but English Heritage suggests that as Audley marched east from Market Drayton his recce troops encountered Salisbury’s advance guard along the Hempmill brook as his main force emerged from Burnt Wood.

 

Salisbury prepared a defensive position behind the brook with stakes and a ditch and the Lancastrians attacked across it, twice with cavalry and then with infantry. He anchored his left on the larger Burnt Wood and his right on his assembled baggage train wagons. Despite being outnumbered 2:1 Salisbury made excellent use of his archers and about 2,000 Lancastrians fell in the series of three failed assaults. When they fled the Yorkists lost many in the pursuit. Audley probably fell during the third attack, and died either in battle or was executed after capture on the spot where his memorial stands today.

Approaching Blore Heath westwards from Burnt Wood

Centre of the battlefield with Hempmill Brook in the valley

Blore Heath village

On the left - the Great Hedge behind which the Lancastrian pennons were seen

Apart from the doubt about the detailed sequence of events and deployments there are at least a couple of outstanding questions. Much has been made by more modern writers of the armies’ positions before the battle and how the Lancastrians were encouraged to attack the Yorkists. Salisbury was an experienced soldier, he was heavily outnumbered but his defensive position was substantial and it would have taken time to prepare. It is unlikely that Salisbury would have had time to do so if it was an encounter battle. Did he prepare the position and then use some enticement or “come-on” to ensure the attack came when and where it did? The other question concerns the alleged firing of a cannon by a friar at irregular intervals all night long after the battle whilst the Yorkist force made its escape and the Lancastrians stayed near the battlefield. None of the accounts mention the use of cannon in the battle so why not?

 

Afterword:

 

Some modern accounts mention a local legend that Queen Margaret watched the battle from Mucklestone church tower and afterwards escaped by having her horse’s shoes reversed to look as if she was coming rather than going!

 

References:

 

Burne, Alfred H (1996) The Battlefields of England, Greenhill Books.

 

Warner, Philip (2002) The Daily Telegraph British Battlefields, Cassell.