Battle of Barnet, 14 April 1471

Edward's Return and the Campaign for London
The Battle of Barnet
The Aftermath

The battle of Barnet, 14 April 1471, was the first of two victories that re-established Edward IV on the throne after he was briefly deposed late in 1470. The battle ended with the death of Richard Neville, earl of Warwick, the 'kingmaker', the man whose ambitions had caused the renewal of the Wars of the Roses after half a decade of peace.


After the battle of Towton in 1461 Edward IV had been firmly established on the throne, while Richard Neville, earl of Warwick, became the second most powerful man in the kingdom. Fighting dragged on in the north until 1464, with Warwick playing a major part in the war, but after last Lancastrian field army was destroyed at Hexham in 1464 the fighting finally came to an end (apart from at Harlech), and the civil wars appeared to be over. Henry VI was a prisoner in the Tower, while his wife Margaret of Anjou and their son Prince Edward were in exile in France, with little chance of a return to power.

Battles of the Wars of the Roses
Battles of the
Wars of the Roses

This was all changed by the ambition of the earl of Warwick, who became increasingly unwilling to share power with anyone, and most especially with Edward's wife's Woodville family. Edward and Warwick also argued over foreign policy, with Warwick favouring a French alliance while Edward tended towards an alliance with Burgundy. Edward proved to be a more forceful monarch that Warwick had perhaps expected, and took control of his own foreign policy.

By the end of 1468 Warwick was actively plotting against Edward. He found an ally in Edward's brother George, duke of Clarence, heir presumptive until Edward could produce a son, but discontented with his position. In 1469 and 1470 Warwick would make three attempts to seize power, in each case using the same basic plan. First Edward would be drawn out of position by a revolt in the north. Warwick would then gather an army in the south and trap the king between the rebels and his own army. The plan would work twice and fail once, but Warwick was unable to take advantage of his successes.

The first attempt came in 1469. Warwick was probably behind Robin of Redesdale's revolt in the north. When Edward went north to deal with Redesdale, Warwick crossed over to Calais, married Clarence to his daughter Isabel, issued a manifesto against the King's 'evil advisors', and then advanced north. Edward was caught out of position, north of his main army, under the earls of Pembroke and Devon. Redesdale's men managed to get past Edward, and with some help from part of Warwick's defeated Pembroke at Edgcote (24 July 1469). Three days after the battle Edward was captured by Warwick's brother, the Archbishop of York.

Warwick was unable to take advantage of this triumph. He found it almost impossible to rule while Edward was imprisoned, and couldn’t raise an army to put down a Lancastrian revolt in the north. By mid-September he had been forced to release Edward, and the king was quickly able to regain his independence and power. Remarkably he chose to ignore Warwick and Clarence's behaviour and attempted to continue as if nothing had happened. The only significant change he made over the winter of 1469-70 was to restore the Percies, making Henry Percy earl of Northumberland. Warwick's brother John Neville, who had been given that title, was made Marquess Montagu and given the old Courtenay estates in the south-west.

Early in 1470 Warwick made his second attempt to seize power, this time taking advantage of an uprising in Lincolnshire. This began as a dispute between a member of Edward's household and Lord Welles. Edward decided to take an army north to restore order, and also summoned Lord Welles to court. Lord Welles obeyed, but his son Sir Robert Welles raised an army and rebelled. As Edward moved north, Warwick and Clarence shadowed him a little way to the west. Edward managed to trick Sir Robert into abandoning a plan to rendezvous with Warwick and attempt to save his father. The rebels were defeated at Losecote Hill on 12 March 1470, and proof was found of Warwick and Clarence's involvement in the revolt. The two armies continued to move north while messages were exchanged, but eventually Warwick turned west and crossed the Pennines. When he failed to convince Lord Stanley to help him, he turned south and made for Dartmouth where he found a fleet. For once Warwick's skill at sea failed him. He was unable to seize his flagship and was denied access to Calais. With no other options left he was forced to seek refuge in France.

In July 1470 Louis XI of France managed to arrange a reconciliation between Warwick and the exiled Margaret of Anjou (Angers Agreement). Warwick agreed to invade England and restore Henry VI while in return Warwick's daughter Anne would marry Prince Edward. Queen Margaret and Prince Edward would remain in France until it was safe to return to England, and Jasper Tudor would act as their representative with Warwick's army. Warwick's plan was to use a revolt to pull Edward north and then invade. Edward would be trapped between Warwick's army in the south and the rebel army in the north.

The rebellion, which was led by Warwick's brother-in-law Lord FitzHugh of Ravensworth, broke out in the North Riding of Yorkshire in July, and the news reached Edward in August. Edward responded by heading north. He reached York by 14 August and Ripon by 16 August. The rebellion collapsed and Lord FitzHugh fled into Scotland. So far Edward's response had been well judged, but now he made a serious mistake - instead of returning south to protect the coast, he stayed in the north, possibly to make sure that the restored Percy and the new Marquess Montagu were still loyal.

Bad weather had kept Warwick in France, but in early September the storms broke and on 9 September he set sail. The invaders landed in Devon, and split up. Jasper Tudor went into Wales, while Warwick headed towards Coventry, raising an army as he went. Edward moved south to face him, but there would be no battle. Montagu had finally decided to side with his brother. Edward was at dinner at Doncaster when the news reached him, with his army scattered around the local area. There was no way he could gather a strong enough force to fight off Montagu, and Edward took the only course open to him - he fled. By 30 September he was at King's Lynn, and on 2 October he sailed for Burgundy. The journey was dangerous, and he was nearly captured by a Hanseatic fleet while he was attempting to enter the harbour at Alkmaar, but by 11 October he was safe in the Hague.

Warwick was able to enter London in triumph, and begin the short 'readeption' government. He was finally the power behind the throne, but his position was difficult. Edward's fall had been so rapid that there were very few Yorkist nobles in exile, and even less who could be dispossessed to make way for the returning Lancastrians. Clarence was an awkward reminder of the Yorkist regime, but he was now married to Warwick's daughter so some sort of place would have to be found for him. The expectation was that Queen Margaret and Prince Edward would rush to London to join Henry VI and take up power, but the queen still didn’t trust Warwick, and so for several crucial months the true Lancastrian court remained in exile in France. Warwick was thus unable to put his government on a stable long-term footing although he did put defensive measures in place in an attempt to block any return by Edward IV.

Edward's Return and the Campaign for London

Edward had a small but determined band of supporters with him in exile, amongst them Anthony Earl Rivers, William, Lord Hastings, William Lord Say and Sele and his youngest brother Richard, duke of Gloucester. He had landed in the northern Netherlands, and he was welcomed by Louis of Gruthuyse, the governor of Holland for Charles of Burgundy. Edward and Gruthuyse already knew each other, and the exiled king was a guest in Gruthuyse's house in The Hague for the next two months. This must have been an alarming period. If Edward was to return to England then he would need the help of Charles the Bold, and the Duke had provided active support earlier in the year. Now his attitude was rather different. His main aim was to prevent England from allying with the French, and he didn't really mind which government he was dealing with. Fortunately for Edward, Warwick was still determined to carry out his pro-French foreign policy, hardly surprising given the help he had been given by Louis XI.

Edward was also helped by Louis XI, who on 3 December repudiated the Treat of Péronne, the treaty that had ended the last Franco-Burgundian War. There was no immediate outbreak of fighting, but it did alter Charles's attitude to his guest. In late December Edward and Charles finally met, and on 31 December Edward was granted £20,000. He was also provided with some troops and a base for his fleet. By mid-February Edward had a fleet of thirty-six ships (including fourteen or fifteen from the Hanseatic League, won over by a promise of trade privileges. Edward also got in contact with possible supporters in England, amongst them his brother Clarence and Henry Percy, now earl of Northumberland.

On 2 March 1471 Edward embarked on his flagship, the Antony. His tiny army, perhaps 2,000 strong, embarked on the same day, but the wind kept him in port for the next nine days and the fleet didn't set sail until 11 March. In order to demonstrate his determination Edward refused to let his men disembark during this period, a sign that he would not be put off by bad weather. 

Edward's first port of call was Cromer, where he arrived on 12 March. He hoped to find support from the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, but Norfolk had been arrested and the earl of Oxford had raised an army against him. Edward decided to sail on. A storm scattered his fleet as he moved north, but on 14 March he landed safely at Ravenspur, a port at the south-eastern corner of the Yorkshire coast. Henry of Bolingbroke had landed at the same port in 1399 at the start of his campaign to overthrow Richard II, but the port has been lost as the coast retreated. It was probably at the base of an earlier version of Spurn Point.

On the first night Edward only had 500 men with him, but the rest of his army appeared on the following morning. His first obstacle was a local force under the command of Martin de la See, probably larger than his own army. Edward dealt with this threat by claiming that he was only returning to claim his duchy of York, not to try and regain the throne. His supporters would later point out that the Duke of York was rightfully also the king, so to claim one was to claim the other. Edward also claimed to have the support of Henry Percy, a powerful landowner in Holderness. This satisfied de la See, and his army disappeared. Edward still had problems. The walled city of Hull refused to let him in, so he moved west towards York. Once again he had trouble getting entry into the city, and once again had to claim that he was only returning to reclaim the duchy of York. The city authorities agreed to let Edward and a small party into the walls, and he was soon able to charm them into letting the rest of his army spent the night in the city. On the following day Edward left York and turned south.

Edward's next problems were the armies of Henry Percy, earl of Northumberland and John Neville, Marquess Montagu. It was Montagu's change of side that had forced Edward into exile in 1470, so he would be expected to be loyal to his brother Warwick, but Northumberland's attitude would be harder to predict. Percy may well have wanted to support Edward, but his followers were largely Lancastrian in their loyalty, and many had suffered losses at Towton only ten years earlier. On 20 March Edward reached Sandal Castle. Montagu, with a sizable army, was only seven miles away at Pontefract, but he failed to act. Our best source for this campaign, the Historie of the Arrivall of Edward IV (an official document produced for Edward soon after his victory), gives a number of possible reasons for this inactivity, the most convincing of which is that Montagu was having problems gathering a strong army while Percy remained neutral. Edward was able to get past Montagu and moved south into the Midlands.

As Edward moved south he began to receive reinforcements, but not on any great scale. William Dudley joined him with 160 men at Doncaster and Sir William Parr and Sir James Harrington came in with 600 men at Nottingham, but Warwick had more men in the area. The duke of Exeter, the earl of Oxford and Lord Beaumont had raised around 4,000 men in the east of England, Warwick had around 6,000-7,000 and Clarence had 4,000 men. Montagu was also moving south with his army. At this stage Edward probably had under 3,000 men.

Edward's biggest advantage was his impressive military record. At Nottingham he discovered that Exeter, Oxford and Beaumont were at Newark. Edward decided to attack them, but rather than risk battle the Lancastrians retreated. This allowed Edward to cross the Trent on 25 March and reach Leicester, where 3,000 men provided by Lord Hastings arrived. Edward probably now had 6,000 men, slightly fewer than Warwick, who arrived at Coventry on 27 March. Edward arrived outside Coventry on 29 March and challenged Warwick to come out and fight, but the earl refused to rise to the bait and instead stayed put to wait for his reinforcements to arrive. If all had gone to plan, Warwick would soon have had at least 14,000 men, giving him twice as many soldiers as Edward.

The crucial day of this part of the campaign was 3 April. Warwick had one success when Exeter and Beaumont fought their way past Edward's rearguard and joined Warwick in Coventry, but elsewhere he suffered a serious if not entirely surprising blow. Clarence must have been worried about his status in a restored Lancastrian England for some time, and both his mother and his sister had been putting him under pressure to change sides. Now, as his army approached from Banbury, the time was right. Edward led his army out towards Clarence. The two armies then stopped half a mile apart and Clarence and Edward, accompanied by small parties of friends, met between the armies. They had a stage-managed public reconciliation, and their two armies then merged. Edward and Warwick now both had around 10,000 men.

Edward now made a final attempt to come to terms with Warwick. When this failed he challenged him to battle once again, and once again Warwick refused to leave Coventry. Time was still on his site - Montagu was heading south and Queen Margaret was expected at any moment. She would be able to gather a Lancastrian army, and Edward would be outnumbered again. Warwick was thus happy to sit in Coventry and hoped that the deadlock would work in his favour.

Edward was not the sort of leader to accept this sort of standoff. On 5 April his army broke camp, slipped around Warwick's position and headed south towards London. This was a real gamble. If London was held against him then Edward might be trapped between the city and Warwick's army, while was now following him south. Henry VI was in London, and could provide a focus for resistance, and when Edward turned south so were two of the most able Lancastrian leaders, Edmund Beaufort, fourth duke of Somerset and John Courtenay, heir to the Courtenay earls of Devon.

At this point the friction within the Lancastrian regime came to the fore. News reached London that Queen Margaret and Prince Edward were about to sail for England. Somerset and Courtenay had to decide between staying in London to help Warwick or going west to join the Queen, and on 8 April they chose to go west. Warwick's brother George Neville, Archbishop of York was left in command in London. He issued a call to arms, but only 600-700 men appeared. On 9 April he held a parade of Lancastrian might. Henry V's foxtail standard led the way. Henry's sword was held by Lord Sudeley, a veteran of the Hundred Year's War. The aim was to remind the city of the glories of the Lancastrian dynasty. Henry VI himself took part in the parade, dressed in an old blue robe. Unfortunately Henry was the weak point in the whole parade - the Archbishop had to lead him by the hand for the entire parade, and the old king was described as having 'pleased the citizens as a fire painted on a wall warmed the old women'. The parade clearly worried the common council of London, which declared that 'no attempt should be made to oppose' Edward. On the evening of 10 April Archbishop Neville offered to submit to Edward. That night Yorkists captured the Tower of London, and on 11 April Edward made a triumphant entry into the city.

Edward's first priority was to go to St. Paul's to offer thanks for his return to London. He then found Henry VI in the bishop's palace, and sent him back to the Tower. Henry was apparently glad to see Edward, greeting him with 'My cousin of York, you are very welcome. I know that in your hands my life will not be in danger'. What Henry had not realised was that he was alive because his death would have strengthened the Lancastrian cause. Henry was a known and rather unimpressive leader, but his son Prince Edward was young and unknown. If his father died, then the Lancastrian 'Edward V' would have been a much better rallying point than his father had been. Henry VI would be killed soon after his son had died in battle at Tewkesbury.

After taking care of politics Edward went to Westminster Abbey, where the Archbishop of Canterbury placed the crown on his head. He then went into the sanctuary area for a reunion with his wife and a first meeting with his infant son Edward, who had been born in sanctuary while his father was in exile. The next two days were spent preparing to fight Warwick, whose army was approaching from the north. Edward had been able to move quicker because he had no artillery, but he would have found some guns in the Tower of London. He also found a significant number of supporters in London - perhaps as many as 2,000 Yorkists had gone into hiding or sanctuary in the city, and they now emerged to join Edward's army. Reinforcements also came from outside the city, including parties led by Lord Howard, Sir Ralph Hastings and Sir Humphrey Bourchier.

The Battle of Barnet

On 12 April Warwick reached St. Albans, the site of two previous battles in the wars. He still outnumbered Edward, although the Arrivall's suggestion that he had 30,000 men is almost certainly an exaggeration. He also had more guns than Edward, despite the extra weapons found in London. Warwick camped on open area next to the road between Barnet and St. Albans, and was apparently planning to attack London during the Easter celebrations in the hope that Edward would be distracted. Warwick's army included contingents led by his brother John Neville, Marquess Montague, Henry Holland duke of Exeter, John de Vere, earl of Oxford and William, Lord Beaumont.

Edward mustered his army at noon on Saturday 13 April on St John's Field. He had at least 10,000 men and with his army were both of his brothers - George, duke of Clarence, and Richard, duke of Gloucester, as well as William, Lord Hastings and Anthony, Earl Rivers. Edward also had 500 Flemish gunners, described by a London chronicle as 'black and smoky'. Henry VI was also with the army.

On the afternoon of 13 April Edward's men advanced to Barnet, where the pushed aside some of Warwick's scouts. Edward decided to force the issue by advancing beyond Barnet and camping close to Warwick's army. In the dark this manoeuvre went slightly wrong - first Edward's men ended up much closer to Warwick's army than they had planned, and second the two armies weren't lined up directly opposite each other - Edward ended up too far to the right, so his left wing would be outflanked by Warwick's right, while in turn his right wing would outflank Warwick's left.

Overnight Warwick attempted to use his artillery to bombard Edward's army, which he knew to be close. Most of his shots are said to have overshot, as Edward's men were much closer that Warwick realised. Edward ordered his army to stay silent all night to make sure that Warwick's men didn't realise their mistake.

Edward decided to attack in the low light just before dawn, in order to avoid exposing his army to a more accurate artillery bombardment. Warwick's men appear to have been expecting an early attack, for they were ready to fight. Edward's men did quite well on their right, but on the left they were routed by the earl of Oxford, who commanded Warwick's right. Edward's left broke and fled, with some of the defeated troops reaching London where they spread rumours that Edward had been defeated.

The fog now served to save Edward by preventing the rest of his men from realising that their left wing had gone. In the centre Edward led his men in person, providing an impressive focus for the fighting. Warwick's left was pushed back, but didn’t break, and so Edward's right slowly came into the fight in the centre. The line of the battle had probably rotated anticlockwise by this point.

This may have played a part in the result of the battle. According to Warkworth's chronicle the earl of Oxford was finally able to get his victorious men under control and bring them back to the battlefield, but they arrived behind Warwick's lines. Oxford's badge, of a 'star with streams' was similar to Edward's 'sun with streams', and Montagu's men are said to have believed that they were being attacked in the rear. They fired on Oxford's men who shouted treason and fled. Soon after this the Lancastrian centre broke. Montagu was killed in the fighting, and Warwick was killed soon afterwards.

There are several different versions of Warwick's death. According to the Arrivall he was killed 'somewhat fleeing'. Commynes claimed that Montagu had convinced his brother to fight on foot rather than on horse as he normally did, and that he was unable to reach his horse when the battle turned against him. Warkworth said that he was killed in a wood by Yorkist infantry despite Edward's attempts to save him. Whichever story is true the deaths of Montagu and Warwick was a crushing blow for the Yorkist branch of the Neville family.

The battle had clearly been hard fought. Richard of Gloucester was wounded in the fighting. Edward also lost Lord Saye, Lord Cromwell, Sir Humphrey Bourchier and Sir William Blunt. Sir John Paston, who had fought on the Lancastrian side, estimated that each side had lost more than 1,000 men.

The Aftermath

Edward quickly returned to London, where a thanksgiving mass was held. On the next day Warwick and Montagu's bodies were put on display, although they were treated with respect and after two days were sent to be buried along side their father, Richard Neville, earl of Salisbury, at Bisham Abbey. Edward's aim had been to make sure that rumours of their survival couldn't spread.

On the very same day that Warwick was killed at Barnet, Queen Margaret and Prince Edward finally landed at Weymouth. They were met by Somerset, and quickly raised a powerful army in the south-west. Edward led his own army west, and after a fast moving campaign the two armies clashes at Tewkesbury (4 May 1471), the final battle of the second phase of the Wars of the Roses.

Edward IV and the War of the Roses, David Santiuste. A look at the military career of Edward IV, the often overlooked winner of the main part of the War of the Roses, and a king who ruled peacefully for nearly twelve years before dying a natural death. [read full review]
cover cover cover

Books on the Middle Ages - Subject Index: Wars of the Roses

How to cite this article: Rickard, J. (5 March 2014), Battle of Barnet, 14 April 1471,

Help - F.A.Q. - Contact Us - Search - Recent - About Us - Privacy