Battle of Blore Heath, 23 September 1459

The battle of Blore Heath (23 September 1459) was the only significant Yorkist success after the resumption of open warfare in 1459, part of the first phase of the Wars of the Roses. The first period of open warfare had been very short, and saw the Yorkists defeat a smaller Lancastrian army at the First Battle of St. Albans (22 May 1455). This led to a short period of Yorkist supremacy, but between 1456 and 1458 the court party, led by Queen Margaret, removed Richard duke of York's men from their posts and replaced them with Lancastrians. Only Richard Neville, earl of Warwick, retained the post he had been awarded in 1455, but this was the important position of Captain of Calais. This gave Warwick command of the garrison of Calais, which was just about the only permanent professional military force available to the English government in this period.

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

Warwick used his time at Calais to improve his reputation, which was already high after the part he had played at First St. Albans in 1455. After the French raided Sandwich in 1457 Henry VI was almost powerless to intervene, having already dispersed his father's fleet. Warwick raised his own small fleet of ten warships, but he then used this fleet in blatant acts of piracy. As well as attacking French ships, which were a valid target at the time, during 1458 he also attacked a fleet of Spanish ships and the Hanseatic Bay Fleet, during its annual passage bringing salt from the Bay of Bourgneuf to the Hanseatic ports of Germany and the Baltic. Warwick was partly forced into this action by the English court, which withheld most of the money he was owed as Captain of Calais, but they were still acts of piracy against neutral ships and an embarrassment to the English government.

Warwick's actions helped undo Henry VI's efforts to maintain the peace. In March 1458 he managed to get the main antagonists together in London, where he negotiated a public reconciliation. York, Salisbury and Warwick agreed to endow a chantry for the souls of the dead of St. Albans. Only three Lancastrian nobles had been killed at St. Albans - Henry Percy, second earl of Northumberland, Edmund Beaufort, second duke of Somerset and Thomas Clifford, Lord Clifford. The Yorkists now agreed to pay compensation to their heirs (Henry Percy, third earl of Northumberland, Henry Beaufort, third duke of Somerset, and John Clifford, Lord Clifford. In return Northumberlnad, Somerset and Clifford were to abandon their feud with the Yorkist leaders. The Percies and Nevilles also agreed to end their feud. The 'Loveday' was celebrated on 24 March 1458. The main rivals had to march arm-in-arm to St. Paul's Cathedral to make their peace - Somerset with Salisbury, Northumberland with Warwick and Queen Margaret with Richard of York.

Warwick's actions at sea gave the Queen the chance she needed to remove Warwick from Calais. In October 1458 he was summoned to court to account for his actions. This meeting ended in disaster. One of Warwick's men was said to have trodden on the foot of a royal servant. This escalated into a brawl between his servants and the king's servants, and the royal guard joined in. Warwick had to fight his way to safety on his barge and withdrew to Calais, where he refused to obey royal demands to give up the post and return to London.

This was effectively an act of open rebellion. The court party had learnt from its mistakes in 1455 when it attempted to use legal methods to attack Richard of York only to find that he had raised an army. Early in 1459 the court began to buy arms and prepare for war, before in June 1459 a great council was called at Coventry. York, Warwick and Salisbury weren't summoned to this council and when it began they were accused of treason. Both sides now began to prepare for a renewal of the war, and this time the court party wouldn’t be caught by surprise.

The Yorkists responded to the council by retreating to their strongholds and raising troops. Salisbury moved north and raised a force at Middleham. The duke of York moved to the Welsh Marches where he raised a force at Ludlow. Finally in September Warwick sailed from Calais bringing with him part of the Calais garrison, commanded by Andrew Trollope.

The Lancastrians decided to try and prevent Salisbury from moving south to join with York. They raised several armies and spread them across the Midlands. In the east King Henry was based around Nottingham. The duke of Somerset commanded a second army, in the west Midlands. Queen Margaret with Prince Edward moved to Chester. Finally James Touchet, Lord Audley, led a fourth Lancastrian army that was raised in Cheshire.

Both sides were uncertain of the attitude of the Stanleys, major landowners in Cheshire. In a curious mirror of Bosworth, at the very end of the wars, the Royal army expected support from the Stanleys, but didn’t get it. While Lord Thomas Stanley claimed to be loyal he never actually joined Queen Margaret's army. His brother Sir William Stanley went further and actually joined Salisbury.

As Salisbury moved south the various Lancastrian armies attempted to intercept him. When Salisbury reached Newcastle under Lyme (north-west Staffordshire), Queen Margaret was just to the south at Eccleshall. She missed a chance to intercept him by waiting for Lord Stanley to arrive and Salisbury was able to move west past her position heading for Market Drayton in Shropshire.

Although Salisbury had eluded the queen, he was intercepted by Lord Audley's army at Blore Heath, just to the east of Market Drayton. Salisbury was probably outnumbered, although our only account of the battle, in Jean de Waurin's chronicle, is considered to be unreliable.

As a result we only have a vague outline of the fighting. Salisbury appears to have quickly entrenched. Lord Audley led two cavalry charges against the Yorkist lines, but both attempts failed and in the second charge Audley was killed. Command of the army now passed to John Dudley, Lord Dudley. He appears to have ordered a series of infantry attacks on the Yorkist lines, but these also failed. The Lancastrian cavalry gave way. Followed soon afterwards by their infantry. In the pursuit Dudley was captured.

Salisbury had defeated one of the Lancastrian armies attempting to trap him, but Queen Margaret's army was still dangerous close to the south, with Henry VI probably approaching as well. In the immediate aftermath of the battle Lord Stanley congratulated Salisbury on his success and came close to committing himself, but soon withdrew back into Cheshire. Despite this lack of support Salisbury was able to get past the Lancastrian armies and made his way south to Ludlow. The Lancastrians had some successes during this period and in one ambush captured Salisbury's two sons and Sir Thomas Harrington.

This was the high-point of the year for the Yorkists. Once they reached Ludlow it was clear that they were still outnumbered. The Lancastrian armies united and moved around to approach Ludlow from the south. The Yorkists moved into defensive positions at Ludford Bridge, the southern approach to Ludlow across the River Teme, but they were badly outnumbered. On the night of 12-13 October the Calais contingent, under Andrew Trollope, deserted to the Royalist side. With their most professional troops gone the Lancastrian leaders fled from the scene. York escaped to Ireland while Warwick and Salisbury fled south into Devon, and from there to Calais.

After the battle of Ludford Bridge the Yorkist cause appeared to be doomed, but the following two years saw a remarkable transformation. The Yorkists invaded in 1460 and captured Henry VI. York himself was killed at Wakefield, but his son Edward turned out to be a most capable leader. He seized the throne as Edward IV, defeated the Lancastrians at Towton and by the end of 1461 was fairly securely settled on the throne. 

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

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (11 November 2013), Battle of Blore Heath, 23 September 1459, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_blore_heath.html

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