Battle of Edgecote, 26 July 1469

The battle of Edgecote (26 July 1469) was the first fighting in the second phase of the Wars of the Roses and saw a rebel army supported by the earl of Warwick defeat a Royal army led by the earls of Pembroke and Devon, leaving Edward IV vulnerable to capture.

Background

After the Yorkist victory in the first phase of the wars Richard Neville, earl of Warwick, had become the most powerful man in the kingdom behind Edward IV, but it soon became clear that he wasn't happy with this status. The 'kingmaker' seems to have believed that he should have been the power behind the throne, but Edward turned out to be much more independent. Although Warwick was well rewarded for his efforts on Edward's behalf he wasn't made a duke, and he also saw some Royal patronage go to the Woodvilles, Edward's wife's family. The two men also disagreed over foreign policy. Warwick was in favour of a French alliance against Burgundy, while Edward wanted an alliance with Burgundy.

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

The breach had first begun to open after Edward's secret marriage on 1 May 1464. Warwick spent much of the year attempting to negotiate a marriage between Edward and a French princess, so when the secret came out in the autumn Warwick was inevitably angered.

The first open breach developed in 1467 and was triggered by the disagreement over foreign policy. In 1466 Warwick had been sent to France and Burgundy on diplomatic missions, but had fallen out with Charles of Charolais, the heir to Burgundy. By the autumn Lord Rivers had been given responsibility for the negotiations with Burgundy, and in October Edward and Charles agreed a secret treaty of friendship. In May 1467 Warwick was sent to France again, while another embassy went to Burgundy. While Warwick was away his brother, the Archbishop of York, was removed as Chancellor, and after Warwick returned in June the French delegation he brought with him was snubbed by the king. In September the alliance with Burgundy, where Charles had now become duke, was made public and it was announced that Charles was to marry Edward's sister Margaret. Edward also agreed an alliance with the Duke of Brittany, and it was clear that Warwick's pro-French policy had failed.

Warwick responded by retreating to his northern estates in something of a sulk, where he began to plot against Edward. He found an ally in Edward's brother George, Duke of Clarence, an able and intelligent but unreliable man. While Edward no sons Clarence was heir presumptive. Warwick had no sons, but two daughters, and he now agreed to marry his daughter Isabel to Clarence. We don't know if Warwick was planning to depose Edward after seizing power, as his attempts to rule with a captive king failed too quickly, but this marriage did offer the prospect of a potential future grandson of Warwick on the throne. Earlier Warwick attempted to get Edward's approval for this marriage, but without success, so if the marriage went ahead it would be in defiance of the king.

In 1468 Warwick and Edward were officially reconciled, and Warwick returned to court, but underneath this public façade he was still plotting. Edward played into his hands with an unimpressive military venture. On 17 May Edward's chancellor announced that the King intended to go to war with France, in alliance with Burgundy and Brittany. Parliament granted Edward a large subsidy. Louis XI responded by supporting a small and rather unsuccessful invasion of Wales led by Jasper Tudor - so unsuccessful in fact that the long siege of Harlech came to an end on 14 August, removing the last Lancastrian foothold on English or Welsh soil. Elsewhere the war went badly. The French invaded Brittany, and in September Duke Francis made peace. On 14 October Duke Charles of Brittany and Louis XI signed the treaty of Péronne, leaving England without allies. In an attempt to salvage something from the fiasco the fleet put to sea, but winter storms soon forced it back to port. Edward had spent £18,000 on the war and had achieved nothing. This disaster reduced Edward's popularity in England, and gave Warwick his opportunity.

In the spring of 1469 two revolts broke out in Yorkshire. One was led by 'Robin of Holderness', and aimed at the restoration of the Percy family, who had been influential in the Holderness area of East Yorkshire. This revolt was quickly put down by John Neville, earl of Northumberland (better known as Montagu), and Robin of Holderness was executed.

The second revolt was led by a figure who called himself 'Robin of Redesdale' or 'Robin Mend-All'. Northumberland also put down Redesdale's revolt, but the leader escaped. With the revolts put down Edward decided to visit the shrines in East Anglia, setting off in June.

In the same month 'Robin of Redesdale' appeared again, this time in Lancashire. This 'Robin' was almost certainly a member of the Conyers family, important members of Warwick's affinity in the north and related to him. It isn't clear if this was actually the same person as the Yorkshire rebel, or if Warwick simply used the name to give his own revolt some credibility. Robin of Redesdale may have been Sir William Conyers of Marske, the brother of the steward of Middleham, although other members of the family have also been suggested. Whoever he was he issued a call for reform, claiming that the king was excluding the 'lords of his blood' from the council chamber (presumably meaning Warwick) and was relying on greedy favourites such as the Woodvilles, William Herbert, earl of Pembroke or Humphrey Stafford, earl of Devon.

The Campaign

News of the fresh revolt had reached Edward by 18 June at Norwich, when he instructed the royal wardrobe to send him military equipment for 1,000 men. On 20 June the artillery was mobilised and Pembroke and Devon were both ordered to raise troops. Edward had decided to take to the field in person to deal with this persistent revolt.

After that burst of activity he slowed down. He went to the shrine at Walsingham, then to his castle at Fotheringhay, where he spent a week in the company of Queen Elizabeth. By 5 July he had reached Stamford, from where he wrote to Coventry asking the city to provide 100 archers.

On 9 July the first rumours began to reach him that Warwick and Clarence were involved in some sort of plot. This was not the first time he had heard such rumours, and so at this point Edward's response was to write to them to ask them to deny the rumours. Unfortunately for Edward the rumours were true. Warwick and Clarence had met at Sandwich to finalise their plans. On 28 Warwick sent his own letters to Coventry, announcing the upcoming marriage and asking for troops. In early July the wedding party crossed to Calais, and on 11 July Warwick's brother the Archbishop of York married Clarence and Isabel Neville. On 12 July Warwick and Clarence finally came out into the open, issuing their own manifesto, which closely resembled Redesdale's, and ordering their supporters to meet them at Canterbury on 16 July.

On 10 July Edward finally realised that he was in real danger. At Newark news reached him that Robin of Redesdale was heading south with a much larger army than his own (perhaps three times as large), and more worryingly an army that contained a large number of experienced soldiers. The rebels included Sir Henry FitzHugh, Warwick's nephew, Sir Henry Neville, one of his cousins, and a large part of his northern affinity.

Faced with this large army Edward decided to withdraw south towards Nottingham and the reinforcements he was expecting. At the same time Warwick was crossing to Kent, where he received a good welcome. On 20 July Warwick left Canterbury, heading for London. At this point Edward was at Nottingham, and his reinforcements, under Pembroke and Devon, were heading north towards him.

London reluctantly led Warwick in, and given a loan of £1,000. He then moved north towards Coventry, where he hoped to join with Robin of Redesdale, who had bypassed Edward at Nottingham and was heading south. Warwick sent a cavalry detachment ahead of his army to join with the rebels

The Battle

Edward's hopes now rested on the army being formed for him by William Herbert, earl of Pembroke and Humphrey Stafford, earl of Devon. Pembroke had raised a largely cavalry force, while Devon had the infantry and archers.

On the night of 25-26 July the two parts of Edward's army became separated. According to Waurin this was due to carelessness, while Warkworth's chronicle says that Pembroke and Devon fell out over billeting arrangements in Banbury. Whatever caused this split, it would prove to be fatal on the following day, when only Pembroke's detachment would actually take part in the battle.

On the evening of 25 July Redesdale's men encountered Pembroke's force at Edgecote, near Banbury. That night the two armies camped close to each other, with a small river between them.

The battle began on the morning of 26 July with a fight for control of the river crossings. Pembroke's Welshmen held their own despite the lack of archers, and the rebels were defeated with heavy casualties. Sir John Conyer's son John was killed, as was Sir Henry Neville, while Robert Lord Ogle was mortally wounded.

The two sides pulled apart to deal with their casualties. Pembroke waited in vain for Devon to arrive with reinforcements, but the rebels were encouraged by the arrival of Warwick's advance guard, led by Sir William Parr and Sir Geoffrey Gate. In the afternoon the rebels renewed the attack, and this time they overwhelmed the Welsh who are said to have suffered very heavy casualties.

Edgecote was another battle of the Wars of the Roses to see high casualties amongst the defeated commanders. Pembroke and his brother Sir Richard Herbert were both captured, and were beheaded at Northampton on the day after the battle. Devon escaped for the moment, but was captured and executed in Somerset a few weeks after the battle. None of Edward's supporters were safe- Richard Woodville, earl River and his son Sir John Woodville were captured and executed at Coventry in August.

The Aftermath

On 29 July King Edward finally left Nottingham, apparently still unaware that his army had been defeated. When the news arrived his army seems to have deserted him (although he may simply have walked into a trap), and on the same day Edward was captured at Olney by George Neville, Archbishop of York. Edward was treated well, and was taken to Warwick Castle. Warwick appears to have acknowledged him as king, but in mid-August he was sent to Middleham. Warwick summoned a parliament, which was to meet at York, and it is possible that he intended to have Edward deposed, but he soon found that he couldn't rule the country.

With the King's 'evil advisors' dealt with, most of Redesdale's rebels simply went home. A number of local feuds erupted into open warfare in the absence of a legitimate government, and in the north Sir Humphrey Neville of Brancepeth began a Lancastrian revolt. Warwick attempted to summon an army to deal with this revolt, but discovered that hardly anyone was will to answer the call.

In mid-September Warwick was forced to release Edward. Once the king was free an army was quickly raised and the Neville revolt put down. Sir Humphrey was executed at York on 29 September, in front of the king. Edward was now able to summon his supporters to York, and Warwick's power collapsed. 

Much to most people's surprise Edward chose not to punish Warwick and Clarence. Instead they were soon taken back into favour, and took part in a long meeting of the great council over the winter of 1469-70. Edward did make two significant changes during this period. While he had been in power Warwick had awarded himself a number of posts on Wales, and these were now taken away and given to Edward's youngest brother, Richard of Gloucester (the future Richard III).

More significantly Edward decided that he needed to restore the Percies - large parts of the north remained loyal to them, and they would provide a counter-balance to the Nevilles. The problem was that Warwick's brother John Neville had been made earl of Northumberland in their place, and he had remained loyal to Edward (as he would do in 1470). Henry Percy had been in prison in London since 1464, but he was now freed and Edward prepared to return his estates and titles. John Neville was given the new title of Marquess Montagu, technically a higher rank than earl of Northumberland. He was also given most of the lands recently lost by Humphrey Stafford - the former Courtenay estates in Devon and the south west. Finally his son George was make Duke of Bedford and betrothed to Edward's eldest daughter Elizabeth. On 1 March 1470 John Neville surrendered the Percy estates. Edward's attempts to compensate him for the loss of the Percy estates failed, for when Warwick invaded later in the year he finally changed sides and supported his brother against the king, forcing Edward into exile.

At the start of 1470 that must have seemed a remote possibility. Warwick had survived the events of 1469 with most of his power intact, but he wasn't content with that. Early in 1470 he attempted to repeat his successes of 1469 by supporting a revolt in Lincolnshire, but this time his allies suffered a crushing defeat at Losecote Field (12 March 1470) and after a tense stand-off Warwick would be forced into exile and an unlikely alliance with the Lancastrians.

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

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (29 January 2014), Battle of Edgecote, 26 July 1469 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_edgecote.html

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