Battle of Losecote Field, 12 March 1470

The battle of Losecote Field (or Empingham) of 12 March 1470 saw the defeat of Richard Neville, earl of Warwick's second attempt within a year to gain power over Edward IV and saw Warwick forced into exile, where he formed a surprising alliance with the Lancastrians.

The Background

During the 1460s Warwick had been the second man in the kingdom, behind Edward IV, but he was unhappy with this status, apparently believing that he should be the power behind the throne. Warwick was angered by the amount of royal patronage that went to Queen Elizabeth's Woodville relatives, and disagreed with the king over foreign policy - Edward favoured a Burgundian alliance while Warwick was determined to impose an alliance with France. The first open breach came when Edward announced that he was planning to go to war with France, and despite a public reconciliation the relationship between the two men was never mended.

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

Warwick began to plot against Edward. He prepared to marry his daughter Isabel to Edward's brother George, duke of Clarence, at this time the heir presumptive as Edward had yet to produce a son. When Edward's war ended in farce in 1468 Warwick decided that the time was right to strike. His men stirred up 'Robin of Redesdale's revolt' in the north. When Edward went north to deal with this revolt, Warwick travelled to Calais, where Isabel and Clarence were married. He then returned to England and advanced north. Edward found himself facing a much larger rebel army than he had expected and withdrew to Nottingham, where he waited for reinforcements being raised by the earls of Devon and Pembroke.

While Edward was static Warwick reached London, while Redesdale moved south past the king. On 26 July 1469 Pembroke's contingent was defeated by the rebels, with support from some of Warwick's men, at the battle of Edgecote Moor. Three days later, apparently unaware of this disaster, Edward fell into Warwick's hands and was imprisoned at Middleham. For a few months Warwick attempted to rule in his place, but he struggled to maintain law and order. The final blow came when he couldn't raise an army to deal with a Lancastrian uprising in the north, led by Sir Humphrey Neville of Brancepeth. In mid-September Warwick was forced to release the king, although he attempted to keep control of him for a bit longer.

Once Edward was released there were no more problems raising an army. Neville was captured and on 29 September he was executed at York, in front of the king. Edward was able to summon his allies to York, and regained total freedom. Surrounded by his loyal peers Edward returned to London in triumph.

Much to most peoples surprise he didn't punish Warwick or Clarence, but instead welcomed them back into his council. Warwick did lose the Welsh offices he had taken while he was in power, and they went to Edward's brother Richard of Gloucester. Edward also decided that he had to restore the Percies, and so Henry Percy was released from prison and promised the return of his lands and titles. Warwick's brother John Neville had been made earl of Northumberland, so he had to relinquish the title and estates. He was made Marquess Montagu and given the Courtenay estates in the south-west that had just been lost by Humphrey Stafford earl of Devon (murdered in the aftermath of Edgecote Moor). Later in 1470 Montagu would betray Edward, forcing him into exile, so these efforts clearly failed.

Despite Edward's attempts to paper over the cracks, Warwick and Clarence were still determined to seize power. They soon had a chance to repeat their efforts of 1469 and take advantage of an uprising in the north. This time the fighting started in Lincolnshire, where a feud had been brewing between Sir Thomas Burgh of Gainsborough, Edward IV's master of horse and Richard, Lord Welles and Willoughby, one of the most important landowners in the county. During the winter of 1469-70 Lord Welles, his son Sir Robert and their allies Sir Thomas de Lande and Sir Thomas Dymmock attacked Burgh's manor house, destroying the building and stealing its contents.

The Campaign

Edward decided to deal with this outbreak of disorder in person. On 9 February he announced that he was going to muster an army at Grantham on 12 March. Lord Welles and Dymmock were summoned to court, where they apologised and were granted pardons, but by this point they or their supporters were already in contact with Warwick and Clarence, and the local dispute began to escalate.

Edward's decision to continue to raise his army despite Welles have submitted helped Warwick, who spread rumours that Edward intended to cancel the general pardon issued for the events of the previous year and punish the men of Lincolnshire for their part in Robin of Redesdale's rebellion. On 3 March Edward ordered his artillery to mobilise, and on the following day Lord Welles's son Sir Robert Welles publically declared himself to be the 'great captain of the commons of Lincolnshire', and that he would defend them against Edward, who was coming to destroy them. Warwick and Clarence hoped to trigger uprisings in the north and the south-west, and use the confusion to defeat Edward. For the moment Edward still trusted Warwick and Clarence, and even issued them with orders to raise troops.

On 6 March Edward and Clarence met in London. Clarence convinced his brother that he was planning a peaceful trip to the West Country to join his wife, and later on the same day Edward began his journey north. Once Edward was gone Clarence had a meeting with Lord Welles, and then left to join Warwick at Coventry. For the next fortnight Warwick and Edward's armies marched in parallel, with Edward in the east heading towards Lincolnshire and the rebels, and Warwick keeping pace to the west. A constant stream of messages passed between the two armies as they went, and these help document the rapid deterioration in relationships between the two camps.

Edward was at Waltham Abbey on 7 March when the news reached him of Sir Robert Welles's proclamation. This changed the nature of the expedition, which until then had been largely a show of force. Now there would be some serious fighting to be done. Edward responded by having Lord Welles and Sir Thomas Dymmock brought to him.

On 8 March Edward reached Royston, where he received news from Lincolnshire that suggested that the rebels would soon have a fast horde (100,000 men in the original report, perhaps 10,000 in reality). On the same day he received what appeared to be good news - Clarence wrote to say that he had decided to abandon his trip to the west and instead was going to join Warwick. The two men would then bring their troops to Edward to help against the rebels. Edward replied with a message of thanks. On the same day Clarence and Warwick were sent permission to raise troops in Warwickshire and Huntingdon.

On 9 March Edward got to Huntingdon, where Lord Welles and Dymmock caught up with the Royal party. They both admitted to their part in the revolt, although didn't implicate Warwick or Clarence. This negated their earlier pardons, which had been for the affray over the winter. Edward got Lord Welles to write a letter to his son ordered him to submit to the king or else Lord Welles and Dymmock would be executed.

This letter changed the course of the campaign. Warwick had planned for Sir Robert Well's and the Lincolnshire rebels to slip across Edward's path and join him at Leicester on Monday 12 March. By 11 March Sir Robert was already to the west of Edward's men, but when he received his father's letter he changed course and headed towards the King's army in a rescue attempt. The two rebel armies would now never be united.

The Battle

On the morning of 12 March Edward reached Stamford and then sent his scouts ahead to search for the rebels. On the same day he received a letter from Warwick and Clarence announcing that they expected to reach Leicester that day. Edward's scouts found the rebels five miles away at Empingham, and he decided on an immediate attack. As the royal army approached the rebels lined up in battle array. Edward's men did the same, and Edward then demonstrated his ruthless streak. Lord Welles and Sir Thomas Dymmock were executed in front of both armies. Edward was said to be unwilling to risk his life in battle while those who had caused the fighting still lived.

The rebels probably outnumbered Edward, but he had the better quality men, better equipment, and the Royal artillery. The battle began with an artillery barrage, which forced the rebels into an attack. As they advanced their war cries of 'A Warwick' and 'A Clarence', giving away the poorly kept secret. Some of the rebels, including Sir Robert, were wearing Clarence's livery.

The actual fighting didn’t last for long. The better equipped Royal army quickly defeated the rebels, and their retreat turned into a rout. So many rebels discarded the padded coats that formed part of their army that the battle became known as 'Lose-cote Field'.

Proof was soon found of Warwick and Clarence's involvement. Clarence's envoy to the rebels was killed, and letters from the duke found on his body. Sir Robert was captured soon after the battle and also confessed Warwick and Clarence's role. He claimed that the aim was to place Clarence on the throne in place of Edward.

The Aftermath

On the day after the battle Edward wrote to Warwick and Clarence to report the outcome of the battle and ordering them to disband their shire levies. They were then to join him, escorted only by their normal retinues.

The message reached Warwick and Clarence on 14 March. They agreed to do as they were asked, and attend the king with only 1,000 or 1,500 men. As the royal messenger left their army began to move away north towards Burton upon Trent, rather than east towards the king.

Edward spent 14 and 15 March at Grantham, where Sir Robert Welles was brought to him. Edward then continued north to Grantham, and then prepared to move further north to deal with another revolt that had broken out in Wensleydale (this time led by Lord Scrope of Bolton and Sir John Conyers). Warwick and Clarence also moved north, this time hoping to join up with the Yorkshire rebels at Rotherham. All the time Edward's army was growing in size as more contingents caught up with him, while the exchange of letters continued.

On 17 March Edward received a letter in which Warwick and Clarence announced that they would join him at Retford. As the two armies moved further north Warwick and Clarence changed their message. Now they demanded safe conducts and pardons before they would come to Edward. This was too much even for the forgiving Edward, and he replied with a message that the penalty for taking up arms against the king was death. On 19 March Sir Robert Welles was beheaded at Doncaster, but at the same time Edward announced that anyone who deserted Warwick and Clarence would be pardoned. At least one of their messengers, Sir William Parr, appears to have taken advantage of this offer.

The rebels reached Chesterfield on 18-19 March, and sent their advance guard on ahead to Rotherham where they expected to find Scrope and the Yorkshire rebels. Edward responded on 20 March by forming his army up ready for battle and advancing west towards Rotherham. When he got there he discovered that Warwick and Clarence were nowhere to be seen. Instead of continuing north and risking battle they had turned west and headed across the Pennines towards Manchester where they hoped to gain the support of Lord Stanley. Edward decided not to risk following them across the Peak District, where supplies would be difficult to find. Instead he continued north towards York, to deal with the Yorkshire rebels and stop them from uniting with Warwick.

This effectively ended the campaign. When Edward reached York he discovered that the Scrope revolt had collapsed. Warwick and Clarence had no more luck with Lord Stanley, who refused to help them. They then turned south and made for the south-west. Edward followed at a quick pace, and was in Exeter by 14 April. Warwick and Clarence had moved quicker, and by then they were already at sea.

Warwick may have been hoping to repeat his naval exploits of earlier years, but he was to suffer from a series of blows. He found a fleet at Dartmouth, but his flagship, the Trinity, was at Southampton. As the rebel fleet passed the Isle of Wight a detachment under Sir Geoffrey Gate was sent to try and capture it, but they were repulsed by Antony Woodville, Earl Rivers, and Gates was captured.

The biggest blows came at Calais, where Warwick was captain, and from where he had led the triumphant Yorkist invasion of 1460. Much to his surprise as his fleet approached the guns of Calais opened fire. The garrison had been split, and Edward's loyalists had won. Warwick's man, Lord Wenlock, would deliver the place to him later in the year, but for the moment Warwick was denied a safe haven. Worse was to follow. His daughter Isabel, who was pregnant, gave birth onboard ship. She survived, but her infant son died, denying Warwick and Clarence the male heir their plans had required.

Warwick put back to sea on 20 April. He ran into a Flemish convoy, which he attacked, further enraging Charles the Bold. He then ran into Edward's fleet under Lord Howard, and suffered a rare defeat at sea. After this his only remaining option was to seek refuge in France and his fleet made for Honfleur and the protection of Louis XI.

This would begin the second and more dramatic phase of this part of the Wars of the Roses. Louis realised that Warwick's exile gave the Lancastrians a fresh chance, and he arranged for a public reconciliation between Warwick and Margaret of Anjou. On 22 July Warwick knelt before Queen Margaret, and a most unexpected alliance was soon formed. Within a few weeks Warwick was back in England, and this time it would be Edward who was caught out of position and forced into exile.

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

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (29 January 2014), Battle of Losecote Field, 12 March 1470 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_losecote_field.html

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