Rout of Ludford Bridge, 12-13 October 1459

The battle of Ludford Bridge (12-13 October 1459) was a humiliating defeat that appeared to have ended any hopes of a Yorkist victory in the Wars of the Roses.

The first burst of open warfare came in 1455. During Henry VI's first period of mental illness Richard duke of York had insisted that he be appointed Protector. During his brief time in power he had performed fairly well, but he had used his influence to place Edmund Beaufort, second duke of Somerset, under arrest in the tower on charges relating to the English defeat in the Hundred Years War, and had sided with his allies the Nevilles in their long running feud with the Percy family.

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

When Henry recovered late in 1454 it was only a matter of time before his enemies were restored to power. In mid-April York and his Neville allies the earls of Salisbury and Warwick were summoned to a council, where they believed that they would be arrested. In response the Yorkists raised an army and marched on London. Somerset and the court were caught out, not having expected a military response. At the First Battle of St. Albans (22 May 1455) the outnumbered Royal army was defeated. Henry VI was captured while Somerset, Northumberland and Lord Clifford were killed. York regained power. His allies were rewarded with key posts - chancellor, treasurer and Captain of Calais, while in November York became Protector for a second time

York's position began to decline early in 1456. In February Henry recovered from an illness and removed York from his post as Protector. Queen Margaret moved away from London and began to establish a new powerbase in the country. Later in the summer King Henry joined her and most of York's appointments were reversed. Warwick was the one exception - as a proven man of action he was left in control in Calais.

Over the next few years Henry VI made some effort to maintain the peace. In 1458 he even managed to get the main protagonists to undergo a public reconciliation - the 'Loveday' of 24 March 1458 in which York, Salisbury and Warwick publicly made peace with the heirs of Northumberland, Somerset and Clifford.

Any good that the 'Loveday' had done was soon undone by events at Calais. Warwick may have remained in post, but he never received enough money and the pay of the garrison was in arrears. He was also paying for a small naval force of about ten ships (at this point Henry VI had one ship in the Royal fleet). Warwick used his ships against the French, but he also carried out some blatant piracy, attacking a Spanish fleet and the Hanseatic fleet. This gave his enemies at court an excuse to summon him to London. This visit, in October 1458, ended with a brawl between the Warwick's men and the royal guard and Warwick was forced to fight his way to safety on his barge. He then returned to Calais, ignoring official instructions to return to London.

This was verging on open rebellion. The court began to prepare for war, ordering stockpiles of weapons. Queen Margaret and her allies had learnt from the mistakes of 1455 and weren't going to be caught out by a rapid Yorkist mobilisation for a second time. They made their move in June 1459, summoning a Great Council to meet at Coventry. York, Salisbury and Warwick weren't invited, and instead they were charged with treason. After this the Yorkist lords retired to their main powerbases and began to recruit. Salisbury moved north and recruited around Middleham while York moved to the Welsh borders and his base at Ludlow.

Active campaigning began in September. The Royal armies moved into the Midlands in an attempt to intercept Salisbury before he could lead his dangerous northern army to join with York. Warwick left Calais with part of the garrison, led by Andrew Trollope, and marched to London. Crucially Trollope and his men appear to have believed that they wouldn’t have to face King Henry in person.

The Lancastrians failed to intercept Warwick, who moved up from London to Warwick and then across to Ludlow. They had more luck with Salisbury. His route south brought him to Newcastle-under-Lyme (north-western Staffordshire) where three Lancastrian armies were closing in. King Henry's army was left behind. Queen Margaret got into a good position to the south of Newcastle, but failed to act. This left a Cheshire army under Lord Audley, which blocked Salisbury's route at Blore Heath, between Newcastle and Market Drayton in Shropshire. The resulting battle of Blore Heath (23 September 1459) was a Yorkist victory. Audley was killed and his deputy, Lord Dudley, was captured. Salisbury managed to evade the Queen and joined York at Ludlow.

Although all three Yorkist armies had managed to join up they were still badly outnumbered. King Henry had at least eighteen peers with him, each with their armed retinues. York only had six peers in his army - himself, his sons Edward earl of March and Edmund earl of Rutland, the two Nevilles - Salisbury and Warwick, and Lord Clinton. Henry had one of the largest armies to take to the field during the Wars of the Roses, while York had struggled to recruit as many men as he had hoped.

Just as before First St. Albans a series of messages were exchanged between the two armies. The Yorkists issued a manifesto in which they claimed once again that they had no quarrel with the king, but only with his advisors (a standard claim of rebels throughout the Middle Ages). The King responded with an offer of a pardon for York and all of his supporters apart from those involved in Audley's death. This excluded Salisbury, and given the way in which Royal proclamations could be twisted could be extended to include York as the person responsible for the entire campaign. Neither side was willing to accept the others terms.

The combined Yorkist army moved south-east from Ludlow to Worcester. As the large Royal army approached they retreated south to Tewkesbury, before falling back north-west to Ludlow. Ludlow town is on the north bank of the River Teme. The old town sits in a bend in the river that covers it from the south and west, while the River Corve runs along the northern side, joining the Teme just to the north. The main bridge across the Teme was at the southern side of the town and led to Ludford. The Yorkists appear to have built a defensive position at Ludford Bridge, and this was where their army was posted. York's men were thus on the south bank of the Teme, with the bridge behind them. They had field artillery with them, mounted on carts, and these formed their front line, with the outnumbered troops behind.

The Royal army approached Ludford Bridge from the south late on 12 October. That night the Yorkist guns fired towards the Royal army (this is sometimes called a bombardment, but night firing can hardly have been effective enough to deserve that description). York was aware that the king's presence was potentially demoralising for his men and the offer of a pardon was very tempting, and so attempted to convince his men that the king was dead. The ruse failed. That night Trollope and the Calais men changed sides, accepting the pardon, claiming that they hadn't expected to have to fight the king in person. This seems rather unconvincing, but we don't know what Warwick had told the garrison before they left Calais. Perhaps more likely is that the Royal presence made them think twice about their actions, and the knowledge that they had nothing to do with Audley's death made the pardon more appealing.

The loss of the experienced Calais men meant that the Yorkist cause was doomed. That night the Yorkist leaders announced that they were going to retire to Ludlow Castle for the night. Once there they decided to flee, abandoning their men. The Yorkist leaders fled in different directions. York and his younger son Edmund fled north and then to Ireland. Salisbury, Warwick and March fled south (perhaps taking advantage of the cover of the River Teme to get past the Royal army, which would have been on the opposite bank of the river). They ended up in Devon, where they found a ship. An attempt to reach York in Ireland is said to have failed and instead they made for Calais. The next morning the remnants of the Yorkist army dissolved.

The embarrassing collapse of the Yorkist position at Ludford Bridge seemed to have ended their threat to Henry VI, but the respite would be surprisingly short-lived. Richard of York was safe in Ireland, where he built quite a following, while Salisbury, Warwick and March were equally secure at Calais. By the summer of 1460 they were ready to try their hand again. This time the Yorkist invasion met with more success. In the nine months between the Yorkist landings in Kent in June 1460 and the battle of Towton in March 1461 the two sides fought five major battles. By the end of this period Richard of York was dead, Henry VI was a refuge and Edward, earl of March had begun the first part of his reign as Edward IV.   

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

How to cite this article: Rickard, J. (15 November 2013), Rout of Ludford Bridge, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_ludfordbridge.html

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