Battle of Twt Hill, 16 October 1461

The battle of Twt Hill (16 October 1461) was a Yorkist victory that ended open Lancastrian resistance to Edward IV in most of Wales, leaving only Harlech in Lancastrian hands.

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

Although the Yorkists were powerful in the Welsh Borders, where they had inherited the lands of the Mortimer earls of March, much of Wales was Lancastrian. After the dramatic Yorkist victory at Northampton (10 July 1460), in which Henry VI was captured, Jasper Tudor, earl of Pembroke, organised the Lancastrian resistance in Wales. He was opposed by Edward, earl of March (the future Edward IV), who was sent to Ludlow to deal with resistance in Wales. At the same time the earl of Warwick remained in London, while Edward's father Richard of York went north to deal with the main Lancastrian army.

On 30 December 1460 York attacked a larger Lancastrian army at Wakefield and was defeated and killed. The victorious Lancastrians advanced south towards London. Edward prepared to move east to join with Warwick, but he was prevented from moving by Tudor, who with James Butler, earl of Wiltshire and Ormond was advancing across Wales towards him. The two armies met at Mortimer's Cross on 2 February 1461, where Edward won his first battlefield victory. The Lancastrian army was scattered, but Pembroke and Wiltshire escaped. Pembroke remained in Wales, while Wiltshire made his way to the main Lancastrian army.

For the moment Edward remained in the borders, but events elsewhere forced him to abandon any attempts to complete his victory. The earl of Warwick had moved from London to St. Albans, where on 17 February 1461 his army was overwhelmed (Second battle of St. Albans). Warwick escaped, but the Lancastrians liberated Henry VI and were free to advance on London. This forced Edward to abandon his campaign in the borders. He rushed east, met up with Warwick, and in late February was welcoming in London. At the start of March Edward claimed the throne as Edward IV, before leading his army north to victory at Towton (29 March 1461).

Towton crushed the Lancastrian cause in most of England, although Henry VI and his family escaped, and resistance to Edward continued in the far north for another three years. Much of Wales was also held against him. Pembroke had a small field army, and held a number of castles, and he was soon reinforced by Henry Holland, duke of Exeter, who had escaped from Towton. The Lancastrians also attempted to get support from the French, but their cause suffered when Louis XI died and was succeeded by his son Charles VII. Louis had favoured the Lancastrians, and so his son chose to switch his support to the Yorkists.

At first Edward IV planned to lead the campaign in Wales in person. In July he ordered Sir William Herbert, and the newly promoted Walter Devereux, Lord Ferrers, to raise an army, and in September moved to Hereford himself. He reached Hereford on 17 September, moved to Ludlow on the following day, and then on 26 September departed for London, where Parliament was due to meet in November.

Command of the Welsh army now passed to Sir William Herbert, aided by Ferrers and Henry Bourchier, earl of Essex. Their first target was Pembroke Castle, which surrendered without a fight on 30 September. Pembroke and Exeter retreated into Snowdonia. They may have been planning to continue their resistance from the mountains, but when Herbert caught up with them they were on the north Welsh coast at Caernarvon.

The two armies clashed at Twt Hill, just to the north of Caernarvon (now under the northern suburbs), on 16 October 1461. Herbert's men were victorious, but we know almost nothing about the actual battle. Both Pembroke and Exeter escaped after the battle. Pembroke fled to Ireland, from where he continued to support the Lancastrians. Exeter eventually reached Burgundy, where he remained in exile until 1471. He then returned to England to support Henry VI's readeption government, but was captured at the battle of Barnet. He was kept in prison until 1475 when he was finally released and took part in Edward IV's French expedition, but on the way back he drowned.

In the aftermath of this victory the Yorkists moved against the remaining Lancastrian strongholds in Wales. Denbigh surrendered in January 1462 and Carreg Cennen in May. This only left Harlech Castle, but this was a much more difficult target. In 1462 the castle still had its water gate (the shore has since moved west away from the castle) and so could be supplied from the sea by Pembroke in Ireland. Edward IV was unwilling to commit to the major expense that a full-scale siege would have required, and so the famous siege of Harlech Castle dragged on into 1468.

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

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (23 January 2014), Battle of Twt Hill, 16 October 1461 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_twt_hill.html

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