Siege of Bamburgh Castle, June-July 1464

The siege of Bamburgh Castle of June-July 1464 was a Yorkist victory that ended the Lancastrian campaign in Northumberland that had begun in the aftermath of the battle of Towton, and was also the first occasion when an English castle was defeated by gunpowder artillery.

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

After the battle of Towton Bamburgh, Alnwick and Dunstanburgh were all held for the Lancastrians, with Scottish support. In the spring of 1462 the earl of Warwick managed to negotiation a truce with the Scots to last from June to August. This gave him the time to capture the Northumbrian castles, and Bamburgh surrendered in July 1462. This was a short-lived success. In October 1462 Queen Margaret, who had been to France to gain support, landed near Bamburgh with a force of French troops under Pierre de Bréze. The Yorkist garrison of Bamburgh surrendered, but when Queen Margaret discovered that Edward IV was heading north with a large army she decided to retire into Scotland. Henry Beaufort, duke of Somerset and Sir Ralph Percy were left to defend Bamburgh, but they were unprepared for a long siege and surrendered after a short siege of Bamburgh in December 1462. Somerset and Percy both swore allegiance to Edward IV, and Percy was given command of Bamburgh and Dunstanburgh. Edward was aware that the Percy family held the loyalty of a large proportion of the population of the north, and wanted to try and win them over to his cause.

He would quickly be disappointed. In March 1463 Percy changed sides and surrendered Bamburgh and Dunstanburgh to Queen Margaret. In June a joint Lancastrian and Scottish army besieged Norham, but withdrew when Warwick and his brother Lord Montagu appeared. Scottish enthusiasm for the war began to fade, and in December Edward negotiated a ten month truce with the Scots.

In November 1463 Somerset changed sides and joined Henry VI at Bamburgh. In the spring of 1464 Somerset's small army managed to establish control of much of Northumberland, and once again Edward prepared to come north. In the meantime Montagu was sent to the Scottish border to escort Scottish peace envoys to York. On the way north he defeated Somerset at Hedgeley Moor (April 1464). After escorting the Scottish envoys to York Montagu returned to Newcastle. Somerset decided to try and win a victory before Edward arrived, and moved south into the Tyne valley. Montagu caught him at Hexham (15 May 1464), and crushed his army. Somerset was captured and executed and his army scattered.

When news of the defeat at Hexham reached Alnwick and Dunstanburgh their garrisons agreed to surrender, and they were handed over to Warwick on 23 June. Sir Ralph Grey at Bamburgh was more stubborn. He had changed sides in March 1463 and allowed the Lancastrians into Alnwick.

On 25 June Warwick laid siege to Bamburgh. He started by sending his herald and the Chester herald to offer terms. The entire garrison would be offered terms apart from two men - Sir Humphrey Neville and Sir Ralph Grey. Unsurprisingly Grey refused to accept these terms. According to Warkworth's Chronicle Warwick then issued a threat - Edward wanted to take Bamburgh intact because it was so close to Scotland. If Grey forced him to begin an artillery bombardment then one member of the garrison would be executed for every shot that was fired.

Warkworth gives the names of some of the guns used in the siege. Newcastle and London were the great iron guns, while Dysyon was a brass gun. The artillery bombardment began with a simultaneous shot from all of the guns, and great damage was recorded as being done to the walls. Shot from Dysyon passed through Grey's chambers, and in July it may have been falling masonry from one of these shots that knocked him senseless. Once Grey was out of the way his second in command surrendered to Warwick. Despite the earlier gruesome threat the garrison was spared, but Grey had changed sides too many sides by now, and during July he was beheaded. The fall of Bamburgh ended the active Lancastrian campaign in Northumberland. Now only Harlech in North Wales held out against Edward IV.

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

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (6 December 2013), Siege of Bamburgh Castle, June-July 1464 ,

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