Battle of Hexham, 15 May 1464

The battle of Hexham (15 May 1464) was the final battle of the first phase of the Wars of the Roses and saw the Yorkists defeat a Lancastrian army led by Henry Beaufort, duke of Somerset, ending a dangerous Lancastrian revolt in Northumberland.

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

After the Yorkist victory at Towton in 1460 (where Somerset had been a key Lancastrian commander) most of the surviving Lancastrians, including Somerset, escaped to relative safety in Scotland. Over the next few years they fought for control of the Northumbria castles of Alnwick, Bamburgh and Dunstanburgh. The Yorkists gained control of them on several occasions, but by the end of 1463 all three were in Lancastrian hands. Scotland itself had become less friendly, and Henry VI was now based at Bamburgh.

Somerset had spent some time in France. He returned to Northumberland late in 1462, but in December surrendered at Bamburgh. Edward IV made a determined effort to win him over, restoring his estates, freeing his brother and spending quite a bit of time with him, but these efforts failed and late in 1463 Somerset decided to return to his Lancastrian allegiance. He made his way from north Wales to the north-east. An attempt to capture Newcastle failed, but he safely reached Henry VI's court in exile at Bamburgh. He then combined with a number of other Lancastrian leaders and began a short campaign that saw them gain control of a large part of Northumberland.

This campaign threatened to disrupt the peace negotiations between Edward IV and the Scots, which were to have taken place at Newcastle in March. Edward was forced to move them to York in late April. He began to raise a powerful army at Leicester, while John Neville, Lord Montagu was sent to escort the Scottish envoys to York. The Lancastrians attempted to intercept him on his way north, but suffered a defeat at Hedgeley Moor on 25 April 1464. Someset's surviving men regrouped at Alnwick, while Montagu successfully carried out his mission to Scotland and then returned to Newcastle.

Somerset and the Lancastrian leaders realised that they urgently needed to win a victory before Edward IV and his overwhelmingly powerful army arrived in the north.

Somerset's attempts to achieve this seem rather odd. Montague was at Newcastle with the victorious army from Hedgeley Moor. Somerset advanced into the Tyne valley with Henry VI and then left the king at Bywell Castle, twelve miles west of Newcastle, on the north bank of the Tyne. Somerset then took his army west to Hexham, on the south bank of the river. Henry was left in a dangerously exposed position, between his army and his enemies, but for the moment the Yorkists missed their chance.

When Montagu learnt of Somerset's move he decided to act quickly. He led his army out of Newcastle and advanced quickly along the south bank of the Tyne. His army thus passed by Henry VI in his refuge on the north bank of the river, and early on 15 May found Somerset and his men camped on low ground near the river.

Somerset's men were forced to take up a hasty defensive position with their backs to the Tyne. Montagu's men smashed into the centre of the Lancastrian line which was forced back into the river. The rest of the Lancastrian line collapsed and the survivors fled from the scene.

The defeat at Hexham was a total disaster for the Lancastrian cause. Henry himself escaped, but Somerset was captured in the immediate pursuit and was almost immediately beheaded. Thomas Roos, Lord Roos and Robert Hungerford, Lord Hungerford, were both captured in a wood on the day after the battle while Sir William Tailboys was found hiding in a coal pit with £2,000 from the Lancastrian war chest. All three men were taken to Newcastle where they were executed two days later. Around thirty senior Lancastrians were killed in the aftermath of the battle, leaving only Sir Ralph Grey and Sir Humphrey Neville alive and at large.

Montagu was richly rewarded for his efforts. On 27 May he was made earl of Northumberland (the Percies have forfeited the title after supporting Henry VI). Montagu would only keep this title until 1470 when the Percies were restored, and he would end up fighting and dying with his brother against Edward IV at the battle of Barnet in April 1471.

In the aftermath of the battle of Hexham the surviving Lancastrians fled to Alnwick. Montagu's brother Richard Neville, earl of Warwick, had now arrived on the scene. The garrisons of Alnwick and Dunstanburgh were both offered pardons and surrendered on 23-24 June.  Bamburgh held out rather longer, after both Grey and Neville were excluded from the offer of a pardon. The castle only fell after a formal siege, surrendering in July. Grey was executed after the surrender but Neville escaped and played a part in the renewal of war if 1469.

The defeat at Hexham and the surrender of the Northumbrian castles ended the Lancastrian uprising in Northumberland. Henry VI remained at large for another year before he was captured, but his supporters were dead or scattered.

Edward IV and the War of the Roses, David Santiuste. A look at the military career of Edward IV, the often overlooked winner of the main part of the War of the Roses, and a king who ruled peacefully for nearly twelve years before dying a natural death. [read full review]
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Books on the Middle Ages - Subject Index: Wars of the Roses

How to cite this article: Rickard, J. (17 January 2014), Battle of Hexham, 15 May 1464,

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