May the 4th: The Twilight of the House of Lancaster

Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales, only son of King Henry VI of House Lancaster and his Queen, Marguerite of Anjou.
Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales, only son of King Henry VI of House Lancaster and his Queen, Marguerite of Anjou.

On May the 4th 1471, Edward Prince of Wales, otherwise known as Edward of Westminster for his place of birth, lost his life at the Battle of Tewkesbury. The prince was only seventeen years old, months short of being eighteen. He was the last hope of the Lancastrians. After the Earl of Warwick Richard Neville had been slain at the battle of Barnet the previous month, the Prince and his mother decided not to make any more haste and keep with the plan, and attack the Yorkists. Some historians like Skidmore believe that the death of Richard Neville might have been a blessing in disguise since it eliminated a potential rival, if they ever came to a complete win. However, others are not so sure of this. Jones, Higginbotham, Lisle, among many others view that Warwick’s death was truly the end-game for the Lancasters. The battle of Barnet destroyed whatever chance they had left. Marguerite of Anjou was never one to give up and continued to march forward unto the battlefield. With her, besides her son, was her daughter-in-law, Anne Neville. Anne Neville was the youngest daughter of Richard Neville, and the news of her father’s death when she touched English shore, must have been devastating. Yet, true to her position of Princess Consort of Wales, she kept moving and joined her husband and her mother-in-law in their fight, to completely restore the Lancastrian dynasty to its rightful place. Henry VI had already been captured and sent back to the Tower. London was back in Yorkist control but Marguerite remained optimistic. Weeks after they landed, they made their way to Exeter then to Bristol and the Severn Valley where Edward IV “prepared for a second round of battle, sending out orders to fifteen counties”. He wanted to stop them at all costs from crossing the river Severn but come the end of April he realized they were journeying to Bristol where they were joined by a larger army and supplied with more weapons.

Although Edward had the upper hand, one mistake (he knew) could’ve cost him everything. So it became a race against time, for the Yorkist King to encounter them when he was still strong before they reunited with others (such as Jasper Tudors who was far off and was looking forward to joining with them).

Edward of Westminster in the "White Queen" (2013)
Edward of Westminster in the “White Queen” (2013)

The Lancastrian army then reached Tewkesbury on 3 May. The next day they faced the Yorkist troops. The Prince of Wales along with the Duke of Somerset, Edmund Beaufort were the principal commanders. Marguerite and Anne Neville were likely hiding as Licence points out in her biography on Anne Neville; probably in Coventry with other Lancastrian wives waiting for news of the outcome.

The following day on Saturday May the 4th, Edward IV “donned his armor and divided his army into three divisions under the same leadership that had prevailed at Barnet -himself, Hastings and the brilliant young Gloucester, who was not given command of the vanguard.” Jones writes. The Lancastrias “were arrayed under Prince Edward” who was assisted by Lord Wenlock, Sir John Lagstrother (the prior of St. John) and of course his second in command Edmund Duke of Somerset, followed by John Courtenay the Earl of Devon. Edward IV began his assault with “a hail of arrows and gunshot” which was returned by the enemy. The Lancastrias had chosen a “strong defensive position” Skidmore notes “encamped on high ground to the south of Tewkesbury.” The battle raged on, “Somerset had chosen to command the right flank, placing the elderly veteran Lord Wenlock in charge of the center of the army.” Edward did not waste any time and told his brother leading the left flank to advance, the Lancastrians did their best to repel the wave of arrows flown at them, but they were soon overwhelmed.

“Outnumbered, Somerset’s forces force was slowly being driven back up the slope. It was at this point that Edward performed a masterstroke, ordering his 200 men-at-arms waiting hidden in the woods to launch a surprise attack into the side of Somerset’s beleaguered troops. The Duke’s men scattered, ‘dismayed and abashed’; some fled along the lanes, some into the park and down to the meadow by the river running alongside the abbey, but most would suffer the same fate of being cut down and killed as they ran. Somerset, however, refused to give up, making his way back to the Lancastrian center whose troops had stood motionless at Lord Wenlock’s order. Riding up to the aged nobleman, Somerset was in no mood for excuses; according to a latter account, in a fury, he raged at Wenlock, and before he had a chance to respond, Somerset seized his battle axe and beat his brains out, though a more contemporary chronicle suggests that this dramatic confrontation never took place, with Wenlock being captured and executed after the battle.” (Skidmore)

As everyone scrambled and ran to safety, Somerset took refuge in the Abbey with a few. The Prince was not so lucky.

“Exactly how Anne’s husband met his death is unclear. Literary and dramatic sources have presented a range of possibilities, implicating various Yorkists in differing degrees. Of the contemporary chroniclers recording the scene without being present, Commynes agrees with the Croyland and Benet chronicles, which clearly state that he fell on the field of battle, while the Arrival observes, ‘And there was slain in the field Prince Edward, which cried for succor to his brother-in-law, the Duke of Clarence.’ Even having sworn allegiance to him less than a year before, Clarenece clearly did not feel sufficiently moved to show the prince pity, stating in a letter to Henry Vernon that the Prince was ‘slain in plain battle’, differentiating his death from the ‘execution’ of Somerset also described in the correspondence. Warkworth agrees that the prince ‘was taken fleeing townwards, and slain in the field’, perhaps heading back for the safety of the abbey, or ‘poor religious place’ where his wife and mother waited. Tudor Historian Andre Bernanrd writing in 1501, also stated that the prince was slain in combat, even though, at the time, it would have been in his interests to slur the reputation of the Yorkist brothers. The alternative story of Edward’s murder began to gain credence soon after his death. Weeks after the battle, Bettini wrote to the Duke of Milan that the Yorkists had ‘not only routed the prince but taken and slain him, together with all the leading men with him’.” (Licence)

According to various accounts, he was executed before Edward IV, others say that he was killed by Richard III himself. Not surprisingly during the Tudor period the blame was lain on Richard’s feet. Even if this is true, as Licence argues in her biography of both of these men’s only wife, Anne Neville; he would not have risked doing something of that magnitude without his eldest brother and King, Edward IV’s approval. Edward IV wanted the entire Lancastrian line wiped, therefore he was not going to shrink away from executing him or giving the order to someone else if he was indeed brought before him.

Anne Neville played by Faye Marsay in the "White Queen" (2013).
Anne Neville played by Faye Marsay in the “White Queen” (2013).

The battle was a huge and decisive win, Jones notes for Edward because he had “at last gained a glorious victory” and two days after he had slain Edward Prince of Wales, he dragged Edmund Duke of Somerset, Sir John Langstrother, Sir Hugh Courtenay and other Lancastrians who had sought sanctuary inside the Abbey, to behead them. The following day on the 8th, he left Tewkesbury to track the Queen and her daughter-in-law, Anne Neville who was now a widow and like the Queen, at the mercy of the Yorkist King. Not long after, Henry VI also died under mysterious circumstances. No one believed the official story that he had died of melancholy.

Sources:

  • The Rise of the Tudors: The Family that Changes English History by Chris Skidmore
  • The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones
  • Anne Neville: Richard III’s Tragic Queen by Amy Licence
  • The Prince who did not become King: Edward of Lancaster (1453-1471) by Susan Higginbotham
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s