The Battle of Tewkesbury was fought on 4th May 1471. It was a decisive Yorkist Victory. Edward IV had the Duke of Somerset executed after the battle. The Prince of Wales fought and died. Margaret of Anjou submitted to Edward IV shortly after the battle. Edward IV faced no serious threat to his rule for the rest of his life. Jasper Tudor was the only senior Lancastrian with any lineage to the throne after this battle. The battle brought an end to the second phase of the Wars of the Roses.
Battle of Tewkesbury: Context
On the same day that Edward IV fought the Earl of Warwick at Barnet, Queen Margaret landed with a force at Weymouth, Dorset. This Lancastrian force began making its way toward South Wales. Here it could meet up with Jasper Tudor to engage the Yorkists from the West of the Country, through the Marches.
Margaret’s force grew as it marched. It moved slowly at first as it needed resupplying. In order to do this the army stopped at Bristol. The people of Gloucester refused to open their gates to Margaret. As the queen’s army moved, news of its landing and whereabouts reached Edward IV. He mustered his men at Windsor and kept a careful eye on Margaret’s movements.
Anticipating the Lancastrian force moving towards the safety of Jasper Tudors lands, Edward chose to pursue them. His objective was to cut off the Lancastrian army before it could cross the River Severn. Were the force to cross the Severn it would combine with Tudors army and be considerably more difficult to overcome.
At Barnet the Lancastrians had suffered a major blow. Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, and his brother had been slain. His army had suffered high casualties. The Yorkists were now very secure in London, where they also kept Henry VI captive. The Tewkesbury Campaign then, is one in which Edward IV can eliminate opposition and secure his throne. Or, one in which the Lancastrians can wrestle the throne back, in the name of either Henry VI or the Prince of Wales.
Edward’s army marched West in order to try and cut off the Lancastrian army. The lack of supplies that the Lancastrians had delayed them. First, they detoured to Bristol. Then, they suffered the ignominy of being refused entry to Gloucester. Both gave Edward time to draw closer to the queen. As they neared the crossing points Edward closed in. Somerset managed to avoid the Lancastrian force being attacked at Sodbury. Now, as the army reached the crossing point at Tewkesbury he and the Queen had a dilemma. With Edward close behind, could they risk being attacked whilst fording the river? Somerset thought not. It was better to fight at Tewkesbury on land they chose than to be attacked whilst vulnerable.
The Lancastrians chose a position that presented the Yorkists with natural obstacles to overcome in an assault. However the lines were formed up close to the river, turning it into a death trap should retreat be required. The choice of ground with marsh and woods in close proximity was ideal for defending. The dykes and fouls also presented the Yorkists with problems.
Somerset appears to have made mistakes in his use of the terrain. Instead of it providing advantage, he flanks to a position where his battle is exposed to Edward’s archers. Similarly the presence of a wooded area near the pasture is only identified as having a combat use by the Yorkists. They take advantage of it by hiding spearmen there. The terrain ought to have been a huge advantage to the Lancastrians. It seems that poor judgement renders it a liability for them, resulting in heavy casualties.
Disaster for Somerset
As the battle progressed the force commanded by Somerset began flanking the Yorkist line. The Yorkists had many archers under the command of Edward at the heart of this section. Somersets men-at-arms were caught in a line of fire. Worse still, for the Lancastrians, Edward had spotted woods near the field of battle. Remembering the use of such woods at Towton, he had sent a force of spearmen to clear the woods of any enemy, of which there were none, and to attack from this flank if the opportunity presented itself.
With Somerset’s infantry on this flank and advancing toward the archers, the spearmen drove into the rear of them. Somerset’s men were surrounded. This created chaotic scenes as the Lancastrians attempted to get back to the safety of their starting positions. However, the very obstacles they had hoped to use against Edward’s advance, now hindered their retreat.
The Lancastrian army could see Somerset’s losses. In disarray, they began to retreat over the river. The very scenario that Somerset had hoped to avoid by fighting was now happening. The Yorkist force cut down some 2000 Lancastrians. Yorkist casualties numbered 500 or less.
Consequences of the Battle of Tewkesbury
In killing Prince Edward there is nothing for the Queen to fight for. There was no reason to keep Henry VI alive now that his son was dead. People wouldn’t rally to his cause. As the Prince was an unknown quantity, it was safer to retain the feeble figurehead.
After the battle and subsequent executions there is just one potential source of opposition, the Tudor line. It wasn’t strong enough to take on Edward IV in the immediate aftermath of Tewkesbury. This results in a relatively peaceful period until Edward IV’s death in 1483. However the Battle of Tewkesbury did leave that line of Lancastrians at large which, undealt with, has consequences in 1485.
Battles in the Wars of the Roses
First Battle of St. Albans – Battle of Blore Heath – Battle of Ludford Bridge – Battle of Northampton – Battle of Wakefield – Battle of Mortimer’s Cross – Second Battle of St. Albans Battle of Ferrybridge – Battle of Towton – Battle of Hedgeley Moor – Battle of Hexham – Battle of Edgecote Moor – Battle of Losecote Field – Battle of Barnet – Battle of Tewkesbury – Battle of Bosworth – Battle of Stoke Field
Documents, Maps and Evidence
People and periods
British History – The Wars of the Roses – The Plantagenets – The Tudors – King Henry IV – King Henry V – King Henry VI – King Edward IV – King Edward V – King Richard III – King Henry VII – Margaret of Anjou