Siege of St. Michael’s Mount

The siege of St. Michael’s Mount began on 30th September 1473.

On the 30th of September 1473, the Earl of Oxford and Lord Beaumont landed at St. Michael’s Mount, Cornwall with a force of 397 men. They took the castle by surprise, capturing it seemingly without a struggle. There followed a siege of 22 weeks, a thorn in the side of an otherwise peaceful part of Edward IVs reign.

St. Michael's Mount
The Siege of St. Michael’s Mount began on 30th September 1473

The Earl of Oxford in Exile

The Earl of Oxford and Lord Beaumont had both fought at the Battle of Barnet. Following the defeat of the Lancastrian army, they had fled the field and headed north, to the safety of Scotland. From Scotland, the pair had sailed to France where they received a sympathetic ear from King Louis XI. With support from Louis XI, the Earl of Oxford began a campaign of piracy in the English Channel. He attacked shipping bound for England, made aborted attacks on Calais and the Essex coastline, before choosing a different tactic.

Siege of St. Michael’s Mount

Both Oxford and Beaumont remained opposed to Edward’s rule, they intended to use up as much of his resources as possible and, if possible, stir up discontent along the way. The pair chose a target. The island fortress of St. Michael’s Mount, Cornwall. It was a target that would not be expecting an attack. Defensively it held many advantages, making it an extremely awkward siege for Edward’s men to conduct. It was accessible from the sea, allowing supply and potentially an escape route. In simple terms, it would be a costly thorn in Edward’s side.

The small fleet of ships carrying the two nobles and their band of men landed on 30th September 1473. The island fortress fell, as expected, with ease. Initially, Edward opted for a blockade of the castle and island. However, the local knight, Sir Henry Bodrugan, who was charged with overseeing the blockade was ineffective and corrupt. Supplies got to the castle and the siege began to frustrate the king.

Edward blockades St. Michael’s Mount

In December of 1473, Edward changed tactics. Angry at the show of defiance he dismissed Bodrugan and sent John Fortesque with a force of 6000 men to take charge of proceedings. He also sent John Wode, master of ordnance at the Royal Armouries, along with artillery. Ships from Edward’s fleet were dispatched to enforce a naval blockade. The king had sent his most professional men, he meant business.

Pardons were offered to any defenders who left the castle. The stranglehold that the royal forces had around the island soon worked. The defenders left in piecemeal fashion but, over time, most had departed the fortress. In February of 1474, the remaining defenders, including the Earl of Oxford and Lord Beaumont, surrendered.

Oxford and Beaumont were imprisoned. Oxford famously escaped from Calais in 1485 and was one of Henry Tudor’s commanders at the Battle of Bosworth.

Source Material: The Siege of St. Michael’s Mount

The Warkworth Chronicle has a passage in the siege of St. Michael’s Mount, the text is below.

Also in the xiij. yere of [the] regne of Kynge Edwarde, Sere Jhon

Veere, Erie of Oxenforde, that withdrewe hym frome Barnet felde, and rode into Scottlonde, and frome thens into Fraunce asailed, and ther he was worschipfully received. And in the same yere he was in the see withe certeyne schippes, and gate grete good and rychesse, and afterewarde came into westecountre, and, with a sotule poynte of werre, gate and enteryd Seynt Michaels Mount in Cornwayle, a stronge place and a mygty, and can no3t be geett yf it be wele vytaled withe a fewe menne to kepe hit ; for xx*J. menne may kepe it ageyne alle the world. So the seyde Erie, withe xx*i. score menne save iij, the last day of Septembre the yere afore seyd, enteryd fyrst into [the] seyd mount, and he and his menne came doune into cuntre of Cornwale, and hade riyhte good chere of the comons, &c. The Kynge and his counselle sawe that therof myche harme myght growe, &c. ; comawndyd Bodrygan, scheff reulere of Cornwayle, to besege the seid mount. And so he dyd ; and every day the Erie of Oxenfordes menne came doune undere trewis, spake with Bodrynghan and his menne; and at thelaste the seid Erie lacked vytayle, and the seyde Bodrygan suffryd hyme to be vytailed ; and anone the Kynge was put in knowlache therof ; wherefor the seide Bodrygan was discharged, and Richard Fortescu, squyere for the body, by auctoryte of the Kynge, toke uppone honde to lay sege to the forseide mount, &c. And so gret dyversione roose betwyx Bodrygan and Fortescu, whiche Fortescu was schreve of Cornwayle, &c.; and the seide Fortescu leyed sege, &c. the xx. xiij li . day of Decembre the yere aforseide; and for the most party every day eche of theme faughte withe othere, and the seide Erles menne kylled dyverse of Fortescu menne ; and som tyme whenne thei hade welle y-foughte, thei wulde take a trewis for one day and a night, and some tyme for two or thre dayes, &c. In the whiche trewes eche one of them spake and comaunde with other. The Kynge and his counselle sent unto dyverse that were with the Erie of Oxenforde prevely there pardones, and promysede to them grete yeftes and landes and goodes, by the whiche dyverse of them were turned to the Kynge ayens the Erie ; and so in conclusione the Erie hade no3t passynge ane viij. or ix. menne that wolde holde withe hym ; the whiche was the undoynge of the Erie. For ther is proverbe and a seyenge, that a castelle that spekythe, and a womane that wille here, thei wille be gotene bothe : for menne that bene in a castelle of warr, that wille speke and entrete withe ther enemyes, the conclusione therof [is] the losynge of the castelle ; and a womanne that wille here foly spokyne unto hyre, if sche assent no3t at one tyme, sche wille at another. And so this proverbe was prevede trewe by the seide Erie of Oxen- forde, whiche was fayne to yelde up the seyde mount, and put hyme in the Kynges grace ; if he hade no3t do so, his owne menne wulde have brought hym oute. And so Fortescu enterd into the seyd mount, the xv. day of February, the yere afore sayde, in the whiche was vytayle enogh tylle midsomere aftere. And so was the Erie aforseyd, the Lorde Bemonde, two brotheres of the seide Erles, and Thomas Clyfforde, brought as a presonere to the Kynge; and alle was donne by ther oune foly,

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