On This Day: the Fallout from a Fall Out that Let Down a King

On this day, 26th July in 1469, a fierce battle was fought in the fields around the tiny hamlet of Edgcote in Northamptonshire. It was one of the many violent conflicts in the protracted civil war known as the Wars of the Roses, but this time the defeat of the royalist army spelled disaster for England and led to the capture of the king himself. Yet it might all have been avoided and the outcome very different if two armies on the same side had got on a bit better. It’s a little known battle with a good story, and when I discovered that one side most likely made their advance from the very village where my mum lives, I decided to mark the battle’s anniversary with a 10-mile walk to see where it all happened.

Looking back to Mollington

The North Oxfordshire countryside where the walk began

My historical hike started in the pretty village of Mollington near Banbury and wound around the undulating landscape of North Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire to end up in the pub opposite my mum’s house in Thorpe Mandeville. Our route took in part of the 20-mile Battlefield Trail that links three sites across the area. Two of these battles – Edgehill and Cropredy Bridge – featured in the 17th century Civil War and are fascinating in themselves, but today my focus was on the last stop on the trail, the scene of a disastrous medieval clash.

On our way

On the Battlefield Trail…

From Mollington we set off across the rolling fields, and soon we were high enough to look ahead towards our destination, just a tiny point somewhere in the far distance. It always amazes me how far you can travel on foot in a relatively short time, and what a wonderful tonic some fresh air and a simple break from the modern world can be. So having shaken off the shackles of 2020 deep in the tranquil countryside, I breathed a welcome sigh of relief and walked onwards to the past.

the way ahead

The way ahead…

The first stop was 1644, where we had a short break in the lovely village of Cropredy for lunch. It was here that parliamentarians and royalists clashed around several crossing points of the River Cherwell, and although the outcome was indecisive it proved to be a major setback for the parliamentarian cause. After reading all about it, it was time to press on. We left Cropredy along a pretty stretch of the Oxford canal before following the trail along winding lanes and rolling fields, walking further back in time to the site of a medieval royalist defeat.

Canal in Cropredy

Leaving Cropredy along a pretty stretch of the Oxford canal

field of purple

Our route took us through this stunning field of purple…

Purple flowers

…if anyone knows what these are, please do tell

The Wars of the Roses is rather aptly named, being a particularly tangled and thorny period in British medieval history. This brutal fight between two branches of the Plantagenet dynasty for the prize of the English crown lasted some thirty years until the red rose of Lancaster triumphed when Richard III was killed at Bosworth in 1485. It’s the stuff of sagas; a bloody conflict that divided families during a time of treachery and shifting alliances, when the time-honoured rules of chivalry gave way to the merciless slash of a sword. The battle of Edgcote came around half way through the period, sparked by a rebellion against King Edward IV by a mysterious figure from the north calling himself Robin of Redesdale. The most likely candidate for Robin is Sir William Conyers, a kinsman of the most powerful noble in the land, Sir Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, otherwise known as the Kingmaker. Having helped Edward to the throne in 1461, by 1469 Warwick had turned against the king, and it was he who secretly orchestrated the uprising in the north in a bid to topple Edward.

Edward IV

King Edward IV

When Edward learned of the northern rebellion he ordered his loyal supporter William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke to lead a vast army of Welshmen to meet him in Nottingham, accompanied by Humphrey Stafford, Earl of Devon with seven thousand west country archers. But as the host moved north, Pembroke was unaware that Robin of Redesdale was marching south to join forces with Warwick, setting the two sides on a collision course somewhere around Banbury. A contemporary chronicler, John Warkworth, tells us that in total Pembroke had 50,000 men under his command, so even with an unplanned encounter this would probably have been enough to win the for royalist cause. But when the great army settled to rest on the night of the 25th July, Pembroke and Devon fell out over their accommodation and Devon stomped off in a huff, taking all his men with him, leaving poor William Herbert to fight the next day without a crucial supply of archers.

On the morning of 26th July, the two sides met in the fields around Edgcote, some 6 miles north east of Banbury. Warkworth describes the encounter, stating that:

‘Robin of Redesdale attacked the Welshmen on a plain beyond Banbury, and they fought bitterly’

Battlefield

The plain beyond Banbury: the battlefield at Edgcote

At first, despite the lack of archers, Pembroke’s force of Welsh men-at-arms managed to hold their own in a fierce fight for control of another crossing of the River Cherwell. But when rebel reinforcements arrived Pembroke’s troops mistook them for Warwick’s mighty army, and many broke and fled. The result was devastation for the royalists. The Welsh were crushed, with 168 nobles killed, and the unfortunate Earl of Pembroke himself being captured and executed the following day. I bet he wished he’d kept quiet about that overnight accommodation…

With the rebel’s success at Edgcote, Warwick was free to trace the king to a village near Northampton, where he captured him and held him at Warwick and later Middleham Castle in Yorkshire. But you can’t keep a good man down, and Warwick’s triumph was short-lived. Unable to rally sufficient support to hand the crown to Edward’s brother, George Duke of Clarence, he was forced to release the king amid the widespread disorder caused by the events at Edgcote. So Edward returned to his throne in London, and just two years later, in 1471, the treacherous ‘Kingmaker’ Warwick met his end facing Edward’s army at the Battle of Barnet.

Me on battlefield

Taking in the battlefield site

Edgecote side

It’s hard to believe this peaceful corner of England saw so much bitter bloodshed

A wander around the battlefield today betrays no hint of the bloody combat that played out on its soil back in 1469, but there is an eerily still atmosphere that lingers in the sweeping landscape. I took it all in as we walked through the fields towards Thorpe Mandeville, which according to one theory is where the rebels advanced from. The location would make sense as a site for an army encampment because it lies uphill from Edgcote, as my legs discovered on the home stretch. Troops setting off from my mum’s village would have meant they marched downhill to battle, and that must have helped with their stamina levels. By contrast, I was ready for a rest and a drink when we reached our final destination, so we met Mum in The Three Conies, Thorpe Mandeville’s own wonderful and welcoming hostelry. And I can tell you, this accommodation would be worth arguing over…

pub

The end point: a welcome chance to rest my weary legs at the pub in Thorpe Mandeville

So after my long wander through time and battlefields past, we all drank a toast to the hundreds of men who fell in the nearby fields during this most savage of dynastic ruptures, on this day in 1469.

Me with sword

For York – and King Edward!

 

 

67 thoughts on “On This Day: the Fallout from a Fall Out that Let Down a King

  1. What a neat way to experience this anniversary! The fields and scenery are just beautiful. I doubt back then the armies were appreciating it as much as I was today. And what a great way to end such a journey – especially after all the hills!

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    • Thanks, Robyn, I’m so glad you enjoyed reading about Edgcote. It did seem a fitting way to mark the anniversary and find out all about it. And I really appreciated our rest and re-fuel in the Three Conies, and after that last uphill slog, my legs appreciated it even more! 🙂

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    • Thanks John. Edgehill is lovely, as is Cropredy of course, so next time you’re down this way, perhaps it’s worth doing the Edgcote bit too. It’s an interesting piece of history. Glad you liked the pics. 🙂

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      • Yes, most of the area is still MOD site or farmland owned by them. The Battlefield Trail goes round the edge and you can still get a great view from The Castle Inn in Edgehill. It’s an 18th century castle folly built on the spot where the royal standard was flown on the day of the battle in 1642. The countryside is very pretty around there, but for such an important Civil War event I think more should be made of it than the solitary and rather plain memorial on the side of the B4086. There is, apparently a little museum though in the church in nearby Radway, but of course it’s all closed at the moment. The plan is to get in there when we can and have a good look. 🙂

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      • Many years ago I worked with a chap who’d been a military guard there. He said they hated being alone on the battlefield at night. I would think the MoD could release the land, given how few soldiers are left in the army. JB

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      • I agree, John, it would be nice if the land could be reclaimed. So much could be done with it, and more could definitely be made of Edgehill then.

        Funny you should say that about the chap you worked with not liking being alone on the battlefield at night, because it’s supposed to be haunted. In the weeks, months and even years following the battle there were cannon shots and cries heard almost nightly, and apparently local people used to come out to watch a ghostly re-enactment of the battle in the sky above the site. People even used to travel to Edgehill to see it. Apparently, Charles I was so fascinated he sent a Royal Commission to investigate the spectral conflict, which resulted in the Edgehill ghosts being the only officially recognised British phantoms. It seems that as time progressed the sightings decreased, but it may still happen from time to time, and I guess it would leave it’s mark on the battlefield’s atmosphere. Your colleague must have picked up on it. How intriguing!

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      • yes, I remember the re-enacting. And Sir Peter Young in his book on the battle recounts the adventures of a friend of his who visited the battlefield and found a ghost returned to his flat with him. I do think events can imprint on the landscape. I’ve seen some odd things in my time. Regards JB

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      • Good grief, fancy having a ghost come home with you! That’s truly amazing. The ghost must have liked the look of that man! I agree that events do leave their spiritual mark, and I’ve experienced some odd things too. I reckon there’s a whole new blog here somewhere. 🙂

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  2. The moral of the story is to never trust anybody from Devon, but joking apart, this sounds like quite a battle – and in what is obviously a tranquil corner of the English countryside now.
    If you held that sword to my throat I think I would have to surrender and buy a round of drinks in the Three Conies.

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    • LOL! Of course, they’re such a dodgy lot in Devon. 😉 Thanks for making me laugh, Malc. 🙂
      It is a nice part of the country to wander around, and there are lots of battle sites to explore in the middle of England. And if the sword looks so effective that it gets me a drink then you’re on! 🙂

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      • I really don’t know that area at all well, alhough I do know several people from around there. They really are a dodgy lot – and I’m not talking about Gary Glitter now.

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      • As you say Alli, the Wars of the Roses was a difficult plot to unravel, but at least I’m a bit wiser now. I like wandering around battlefields trying to understand what happened too. Another smashing read and some smashing pics as well 🙂

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      • Thanks, Malc, glad you enjoyed it, and I’m only too pleased to add to your knowledge.
        As for battlefield wandering, you may well have already done this, but if not, make sure you get to Leicestershire one day and visit Bosworth. It’s fab, as is the RIII visitor centre. A wonderful day out, and one I hope to do again before too long. 🙂

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      • You’ve read my mind again, Malc! I was just thinking as I was writing the message to you that I should do a post on it! How amazing… So when I do get to go again – hopefully in the not too distant future – I will write it up. I really can recommend it if you’re up that way any time. So watch this space… 🙂

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      • Oh that’s a lovely thing to say, Malc, thank you so much! It really does mean a lot, and it’s the reason I keep going. 🙂 x

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  3. I always thought the ultimate family feud HAD to be Henry II + Eleanor of Aquitaine and the four boys. Can you imagine being a family counselor to that family? Trying to explain to the lads that raising an army against your father is not the right way to express teenage rebellion?

    It was ALL family battles. Close family, distant family — and ALL the royal families are related one way or the other, although they managed to kill of most of the Plantagenets during the reign of the Tudors … and for what? They ones on the throne now are mostly German anyway.

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    • Believe me, Marilyn, I adore Henry and Eleanor and their mad brood too, but the Wars of the Roses were also pretty extreme and it’s a very complicated era to study. But I always think the Plantagenets are so much more interestig and entertaining than the Tudors ever were. 🙂

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  4. Where did you get that wonderful sword? I nearly bought a full-size Excalibur replica in Glastonbury once – I still wish I had really…

    I’d have been a Royalist and Richard would have been a parliamentarian! We’d have had to fight each other (I’d win!) 😉 Actually, I was just wondering why I’m a Royalist and I think it’s to do with being a die-hard traditionalist. Richard’s really into politics while I generally can’t be bothered having anything to do with them – either the politics or the politicians!

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    • I’m with you, Carol. a royalist, and probably for the same reason. So Richard would have had to fight both of us (of course we’d win!).
      The sword came from Kenilworth Castle – it was my Christmas present last year. It’s a William Marshal sword, a replica of his own weapon, and I really love it. Funnily enough, I’d like to get it an Excalibur companion one day too. 🙂

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      • I wonder if they still sell them in the Glastonbury shops. I haven’t been to Glastonbury for years now – I used to sleep in the car up at the tor and hang around with all the ‘new age’ people, many of them German and suchlike at the tor and in the Well Garden. It was wonderful. I think I daren’t go back now in case it’s all changed too much.

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      • Sounds a wonderful time. I can understand why you’d be wary of going back in case it’s changed. Nothing seems to stay the same for long any more. Sadly, I’ve only been to Glastonbury once, a long time ago, but I really must remedy that some time. It’s got loads of my kind of history and legend attached to it. And maybe even swords too. They sell them in the English Heritage shops, and I was tempted by a stunning Excalibur at Warwick Castle when I went there back in January. 🙂

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    • Thanks, Albert! Glad you enjoyed reading about my wander around the battlefield. These trails and pathways add so much to a good long hike across the landscape, and you learn so much too just by being in the location where the events happened. Hope all’s well with you. 🙂

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    • Thanks, Mike! Glad to make history come alive for you. Funnily enough, I feel as if I know them too, especially poor old William Herbert. Thanks for reading. 🙂

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  5. I’m glad you explained the War of the Roses. I always wondered what that was about. It’s interesting you felt an eerie chill at the battlefield all these centuries later. I have been thinking a lot lately about how the land where battlefields and massacres happened still seems to carry the energy of all that bloodshed.

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    • Thanks, Suzanne. The Wars of the Roses is a massive subject, but I was fascinated to find one of the battles took place so close to home.

      It really does have that eerie feeling about it, as do many battlefields. There are a few 17th century Civil War battlefields around Banbury too, the most important of which is on the Battlefield trail, namely Edgehill, and that apparently feels very similar. For years afterwards, people heard phantom cries and cannons, and there was a regular spectral re-enacting of the conflict in the skies above the site. People used to travel to Edgehill to watch it, and it became such a big story that Charles I sent a royal commission to investigate. The result was that the Edgehill ghosts are the only officially recognised haunting in England. So the residual energy from these events definitely does linger in the landscape! 🙂

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      • Gosh. What a story of haunting. Itsent shivers down my spine. I went to Gallipoli in Turkey and felt it was deeply scarred and troubled. I have similar feelings sometimes where aboriginal massacres occurred. There is so much stored pain and horror on this Earth. It needs to be recognised and healed I think.

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      • Definitely, Suzanne. I believe buildings can be spiritually cleansed, but nobody seems to think about the geographical sites that have seen so much trauma and bloodshed. Maybe the same cleansing should be done for these places. It does make me wonder how the Earth copes with all that stored energy.

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      • Absolutely. I think more of us are realising this at present. Clearing these places would be intense. I know I felt I took on the energy of a soldier in Gallipoli and had to do a big clearing meditation later. Once I felt his energy finally leave the Earth plane I felt so much lighter – and that was just one man! It feels to me like the Earth is stained with this stuff.

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      • Oh goodness, poor you, and poor him. And poor Earth having to carry all this latent trauma. It seems, then, that clearing the sites would be a very intense operation. I can’t help thinking it would be a good investment though.

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      • I thought about this overnight. I think there are lots of things we can do as individuals when we intuitively feel the need to do. I work with crystals but there are lots of ways of doing some clearing of negative energy. There are probably groups in the UK who work in that way. You might even find like minded people within the historical circles

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  6. Hey _ I am getting caught up on my blog rounds – and look forward to it!

    and here – oh my goodness – the sword photo was so fun
    — and I love how some fo the captions under the photos allow for a pause and a thought in the post and a takeaway was this
    “Leaving Cropredy along a pretty stretch of the Oxford canal”
    it was a pretty stretch

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