Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Bloodshed Begins

On 14 November 1453, the first battle in the first of a series of conflicts that would be known as the Wars of the Roses within eyesight of the city of Durham. The Nevilles and Percies renewed their feud, but now in support of two different claimants for the throne of England. The two forces numbered around 3000 each and fought to a stalemate throughout the day, neither side able to get the upper hand. Then in the afternoon, Fauconberg with a force of around 500 arrived from the north behind the Percy positions. The sudden appearance of an enemy force to their rear sent the Percy troops into disarray. While trying to maneuver his forces to counter the rear attack, the Earl of Northumberland was struck down and not long afterwards his forces broke, fleeing the field and dispersing throughout the north. The Bishop of Durham then opened the city gates and welcomed his brothers Salisbury and Fauconberg while Warwick took some men and rushed south to Middleham to continue recruiting a force to secure the north for Yorkist cause. The news surrounding the events outside Durham quickly spread throughout England, soon there was new of other battles circulating around the country.

In late November, Baron Cobham raised a force from Kent and headed for London in the name of York only to meet a force led by the Earl of Oxford from Barnet resulting in a battled just south of London resulting in a standstill. A small force of London citizenry tried to help Cobham, but as they exited the city Oxford tried to storm the city through the opened gate. Oxford was pushed back and then had to retreat when Cobham attacked from behind, though did prevent the Kentish force from linking up with the residents of London, who retreated back behind their gates. In the southwest, the Earl of Devon had raised a force from Cornwall and Devonshire then led them across the county of Somerset and entered county Wiltshire. On 3 December 1453, the Earl of Ormond having gathered a force from Wiltshire in support of Somerset defeated Devon’s forces at Bradfort-on-Avon. However, bad weather the next day prevented Ormond from following up the victory and Devon retreated into southern Gloucestershire.

As Christmas Day drew closer, the succession crisis had turned into a civil war but neither claimant had personally taken the field in their own cause. The House of York had the victory at Durham while the House of Beaufort had the victory at Bradford-on-Avon to counter it. Both forces of York and Beaufort were at a stalemate outside London with men starting to raid areas around London to gain provisions. The reason both Somerset and York had yet to take the field was because they were actively trying to gain the support of the church and its blessing, however while some clergy choose sides others took the stance of the Bishop of London and supported neither. Soon both men decided it was time to take the field and after having personally gathering armies were about to take to the fields of England to win undisputed control of the throne.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Crisis Deepens

With two men proclaiming themselves his successor, Henry VI’s mortal remains arrived in London on 1 September 1453 with his half-brothers and his grieving wife leading the precession. His body lay in state at Fulham Palace that night then the next day proceeded to Westminster Abbey for his funeral and burial. Thomas Kempe, Bishop of London, presided and all in attendance waited during the eulogy to whom Bishop Kempe declared to be Henry VI’s successor. The bishop was the nephew of John Kempe, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and staunch supporter of the court party. The Archbishop Kempe, a politician first and hardly a bishop, had answered Somerset’s summon to Barnet and openly supported his claim to the throne. The Bishop of London, however was smart enough to know the city of which he presided over and wanted to keep his life, thus he pronounced neither Somerset or York as King during the eulogy. Henry VI was interred next to his favorite saint, Edward the Confessor, and London remained at peace for the moment.

Throughout September and into October, the two claimants demanded the other submit to them and by the end of the month had attained the other. Some nobles and magnates started to align themselves with either the House of York or House of Beaufort, by person or proclaiming it in nearest cathedral. The court party quickly supported Somerset, the two most prominent were the Earls of Oxford, John de Vere, and Ormond & Wiltshire, James Butler, and with them most of the bureaucracy of the Kingdom was at Somerset’s quick disposal. After Norfolk’s public support, York was soon joined by the Earl of Devon and Baron Cobham who had joined him in his 1452 campaign for reform as well as his brother-in-law, Viscount Bourchier, at Tewkesbury. Then news that Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury, and his son the Earl of Warwick, also named Richard, had proclaimed their support of York quickly sent their rivals in the North, the Percy clan headed by the Earl of Northumberland, over to support Somerset.

While others were putting their support behind either claimant, in hopes of power and influence, some nobles and magnates couldn’t make up their minds. An interesting case was Henry Holland, the Duke of Exeter, who was a descendant of John of Gaunt and possible claimant to the throne but also married to York’s oldest daughter. Exeter was strangely silent and noncommittal to the annoyance of his wife. Henry VI’s half-brothers, Edmund and Jasper Tudor, stayed in London with their sister-in-law Margaret, who had gone into sanctuary in Westminster Abbey feeling her life threatened in London. But the biggest seemingly neutral magnate was Humphrey Stafford, the Duke of Buckingham. A descendant of Edward III, Buckingham liked neither claimant and remained in his castle however he had learned that his son, the Earl of Stafford was going to go to Barnet to support Somerset. But after the Nevilles had joined York, Buckingham believed Somerset needed a miracle and stopped his son by holding him as a virtual prisoner until an undisputed King was acknowledged.

As the succession crisis continued into November all of England, both noble and common alike, could feel that a war was coming as neither claimant was backing down. It was only a matter of time when fighting would begin, even if it was winter. Then William Neville, Baron Fauconberg, sent word to his brother and nephew that the Earl of Northumberland had gathered a force and was marching south from Alnwick towards the city of York. The Earls of Salisbury and Warwick were both in Middleham gathering soldiers for the Yorkist cause when they received Fauconberg’s message and quickly marched north to meet the Percies. The two forces raced toward the city of Durham, though the Percies arrived first it was only an hour before the Nevilles did so as well, however it was just before night fell on 13 November and the two forces camped outside the city which had been barred by Robert Neville, the bishop of Durham, brother and uncle to the commanders of the Neville forces. For all in and around Durham that night, it was a night of unease.