The Battle of Tewkesbury

Battle of Tewkesbury on 4 May 1471 might have ended the Wars of the Roses - but for the untimely death of King Edward IV in 1483 which handed the dubious accolade to the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.

The Wars of the Roses were a series of English civil wars for control of the throne of England. They were fought between supporters of two rival branches of the royal House of Plantagenet: the House of Lancaster, associated with a red rose, and the House of York, whose symbol was a white rose.

The problem was that there was no one strong enough to replace King Edward III. His son the very strong Black Prince had died before him, leaving the throne to his son Richard II who famously faced the Peasants Revolt of 1381. He was deposed by Lancastrian Henry IV who produced a very strong heir in King Henry V of Agincourt fame. When he died prematurely in 1421, however, his son Henry VI was too young and unsuited to be King. By 1455 he was deemed to be “mad”.

Then Richard, Duke of York, saw his opportunity to seize the throne. When died in 1461, he was succeeded by several strong sons. The heir was Edward IV who ruled until the Lancastrians tried to regain the throne for Henry VI, inspired by his wife Queen Margaret (of Anjou) and their potentially strong Prince Edward of Wales.

After years of exile in France, they decided to return to England to regain the throne and, having landed on the south coast, their aim was to link up with the army of Welsh ally, Jasper Tudor. The River Severn was their major obstacle and so the Lancastrians moved north-west to finding a crossing point. The bridge at Yorkist Gloucester was closed to them and the next bridge was Upton upon Severn.

However, they were pursued by the Yorkist army after success at the Battle of Barnet and so the exhausted Lancastrian army decided on 3 May 1471 to rush crossing the River Severn at Lower Lode - which was then shallow enough to ford in certain conditions.

This was the setting of Battle of Tewkesbury which has naturally dominated the attention of local historians when the heir was killed or murdered in Tewkesbury after the battle, Queen Margaret was imprisoned and King Henry VI was murdered in the tower of London.

The Battle of Tewkesbury then faded into national insignificance during the successful reign of Edward IV until his untimely death in 1483. His sons were deemed too young to reign and so their uncle Richard, declared himself Regent. The two Princes disappeared into the Tower and Richard III has been held guilty of their murder. This gave the opportunity of Henry Tudor, the Lancastrian heir, to return from exile and he won the throne as King Henry VII in 1485. The Wars of the Roses were virtually at an end.

Tewkesbury has commemorated its battle by naming many of the roads in Priors Park after the battle and by dedicating a school to Queen Margaret.
Nora Day

A Fresh Look at the Battle of Tewkesbury

This article, by Nora Day, was first published in THS Bulletin 3 (1994).
Anthea Jones

Leland and the Site of the Battle of Tewkesbury

This article was originally published in THS Bulletin 2 (1993).
Bulletin articles filed under War-1471-Roses
Leland and the Site of the Battle of TewkesburyAnthea JonesBulletin No 2 (1993)
A Fresh Look at the Battle of TewkesburyNorah DayBulletin No 3 (1994)
Romancing the Middle AgesSteve GoodchildBulletin No 5 (1996)
What Really did Happen at the Battle of Tewkesbury?Adrian FrayBulletin No 10 (2001)
Book Review: Battle of TewkesburyJohn Dixon & Sam EedleBulletin No 15 (2006)
The Battle of Tewkesbury in a European ContextSteve GoodchildBulletin No 29 (2020)
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