Leland and the Site of the Battle of Tewkesbury

by Anthea Jones
For those living in Tewkesbury, the site of the Battle of Tewkesbury on 4 May 1471 has particular importance. It was a battle of considerable significance in the Wars of the Roses, a piece of national history making Tewkesbury's name famous; also much of the battle site is still open countryside, which can be walked over and considered in an historical context, provided further building development does not occur. The exact site of the battle is therefore of interest. Careful consideration of contemporary sources suggests it can be pin-pointed with some accuracy, despite uncertainties over the routes of roads into Tewkesbury at that date, and also over what buildings there may have been in the area.

Leland's notes are the most important source of information on the battle site. John Leland had been appointed 'King's Antiquary' by Henry VIII at a time when monasteries were gradually being closed. His task was to investigate and record the historical materials in monastic libraries. As he travelled round the country, he noted down details of the roads, distances, appearance of the countryside and other items which caught his attention. Unfortunately he did not live long enough to work his notes up into a fuller and more coherent form. Nonetheless, his material has been used many times, and all his notes were published early in the 20th century in four volumes; the Gloucestershire sections had been collected together and published in the Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society in 1889-90.[1]

Leland visited Tewkesbury about 1540, just as the Abbey was being dissolved. He listed a number of books in the Abbey Library, and made extensive notes from a history or chronicle. All such monastic manuscripts were dispersed and sold; many have consequently been lost, but historians and antiquarians also collected them and some collections have found their way into the British Library. Leland's notes from the Tewkesbury Abbey manuscript are headed:
"Fx libello de Antiquitate Theokesbiriensis Monasterii" (From a little book of the History of Tewkesbury Abbey)

The original version of this history no longer exists, but there are two copies, both 16th century, judging from the handwriting, and one apparently based on the other. One copy is in the Cottonian collection in the British Museum (Cleopatra CIII, f210), and the other was owned by Sir Charles Isham in the later 19th century.[2] The Isham copy breaks off abruptly in the middle of an account of the Warwick family, lords of Tewkesbury just before the battle took place. At the bottom of the page the scribe prepared to continue by entering the 'catchword', a word to be repeated at the top of the next page, but the next page was never written. The Cottonian manuscript ends here too, so was apparently a copy of the Isham manuscript. This was the source of Atkyn's translation in his Ancient and Present State of Glostershire, published in 1712. The Latin original was printed in Dugdale's Monasticon Anglicanum, volume II (1819).

Leland's notes, however, complete the history of the Warwick family, and then go on to note the death in 1476 of Isabella, Duchess of Clarence, widow of the Lord of Tewkesbury who succeeded the Earl of Warwick. Isabella was buried in the Abbey. This seems to mark the latest date at which the monk was writing his history, only five years after the Battle of Tewkesbury. The monk then seems to have written about the Battle of Barnet in March 1471 where Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, and his brother were killed, and he continued with the statement that the same year Prince Edward, son of Henry VI, came to Tewkesbury.

et Ostrava campum nomine Gastum (and entered the field called Gaston)

According to Leland's notes, he listed the names of notables killed "in bello Gastiensi prooe Theokesbyri" (in the battle of Gaston near Tewkesbury), and who were buried in the Abbey church. Without Leland's notes, this part of the monk's history would have been completely lost. The field name 'Gaston', therefore, was used by a monk of Tewkesbury Abbey to indicate the location of the battle, and was copied some 65 years later by Leland. Accounts of the battle, perhaps also contemporary, give generalised topography, as might be expected from eyewitnesses who were not local men; only someone closely acquainted with the farming of an area knows the field names.

Field names are often very persistent; they change in spelling and pronunciation over the centuries, but often they seem to reflect the observations of farming folk as long ago as the Anglo-Saxon period (pre-1066). 'Gaston' is a common field name; in Anglo-Saxon it was gaerston, meaning 'grass-town' or 'grass-enclosure'.[3] The Gaston field was named as one of the lands in Southwick owned by the Abbey in 1540.[4] It was still pasture land in 1632,[5] and had newly been divided into two, the northern part adjoining Windmill Hill and the southern adjoining Gupshill; it was 41.5 acres. In 1824 sales particulars of the Abbey House estates included a map which clearly named the Gaston field.[6] By this date it was divided into nine sections, which perhaps accounts for it then being called 'Gastons' in the plural. The following year a survey of the whole of Tewkesbury made in connection with a re-rating of the parish led to a large map being drawn and again Gastons is marked.[7] It was then measured as 40.75 acres. This shows how definite the boundaries of this field were. They are still visible in the road and field boundaries of today.

The major change in the Gaston field between 1471 and 1824 was the construction of the turnpike road right through the middle. This was probably about the middle of the 18th century. In the early 19th century, traces of older roads were still part of the landscape recorded on the map, and suggest that formerly they skirted the field. To the north of the main road, a housing estate has taken up the area of the Gastons, though the edge of the former field is marked by a footpath, running behind the cemetery. The houses facing the road are named The Gastons. To the south of the A38, the Gastons is still pasture ground, abutting onto Tewkesbury Park.

In this 40 acre field we may certainly imagine some of the fighting which took place on that day in May 1471. As a large area of pasture, the Gastons would have been ideally suited to the overnight camp of Queen Margaret's Lancastrian army. It was on rising ground, commanding a view of the approaches to Tewkesbury which the rival Yorkist army under King Edward would take, in their pursuit of Margaret. She had come from Gloucester, almost certainly by the Lower road which followed the banks of the Severn and skirted the Park.[8] As she reached Tewkesbury, she found the town unfriendly, and probably the draw-bridge over the Swilgate was raised. Tewkesbury's lord of the manor was the Earl of Clarence, the successor to the Earl of Warwick killed at the Battle of Barnet. Clarence was in Edward's Yorkist camp. Margaret's army was said to be tired after a long march from Bristol, and it was late. The army came round the hill at the Lower Lode Lane and turned southwards to find the Gastons close at hand. Edward, finding Margaret had given him the slip, marched through Cheltenham (described as a village by a later chronicler),[9] and so probably followed a road to Tredington. From there the Yorkists would emerge onto the ridge of downland a short distance from Tewkesbury, now traversed by the main road. Margaret's camp fires would be visible. Margaret herself could well have occupied the moated house site called Queen Margaret's Camp, a name which had long been attached to the site according to Bennett.[10] It would have been a convenient advanced post for her and her commanders.

Until Dyde's History of Tewkesbury was published in 1798[11] there seems to have been little doubt about the site of the battle, but Dyde placed Margaret's army in the Vineyards, which he said was notable for a fine echo, and Edward's in the Gastons. This ignored Leland's note that Edward entered the Gaston field. Since Dyde, however, several historians have attempted to rethink the armies' positions. Argument about the position of 'Holme Castle', the one-time manor house of Tewkesbury, led Col Blyth to place Margaret on Windmill Hill, amidst what he supposed were the ruins of the castle.[12] The Holme was more probably the moated area near the Abbey, which fits its name more precisely as a piece of dry ground surrounded by water meadows. The area was called 'The Crofts and Wynyards Moats' in 1825. (This site has recently been landscaped to make playing fields, and the moats which could be seen even a few years ago have mainly been obliterated). Near the site was a second great house called The Vineyards which stood in the 16th and 17th centuries, but was apparently burnt down and is now quite invisible on the ground.[13] It is ranked by a small obelisk. This and its associated buildings did not provide the open ground necessary for a medieval army of foot and horsemen to camp, or to run and ride about. There was a windmill on Holm Hill, where Tewkesbury Borough Council offices now are, and this area was definitely within Tewkesbury Park, which at the time of the battle and for at least a century afterwards was a deer park. There would probably have been high fences and hedges, and perhaps a ditch, making access difficult and the danger of being trapped quite significant.

Margaret's army was attacked as her men tried to move down the hill towards the Yorkists. Once the battle was lost her army could only flee through the Bloody Meadow towards the Lower Lode, where they might have hoped to escape across the river Severn on the ferry, or back into a generally hostile town. Bloody Meadow was within the Park. Those who fled this way and entered the Park were certainly trapped and apparently slaughtered. The road into Tewkesbury probably followed the banks of the Mill Avon, skirting the Abbey precinct and cemetery. It would have come into Mill Lane and then into Church Street. Some of the Lancastrian army followed this escape route and were drowned in a mill pond. The pond above the Abbey Mill was large enough for this to happen. Some reached the Abbey but were not saved.

The Yorkist Edward IV was established on the throne as a result of the battle, and his badge, the Sun, was put onto the ceiling of the tower of Tewkesbury Abbey. But the Yorkist triumph did not endure long. Edward died in 1483, and his brother Richard III seized the throne from Edward's young son. Richard III again faced the Lancastrians, this time under Henry Tudor, at Bosworth Field on 22 August 1485. Margaret's failure at Tewkesbury was decisively avenged; Richard III was killed in the battle and the Tudors ruled England for more than a hundred years.
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