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Battle of Shrewsbury

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The Battle of Shrewsbury
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The Battle of Shrewsbury
The Battle of Shrewsbury
by John Barratt

By the beginning of the 15th century, the English longbowman was one of the most effective killing machines in Western Europe. For over half a century he had dominated the battlefields of France and Northern Spain, winning for England's Plantagenet monarchy an extensive continental domain. The battle of Shrewsbury, described by a contemporary writer as "the sorry bataille of Schrvesbury between Englysshmen and Englysshmen", witnessed the dawn of a new and more terrible era in English warfare, when, for the first time in a major engagement, the English longbowman turned their deadly power against each other. It was a foretaste of the bloodbath which would follow half a century later in the Wars of the Roses, and would also provide William Shakespeare with the inspiration for one of his greatest plays - King Henry IV Part One.

The English War Bow

A great deal has been written about the origins of the English longbow, but much of that is actually either inaccurate or unsubstantiated. For example, although I use the term here for the sake of clarity, there is no evidence that the terms "longbow" or "longbowmen" were actually used in the Middle Ages- "bow", bowmen" and "archers" were much more usual descriptions. Bows had been used in English (and Welsh) warfare for centuries, and the evolution of the "great bow", a weapon of tremendous power, was gradual.

Despite their great role in history, no English medieval war bow is known with certainty to have survived. So we have to make certain assumptions when trying to decide exactly what they were like. The average war bow probably measured about 6 feet in length, and was made of yew. It probably had a "draw weight" of 80-160lb, and a range of up to 300 yards with lighter arrows, though less with some of the heavier-headed armour-piercing "bodkin" type which were increasingly used against armoured knights and men- at-arms

The battle-winning capabilities of the bow lay both in its range and more particularly the murderous effects of its high rate of fire when deployed in large numbers. A well-trained archer could in theory loose off up to 15 arrows a minute. Even though in practice a rate of 10 was probably seen as more than satisfactory, a massed formation of archers could produce a volume of fire unequalled in warfare until the early 20th century. Although well-trained English bowmen were noted for the accuracy of their shooting, sheer volume of arrows fired was in fact more effective in disrupting and bringing down enemy formations than was aiming at a particular opponent, which archers quite possibly seldom did. It has been aptly claimed, that, for example, an English army equipped with and trained in the use of the war bow might have devastated Napoleon's army at Waterloo with ease.

It was not, of course, possible to keep up such a rate of fire for long. The average archer seems to have taken with him into battle two sheaves of arrows, 48 in all. After these were gone, unless re-supplies came up from the baggage train, he would have to fight as an ordinary foot soldier with sword, axe or dagger. The archer had to win fairly quickly, or his effectiveness was greatly reduced. Fortunately he usually did, but, as we will see later, it may well be that arrow supply was a crucial factor in the Battle of Shrewsbury.

Archers (both English and Welsh) were used increasingly by English monarchs from the at least the latter part of the 13th century in their wars with the Welsh, Scots and French. To use the bow effectively, a high standard of training was needed, and the government frequently passed legislation theoretically compelling most of the male population to carry out regular archery practice. This was far from easy to enforce, and though at the start of the 15th century the majority of English and Welsh males probably had at least a basic knowledge of archery, the best archers came from areas such as the Welsh and Scottish borders, where warfare was still endemic, from the household troops maintained by the nobility, or in the companies of professional soldiers raised by contract for government service. Many of the part-time militia, raised by individual English counties for limited service in times of emergency, were armed with pole-type weapons such as the bill, or swords and daggers.

Seeds of Conflict

By the summer of 1403, the political situation in England had reached a crisis. Trouble had begun several years earlier, when Henry Bolingbroke, heir to John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, son of the great King Edward III, had been exiled by his cousin, the erratic and autocratic King Richard II. But in the summer of 1399 Henry returned, and supported by most of the leading nobility, overthrew Richard in an almost bloodless coup. Initially Henry claimed that he sought only the restoration of his own estates and titles, but, following Richard's enforced abdication, he claimed the English throne by right of descent. He would hardly know a moment of peace for the remainder of his life.

Plotting in favour of Richard would continue even after the ex-King's death (almost certainly murdered on Henry's orders) in February 1400. Rumours spread that Richard had survived, and, to add to Henry's problems, in September 1400, an obscure Welsh landowner, Owain Glyn Dwr , who would prove to be one of history's greatest, though little-known, practitioners of guerilla warfare, began a rebellion which would eventually engulf all of Wales and provide a festering sore for King Henry IV for the remainder of his reign. Further afield, conflict loomed with France and Scotland, facing the Lancastrian regime with more growing threats and its subjects with steadily rising taxation.

On his return to England, Henry had received vital support from the great noble House of Percy, headed by Henry, Earl of Northumberland. The Percies, hardened warriors, were the dominant force in North-East England, holding semi-regal sway in Northumberland, and with great estates in Yorkshire. The family were handsomely rewarded for their aid by the new King, and for a time their loyalty appeared assured.

But, by the summer of 1402, it was apparent that all was not well between the former allies. Northumberland's eldest son, the 39-year-old Henry Percy , known to history by his nickname of "Hotspur", was increasingly the military head of the family. Contrary to the impression given by Shakespeare, Hotspur was actually a contemporary of King Henry IV, not of his son, 16 year-old "Prince Hal", and was an experienced soldier. The King had appointed Hotspur as his Lieutenant in North Wales, but victory over Glyn Dwr eluded him, and Hotspur ran up substantial costs which King Henry seemed unable or unwilling to pay him. Percy gave up his command, and returned North, where, on September 14th 1402, at Homildon Hill near the Northumbrian town of Wooler, the Percy archers won a decisive victory over the Scots.

Far from reconciling differences between the King and the Percies, this success served only to increase tensions between them. Instead of following usual practice, and allowing the Percies to ransom their leading Scottish prisoners partly for their own profit, the King demanded them himself. Hotspur refused to surrender those in his possession, who included the famous, if generally unlucky, Scots warrior, Archibald Earl of Douglas.

Another grievance had arisen when the King refused to ransom Hotspur's brother-in-law, Sir Edmund Mortimer, who had been captured earlier in the year by the Welsh. Henry's rather unconvincing explanation was that he had no wish to fund Glyn Dwr's rebellion, but Hotspur suspected the real reason to be that Mortimer was uncle to the young Earl of March, whose claim to the English throne was stronger than Henry's own. A furious interview between the King and Hotspur followed, which contemporaries reported ended with Henry calling Hotspur "Traitor!", and striking him in the face. Hotspur stormed out, shouting "Not here, but in the field!"

Even now, for several months, reconciliation still seemed possible. In the spring of 1403, possibly with the idea of keeping his over-mighty subjects occupied, the King granted the Percies extensive lands in Southern Scotland. Unfortunately though, this gift was still in Scottish hands, and the Percies quickly realised that, wittingly or otherwise, King Henry had presented them with a poisoned chalice.

Hotspur laid siege to Cocklaw Castle, near Hawick, whose garrison agreed to surrender if not relieved by August 1st, but it soon became apparent that the Percies were in serious trouble. The Duke of Albany, Regent to the Scottish throne, vowed to lead a great army, magnified by rumour to 100,000 men, to the relief of Cocklaw. The Percies, greatly alarmed, appealed to King Henry for massive financial support no later than June 24th, in order for them to raise additional forces to meet the threat. The King, though he did promise an unspecified "certain sum of money", replied coolly, saying that the Percies ought to be able to cope with the problem without assistance.

In family conclave, the Percies perceived themselves to be in a dire situation. The King, whom they felt owed them his throne, was plainly unwilling to support their Northern ambitions. Instead, he had left the very survival of their existing power under imminent threat. It was probably sometime in the middle of June 1403 that the Earl of Northumberland, urged on by Hotspur, resolved to replace the unsatisfactory Henry as King with the young Earl of March.

Rebellion

With the threat of Scottish invasion looming, the Percies had to move quickly. Although no written evidence survives, their basic strategy is clear. The danger from Scotland meant that the veteran Percy troops in the North had to remain in place to protect the Border. To replace them, Hotspur, who seems to have been the moving spirit throughout, decided on a bold plan.

Within England itself, the main centres of disaffection towards the Lancastrian regime were in the county of Cheshire, in North West England, and further south along the Welsh Border in the estates of the Mortimer family, whose acting head, Sir Edmund, in support of his nephew's claim to the English throne, had now openly defected to Glyn Dwr.

It was on Cheshire, in particular, that Hotspur placed his hopes. Because of its proximity to the Welsh Border the county had for long been a source of battle-hardened troops. It had been granted special privileges by successive monarchs, and these had reached new heights under Richard II. He had recruited there his elite bodyguard, the Cheshire Archers. Richard was not the only English medieval monarch to recruit a bodyguard of archers, but his Cheshire guard had by far the worst reputation. They had a core strength of about 300 men, expanded at need, organised into seven "watches". Each watch was commanded by captains drawn from the lesser Cheshire gentry, who often recruited their company in part from relatives or personal retainers. Both officers and men were in many case career soldiers, often with considerable experience in the French wars.

Paid 6d a day, the archers had an annual income greater than that produced by many manors. The total cost of their upkeep, about £4,000 a year, came from the King's own resources, and their personal allegiance to Richard was marked by their officers wearing his personal livery of the White Hart, whilst the men had silver or gold crowns as their badges. The men of the guard had a fearsome reputation for lawlessness, robbery and murder, which were supposedly condoned by the King. While it is true that they received many favours from him, including grants of lands, and profitable positions under the Crown, there is actually little real evidence that their behaviour was any worse than that of other professional soldiers of the time.

A watch of archers, armed with battleaxes, was close by the King at all times, and guarded his bedchamber at night. An insecure character who distrusted most of his peers, Richard seems increasingly to have relied upon his guard for companionship. A chronicler noted: "They were on such familiar terms with the lord King that they boldly addressed him in the mother tongue [actually the Cheshire dialect, still heard within my memory] "Dycon, slep sicurly quile we wake, and dreed nouzt quile we laye seftow…"

Despite their promise, hindered by their master's indecision, the guard were caught off –balance by Henry's seizure of King Richard, though some of them apparently mounted an unsuccessful rescue attempt. Dismissed from their positions of profit, jobless, and burning for revenge, the men of the guard henceforward were foremost in attempts to overthrow the new regime. That Hotspur had good grounds to count upon their support would be proved when six of the seven watch captains, and most of their men , many wearing their old Ricardian insignia, fought alongside him at Shrewsbury.

Well aware that Cheshire was a hotbed of Ricardian sympathy, Hotspur's agents were in close touch with his old comrades in arms there throughout the early summer, and also with Owain Glyn Dwr. Hotspur had decided that Cheshire would provide the bedrock of his rebellion and the nucleus of his army. Not only was he assured of support there, but the rebels would gain the advantage of surprise and a jump-off point near to the heart of England. Hotspur could hope to obtain further recruits from the Mortimer estates on the mid-Wales border, and support from his new ally, Owain Glyn Dwr.

Glyn Dwr's strategy , except on rare occasions of considerable advantage, was to avoid "conventional" warfare between his generally lightly equipped forces and the English armies, and it is unlikely that he ever considered joining with Hotspur to fight a set-piece battle. Instead, early in July, a Welsh army of about 8,000 spearmen launched a major offensive into English-held South-West Wales, with the aim of diverting government forces there and from the Welsh Border. Taking advantage of this, Hotspur, with troops raised in Cheshire, would advance southwards 30 miles to Shrewsbury, headquarters of
the small force of veteran troops commanded by the 16-year-old Henry, Prince of Wales. These disposed of, with the aid of another surprise of which more later, the rebels would be able to replenish their limited military supplies from the stores of Shrewsbury Castle, and be masters of most of the Welsh Border. In the meantime, the elderly Earl of Northumberland would raise another army from his Yorkshire estates, and move south, with the eventual intention of linking up with Hotspur.

Unfortunately for the Percies, King Henry now unwittingly threw their plans into some disarray. By late June the Earl of Northumberland was at Tadcaster in Yorkshire, from where, perhaps in a last attempt to avoid the irrevocable step of rebellion, or to divert suspicion, he wrote once more to the King, saying that unless major assistance reached them soon, the Percies, "who are your loyal lieges", would meet with disaster.

Henry's response was not as anticipated. On receiving Northumberland's plea, the King decided to postpone a planned Welsh expedition, and instead to raise the Midlands militia and go with them in person to support the Percies. Wrong-footed, Northumberland at first replied that such aid was unnecessary, but then perforce agreed. The Percies probably reasoned that the King might be less of a threat if he could be isolated in the North than if he were in or around London, but it also meant that they would have to move fast. During the first week of July, Hotspur rode south, at the head of about 160 horsemen, including his own household troops, and the Earl of Douglas and about 20 of the Scottish prisoners, apparently attracted by the prospect of adventure.

Moving through Lancashire, and picking up supporters en route, Hotspur reached Chester, the major town in Cheshire, on July 9th. From here the call to rebellion went out to the men of Cheshire, and to Glyn Dwr's supporters in North East Wales.

The Race for Shrewsbury

With an eye to Cheshire's Ricardian sympathies, Hotspur proclaimed that King Richard was still alive, and that he and the Earl of Northumberland would shortly arrive. Rebel supporters were urged to muster on July 17th at the nearby strategic crossroads of Sandiway. The response was encouraging. Officers and men of Richard's old bodyguard answered the call almost to a man, many wearing their old badge of the White Hart. Considerable numbers of the Cheshire gentry, urged on by parish priests with Ricardian sympathies, also came in. They included many veteran soldiers, such as Sir John Browe, who had fought in France and Spain and alongside Hotspur in Wales, Sir Richard Vernon, and Sir John Massey, an old comrade-in-arms of the Black Prince and John of Gaunt. Such locally influential figures brought with them kin and neighbouring minor gentry, each of whom could muster a small retinue of armed followers, including archers, varying in numbers between ten and upwards of three dozen.

At the Sandiway rendezvous, no longer able to conceal Richard's death, Hotspur revealed his true programme; Henry had broken his word when he seized the throne, and had exacted illegal taxes from the people. The rebels vowed to replace him with the Earl of March, whom they proclaimed rightful King.

Hotspur headed south into Shropshire, recruiting as he went, though a number of those who joined would claim later that "they were prevailed upon by promises and threats". In an episode whose full significance is now impossible to know, Hotspur was also joined by his uncle, Thomas Percy, Earl of Worcester. Worcester was an experienced soldier who had been high in the favour of King Henry, had served as his commander in south Wales and had been Tutor to the young Prince Henry. He had been with the Prince at Shrewsbury, and it is just possible that he had been intended to capture both him and the town. If so, the plan had failed, but, in a potentially devastating blow to the royal cause, Worcester brought with him eight knights, 96 esquires and 866 archers from the Prince's army of professional soldiers. This was almost half of the total, and the loyalty to the Lancastrians of the remainder, with their pay badly in arrears, was uncertain.

The need to bring in more recruits slowed Hotspur's march, but the rebels remained confident, perhaps too much so, that they would reach Shrewsbury and deal with the remainder of Prince Henry's force before he could be reinforced by the King.

On July 12th, on the first stages of his march North, King Henry had reached Nottingham. Here he probably received the first reports of Hotspur's activities in Cheshire. The King's first thought was to return to London to muster an army, but George Dunbar, the confusingly titled Scottish Earl of March, an experienced exiled soldier who was serving the King, successfully urged him to take the immediate offensive. Gathering support as he went, including a contingent of Cheshire loyalists under Sir John Stanley, and ordering the militia of the Midlands counties to join him, Henry moved via Burton –on- Trent to Lichfield, which he remained until early on July 19th.

Sometime on July 20th, Hotspur arrived before the northern gates of Shrewsbury, but Prince and Henry's men refused him admission. The rebels prepared to assault the town, but before they could do so, the King and his army, arriving in the nick of time, entered the town from the south. Thwarted, and uncertain of their next move, the rebels withdrew to camp for the night a couple of miles to the north-west, around the village of Berwick.

Approach to Battle

Set on engaging the rebels before they could retreat to Chester, King Henry wasted no time, but on the evening of July 20th forded the River Severn at Uffington, and quartered for the night about three miles to the north, around Haughmond Abbey, from where he could threaten the rebel flank.

Hotspur and Worcester were now in serious trouble. Outnumbered, they cold no longer hope to take Shrewsbury, whilst any attempt to retreat northwards threatened the disintegration of their army at the hands of the pursuing royalists. The only alternative was to stand and fight. With memories of his defensive victory of the previous year when the Percies had occupied the high ground of Hambledon Hill, Hotspur looked for a similar position. The best available was a low ridge, up to 90 metres above sea level, extending for about two miles in a roughly westerly direction from the Whitchurch road, south of the village of Albright Hussey, towards the River Severn. Stationed here, Hotspur's largely veteran force, though outnumbered, might yet gain the victory.

The Battle

Though we know its general location, the exact site of the Battle of Shrewsbury is still unclear, although the situation may be clarified by metal detector searches for a forthcoming British TV programme. Most accounts have the armies drawn up facing each other at right angles to the Whitchurch road (the modern A49), with the present Battlefield Church roughly in the centre of the field. But previous sweeps of the area immediately around the church have produced no evidence such as arrowheads, whilst some local traditions place the fiercest fighting about a mile further west. Certainly the ridge rises quite noticeably a few hundred yards wet of the church, and, viewed from the south, seems to offer a stronger defensive position than the traditional site. With some caution, and the knowledge that forthcoming field research may prove me wrong, I am inclined to place the centre of the action here.

As is commonly the case with medieval battles, estimates of the strengths of the opposing armies vary wildly between 5,000 and 30,000. Evidence, especially surviving records of troops raised on similar occasions, inclines me to the smaller figure. Cheshire had previously provided between 1,500 –2,000 archers for royal service, and, whilst the rebels probably tried to conscript every available able-bodied male, support for them in Cheshire was by no means universal. The other main sources of recruits for Hotspur consisted of Worcester's defectors from the royalist force at Shrewsbury, and men who had joined the rebels from Shropshire and North-East Wales. Whilst no exact figure for the rebel army will ever be known, a total in the range of 5-7,000 men seems most likely.

The royal army was larger, though again no details survive. The Prince of Wales may have provided up to 1,500 men, and to these must be added the force with the King, and any additional militia levies which joined them. In 1405 a planned royal expedition to Wales totalled about 5,000 men, including nearly 1500 archers. In all it seems likely that the royalist army at Shrewsbury mustered about 10,000 men.

The rebel army formed up on the ridge, with the royal forces on level ground below, at 4-500 yards distance, just beyond bow-shot. Both armies were probably formed into three divisions. In the case of the royalists, the right wing was led by the Earl of Stafford, the King, with George Dunbar, commanded the centre, and the Prince of Wales at least nominally led the left, partly consisting of his Shrewsbury troops.

The rebel centre was commanded by Hotspur, and it is safe to assume that the Earl of Worcester headed one of the wings. The other was probably led by one of the more experienced Cheshire gentry, possibly Sir Hugh Browe.

Archers were sometimes deployed in two bodies, one on each wing, but at Shrewsbury it is more likely that they formed a continuous line, three or four deep, in a "chequerboard" formation, along the full frontage of both armies, which in the case of the rebels was about 800 yards. Behind them would be dismounted men-at-arms and billmen, with probably only the immediate household troops of the leading commanders remaining mounted, to act as a reserve. The royalist line, especially on its left, probably extended beyond Hotspur's.

It was midday or later before deployment was complete, and, unsurprisingly in a situation in which leaders of the opposing sides had once regarded each other as trusted comrades, neither seemed eager to begin the fight. The abbots of Shrewsbury and Haughmond tried to mediate, and Hotspur initially seemed receptive. The Earl of Worcester went to continue face-to-face talks with the King, outlining the rebel demands as stated in their proclamation. Henry responded that they should submit and trust to his mercy. The gap was unbridgeable. "We cannot trust you!" was Worcester's uncompromising retort. The royalists may have been deliberately prolonging talks whilst further reinforcements joined them, and apparently some rebels had deserted and come over to the King.

In any case, Worcester's response ended any hope of a peaceful resolution. "On you must rest the blood shed this day," retorted the King, "Forward Banner!" About two hours before sunset, battle was joined.

Arrow Storm

The action began with a general advance by the royalists. They had to move forward uphill, through a large field of peas (unlike today, the ground was unenclosed by hedgerows), whose stems had been woven together by the rebels in an attempt to impede the advance. As royalist ranks became disordered, Hotspur's archers opened a devastating fire: "so thick and fast that it seemed to the beholders like a thick cloud." The king's men went down "like apples fallen in the autumn…when stirred by the south-west wind." Royalists archers attempted to reply, but were evidently overwhelmed.

It was normal practice for an archer to carry two quivers, or arrow bags, giving him a total of 48 arrows. The average archer could be expected to fire at a rate of about ten shots per minute. Assuming that Percy's men opened fire at a range of about 300 yards, and that about 3000 archers were involved, they could in theory have fired some 60,000 arrows in the time it would have taken the Royalist troops to reach their position.

King Henry's men never got that far. Both Stafford's and the King's divisions began to fall back in disorder. Stafford was killed, and many of his men, including a number of Cheshire troops, made off, stealing mounts from the horse lines to the rear. The King's division, though shaken, managed to halt approximately back on its start line. Henry, Prince of Wales was seriously wounded in the face by an arrow, though he remained in the field to encourage his men.

Hotspur's Charge

To Hotspur, the situation must have resembled that at Homildon Hill in the previous year, when archery had smashed the Scottish assault. On that occasion the Scottish Earl of March had been with the Percies, and had prevented the impulsive Hotspur from quitting his strong position in pursuit of the fleeing foe. But this time he was in the opposing camp, and Hotspur's next move was to launch a general counterattack. He was still outnumbered, and his decision might be regarded as a disastrous mistake, a rash action which threw away all his advantages. But it is quite probable that Hotspur's archers had exhausted most of their arrows, with few reserve supplies available. If the royalist forces rallied, they might renew the assault and carry the rebel position by weight of numbers. Hotspur could not afford a mere defensive success; he had to smash the House of Lancaster decisively.

He came very close to victory. Spearheading the rebel assault were Hotspur and the Earl of Douglas with their household troops, possibly all mounted. The impetus of this charge of about 100 men "made an alley in the midst of the army". Their objective was King Henry himself. The royal standard-bearer was cut down, and one account says that Douglas killed two or three men dressed as decoys in the King's personal livery. Certainly King Henry seems to have been in some danger, and may have been persuaded to withdraw from the fighting.

However the rebels were still faced by superior numbers, for many of Hotspur's men had probably left the field in pursuit of fugitives from Stafford's division. At some stage in the confused melee in the centre Hotspur was killed, whether by "an unknown hand" or struck in the face by an arrow when he had raised his visor to see more clearly, is uncertain. The rebels, confident of victory, had just raised the triumphant cry of "Harry Percy King!" but now heard in response the ominous "Harry Percy dead!"

It may have been at this moment that men of the Prince of Wales' division, part of which probably extended beyond the rebel right, and had been left untouched by Hotspur's charge, wheeled to the right, and took the rebel centre in flank and rear. Shakespeare, of course, makes much of "Prince Hal's " decisive role in the battle. At the age of 16, he had already exercised independent command in raids along the Welsh Border that summer, but it is safe to assume that he still had some more experienced commanders to act as his advisers. The Prince was far from being the jovial trickster of Shakespeare's version. Such evidence as we have suggests that the cold and ruthless side of his nature which would later become more evident was already apparent. Neither, of course, did Hotspur die at his hands in single combat.

In any event, the intervention of the Prince's division was decisive. The outnumbered rebels either broke and fled, or were cut down fighting to the last. As night fell (made still darker by an eclipse of the moon) the battle died down, many of the combatants still mixed together and uncertain which side had won.

At dawn on July 22nd, , the extent of the royalist victory became clear. "Those who were present said they never saw and never read in the records of Christian times of so ferocious a battle in so short a time or of larger casualties than happened here." Probably about 2000 men were killed, not counting the many wounded who died later. Around 1600 were interred in a great burial pit on the site now occupied by the church of St Mary Magdalene. Others were buried where they fell over an area of about three miles radius. Most accounts agree that the Royalist forces suffered the heavier losses, though at least 200 Cheshire gentry are said to have fallen, along with an unknown number of their followers.

Aftermath

For the defeated, the time of reckoning. The Earls of Worcester and Douglas were among the prisoners. Worcester was executed, along with two Cheshire knights, Sir Richard Vernon and Sir Richard Venables. Douglas, who may have been captured after injuring his knee in a fall whilst trying to escape, was eventually ransomed. Hotspur's body, after being pickled in salt and displayed in Shrewsbury market place, was beheaded and quartered. The grizzly sight of his son's head, displayed at York, greeted the Earl of Northumberland, who, thwarted in his own plans by the prompt action of the Earl of Westmoreland, came to receive a grudging and conditional pardon from the King. The old Earl would continue plotting against the Lancastrian dynasty, and died in battle in a last forlorn rebellion in 1408.

It is said, that in the aftermath of Shrewsbury, King Henry sent to the Cheshire loyalist, Sir John Stanley, to ask what should be done about his rebellious home county. Stanley had received an arrow wound in the throat, "so as he myght speke rattelynge in the throate"" and advised vengefully "Brene and sle! (Burn and slay) Brene and sle!"

The King chose not to heed this suggestion. Cheshire fighting men were essential to the continuing war in Wales, and the Lancastrian regime sought on the whole, with considerable success, to win their allegiance by gentler means. Soldiers from Cheshire were a vital part of the armies of the Lancastrians in Wales, at Agincourt and throughout the French wars, and at Blore Heath in 1459, the gentry of Cheshire would lay down their lives for Lancaster against York (representing the "Mortimer" line) with as much devotion as half a century earlier they had fought in reverse.


The Battlefield Today

Shrewsbury is one of the lesser known English battlefields. At the time of writing it remains without interpretation panels or other aids to information, though this situation will probably change as plans for the celebration of the 600th anniversary of the battle in 2003 gather pace. The church of St Mary Magdalene, which is almost certainly situated on part of the battlefield, is a tranquil and peaceful place, surrounded by trees and hedgerows, and, although greatly altered since first built, is worth a visit. From the lane approaching it, looking north, the slope up which the royalists made their ill-fated advance can be seen clearly.

In Shrewsbury itself, there is an interesting museum, and the remains of the Castle can be visited. In the town centre, as a reminder of the battle's grim aftermath, a plaque marks the spot where the rebel leaders were executed, and Hotspur's body put on display.

View westwards along the lane leading to Battlefield Church. This area saw some of  the heaviest hand-to-hand fighting of the battle.        (Author)

Church of St Mary Magdalene erected on the orders of King Henry as a memorial to those killed in the battle. Part of the church was built over a mass grave of some of those killed.  (Author)

Assorted medieval arrowheads. 2nd, 3rd and 4th from the right (top row) and row below are armour-piercing bodkins.  The barbed varieties of arrows (bottom row) were frequently used, as they were difficult to extract from wounds (Museum of London) Later medieval illustration of the battle.  Note the arrows carried in the belts of archers, and the dismounted men-at-arms behind them (British Library)

19th century artist's impression of the death of Hotspur.  (Author)

Looking northwards from the viewpoint of the advancing royalists up the slope towards the rebel position, just forward of the crest of the ridge.    (Author)

King Henry IV (Author)

Henry, Prince of Wales, as a young man. Portraits in profile were fairly unusual at the time, and may be as  result of a wish to hide the disfiguring wound suffered at Shrewsbury.  (Author)

Map of campaign (Shrewsbury Borough Council) Panorama of the battlefield. The rebels were positioned on the ridge on the horizon, the royalist start-point was roughly around the line of trees and hedges (centre). Note Battlefield Church (right), and how the ridge rises noticeably towards the west. (Author)
 

Map of the battle (Author)
 

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Copyright © 2000 John Barratt

Written by John Barratt. If you have questions or comments on this article, please contact John Barratt at:
johnbarratt46@johnbarratt46.plus.com.

About the author:
John Barratt has authored many books to include: Armada 1588,  The Battle of Marston Moor, The Civil War in South-West England 1642-1646, and Cavalier Generals.

Published online: 5/23/2000.

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