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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
Barrett (1896) Battles and Battlefields in England
Brooke (1857) Visits to Fields of Battle in England
(1950) The Battlefields of England
Denise Guest (1996) British Battles
(1979) The Men of Cheshire and the Rebellion of 1403
in Transactions of
the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire
, volume 129, 1979
(1980) The Scottish Policies of the Percies and the Strategy of the Rebellion of
in Bulletin of the John Rylands Library
, 62, 1980.
(1987) War and Society in Medieval Cheshire 1277-1403
Survey (1999) Explorer Series 241 Shrewsbury, 1:25000 scale
Priestley (1979) The Battle of Shrewsbury, 1403
Ramsay(1892) York and Lancaster
Copyright © 2000 John Barratt
Written by John Barratt. If you have questions or comments on this article,
please contact John Barratt at:
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.
* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent
those of MHO.