The White Rose of York and the Red Rose of Lancaster had been in battle for the throne of England for quite some time. At the time of the Battle of Tewkesbury the Yorkists were being led by Edward of York, or Edward IV and the Lancastrians were being led by Margaret of Anjou, in name of her husband Henry VI and her son, Edward of Westminster.
The conflict began when Henry Bolingbroke (Henry IV) deposed his cousin Richard II. He held the throne rather securely and passed it to his son, Henry V, but when this famous warrior king died he left an infant as his heir. This was Henry VI. Henry VI claimed descent from John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster and third surviving son of Edward III. His rival claimant was Richard, Duke of York and later his son Edward of York, future Edward IV. They claimed descent from both the second and fourth surviving sons of Edward III. Henry VI had periods of insanity and catatonia and England was governed by his wife, the formidable Margaret of Anjou, though this did not go down well with everyone.
Edward of York was proclaimed Edward IV after the Battle of Towton in 1461 and what followed was a short period of relative peace. Margaret of Anjou and her son Edward of Westminster were forced to flee first to Wales and Scotland and later to France. Henry VI initially fled with them but was captured in 1465 and subsequently held in the Tower of London.
The Battle of Tewkesbury took place on 4 May 1471, shortly after the Battle of Barnet on 14 April 1471 which saw Margaret of Anjou and Edward of Westminster’s return from exile. It was the Lancastrians who arrived first on the 3rd May with exhausted troops. Edward Beaufort, The Duke of Somerset, led the Lancastrian army and decided not to risk a difficult river crossing just south of the Tewkesbury Abbey. When King Edward arrived the following day the Lancastrians were already deployed and in position. Despite this advantage and being slightly outnumbered, the Yorkists were on their way to victory.
During the battle, the Duke of Somerset led a part of his army to attack Edward’s left flank. Edward, however, had already posted 200 extra spearmen to protect that position just in case. This proved an excellent decision. The surviving army tried to escape across the river but most were cut down as they tried to flee. The Duke of Somerset allegedly bashed in the head of the commander of his middle line with a battle-axe, before seeking sanctuary in the abbey.
Among those slain in the field was Edward of Westminster, though it’s possible he was executed shortly after the battle by a group of men led by the Duke of Clarence. Also among the Lancastrian fatalities were the Duke of Somerset, who was dragged from sanctuary two days after the battle and executed, his younger brother John Beaufort, Marquess of Dorset, Hugh Courtenay and Sir John Langstrother.
Margaret of Anjou was broken after the death of her only child. She was taken captive by William Stanley at the end of the battle and later imprisoned. Edward IV rode through London on 21 May in triumph with Margaret beside him in a chariot. Margaret’s husband was still held captive in the Tower of London and he died or was killed later that night. Margaret was held until she was ransomed by King Louis XI of France in 1475. She died in Anjou on 25 August 1482.
With The Duke of Somerset and his younger brother’s death, the Beaufort line became represented by Lady Margaret Beaufort and her son Henry Tudor. Henry and his uncle Jasper fled into exile to Brittany.
Edward IV did not face any further major rebellions after the Battle of Tewkesbury, now that the Lancastrian line was practically extinct. What followed was relative peace, at least until Edward himself would suddenly die of an illness in 1483.
Photo Credits: By Tewkesbury1.jpg:[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons &By See description [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons &”MargaretAnjou” by Talbot Master. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.