The Battle

The battle opened with an exchange of artillery fire which the Yorkists had the better of, having more ordnance than the Lancastrians. But Somerset, on the right of the Lancastrian line, was not intent on a full frontal assault. Rather he had devised a plan to attack the Yorkists on their left flank. Leaving a front line of men to screen his movements, he led the remainder along narrow lanes, obscured from the enemy by trees, to the base of a hillock to the west of the Yorkist left flank. Here they would have taken the Yorkists by surprise and at the same time as they attacked, Lord Wenlock, who commanded the centre Lancastrian battle, was also to have launched an assault. It was an excellent tactic, unfortunately for Somerset Edward had perceived the danger of an ambush from the woods in the park on this side of the field and had despatched 200 cavalry to keep guard.

Somerset launched his attack upon the surprised Yorkist left flank, but they recovered quickly and pushed back. The cavalry in the park now joined the attack upon Somerset, who was beset on two sides. To make matters worse the expected attack from Wenlock, which would have distracted the Yorkists efforts against Somerset, did not occur. The concerted attack upon Somerset’s division began to tell as they were gradually pushed further back before breaking and fleeing, some across the park and some across what is now known as Bloody Meadow. Somerset escaped and returned to his lines, where he is said to have angrily berated Wenlock, who still sat unmoving, and accused him of treason. It was not an unreasonable accusation given that Wenlock had already changed sides twice in the wars, and Somerset had every reason for anger. According to one account he brained Wenlock with his battleaxe ‘called him traytor [and], with his axe he strake y braynes out of his hedde’. Now leaderless in the centre, suspicious of treason and pressed by the Yorkists, the remaining troops broke and fled.

The fleeing Lancastrians were pursued to the town where many were cut down, while others drowned in their attempts to cross the river. Amongst those killed was Edward, Prince of Wales. Somerset sought refuge in the Abbey but was taken, tried and executed in the days following the battle.


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