March on London

(1461)
   By systematically plundering Yorkist towns and properties as it marched south toward LONDON in the winter of 1461, the army of Queen MARGARET OF ANJOU created great fear in the capital and across southern England. This fear, and the unpopularity it won for HENRY VI and the house of LANCASTER, allowed the Yorkist leaders to hold London and, with the city’s support, proclaim a rival king of the house of YORK. By mid-January 1461, the army that weeks earlier had defeated and killed Richard PLANTAGENET, duke of York, at the Battle of WAKEFIELD, was joined at York by Queen Margaret and the troops she had obtained in SCOTLAND. Although a large part of the Lancastrian force consisted of ill-disciplined northerners,Welshmen, and Margaret’s French and Scottish MERCENARIES, it also contained the retinues of Henry BEAUFORT, duke of Somerset; Henry PERCY, earl of Northumberland; and John CLIFFORD, Lord Clifford, the sons of men killed by the Yorkists at the Battle of ST. ALBANS in 1455. As the army marched south, the queen and her commanders, believing that they were at last in a position to destroy their enemies, encouraged their troops to pillage any lands or towns belonging or connected to York. As a result, Grantham, Stamford, Peterborough, Huntingdon, Royston, and other Yorkist sites on the army’s line of march suffered severely.News of the destruction spread panic across the south, and especially in London, where shops were closed, valuables hidden, and streets deserted. Always fearful of Scots and northerners, whom they considered wild and uncivilized, large numbers of southerners flocked to London unbidden, seeking to join Richard NEVILLE, earl of Warwick, the one Yorkist leader who seemed capable of protecting the south from Lancastrian pillage (see North of England and the Wars of the Roses).
   On 12 February,Warwick left London accompanied by Henry VI, who had been in Yorkist custody since July. Besides the men recruited by fear of Lancastrian vengeance, the Yorkist army included RETAINERS of the NEVILLE FAMILY; the retinues of John MOWBRAY, duke of Norfolk, and John de la POLE, earl of Suffolk; and even a troop of handgunners sent by Duke PHILIP of BURGUNDY. On 17 February, Queen Margaret’s army defeated Warwick at the Battle of ST. ALBANS.To make matters worse for the Yorkists, the Lancastrians secured the person of Henry VI, who was reunited with his wife and his son, Prince EDWARD OF LANCASTER. Without a king, the Yorkist regime was ended; with Warwick in flight and a Lancastrian army approaching London, the Yorkist cause also seemed at an end. What saved it was the quick action of York’s son, Edward, earl of March, who hurried east from WALES to join Warwick, and London’s fear of the Lancastrian army, which skillful Yorkist PROPAGANDA exploited by exaggerating the destruction the army had caused on its march south. Demanding supplies, money, and the city’s submission, Queen Margaret got the first two but not the last. After sending a deputation of noble ladies to the queen to beg her not to plunder London (see Jacquetta of Luxembourg), city authorities agreed to admit a small Lancastrian contingent. But sentiment in the capital was strongly pro-Yorkist, and the citizens shut the gates against even this force. On 27 February, March and Warwick entered London to a joyous welcome. Young, vigorous, and handsome, March already seemed more regal to the Londoners than Henry VI ever had. Meanwhile, Margaret, unwilling to launch an assault on the city, withdrew her army into the Lancastrian north. On 3 March, the earl of March was proclaimed king as EDWARD IV, and the next day he was hastily crowned at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Thanks in part to the terror generated in the south by the Lancastrian march on London, the house of York held the capital and had a king who was ready to fight to secure his throne.
   See also Towton, Battle of
   Further Reading: Griffiths, Ralph A., The Reign of King Henry VI (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981); Haigh, Philip A., The Military Campaigns of the Wars of the Roses (Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Sutton Publishing, 1995); Ross, Charles, The Wars of the Roses (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1987).

Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. . 2001.

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