North of England and the Wars of the Roses
- Although far from LONDON and subject to the raids and disorders that were endemic on the Scottish border, the northern counties of England played a larger role in the WARS OF THE ROSES than the region’s relative lack of wealth and population seemed to warrant. During the conflict, the region witnessed four battles, including various Lancastrian and Scottish incursions in the early 1460s; supported several important uprisings, such as the ROBIN OF REDESDALE REBELLION in 1469; and provided numerous recruits to armies of both sides, but especially to the forces of the house of LANCASTER. The north was also the scene of the NEVILLE-PERCY FEUD, a violent quarrel between the region’s two most influential families, which created the political alignments that provided the houses of Lancaster and YORK with vital military resources.Although occupying a quarter of the total land area of fifteenth-century England, the six northern counties of Cumberland, Durham, Lancashire, Northumberland, Westmorland, and Yorkshire held only about 15 percent of the country’s population, with about twothirds of that number resident in Yorkshire. Since the start of the century, political and social dominance in the region had been shared by two noble families—the Nevilles and the Percies. Both families were charged by the Crown with the defense of the northern border, with the Nevilles usually holding the wardenship of the West March and the Percies the wardenship of the East March. In the early 1450s, the NEVILLE FAMILY was headed by Richard NEVILLE, earl of Salisbury, and his eldest son, Richard NEVILLE, earl of Warwick, while the Percies were headed by Henry PERCY, second earl of Northumberland. The outbreak of a feud between the RETAINERS and younger sons and brothers of these men threw the region into disorder, as each side harassed the tenants and vandalized the property of the other. A dangerous encounter at HEWORTH in 1453 and a pitched battle at STAMFORD BRIDGE in 1454 caused the two families to arrange themselves on opposite sides in the national political rivalry then developing between Richard PLANTAGENET, duke of York, and Edmund BEAUFORT, duke of Somerset. When the forces of York and the Nevilles slew Somerset and Northumberland at the Battle of ST.ALBANS in 1455, the Percies became firm adherents of the house of Lancaster, while the Nevilles committed themselves to the house of York.Besides the Percy influence, support for Lancaster was strong in the region because the Duchy of Lancaster lands, which had belonged to the dynasty before it took the throne, were centered in Lancashire. Even the senior branch of the Neville family, headed by Ralph Neville, earl of Westmorland, was strongly Lancastrian. Upon publication of the Act of ACCORD in 1460, most of the northern PEERAGE declared for HENRY VI. This northern discontent drew York and Salisbury into the region, where a northern army jointly commanded by Henry PERCY, third earl of Northumberland, slew them at the Battle of WAKEFIELD in December. Returning from SCOTLAND,Queen MARGARET OF ANJOU joined this force and led it toward London, where traditional southern fears of wild and uncouth northerners combined with Yorkist PROPAGANDA to exaggerate tales of plunder by northern soldiers and assist York’s son, EDWARD IV, in securing the capital in March 1461 (see March on London). Besides Northumberland, so many northern Lancastrians were slain in Yorkshire at the subsequent Battle of TOWTON that ten years later Edward IV could still raise little support in the region.Between 1461 and 1464, the northeastern counties of Durham and Northumberland remained an ongoing war zone. During the period, the Yorkist government mounted several campaigns into the region—to resist Lancastrian incursions from Scotland; to meet French MERCENARIES hired by Margaret of Anjou; to besiege Lancastrian garrisons holding the castles of ALNWICK, BAMBURGH, and DUNSTANBURGH; and to stem a Scottish invasion. In early 1464, after a Lancastrian campaign had overrun most of Northumberland, John NEVILLE, Lord Montagu, defeated the forces of Henry BEAUFORT, duke of Somerset, at the Battles of HEDGELEY MOOR and HEXHAM, thereby ending the war in the north and bringing the region under Yorkist control. In the mid-1460s, Henry VI, having been expelled from Scotland, wandered the region under the protection of Lancastrian GENTRY until his capture in 1465.In 1469,Warwick used his family’s regional influence to stir up several northern rebellions against Edward IV. In 1470, Warwick combined the extensive Neville AFFINTY with lingering regional allegiance to the house of Lancaster to unite the north behind the overthrow of Edward IV and the READEPTION of Henry VI (see Edward IV, Overthrow of). However,Warwick’s death at the Battle of BARNET in 1471 created a power vacuum in the north. After the Yorkist restoration (see North of England and the Wars of the Roses; Edward IV, Restoration of), Edward IV filled that vacuum by handing oversight of the region to his brother, Richard, duke of Gloucester, the husband of Warwick’s daughter, Anne NEVILLE. As Warwick’s heir, Gloucester tried to win the loyalty of traditional Neville retainers for the house of York. Governing from Middleham Castle in Yorkshire, Gloucester gradually built up his own northern affinity, which in 1483 provided many of the chief supporters for his usurpation of the throne as RICHARD III. The COUNCIL that had helped Gloucester govern the north was, after his accession, reconstituted as a formal organ of northern government known as the Council of the North. This body was later adopted and modified by HENRY VII, who used it and his Lancastrian blood to win the allegiance of the north to the house of TUDOR.Further Reading: Dockray, Keith,“The Political Legacy of Richard III in Northern England,” in Ralph A. Griffiths and James Sherborne, eds., Kings and Nobles in the Later Middle Ages (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986), pp. 205–227; Pollard, A. J., ed., The North of England in the Reign of Richard III (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995); Storey,R. L.,“The North of England,” in S. B. Chrimes,C.D. Ross, and Ralph A. Griffiths, eds., Fifteenth Century England, 1399-1509 (Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Alan Sutton Publishing, 1995), pp. 129–144.
Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. John A.Wagner. 2001.
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