Towns and the Wars of the Roses

   Because the English had little experience or expertise in siege warfare, the WARS OF THE ROSES witnessed only one assault on a walled city (LONDON in 1471) and saw little battle damage inflicted on English towns. Because most towns sought to avoid the political penalties and financial burdens of taking sides, few made strong commitments to either party. Although most towns contained partisans of both the house of LANCASTER and the house of YORK, municipal governments tried to avoid all but the most token involvement in the civil wars. Small boroughs located in an area dominated by a powerful magnate often had little option but to follow his political lead; however, larger towns, being independent corporations, sought to remain neutral or to avoid association with the losing side. But neutrality was often difficult to achieve. For instance, in 1470, the town of Salisbury received both a demand for men from Richard NEVILLE, earl of Warwick, and an order from EDWARD IV to deny the earl troops. When Warwick’s representative refused an offer of money instead of men, the town sent the requested troops, largely because Warwick was nearby while the king was far away in the north. In 1471, Salisbury first promised men to the READEPTION government of HENRY VI, then offered the troops to Edward IV after his victory at the Battle of BARNET, and finally reneged on that promise when MARGARET OF ANJOU landed nearby. In the end, only fourteen men from Salisbury fought at the Battle of TEWKESBURY, having joined the Yorkist army as Edward IV passed near the town on his westward march. Although London denied Queen Margaret entry in 1461 and repelled the attack of Thomas NEVILLE, the Bastard of Fauconberg, in 1471, both decisions were based largely on the fear of being plundered; in most cases, a TOWNS AND THE WARS OF THE ROSES 271 town willingly opened its gates to a victorious army operating in its neighborhood. However, such decisions could have serious consequences should the fortunes of war change. Bristol paid heavy fines for admitting the Lancastrian army during the Tewkesbury campaign of 1471, and Canterbury suffered fines and loss of privileges for too ardently supporting Fauconberg’s enterprise. The desire to avoid disfavor, combined with an equally strong desire to avoid the expense of equipping troops, explains why towns supplied relatively few men to civil war armies. For example, the large city of Norwich tardily raised only 120 men for the Battle of TOWTON in 1461, but four years earlier had easily raised over 600 to defend the town itself from a threatened French attack. In 1485, the city of York, which claimed a special relationship with RICHARD III, provided only eighty men to fight for the king at the Battle of BOSWORTH FIELD. In general, the high political and financial costs of commitment kept most towns from active involvement in the Wars of the Roses.
   Further Reading: Gillingham, John, The Wars of the Roses (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1981); Goodman, Anthony, The Wars of the Roses (New York: Dorset Press, 1981); Ross, Charles, The Wars of the Roses (London: Thames and Hudson, 1987).

Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. . 2001.

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