Four of my personal favourite places with WOTR associations (in no particular order).
1) Ludlow. I have a very fond regard for this handsome and ancient Shropshire market town in its own right. The wealth of historic buildings, the beautiful setting with Ludford Bridge and the rivers Teme and Lugg, an impressive choice of pubs, restaurants and tearooms, shops, craft galleries and the lively market are more than enough to charm any casual visitor. Beyond that, however, lies a very strong association with some of the key players in the Wars of the Roses.
The most obvious feature as one approaches the town is the huge and impressive castle, seat of the Mortimer family for many years until the male line expired and it passed to Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York, through his mother, Anne Mortimer, as part of the vast estate accompanying the Earldom of March. Richard became the foremost noble in the land, second only to King Henry VI in wealth and influence. Ludlow was very much York’s seat of power and the centre of government for the surrounding land. It was to Ludlow Castle that Richard and his family repaired when he and his principal allies had pointedly been left out of the invitations to a Great Council in Coventry in the summer of 1459 by a hostile and scheming Queen Margaret. Without wishing to give too much away the events which followed are touched upon in The Claimant, the tense build-up to what turned out to be a farcical rout informing the opening chapter of the book.
2) Sandal Castle, Wakefield. I always feel a certain sadness when I visit this place. The first time I read about the events of the Wars of the Roses I felt that for all his faults Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, had a bit of a rough deal. He served King Henry faithfully for many years, even lending him money which was never fully repaid, but he always had to play second fiddle to Margaret and Henry’s court favourites. He fled to Ireland after the debacle at Ludford Bridge but returned to London in the wake of a Yorkist victory secured by his ally, the Earl of Warwick, at Northampton in July 1460. His theatrical attempt to lay claim to the Throne garnered a lukewarm response, although it eventually saw him declared heir upon King Henry’s death, Queen Margaret’s son Edward being disinherited by the Act of Accord. A furious Margaret began raising support in Wales while Lancastrian forces in the North began attacking estates belonging to the Duke of York. Richard hurried northward to their aid, setting himself in Sandal Castle on high ground with a commanding view down to the River Calder. A stalemate developed, with Richard’s immured forces surrounded by a Lancastrian army. It was at the very end of December that, for some reason, Richard led a sortie from the safety of the castle (most probably to try to replenish their dwindling victuals). It seems he must have failed to realise the Lancastrians’ true strength, for the Yorkists were outnumbered, surrounded and slaughtered. Richard himself fought bravely to the end, being hacked down within sight of his northern stronghold. A vengeful Queen Margaret had his head impaled on a spike on Micklegate Bar in the city of York, with a paper crown placed mockingly upon it.
Only jagged ruins remain at the site today, but the dry moat, coupled with the very steep slopes leading to the principal buildings still give a very good idea of its defensive capabilities. The views on a fine day are expansive and there is a well-kept visitor centre. A few hundred yards from the castle itself, built into the wall of a Primary School, is a monument to Richard at the spot where he is said to have fallen. In a cruelly ironic twist the last time I visited the monument Richard’s head was missing. I do hope they find it one day.
3) Tewkesbury is another ancient market town with a strong tie to the Wars of the Roses. Close to the confluence of the rivers Severn and Avon, Tewkesbury was the scene of what was effectively the extinguishing of the House of Lancaster in May 1471. Lancastrian forces under the Earl of Warwick had been crushed three weeks previously at Barnet. Warwick, who had recently and quite astonishingly sworn his allegiance to his former enemy Queen Margaret, had been killed in the fighting. If Margaret, having landed at Weymouth on the same day as her ally’s disastrous defeat, still hoped to score a decisive victory her first requirement was to head northwards and join forces with another Lancastrian army headed by Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke. The race was on – Margaret pushing her troops hard to reach the Severn crossing at Gloucester and Edward urging his men ever westwards from London in an attempt to cut her off from her reinforcements. At Gloucester, however, Margaret was refused entry. Not having the time to spare to take the city by force she turned her army towards Tewkesbury and headed for the next crossing at Upton-on-Severn. Edward and his men were in hot pursuit. After exhausting forced marches by both sides and a much-needed overnight rest the two forces faced each other on a hot May 4th. The fighting was bloody and at the day’s end the Lancastrians were defeated, Margaret was taken prisoner and her beloved son and heir to the House of Lancaster, Edward Prince of Wales, lay dead. Shortly afterwards Henry VI himself was quietly disposed of in the Tower of London. Thus ended the Lancastrian line of succession.
Tewkesbury charms today’s visitors with many handsome old buildings, the most exquisite of which is the huge Abbey, famously seen on newsreels in recent years surrounded by the floodwaters of the two major rivers that skirt the town. The tomb marker of Margaret’s son Edward can be seen in the choir. A signposted Battlefield Walk makes for a pleasant excursion, with information boards at intervals to enhance the experience. The highlight of Tewkesbury’s historical year is the Medieval Festival when hundreds of reenactors colourfully recreate the battle. It is an event I would dearly love to attend. So far work commitments have put it out of reach but one day, who knows?
4) Wales. Yes, an entire country! Some readers will be fully aware of the importance of Wales during the Wars of the Roses but others may not realise just how crucial events there were in shaping the course and eventual outcome of the conflict. Anyone who thinks this dynastic struggle was confined to England might be very surprised to read about all the movements, machinations and manoeuvrings taking place behind the scenes. Wales and its borderlands acted as a power base for a number of powerful noble families including Richard Plantagenet, the Herberts, the Devereaux, and above all Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke, half-brother to King Henry VI and the House of Lancaster’s most unswerving supporter. Pick a place, any reasonable-sized place, and there is a fair chance it will have some connection with the Wars of The Roses.
Denbigh Castle, for example, changed hands more than once during the conflict and the besieging of the stronghold by forces loyal to Jasper Tudor features heavily in “The Claimant” (along with a sizeable dash of artistic licence it has to be said!).
Harlech Castle, the lengthy siege of which inspired the famous song “Men of Harlech” proved a thorn in the side of the Yorkist cause for seven years – the longest siege in the history of the British Isles. Always worth a visit its mighty walls and commanding cliff-top position leave little doubt that it must have been a hard nut to crack.
Tenby, beautiful Tenby on the south coast of Pembrokeshire, looks positively Mediterranean on a summer’s day with its pretty harbour and its colourfully painted houses. During the Wars of the Roses it was another of Jasper Tudor’s strongholds, not to mention a useful sea port. He strengthened the town’s defensive walls and towers (still very much in evidence today) and although no more than a ruin now there was a sturdy castle on the headland.
Massive Pembroke Castle was Japer’s principle seat of power and no-one who walks through its gatehouse can fail to be impressed by the sheer size and majesty of the place. Henry Tudor, later to become Henry VII, was born in one of the towers here to his 13-year-old mother, Margaret Beaufort.
There are countless other places of historical relevance and even a few minor battles were fought on Welsh soil – nothing on the scale of Towton, but important in their context at the time nevertheless. Wales itself is a beautiful country to visit for any reason but if you do your research before you go and plan an itinerary of Wars of the Roses related locations I can guarantee you will have a wonderful time!
For as long as he can remember Simon Anderson has been fascinated by the medieval world, in particular the glorious triumphs and shattering reverses of the period in English history known as the Wars of the Roses. He has undertaken extensive research on the subject in both England and Wales visiting castles, battlefields, churches and tombs. Although not a member of any official re-enactment group, Simon has practiced archery using an English longbow, amassed a modest collection of reproduction weapons and armour and occasionally worn a complete outfit of 15th century clothes. He sees this as the best way get a true feel for the people of those times and give his writing extra authenticity.
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