The battle of Ludford Bridge

Today on our new blog page The Commons in the Wars of the Roses, Dr Simon Payling, Senior Research Fellow for the Commons 1461-1504 project, details the Battle of Ludford Bridge which took place on 12 October 1459…

In the autumn of 1459 years of uneasy truce between the factions of York and Lancaster ended in dramatic fashion. The Yorkist lords rose in rebellion, motivated either by a ruthless desire to seize control of the King and his government or by the fear that their lives and lands were endangered by the increasing militancy of the Lancastrian regime (in which effective power lay with the queen-consort, Margaret of Anjou, rather than the King). The truth probably lies somewhere between these extremes, but, whatever their motivation, they suffered a humiliating reverse. 

At the outset, their plan was audacious. They sought to bring their forces together, with Richard, duke of York, coming from his castle of Ludlow on the Welsh Marches, Richard Neville, earl of Salisbury, from his castle of Middleham in north Yorkshire, and Salisbury’s son, Richard, earl of Warwick, from Calais, where he was captain. It is not known where they originally intended to rendezvous: it may have been the earl of Warwick’s great castle at Warwick, near the royal castle at Kenilworth, where the King spent most of his time. This plan was, however, soon modified by the speed and completeness of the Lancastrian response. Warwick, travelling across the country from Kent, had too few men to risk a confrontation with a royalist army in the vicinity of Warwick, so he diverted to meet with the duke at Ludlow. His father was not so successful in avoiding a battle. 

Departing from his first path, he too made for Ludlow and was intercepted by a Lancastrian force under James Tuchet, Lord Audley, at Blore Heath in Staffordshire on 23 Sept. His victory there did little to disguise the weakness of the Yorkist position. Indeed, in one important sense it made that position worse.  Having engaged with a royal army, albeit one in which the King himself was not present, the Yorkists could no longer portray themselves as mere reformers of royal government, anxious to protect the King and the realm from what they saw as ‘evil’ councillors.  Rather they now appeared as traitors in open rebellion. This might not have mattered so much had they not been seriously outnumbered by the main royal army. A series of manoeuvres followed in which they sought to avoid battle, advancing to Worcester, where they made a declaration of loyalty to the King in the cathedral, before retreating back to Ludlow in face of the royal advance. 

The evening of 12 October found them drawn up in a defensive position at Ludford Bridge on the river Teme, below Ludlow Castle. Defensive position or not, however, they can have had no doubt that they faced defeat. Fears about taking up arms in face of the King’s person had brought about defections from their ranks, including those of their most professional troops, brought from the Calais garrison by Warwick. The violence of Blore Heath had removed the option of a surrender on terms, such as had ended York’s Dartford rising of 1452, for the King was not prepared to extend his pardon to Salisbury.  The only option was an ignominious one. By the morning of 13 October the Yorkist lords had fled, the duke of York making his way across Wales to Ireland and the Neville earls, accompanied by York’s son, the earl of March (soon to be Edward IV), to the south coast and thence to Calais. The duke of York could hardly have suffered a greater humiliation, not only abandoning his town of Ludlow to the plunder of the Lancastrian army but leaving his wife to fall into Lancastrian hands. At least, however, he and his allies lived to fight another day.

Ludford Bridge

The confrontation between York and Lancaster now shifted from the military to the parliamentary sphere. On 9 October, as the King made his way to Ludlow, the Lancastrian government had been so confident of victory that it had issued writs summoning Parliament to meet at Coventry on 20 November. There can be little doubt that the decision had already been taken to confiscate the estates of the Yorkists through the parliamentary process of attainder. The first of the elections was speedily held. On 13 October, notwithstanding the event of the previous night, hustings convened at Hereford, some 23 miles from Ludford Bridge. Although two Lancastrians were elected, Sir John Barre and the influential lawyer, Thomas Fitzharry, it is remarkable that, among those present, were the duke of York’s receiver-general, John Milewater, and Thomas Bromwich, one of the leaders of the local Yorkist faction. It is thus likely that several of those gathered at the hustings had been on opposing sides at Ludford Bridge the day before.

The elections held in other counties over the next five weeks had similar results. The overwhelming proportion of those elected were, if not partisans of the Lancastrian cause, then at least sympathetic to it. This was a reflection of the prevailing political climate rather than the product of the electoral interference of the government, but the result was the same. The Yorkist lords, and several of their lesser supporters, were duly attainted and their extensive estates taken into royal hands.  Their defeat appeared complete, and had they stood and fought at Ludford, it probably would have been. As it transpired, their safe havens abroad and the support they enjoyed in London and Kent laid the basis for their successful invasion in the summer of 1460. The rout of Ludford had merely masked the fundamental weaknesses of the Lancastrian regime.

S.J.P.

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