The Battle of Barnet in April 1471 saw the defeat and death of the Earl of Warwick. A Lancastrian defeat was not the kind of news that Queen Margaret (of Anjou), wife of Henry VI, wished to hear when she came ashore with her son Prince Edward at Weymouth on the same day.
Her only option was to meet with Jasper Tudor in Wales. The Yorkist king, Edward IV, needed to prevent this from happening. The two armies came face to face with one another on the 3rd of May 1471. Margaret managed to avoid Edward at Sodbury and was heading for Gloucester when the armies finally met. A battle would be fought the following day that would see Margaret and Henry’s only child, Prince Edward, killed.
The Lancastrians held the land to the south of the abbey. Edward used artillery and bowmen to attack the Lancastrians. The Lancastrian right wing came to the aid of its center and caught the Yorkists by surprise. Things could have gone very wrong for Edward had not his brother Richard, then Duke of Gloucester, met the attack. As it was the Lancastrians found themselves caught on marshy ground and 2,000 men died resulting in the name of ‘Bloody Meadow’ being attached to the area of battle where the Lancastrians fell. The Duke of Somerset held John Wenlock (the 1st baron) responsible for the disaster as he’d commanded the centre of the Lancastrian army. The Duke who’d commanded the right wing of Margaret’s forces was so incensed that he killed his compatriot on the field of battle. The army fled, many of its soldiers killed in the fields and hedgerows where the A38 runs today. Other men sought sanctuary in the abbey.
However, Tewkesbury Abbey did not hold legal sanctuary status so the Yorkists forced their way into the abbey two days after the battle. They laid hold of the Lancastrians who sheltered there. The abbey church was so desecrated that it required purification the following month while the Lancastrians who survived the onslaught found themselves dragged into the market square where they were summarily beheaded. Amongst the executed were Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset (Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII was his niece) and his younger brother John. They were returned to the abbey for burial.
Prince Edward was also buried in the abbey. The other Plantagenets to find a final resting place in the abbey were Isabella (wife of the Duke of Clarence and daughter of the Earl of Warwick) and the Duke of Clarence, Edward IV’s brother who was drowned in a butt of Malmsey.
As for Margaret of Anjou, she was captured on the 7th May. She remained a prisoner until 1475 when a ransom was paid for her release.
Click on the picture to open up a new window for a BBC page showing a Victorian interpretation of the Yorkists and Lancastrians in Tewkesbury Abbey.