The Battle of Wakefield – perfidy, trickery and spin.

sandal1-300x199Yes, I know I’ve covered this before but it is the 30th December which is, of course, the anniversary of the battle which took place in 1460. Today’s post is as good a time as any to deal with some of the confusions of the battle resulting from lack of clear primary sources and underhanded trickery which, in all probability, the parties involved didn’t want widely advertised, not to mention confusion and misplaced optimism  on the part of Richard of York.

Richard of York arrived in Sandal with 5,000 to 6,000 men just before Christmas.  The castle wasn’t big enough for that number so a large number would have had to camped outside the castle walls (sounds like an invitation to pneumonia to me). Some historians point to this as evidence of a festive truce between York and the Lancastrian Duke of Somerset. If there was a Christmas Truce it would have lasted until the 6th January.

The Lancastrians kept Christmas at Pontefract Castle whilst the Yorkists ate through Sandal’s meagre supplies.  It is reasonable to assume that both sides sent out for their tenants and supporters in addition to scouring the land for additional supplies (bet that went down well with the locals).  Richard also sent out a commission of array.  This demonstrates that he saw himself as the king’s representative because this was what monarchs did when they wanted to raise an army. After all the Act of Accord had identified him as the heir to the throne.  Somewhat bizarrely  Lord  John Neville, brother of the Earl of Westmorland presented himself at Sandal in answer to the commission of array that had been served on him saying that he wanted  rebels against the king’s will to be suitably punished (according to a Yorkist chronicle). He is also said to have arrived with a substantial army at his back.

The reason this is bizarre is that Lord Neville was the brother of the Earl of Westmorland. Ideally this should be nice and straight forward. Unfortunately he came from a branch of the family at loggerheads with the side of the family represented by the Earl of Salisbury  and the Earl of Warwick who were also Nevilles – or more correctly, the Nevilles of Middleham and key Yorkists.  There was a rift between the Nevilles dating back to the reign of Richard II.  The problem had arisen when Ralph Neville (the first Earl of Westmorland) married Joan Beaufort the daughter of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford.  It was a second marriage and a love match. The eldest son of Ralph’s first wife Margaret Stafford inherited the earldom of Westmorland but the vast majority of the money and estates were bequeathed to Joan Beaufort’s children leaving Ralph’s first family feeling somewhat aggrieved – just to add to the general confusion of the Wars of the Roses.  The Earl of Salisbury, the Earl of Warwick and, of course, Cecily Neville – Richard of York’s wife were all descended from Ralph’s second family (the ones what got the money) so there was no love lost between Lord John Neville  who now came knocking on Sandal’s doors (metaphorically speaking) and Richard of York’s extended family even though technically John Neville was the nephew of the Earl of Salisbury.  Inevitably a track back up various northern family trees reveals that the enmity between the two branches of the Neville family had its part to play in the sides that many of the aforementioned northern families chose to take in the conflict.

So – to get back to the matter in hand – keep Lord John Neville and his army in mind. They’re going to be important.

On the 28th December 1460 the Lancastrians- Somerset, Lord Clifford, the Earl of Wiltshire, the Earl of Devon, Lord Roos, Lord Dacre (who was related to the Earl of Westmorland Nevilles) and the Earl of Northumberland- left Pontefract and arrived on the outskirts of Wakefield the same day. Amongst their number was Sir Henry Holland the Duke of Exeter (York’s own son-in-law) .They didn’t have siege weapons which meant that had the Duke of York stayed inside Sandal then there would not have been a Lancastrian victory and it would have given York’s eldest son – Edward, the Earl of March time to journey from Wales to Yorkshire to provide reinforcements for his father.

It has often been suggested that Richard was rash in leaving the castle. Historians speculate that he supposed that his numbers were far superior to the Lancastrians or that he was taken by surprise when foraging for food believing that he was safe during a period of truce.  If there was a truce,  Richard of York should have been suspicious on account of the fact that that Act of Accord which identified him as the heir to the throne also stipulated an end to the warfare and that had been undermined on the road north when Somerset had accosted some of Richard’s men at Worksop.  Also why would you go foraging with every able bodied man?  In truth, Richard may have believed that he was about to inflict a crushing defeat upon the Lancastrians and simply couldn’t resist the opportunity.

Enter the skulduggery element of our tale.  Sir Andrew Trollope, a professional soldier who’d gained a reputation during the Hundred Years War agains the French,  is said to have arrived with more soldiers during the Christmas period  and it was given that this was the reason Richard may have thought that his force was superior. If this was the case Richard should have remembered that the previous year at Ludford Bridge after the Battle of Blore Heath Trollope had switched from his side to that of the Lancastrians.

The Yorkist commanders were Richard of York, the Earl of Salisbury and his son Sir Thomas Neville.  Sir David Hall, a long time servant of York’s was also there.  Hall’s Chronicle, a sixteenth century account, records that Davy counselled discretion but that York regarded this as a dishonour. It has also been suggested that the Lancastrians taunted Richard into leaving the safety of his castle.

In any event off he went to meet his foes on Wakefield Green – Lancastrians emerged from the woods on both sides of York’s men and Sir Andrew Trollope promptly changed sides as he had planned all along. A chronicle by Jean de Waurin gives a detailed account of Trollope’s perfidy. However, it’s not a straight forward case of dastardly behaviour – it could be a question of Yorkist spin. Haigh observes that de Waurin’s is the only chronicle with this account of events and that the man was a friend of the Earl of Warwick.  In short his evidence is unsubstantiated and not overly reliable. Another account suggests that Trollope’s men arrived wearing the Earl of Warwick’s colours to avoid raising York’s suspicions which again has issues of credibility and this part of his plan succeeding he then played an instrumental part in luring York out of the castle into the open.  Haigh hypothesises that what actually might have happened is that Trollope’s forces approached and York simply got the wrong end of the stick about whose men they were.

It is also plausible that Lord Neville wasn’t quite as underhand as I have just suggested.  It is possible that he arrived at Sandal  just when York considered taking on the Lancastrians. York seeing a Neville banner behind the Lancastrians simply thought he’d got them surrounded in his desire to do battle.  He didn’t stop to consider that some of the Nevilles didn’t feel very warmly to their Salisbury relations.

For an early History Jar account of the Battle of Wakefield, click here.

We’ll never know what prompted York to exit from the safety of Sandal castle or the real roles played by Sir Andrew Trollope and Lord John Neville (who incidentally, made no murmur about the execution of his uncle the Earl of Salisbury.)

Haigh, Philip, A. The Battle of Wakefield 1460. Sutton Publishing

 

2 Comments

Filed under Fifteenth Century, The Plantagenets, Wars of the Roses

2 responses to “The Battle of Wakefield – perfidy, trickery and spin.

  1. Gilean Glasson Cookson

    Many thanks for all your wonderful peeks into the more interesting corners of history. Looking forward to another year where British History gives me my morning smile.
    Best Wishes,
    Gilean Glasson Cookson,
    Gatineau, Canada.

    • My pleasure. Thank you so much. It’s nice to know you’re enjoying them. A very happy new year to you and hopefully I shall continue to turtle through the centuries.

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