In the aftermath of Wakefield on December 30 1460, the Lancastrians must have believed that their way to London, reclamation of Henry VI and the crown was only a matter of time. Their march south would lead them back to St Albans. A second battle would be fought and they would vanquish the Yorkists but they never gained access to London. More on that anon.
Edward, Richard of York’s son, known until this point as the Earl of March heard about his father’s and his brother’s deaths whilst he was raising troops on the Welsh border near Ludlow.
On 2nd February a parhelion was seen in the sky. Essentially a parhelion is what appears in the sky when light refracts off ice crystals high in the sky. The refracting light creates an illusion – in this instance of three suns.
It could have been a disaster for eighteen-year-old Edward. His men were superstitious. They could easily have read the signs in the sky as an omen of disaster. Instead, Edward declared that “the sun in splendour” was a sign that the Almighty favoured his cause. The English Chronicle details Edward’s motivational speech on the topic:
The noble erle Edward thaym comforted and sayde, “Beethe of good comfort, and dredethe not; thys ys a good sygne, for these iij sonys betoken the Fader, the Sone, and the Holy Gost, and therefore late vs haue a good harte, and in the name of Almyghtye God go we agayns oure enemyes.
Aside from a quick mind and a way with words Edward also had geography on his side. He knew the area and he was already in position – so he got to choose where he met with the Lancastrians led by Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke and James Butler, Earl of Wiltshire and of Ormond whose army moved to intercept young Edward. He selected a position with a river on his left flank and a steeply wooded slope on his right. This meant that he could not be outflanked.
It should be noted that James Butler, an Irish noble, had plenty of Irish soldiers or kerns amongst his troops. This was an added incentive for the Yorkists. Locally recruited their wives, mothers, daughters, sisters and sweethearts would have been in their minds. The Sack of Ludlow in 1459 must have been in everyone’s minds.
The English Chronicle and William of Worcester are the key sources for what happened at Mortimer’s Cross on February 3rd and they aren’t what you might describe as military historians and neither do they always agree.
Essentially medieval battles usually began in a flurry of arrows. There would have been a charge and hand to hand fighting. Edward, taking advantage of his height, fought with a pole-axe.
Ultimately the Lancastrians broke. It’ said that James Butler was one of the first to flee the field. He has a bit of a reputation for leaving the party before it’s over during the Wars of the Roses, though oddly Jasper Tudor who also presumably did a runner leaving his elderly father on the battle field, doesn’t suffer from the same reputation.
Gregory’s Chronicle gives an account of the dignity with which Owen Tudor met his end. Unable to believe that he was to be executed until his collar was torn from his doublet he died, it is said, thinking of Katherine of Valois. Edward and his men left Owen’s head at the market cross in Hereford where a “madwoman” washed it and surrounded it with lit candles. Owen was paying for the execution by Lord Clifford of Edward’s brother Edmund, Earl of Rutland a month earlier at Wakefield.