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Battle of Shrewsbury
Part of the Glyndŵr Rising and the Hundred Years' War
Date 21 July 1403
Location Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England
Result Decisive royalist victory
Belligerents
England Arms 1405.svg Kingdom of England Percy Hotspur.gif Rebel forces
Commanders
Henry IV of England
Henry, Prince of Wales
Henry "Hotspur" Percy 
Strength
11,500 10,000
Casualties and losses
~5,000 ~10,000

The Battle of Shrewsbury was a battle fought on 21 July 1403, waged between an army led by the Lancastrian King, Henry IV, and a rebel army led by Henry "Hotspur" Percy from Northumberland.

The battle was fought at what is now Battlefield in Shropshire, England, some three miles north of the centre of Shrewsbury. It is marked today by Battlefield Church.

Contents

Background

The Percys had previously supported Henry IV in a war against Richard II, which ended when Henry took the throne in 1399. They subsequently supported him in Wales, early in the rebellion of Owain Glyndŵr, and in Scotland, in both negotiations and conflict against the Scots. King Henry IV had been supported by a number of wealthy landowners to whom he had promised land, money and royal favour in return for their continued support and when the war ended, lands in and around Cumberland promised to the Percys were instead given to a rival. This was enough to spark them into private revolt, which may have been increased when monies promised by Henry never materialised. The Earls of Northumberland and Worcester therefore publicly renounced their allegiance to the King. They charged him with perjury based on his claiming the throne instead of just his old lands and titles; his taxing the clergy despite having promised not to without the consent of Parliament; imprisoning and murdering King Richard II, and not permitting a free Parliamentary election and refusing to pay a just ransom, requested by Owain Glyndŵr, who was then holding Edmund Mortimer.

Henry Percy raised a small group of retainers initially (probably about 200) in early July 1403 and started the long march south to meet his uncle, Thomas Percy, 1st Earl of Worcester. Although some nobles, such as Lord Bardolf, joined him, he recruited most of his army in Cheshire, an area hostile to Henry IV, and which provided many experienced soldiers, notably its Cheshire archers, some of whom had served as Richard II's bodyguard. It appears that he may have hoped to be reinforced by a Welsh force under the self-proclaimed Prince of Wales, Owain Glyndŵr. This didn't happen, and it appears that Glyndŵr, at the time fighting in Carmarthenshire, was unaware that Hotspur had acted. Nevertheless it appears some Welsh forces from the Cheshire borders may have joined him. The rebels then marched towards Shrewsbury, the heavily defended county town of Shropshire.

King Henry IV himself only became aware of these developments on July 12, apparently while he was marching an army north to assist the Percys against the Scots and received the news at Burton-on-Trent. He may well have anticipated the Percys's change of heart but nevertheless instantly switched plans to meet the immediate threat posed by the Percys. He changed direction and marched west towards Shrewsbury with his army. Estimates of the sizes of the two armies vary widely, and the medieval chronicles are subject to the usual exaggerations. It is unlikely that Percy had more than 3,500 men and the King perhaps 4,500.

Both forces arrived near the town on July 20, 1403 and set up camp to the north and south of the Severn River, which loops around the town. Hotspur based himself initially at the house of a William Betton, his army camping close to the town. The next day the King's forces crossed the River Severn at Uffington, about a mile to the east of Shrewsbury endeavouring to cut Percy's line of retreat on Chester. This they failed to do and the armies took up position in a field that is variously named: "Haytleyfield", "Husefeld", "Berwykfeld", "Bolefeld" etc. What is certain is that the battle commenced in the manor of Harlescott about a mile south west of where Battlefield church now stands. (The owner of this manor, Richard Hussey swore to this fact under oath in the escheator's court in January 1416). The battle took place in a large field of growing peas.

For much of the morning the two forces parleyed. Thomas Prestbury, the Abbot of Shrewsbury was used by King Henry to offer terms. Hotspur declined any terms and Thomas Percy spoke to the King, trading insults. It appears that Henry Percy was somewhat inclined towards accepting the King's position, while his uncle Thomas Percy was not. Whatever the case, negotiations ended near noon, and the two forces advanced closer for the fight.

Battle

King Henry raised his sword. The battle opened with a massive archery barrage, arrows killing or wounding many of the men before they could meet hand to hand in the field. Of the two forces, the Percys's Cheshire bowmen proved generally superior. Thomas Walsingham recorded how the King's men "fell like leaves in Autumn, every one [arrow] struck a mortal man". According to the Dieulacres Chronicle the King's right wing under the command of the Earl of Stafford (who was killed) fled from the field. It is not impossible that far more than this wing fled as well, as there is evidence that some baggage was looted and after the battle the Cheshire rebels were "prosecuted" for taking some 7,000 horses with them. Prince Henry was hit in the face with an arrow during the fighting, sustaining a terrible wound. He later recovered due to the skilled treatment of the Physician General using honey, alcohol and a specially designed surgical instrument. He was left with a permanent scar.

However enough of the King's men remained on the field, particularly those on the left wing under the command of the Prince of Wales. Perhaps in desperation Hotspur attempted to address this imbalance with a charge aimed at killing the King himself, the Royal Standard was overthrown and Sir Walter Blount, its carrier, hacked down. However Hotspur was killed in the attempt perhaps being shot in the face when he opened his visor. His death was initially not realised, and some point soon afterwards the Northumbria knights hailed the death of Henry IV and acclaimed 'Henry Percy King!'. Henry IV was of course very much alive and retaliated by shouting 'Henry Percy is dead', the absence of a reply confirmed that Henry Percy was indeed dead. At this point the battle came to an end. It is recorded that many did not know who had won. The King's forces sustained much greater losses than the rebels, in fact Henry IV very nearly lost both his life and his throne.

Aftermath

Henry Percy was initially buried by his nephew Thomas Nevill, 5th Baron Furnivall at Whitchurch, Shropshire with honours, but rumours soon spread that he was not really dead. In response the King had him disinterred. His body was salted, set up in Shrewsbury impaled on a spear between two millstones in the pillory in the marketplace, with an armed guard and was later quartered and put on show in the four corners of the country. His head was sent to York and impaled on the north gate, looking towards his own lands. His quarters were sent to Chester, London, Bristol and Newcastle-on-Tyne. In November his grisly remains were returned to his widow Elizabeth. She interred them in York Minster at the right hand side of the altar.

Thomas Percy, 1st Earl of Worcester , Sir Richard Venables and Sir Richard Vernon were publicly hanged, drawn and quartered in Shrewsbury on 23 July and their heads publicly displayed, Thomas Percy's on London Bridge.

Battlefield Church is said to have been erected over the site of the mass burial pit dug immediately after the battle. It was built initially as a memorial chapel, on the orders of King Henry IV and paid for by him, with prayers and masses being said continually for the dead on both sides. The chapel was replaced in 1460 by a church, which was further restored in 1862. A drain being dug in a corner of the churchyard inadvertently may have opened part of the burial pit. Workmen were surprised by the mass of bones which they thought showed the hurried nature of the burials. It is not impossible however that they had merely unearted a charnel pit containing bones of a variety of different ages.

In 2006, the BBC show 'Two Men in a Trench' established virtually nothing at all except to prove that an area to the west of the church was not in fact a graveyard.

It is worth noting that there were two other 15th century churches associated with battles. The one at Towton, no longer exists while that at Wakefield does. Neither were built close to centre of fighting of the battles they commemorated.

The battle itself and many of the key people involved appear in Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part 1.

Notes

References

  • Barker, Juliet; Agincourt: The King, the Campaign, the Battle, UK: Little, Brown, 2005; ISBN 034911918X
  • Morgan, ,Philip J.; The Battle of Shrewsbury 1403 ISBN 0-7524-2563-3
  • Prestwich, Michael; Armies and Warfare in the Middle Ages: the English Experience Yale University Press, 1996; ISBN 0300064527
  • Maxfield, Stephen; The Battlefield of Shrewsbury ISBN 0 947805 36 2

Online:

External links

  • BBC Battle Bulletins -- An experiment in which the BBC produced "Battle Bulletins," providing updates and commentary on the Battle of Shrewsbury as if it were reporting on the actual event as it unfolded.
  • Battlefield 1403 -- The battle of Shrewsbury exhibition centre.

Coordinates: 52°44′51″N 2°43′07″W / 52.7475°N 2.7185°W / 52.7475; -2.7185

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