23 September – On this day
The Battle of Blore Heath was one of the first major battles in the English Wars of the Roses. It was fought on this day in 1459, at Blore Heath in Staffordshire, two miles east of the town of Market Drayton in Shropshire, England.
After the First Battle of St Albans in 1455, an uneasy peace held in England. Attempts at reconciliation between the houses of Lancaster and York had little effect. However, both sides became increasingly wary of each other and by 1459 were actively recruiting armed supporters. Queen Margaret of Anjou continued to raise support for King Henry VI amongst noblemen, distributing an emblem of a silver swan to knights and squires enlisted by her personally, whilst the Yorkist command under the Duke of York was finding plenty of anti-royal support despite the severe punishment for raising arms against the king.
The Yorkist force based at Middleham Castle in Yorkshire (led by the Earl of Salisbury) needed to link up with the main Yorkist army at Ludlow Castle in Shropshire. As Salisbury marched south-west through the Midlands the queen ordered Lord Audley to intercept them. He chose the barren heathland of Blore Heath to set up an ambush. On the morning of 23 September 1459, a force of some 10,000 men took up a defensive position behind a ‘great hedge’ facing the direction from which Salisbury was approaching.
Yorkist scouts spotted Lancastrian banners over the top of a hedge and immediately warned Salisbury. As they emerged from the woodland, the Yorkist force of some 5,000 men realized that a much larger enemy force was awaiting their arrival. Salisbury, instead of disbanding or withdrawing his army, immediately arranged his troops into battle order, just out of range of the Lancastrian archers. To secure his right flank, he arranged the supply wagons in a defensive laager, a circular formation to provide cover to the men. The two armies were separated by about 300 metres on the barren heathland. A steep-sided, wide and fast-flowing brook ran between them. The brook made Audley’s position seemingly impenetrable.
Initially, both leaders sought unsuccessfully to parley in an attempt to avoid bloodshed. In keeping with many late medieval battles, the conflict opened with an archery duel between the longbows of both armies. At Blore Heath, this proved inconclusive because of the distance between the two sides.
Salisbury, aware that any attack across the brook would be suicidal, employed a ruse to encourage the enemy to attack him. He withdrew some of his middle-order just far enough that the Lancastrians believed them to be retreating. The Lancastrians launched a cavalry charge. After they had committed themselves, Salisbury ordered his men to turn back and catch the Lancastrians as they attempted to cross the brook. It is possible that the order for this Lancastrian charge was not given by Audley but it had the effect of turning the balance in favour of Salisbury. The charge resulted in heavy casualties for the Lancastrians. They withdrew, and then made a second assault, possibly attempting to rescue casualties. This second attack was more successful with many Lancastrians crossing the brook. This led to a period of intense fighting in which Audley himself was killed.
The death of Audley meant that Lancastrian command fell to the second-in-command, Lord Dudley, who ordered an attack on foot with some 4,000 men. As this attack also failed, some 500 Lancastrians joined the enemy and began attacking their own side. At this point, all remaining Lancastrian resistance collapsed and the Yorkists had only to advance to complete the rout. The rout continued through the night, with the Yorkists pursuing the fleeing enemy for miles across the countryside. At least 2,000 Lancastrians were killed, with the Yorkists losing nearly 1,000.