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Medieval Battle Woodcut

The Battle of Northampton (10 July 1460)

THE BATTLE OF NORTHAMPTON (1460), was fought during the Wars of the Roses.

In 1459 the Yorkist lords had fled in confusion from Ludford, and Parliament had attainted them. In the summer of 1460 they returned to England, landed in Kent, and speedily raised a large army, with which they entered London.

Henry VI was at Coventry, and thither the confederate lords marched; the Lancastrians advanced to meet them, nd took up a position on the banks of the Nene close to Northampton. Here they were attacked by the Yorkists, and, after an obstinate resistance, totally routed.

The Duke of Buckingham, the Earl of Shrewsbury, and many others were slain on the Lancastrian side; the king was taken prisoner, and queen obliged to take refuge in Scotland. Henry was subsequently compelled to acknowledge York heir to the throne.

The Dictionary of English History. Sidney J. Low and F. S. Pulling, eds.
London: Cassell and Company, Ltd., 1910. 835.


Battlefield Map of Battle of Northampton, 1460

Although the government had received fair warning that discontent was rife all over southern England—seditious "bills" were being stuck up on church doors, and seditious ballads sung at street corners1—t had made no preparation to meet such a contingency as a serious Yorkist invasion of the south. The king and queen were as usual in the midlands; there was no force under arms in Kent, save the 500 men at Sandwich whom Dynham and Wenlock had just defeated. London, though known to be ill-disposed, had not been garrisoned. Apparently the completeness of the king's success in the campaign of Ludford had led the ministers to believe that it was unlikely that any large force would ever gather again under York's banner. That the lords and bishops who had refused to join the insurgent army in 1459 would do so in 1460 seemed to them improbable. Moreover there was, as usual, a dearth of money in the exchequer, and it would have been a costly business to keep a large force under arms all through the spring and summer, awaiting a possible invasion.

It was only when the small force that had seized Sandwich remained on shore instead of retiring to Calais, that Queen Margaret and her friends saw that the Yorkists meant serious business, and then it was too late to stop Warwick. On June 26 he landed, and joined his vanguard with 2,000 men; in his company were his father Salisbury, his uncle Fauconberg, his nephew the young Earl of March [later Edward IV], and his new convert Audley [John Tuchet, 6th Baron Audley], besides a papal legate—Coppini, Bishop of Terni—who, sent by Pius II to preach peace at the English court, chose strange companions for his journey. Before landing the invaders had published a manifesto, which set forth the weak governance of the realm, the loss of France, the "murder" of Humphrey of Gloucester, the exclusion of the king's relatives from his council, and their cruel oppression by the queen's favourites, the diversion of the revenues of the realm into the pockets of courtiers, and the leaguing of the ministers with the French and the wild Irish.

Warwick was soon joined by the whole of the Kentishmen, with Archbishop Bourchier and Lord Cobham [Thomas Cobham, 5th Baron] at their head. He pushed on without a moment's hesitation, and was at the gates of London on June 30. Next day the archbishop's herald summoned the city to surrender. Some Lancastrian lords, Hungerford, Scales, and Lovel, endeavoured to offer resistance, but the citizens drove them into the Tower, while a deputation of aldermen went forth to offer a free entry to Warwick and his host. On July 2 the archbishop and the three earls, accompanied by the legate, made a state entry into London. On the following day Warwick made an oration at St. Paul's, where convocation was sitting, and "recited the cause of their coming into the land, how they had been put forth from the king's presence with great violence, so that they might never come to his presence to excuse themselves of the accusations laid against them. But now they were come again, by God's mercy, accompanied by their people, to declare their innocence or else to die upon the field. And then they made an oath upon the cross of Canterbury, that they bore true faith and liegeance to the king's person, whereof they took God and his Mother, and all the saints of heaven to witness."2

The earl brought batteries to bear on the Tower from the side of St. Katharine's wharf, and commenced a regular siege. He then called out the whole available force of the Yorkist faction. Great succours came in; the invaders were joined by the Bishops of Rochester, Salisbury, Exeter, and Ely, the Lords Bourchier, Abergavenny, and Scrope (all kinsmen of York or Warwick), Say and Clinton [John, 5th Lord Clinton], with "much people out of Kent, Sussex, and Essex." Rumour, exaggerating as usual, credited them with an army of 30,000 men. Leaving Salisbury and Cobham [Edward Brooke, 6th Baron Cobham], with the mayor and the levies of London, to blockade the Tower, Warwick marched on Northampton, where the king's standard had been set up. He was determined that the Lancastrians should not have time to draw in to their assistance the lords of the north and west.

They were, indeed, taken unawares by his approach, and had not yet mustered anything like their full force. The king had given the command to the old Duke of Buckingham, a moderate man and one respected even by the Yorkists, but no general. With him were Egremont [Thomas Percy, 1st Baron] and Beaumont [John Beaumont (1410-60)], both personal enemies of the Nevilles, the Earl of Shrewsbury, and Lord Grey de Ruthyn. It was a poor muster, but of the other Lancastrians Somerset was still shut up in Guisnes, the Earls of Devon [Thomas Courtenay, 6th Earl] and Wiltshire were in the west, the Duke of Exeter with his fleet was also in that direction, and Scales, Hungerford, Vesey, Lovel, and Delawarr [Thomas West, 8th Baron] were being besieged in the Tower, while Northumberland, Clifford, and the other northern barons had not yet passed the Trent. The queen and her little son were sent away into Staffordshire on the news of the enemy's approach.

Buckingham, conscious of inferior numbers, resolved to stand on the defensive. Remembering, perhaps, the successful tactics of the French at Castillon, he had built himself an entrenched camp, and garnished its earthworks with much artillery. It lay in the meadows south of the Nen, with both flanks covered by the river, the lines being drawn from water to water. On the slopes above stood Delapre Priory, overlooking the water-meadows and the entrenchments, at a distance too great for the effective use of medieval artillery. Here Warwick halted and drew up his host; before attacking he made two separate attempts to secure an interview with the king. But Buckingham steadfastly refused to allow his emissary, Beauchamp, Bishop of Salisbury, to approach the royal presence, and would hear of no mediation. Indeed the proposed mediators, Archbishop Bourchier and the legate Coppini, were not likely to secure the confidence of any loyalist.

The bear and ragged staff -- Heraldic badges of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick
Bear and Ragged Staff —
Earl of Warwick's Badges
A torrential storm raged all the morning, a fact which was not without its effect on the battle, for though the rain filled the trench round the Lancastrian camp, and made it a formidable obstacle, it also spoilt nearly all the powder of Buckingham's numerous artillery, so that few or no shot could be discharged when at last the Yorkists began to move. Warwick had arrayed his men in the usual three "battles": he himself conducted the centre, the young Earl of March led the "vaward," and Fauconberg the rearward corps. Before marching down the slope he caused it to be proclaimed that every man should spare the commons, and slay none but the lords and knights, with whom lay the blame of the war. The attack on the trenches had hardly begun when treachery ruined the Lancastrian cause. Lord Grey de Ruthyn, whose men held the left of the lines, mounted the badge of the "Ragged Staff," and admitted the enemy within the entrenchments; his men were seen reaching their hands down to pull the Yorkists up the slippery bank, which they could not have mounted without aid. The whole of the column commanded by the young Earl of March was thus able to penetrate into the camp, and sweeping along its front cleared the way for the other divisions to burst in.

All was over in half an hour, and with very little bloodshed; less than 300 men perished, including a few who were drowned as they tried to ford the Nen. But among the list of slain were nearly all the Lancastrian leaders. Warwick's orders had been carried out; the rank and file were allowed to escape, but the victors gave no quarter to knights and nobles. Buckingham, Beaumont, Egremont, Shrewsbury, and Sir William Lucy, were all slaughtered close to the king's tent, as they strove by a last rally to gain him time to flee. But Henry, shiftless as ever, failed to get away, and was taken prisoner. His capture gave the Yorkists the same advantage that they had enjoyed after the Battle of St. Albans; with the king in their hands they could assume the pose of loyal subjects, nominate a new ministry, and throw the odium of disloyalty upon their opponents. Warwick asked for nothing more, but there were others in the party whose views had developed since 1455, and who thought that the time had come to raise the dynastic question. While the queen and her son were still at large, and the lords of the north were still under arms, the possession of the king's person meant much, but not everything.

1. See the specimens in An English Chronicle, ed. Davies, Camden Society, 1856, pp. 91-94.
2. ib. p. 95.

Oman, C. The History of England.
London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1906. 390-3.

Other Local Resources:

Books for further study: Hicks, Michael. The Wars of the Roses 1455-1485.
           New York: Routledge, 2003.

Weir, Alison. The Wars of the Roses.
           New York: Ballantine Books, 1996.

The Battle of Northampton on the Web:

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This page was created on April 17, 2007. Last updated April 28, 2023.

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Richard II
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Richard Fitzalan, 4. Earl of Arundel
Archbishop Thomas Arundel
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The Battle of Shrewsbury, 1403
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Henry V
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Charles VII, King of France
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The Battle of Agincourt, 1415
The Battle of Castillon, 1453

The Wars of the Roses 1455-1485
Causes of the Wars of the Roses
The House of Lancaster
The House of York
The House of Beaufort
The House of Neville

The First Battle of St. Albans, 1455
The Battle of Blore Heath, 1459
The Rout of Ludford, 1459
The Battle of Northampton, 1460
The Battle of Wakefield, 1460
The Battle of Mortimer's Cross, 1461
The 2nd Battle of St. Albans, 1461
The Battle of Towton, 1461
The Battle of Hedgeley Moor, 1464
The Battle of Hexham, 1464
The Battle of Edgecote, 1469
The Battle of Losecoat Field, 1470
The Battle of Barnet, 1471
The Battle of Tewkesbury, 1471
The Treaty of Pecquigny, 1475
The Battle of Bosworth Field, 1485
The Battle of Stoke Field, 1487

Henry VI
Margaret of Anjou
Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York
Edward IV
Elizabeth Woodville
Richard Woodville, 1. Earl Rivers
Anthony Woodville, 2. Earl Rivers
Jane Shore
Edward V
Richard III
George, Duke of Clarence

Ralph Neville, 2. Earl of Westmorland
Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury
Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick
Edward Neville, Baron Bergavenny
William Neville, Lord Fauconberg
Robert Neville, Bishop of Salisbury
John Neville, Marquis of Montagu
George Neville, Archbishop of York
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Henry Beaufort, 3. Duke of Somerset
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Margaret Beaufort
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Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke
Humphrey Stafford, D. Buckingham
Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham
Humphrey Stafford, E. of Devon
Thomas, Lord Stanley, Earl of Derby
Sir William Stanley
Archbishop Thomas Bourchier
Henry Bourchier, Earl of Essex
John Mowbray, 3. Duke of Norfolk
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John Howard, Duke of Norfolk
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Henry Percy, 3. E. Northumberland
Henry Percy, 4. E. Northumberland
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Edward Plantagenet, E. of Warwick
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Richard de la Pole
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Sir Richard Ratcliffe
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Ralph, 4th Lord Cromwell
Jack Cade's Rebellion, 1450

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Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggio
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Pico della Mirandola
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The Sweating Sickness

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Articles Touching Preachers, 1583

Queen Elizabeth I
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Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury
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Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester
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Penelope Devereux, Lady Rich
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Edward Manners, 3rd Earl of Rutland
Thomas Radcliffe, 3. Earl of Sussex
Henry Radcliffe, 4. Earl of Sussex
Robert Radcliffe, 5. Earl of Sussex
William Parr, Marquis of Northampton
Henry Wriothesley, 2. Southampton
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Charles Neville, 6. E. Westmorland
Thomas Percy, 7. E. Northumberland
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William Herbert, 1. Earl of Pembroke
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Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford
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George Digby, 2nd Earl of Bristol
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The Restoration

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The Cinque Ports
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Great Fire of London, 1666
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Chart of the English Succession from William I through Henry VII

Medieval English Drama

London c1480, MS Royal 16
London, 1510, the earliest view in print
Map of England from Saxton's Descriptio Angliae, 1579
London in late 16th century
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Plan of the Bankside, Southwark, in Shakespeare's time
Detail of Norden's Map of the Bankside, 1593
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Sketch of the Swan Theatre, c. 1596
Westminster in the Seventeenth Century, by Hollar
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c. 1690. View of London Churches, after the Great Fire
The Yard of the Tabard Inn from Thornbury, Old and New London

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