Battle of Shrewsbury
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|Battle of Shrewsbury|
|Part of the Glyndŵr Rising and the Hundred Years' War|
Death of Henry "Harry Hotspur" Percy
|Kingdom of England||Rebel forces|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Henry IV of England
Henry, Prince of Wales
|Henry "Harry Hotspur" Percy †|
|Casualties and losses|
The battle, the first in which English archers fought each other on English soil, demonstrated "the deadliness of the longbow" and ended the Percy challenge to Henry IV. At least part of the fighting is believed to have taken place at what is now Battlefield in Shropshire, England, some three miles north of the centre of Shrewsbury. It is marked today by Battlefield Church.
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. However, 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 the King never materialised. The Earls of Northumberland and Worcester therefore publicly renounced their allegiance to King Henry. 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 did not 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 12 July, 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' 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. Annales Henrici Quarti states 14,000 Royal troops, far fewer than Waurin's estimate of 60,000. Although Henry's army is generally agreed to have been larger, John Capgrave writing in the Chronicle of England quotes Percy's army as 14000.
Both forces arrived near the town on 20 July 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 was 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 and the Abbot of Haughmond were 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. In the meantime one rebel soldier, later pardoned, went over to the royal army.
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' 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, Prince of Wales 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 by Archibald Douglas, 4th Earl of Douglas. However Hotspur was killed in the attempt, apparently being shot in the face when he opened his visor. His death was initially not realised, and some point soon afterwards the Northumbrian 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 greater losses than the rebels, in fact Henry IV very nearly lost both his life and his throne.
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 various 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 upon 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, Sir Richard Vernon and Sir Henry Boynton 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 unearthed 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.
- Barker, Juliet; Agincourt: The King, the Campaign, the Battle, UK: Little, Brown, 2005; ISBN 0-349-11918-X
- 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 0-300-06452-7
- Priestley, E.J.; The Battle of Shrewsbury 1403. Shrewsbury and Atcham Borough Council 1979 (booklet)
- Maxfield, Stephen; The Battlefield of Shrewsbury ISBN 0-947805-36-2
- Alastair Dunn, A kingdom in crisis: Henry IV and the battle of Shrewsbury: Alastair Dunn discusses the battle and its repercussions in its 600th anniversary year, History Today, August 2003
- English Heritage (1995). "English Heritage Battlefield Report: Shrewsbury 1403". Retrieved 22 Aug 2011.