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Wars of the Roses: Battle of Blore Heath

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Battle of Blore Heath - Conflict & Date:

The Battle of Blore Heath was fought September 23, 1459, during the Wars of the Roses (1455-1485).

Armies & Commanders:

Lancastrian

  • James Touchet, Baron Audley
  • John Sutton, Baron Dudley
  • 8,000-14,000 men

Yorkists

  • Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury
  • 3,000-5,000 men

Battle of Blore Heath - Background:

Open fighting between the Lancastrian forces of King Henry VI and the Richard, Duke of York began in 1455 at the First Battle of St. Albans. A Yorkist victory, the battle was a relatively minor engagement and Richard did not attempt to usurp the throne. In the four years that followed, an uneasy peace settled over the two sides and no fighting occurred. By 1459, tensions had again risen and both sides actively began recruiting forces. Establishing himself at Ludlow Castle in Shropshire, Richard began summoning troops for action against the king.

These efforts were countered by the Queen, Margaret of Anjou who was raising men in support of her husband. Learning that Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury was moving south from Middleham Castle in Yorkshire to join Richard, she dispatched a newly raised force under James Touchet, Baron Audley to intercept the Yorkists. Marching out, Audley intended to set an ambush for Salisbury at Blore Heath near Market Drayton. Moving onto the barren heathland on September 23, he formed his 8,000-14,000 men behind a "great hedge" facing northeast towards Newcastle-under-Lyme.

Battle of Blore Heath - Deployments:

As the Yorkists approached later that day, their scouts spotted the Lancastrian banners which protruded over the top of the hedge. Alerted to the enemy's presence, Salisbury formed his 3,000-5,000 men for battle with his left anchored on a wood and his right on his wagon train which had been circled. Outnumbered, he intended to fight a defensive battle. The two forces were separated by Hempmill Brook which ran across the battlefield. Wide with steep sides and a strong current, the stream was a significant obstruction for both forces.

Battle of Blore Heath - Fighting Begins:

The fighting opened with fire from the opposing armies' archers. Due to the distance separating the forces, this proved largely ineffectual. Realizing that any attack on Audley's larger army was doomed to fail, Salisbury sought to lure the Lancastrians out of their position. To accomplish this, he began a feigned retreat of his center. Seeing this, a force of Lancastrian cavalry charged forward, possibly without orders. Having accomplished his goal, Salisbury returned his men to their lines and met the enemy assault.

Battle of Blore Heath - Yorkist Victory:

Striking the Lancastrians as they crossed the stream, they repelled the attack and inflicted heavy losses. Withdrawing to their lines, the Lancastrians reformed. Now committed to the offensive, Audley led a second assault forward. This achieved greater success and the bulk of his men crossed the stream and engaged the Yorkists. In a period of brutal fighting, Audley was struck down. With his death, John Sutton, Baron Dudley, took command and led forward an additional 4,000 infantry. Like the others, this attack proved unsuccessful.

As the fighting swung in the favor of the Yorkists, around 500 Lancastrians deserted to the enemy. With Audley dead and their lines wavering, the Lancastrian army broke from the field in a rout. Fleeing the heath, they were pursued by Salisbury's men as far as the River Tern (two miles away) where additional casualties were inflicted.

Battle of Blore Heath - Aftermath:

The Battle of Blore Heath cost the Lancastrians around 2,000 killed, while the Yorkists incurred around 1,000. Having defeated Audley, Salisbury camped at Market Drayton before pressing on to Ludlow Castle. Concerned about Lancastrian forces in the area, he paid a local friar to fire a on cannon the battlefield through the night to convince them that the battle was ongoing. Though a decisive battlefield victory for the Yorkists, the triumph at Blore Heath was soon undercut by Richard's defeat at Ludford Bridge on October 12. Bested by the king, Richard and his sons were forced to flee the country.

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