The site of the Battle of Tewkesbury 1471 which ended the second phase of the Wars of the Roses and saw the position of Edward IV on the English throne secured.
Reasons for Designation
The site of the Battle of Tewkesbury 1471, in Gloucestershire, is included on the Register of Historic Battlefields for the following principal reasons:
* Historic interest: the battle was highly important in terms of our national story, proving to be a decisive encounter, which ended the second phase of the Wars of the Roses. Edward IV's victory and the death of Henry VI’s son and heir, shortly followed by Henry’s own death and Queen Margaret’s imprisonment, destroyed hopes of a Lancastrian succession and led to fourteen years peace;
* Archaeological: it has the potential to contain archaeological remains associated with the battle in the form of early forms of firearms, cannon shot and personal effects;
* Documentation: the battle is in part described in “The Arrival of Edward IV” and popularly remembered in the context of Shakespeare’s play Henry VI Part III;
* Group value: the site forms the setting for the Abbey Church of St Mary (scheduled and listed Grade I). There are also a number of other scheduled monuments (including Margaret’s Camp) and listed buildings (including Gupshill Manor, Grade II), some of which may have had a role in the battle;
* Amenity value: the battlefield has high amenity value with a high level of public access and information, and a battlefield trail. Views within, across and beyond the site make an important contribution to understanding the battle.
The Wars of the Roses (1455-85) refer to the protracted struggle for the English throne between the House of Lancaster (red rose) and the House of York (white rose). The Battle of Tewkesbury proved to be a decisive defeat for the Lancastrian cause, ending the second phase of the Wars and heralding a fourteen year period of Yorkist rule.
Following the Yorkist victory at Barnet on 14 April 1471 Queen Margaret returned to England from exile in France with her son Prince Edward. With her husband Henry VI imprisoned in the Tower of London and the Earl of Warwick ‘the Kingmaker’ dead, she sought to regroup the heavily depleted and scattered Lancastrian forces and was intent on challenging Edward IV, the Yorkist king, for the throne. The Queen marched from Weymouth with the Duke of Somerset and Earl of Devon and their men, to join forces with Jasper Tudor’s rebels in Wales. However, Edward had learnt of Margaret’s manoeuvres and marched west to intercept her. After an exhausting march the Lancastrians, having been refused entry to Gloucester, arrived in Tewkesbury on the evening of 3 May 1471. Somerset decided to stand and fight rather than risk being caught by the Yorkists attempting to cross the River Avon. Edward caught up with Margaret and Somerset on the southern side of Tewkesbury and the battle took place on the morning of 4 May.
DESCRIPTION OF MILITARY ACTION
The Lancastrians chose the battle ground, around their camp of the previous night in a field surrounded by hedgerows and ditches called ‘Gastum’ (now The Gastons). The approach from the south was difficult and the Lancastrian line extended east to the marshy banks of the River Swilgate to cover the approach of the Yorkist army. Somerset’s right flank was across the gently sloping ground to a stream on the west. His troops were deployed when Edward arrived and the Yorkist king arrayed his army to the south of and parallel to Somerset’s. From west to east the Lancastrians were commanded by Somerset, Wenlock and Devonshire, and facing them respectively were Gloucester, Edward and Hastings. Edward also sent 200 (possibly mounted) spearmen into Tewkesbury Park to the west of the battle lines. Casualty lists and records of payments indicate that the Lancastrians had the slight advantage in terms of numbers (c.6,000 to c.5,500), although the Yorkists probably had more archers and mounted men.
There is some dispute as to the exact positioning of the two armies and the extent of the action. ‘The Arrivall of Edward IV’ has the only near-contemporary account of the battle, which supports the following broad description of military action. During the heavy bombardment of Somerset by Gloucester, a detachment of Lancastrian troops outflanked the main body of the Yorkist left, secretly passed down the lane through Lincoln Green to the east of the park. They attacked the middle ward flank but were forced back across a ditch and hedge and back up the slope towards Gloucester’s men, and were then routed from the rear by the 200 spearmen. The Lancastrians were then funnelled into ‘Bloody Meadow’ and many were killed, partly as a result of Wenlock not advancing to attack in their support. Spurred on by Gloucester’s success, the other Yorkists succeed in breaching the line and there was a general rout. The Lancastrians fled the field seeking escape, Prince Edward and the Earl of Devonshire fell. Others, including Somerset, sought sanctuary in the abbey or escape through the town, but many were caught and put to death. The Lancastrians lost about 2,000 in the battle, but Yorkist losses were light.
The Battle of Tewkesbury was the climactic and decisive moment of the second phase of the Wars of the Roses, principally because Henry’s heir was killed in the battle. Queen Margaret's hopes of a Lancastrian succession were dashed and she herself was soon imprisoned. King Henry VI was killed shortly afterwards in the Tower of London.
Much of the battlefield lies in a Landscape Protection Zone. The Abbey grounds constitute an Important Open Space. Severn Ham is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Margaret's Camp is a Scheduled Monument. Tewkesbury Cemetery, built on the battlefield, is on the Register of Parks and Gardens at Grade II and its chapels are listed at Grade II. Gupshill Manor Inn is listed at Grade II.
The site of the battlefield is gently undulating, with the most prominent topographical feature the hill in Tewkesbury Park. Despite the modern southward expansion of Tewkesbury and the realignment of the Gloucester Road, the battlefield to the Lancastrian centre and right remains largely undeveloped. The fields follow an ancient pattern, so that the landscape character is much like that of 1471, including the lane to Lincoln Green and Southwick Park. The core battle area to the east has been largely developed although there is still some open land by the River Swilgate to the north of the bypass road, and the earthwork at Margaret’s Camp is still open ground.
The most prominent features associated with the battle are the hill in Tewkesbury Park, Margaret’s Camp (a medieval moated manor house site with an uncertain role in the battle), the surviving parts of the Gastons and Bloody Meadow. The hillock in Southwick Park is possibly that used by Somerset’s men in their unsuccessful flank attack. Of particular rarity is the historic character of the area around Lincoln Green. The Abbey still dominates the backdrop to the battlefield. A visitor trail gives access to much of the battlefield.
The battlefield has not been the subject of extensive archaeological survey and investigation, the site has the potential to contain archaeological remains associated with the battle in the form of weapons including early forms of firearms, cannon shot and personal effects. The Gastons and fields to the immediate south and west are the most likely location of pitched battle, while Bloody Meadow and the other fields close to the river potentially contain personal effects discarded during the rout. There is also the potential within the registered area for evidence of mass burials.
This list entry was subject to a Minor Amendment to the Selected Sources on 10/04/2019