Battle of Worksop 16th December 1460

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As some of you may already be aware the 550th anniversary of this battle is coming up. In order to celebrate this precursor to the Battle of Wakefield below is a piece of research I did for our magazine in January 2010:

One of the least talked about battles of the 'Wars of the Roses' but possibly one of the most important early battles as it could have altered the whole of English history took place near Worksop around December 16th 1460.

In October 1460 Richard of York had declared the Act of Accord which parliament passed on 25th. This sealed him and his sons as the future Kings of England after Henry VI's death, which was unacceptable to Henry's son and caused the Lancastrian forces in the north to gather an army together. Richard marched out of London on December 9th with Lord Salisbury and the Earl of Rutland and a supposed 6,000 strong force to muster an opposing army to destroy the northern uprising.

There is only one contemporary account of the battle written by William Worcester, a chronicler in his book 'Annales rerum Anglicarum': “The Duke of York, with the Earl of Salisbury and many thousand armed men, were going from London to York, in December 1460, when a portion of his men, the van, as is supposed, or perhaps the scouts… were cut off by the people of the Duke of Somerset, Edmund Beaufort at Worksop”

It is important to know which portion of the Duke of Somerset's army they faced; Unfortunately Williams account fails to mention this. Somerset's army started out at Corfe Castle, in Dorset, his cavalry and footmen then split into two groups at Exeter allowing the horses to get up north quicker. They were to rendezvous with Queen Margaret at Hull although other accounts have the main army at York at this time after the Lancastrians had seized the town. The most likely route to the north would have been on the Fosse Way diverting north on the Great North Road at Newark – this would be the quickest way and probably the best maintained (Newark had a new bridge built over the Trent in the late 1450s).

Worksop Manor was on the Lancastrians side owned by the Talbot Family (Earls of Shrewsbury), John Talbot was slain at the Battle of Northampton a few months earlier and had only recently been buried in the Priory. He was quite a prominent member of Parliament before the Yorkists had taken over and removed any Lancastrian members from power. Worksop was a Market town and as the saying goes 'an army marches on its stomach'. Food would be scarce at this time of year which is why warfare at this period of history was normally confined between Easter and September. Were Richards’s men in the area searching for food or revenge? Perhaps they were just unlucky and Beaufort was staying at the Manor just before heading north?

Williams text refers to Richard travelling to York but he have had to travel from Worksop to York and back across to Sandal in 5 days! Keith Dockray and Richard Knowles report on the 'Battle of Wakefield' describe widespread flooding at this time; this would make the progress slow, cumbersome and miserable. This 90 mile distance seems just about plausible on well maintained roads but with the weather conditions and a large army 18 miles a day must have been nigh on impossible. But by then York was a captured city in control of forces loyal to Henry. Why then did Richard go so far north - had his scouts failed him again? This seems the only plausible reason this small castle was chosen for an army which was way too big to be supported by it. If I were Richard I would have waited at either Doncaster or Nottingham or maybe Conisbrough (assuming this was still under his control) and waited for reinforcements rather than march all the way up to Sandal (Although the defences at Sandal are larger than Conisbrough). The only other castle in this area which was large enough to take an army was Sheffield, but this was under Lancastrian control under the Talbot family.

For some reason Richard didn't gather the rest of his forces together to destroy Somerset's army which would have changed the balance at the forthcoming Battle of Wakefield. Maybe he was desperate to get north or maybe the Duke of Somerset's contingent fled before a proper confrontation ensued? Whatever the reason he was killed on December 30th in battle and the 'Wars of the Roses' raged on for another 27 years.

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