The Battle of Blore Heath was the first major battle in the English Wars of the
Roses and was fought on September 23, 1459, at Blore Heath, two miles east of
Market Drayton in Shropshire, England.
The Wars of the Roses refers to a conflict fought in late Medieval
England, which was essentially a power struggle between noble factions who were
fighting for the right to the throne of England.
On one side was the House of Lancaster, who in King Henry VI held the throne.
However the King was a weak leader and prone to bouts of mental illness, which meant that
frequently his wife, Queen Margaret of Anjou, reigned in his place.
The King was opposed by the House of York led by Richard Duke of York, who felt that he had a stronger
claim to the throne. He was also a wealthy and powerful nobleman, which
counted for a lot in the 15th century.
Relations between the two sides grew increasingly tense from 1450, and erupted
into violence and bloodshed at St Albans in
1455. An uneasy peace held for 4
years after that, although both sides grew increasingly wary of each other and
continued to actively build up their armed forces.
In September 1459, a further
conflict was looking more and more likely.
The Yorkist force based at Middleham Castle in Yorkshire (led by Richard
Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury) needed to link up with the main Yorkist army at
Ludlow Castle in Shropshire. As Salisbury marched south-west through the
Midlands the Queen ordered James Touchet, Lord Audley to raise a force to
Audley chose the barren heathland of Blore Heath to set up an ambush. On the
morning of the 23 September 1459 (St Tecla's day), a force of some 6-12,000 men
took up a defensive position behind a 'great hedge' on the south-western edge
of Blore Heath facing the direction of Newcastle-under-Lyme to the north-east,
the direction from which Salisbury was approaching.
Yorkist scouts spotted Lancastrian banners visible over the top of a hedge and
immediately warned Salisbury. As they emerged from the woodland, the Yorkist
force of some 3-6,000 men realized that a much larger enemy force was awaiting
their arrival. Salisbury immediately arranged his men into battle order, just
out of range of the Lancastrian archers. To secure his right flank, he arranged
the supply wagons in a defensive laager, a circular formation to provide cover
to the men on that flank. Fearing a rout, Yorkist soldiers are reported to have
kissed the ground beneath them, supposing that this would be the ground on
which they would meet their deaths.
The two armies were separated by about 300 metres on the barren heathland. A
steep-sided, wide and fast-flowing brook flowed between them. The brook made
Audley's position seemingly inpenetrable.
Initially, both leaders sought to parley in a futile attempt to avoid
bloodshed. In keeping with many late medieval battles, the conflict opened with
an archery duel between the longbows of both armies. At Blore Heath, this
proved inconclusive because of the distance between the two sides.
Salisbury, aware that any attack across the brook would be suicidal, employed a
ruse to encourage the enemy to attack him. He withdrew some of his middle-order
just far enough that the Lancastrians believed them to be retreating. The
Lancastrians launched a cavalry charge. After they had committed themselves,
Salisbury ordered his men to turn back and catch the Lancastrians as they
attempted to cross the brook. It is possible that the order for this
Lancastrian charge was not given by Audley but it had the effect of turning the
balance in favour of Salisbury. The charge resulted in heavy casualties for the
The Lancastrians withdrew, and then made a second assault, possibly attempting
to rescue casualties. This second attack was more successful with many
Lancastrians crossing the brook. This led to a period of intense fighting in
which Audley himself was killed, possibly by Sir Roger Kynaston of Stocks near
The death of Audley meant that Lancastrian command devolved on to the
second-in-command John Sutton, 1st Baron Dudley who ordered an attack on foot
with some 4,000 men. As this attack also failed, some 500 Lancastrians joined
the enemy and began attacking their own side. At this, any remaining
Lancastrian resistance collapsed and the Yorkists only had to advance to
complete the rout.
The rout continued through the night, with the Yorkists pursuing the fleeing
enemy for miles across the countryside.
York was concerned that Lancastrian reinforcements were in the vicinity and was
keen to press on towards Ludlow. He made his camp on a hillside at Market
Drayton, which later took his name. York employed a local friar to remain on
Blore Heath throughout the night and to periodically discharge a cannon in
order to deceive any proximal Lancastrians into believing that the fight was
It is believed that at least 3,000 men died in the battle, with at least 2,000
of these from the Lancastrian side. Local legend says that Hempmill Brook
flowed with blood for 3 days after the battle.
Legend has it that Margaret of Anjou watched the battle from the spire of the
church in nearby Mucklestone, before fleeing when she realised Audley was being
defeated. It is said that she employed a blacksmith, William Skelhorn, to
reverse the shoes on her horse to disguise her escape. The anvil from the
smithy stands in the churchyard at Mucklestone to commemorate this event.
A cross was erected on Blore Heath after the battle to mark the spot where
Audley was slain. It was replaced with a stone cross in 1765. Audley's Cross
stands on Blore Heath to this day. Audley is buried in Darley Abbey in
For many years the battle was commemorated by a re-enactment in September at Blore Heath.
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