Today, the 4th May, in 1471 probably the second most important battle of the Wars of the Roses was fought near the Gloucestershire town of Tewkesbury. England had two kings, the weak and mentally unstable Henry VI and the recently returned warrior king Edward IV, who ten years before had deposed Henry.
Edward had just won the battle of Barnet and had been after Henry’s army since then. He was able to force it to fight here and his superior generalship would see him prevail again. At this battle were Henry’s French wife, Margaret of Anjou and their 18 year old son and only heir, Edward Prince of Wales. Henry was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Henry(House of Lancaster)'s army was commanded by the Duke of Somerset. Edward commanded himself and had his younger, very able, brother Richard of Gloucester(later Richard III) with him leading the vanguard.
The armies were small. Somerset had perhaps 6000 to Edward’s 5000. Edward concealed 200 spearman in some woods on his left flank, as both a defensive and possible offensive move. Despite smaller numbers, Richard’s Yorkist archers and artillery did more damage to the Lancastrian forces and for this, or possibly another reason, Somerset advanced on the Yorkist Left sensing an opportunity. It proved the wrong decision as a combination of the hidden spearman and stout defence, soon caused a rout. As often happened in these cases, most of the men who ran, were cut down and there is a “bloody meadow” now. (You cannot go in, but we saw it over a fence.)Somerset blamed the commander of the Centre for not supporting him and walking up to him cleft him with his poleaxe. More Lancastrians were slaughtered trying to cross a stream or drowned in it. Some seeked sanctuary in the nearby abbey, but were pulled out and mostly put to death. Both the Devon and Somerset families lost two brothers in the battle or after. Importantly, Edward Prince of Wales was killed on the battlefield, although he had pleaded for his life.
For 14 years all Lancastrian opposition was quashed.
Henry was dispatched in the Tower soon after the battle and Edward grew fat in the peacetime years that followed, dying young, leaving a child to reign after him. But he never did.