databas cerddi guto'r glyn

The battles

The Wars of the Roses were a series of battles fought all over Britain and the main battles that were relevant to Wales and to Guto’r Glyn and his patrons are discussed here (see also the Timeline):
Battle of Blore Heath
Battle of Northampton
Battle of Wakefield
Battle of Mortimer’s Cross
Second Battle of St Albans
Battle of Towton
Battle of Twthill
Battle of Banbury/Edgecote
Battle of Barnet
Battle of Tewkesbury
Battle of Bosworth

Battle of Blore Heath, September 23, 1459.
Though the fighting at St Albans in 1455 is regarded as marking the beginning of the Wars of the Roses, the first major battle took place four years later at Blore Heath. The Lancastrian leader, James Lord Audley, tried to prevent the earl of Salisbury from reaching Worcester but the Lancastrians were attacked by the Yorkists and Lord Audley was killed by one of Guto’s patrons, Sir Roger Kynaston ap Gruffudd of Knockin. [1]

Sir Roger Kynaston was also present at Ludlow when the two sides confronted each other once again a few weeks after the battle of Blore Heath, at Ludford Bridge. However, seeing such a large Lancastrian army, the Yorkists fled from the field during the night of October 12-13.

Battle of Northampton, July 10, 1460.
With the duke of York in Ireland, the earl of Warwick acted on his behalf and confronted Henry VI and the duke of Buckingham at Northampton. Henry VI was defeated and several prominent noblemen were killed while defending the king, including John Talbot, second earl of Shrewsbury and one of Guto’s patrons (poem 78). This battle was a key turning point for the wars as Henry VI was captured by Warwick. Although Queen Margaret of Anjou and her son, Prince Edward, were safe in Wales, Warwick had now taken full control of the government and the coast was clear for Richard, duke of York, to return from Ireland and claim the Crown.

Battle of Wakefield, December 30, 1460.
With Richard, duke of York, back in England in October 1460 claiming the Crown once again, it was agreed that Henry VI would remain as the king for the rest of his life. After his death, however, Richard would succeed to the throne. It was widely supposed that this agreement would bring the civil war to an end, but the agreement was not accepted by Queen Margaret because it meant that her son, Edward of Lancaster, would be disinherited. The queen mustered a force of the king’s supporters to fight against Richard, duke of York, and on December 30 York and his men were attacked at Sandal Castle near Wakefield. This was a significant battle since York was killed, along with his second son, Edmund, earl of Rutland.

Battle of Mortimer’s Cross, February 2/3, 1461.
After Richard, duke of York, and his second son Edmund were killed at the battle of Wakefield, his eldest son (who was now the duke of York and later Edward IV) became the new leader of the House of York, with the help of the earl of Warwick, the ‘Kingmaker’. He met with success at Mortimer’s Cross, gaining victory over the forces of Jasper Tudor, earl of Pembroke, and James Butler, earl of Wiltshire and Ormond. Jasper had mustered many soldiers from north Wales to fight for the House of Lancaster, [2] and some of Guto’s patrons such as Sir William Herbert I and Henry Griffith of Newcourt fought for Edward and the House of York.[3] Jasper’s father, Owen Tudor, was captured and executed a few days later at Hereford.

Second battle of St Albans, February 17, 1461.
The Lancastrians did not abandon their struggle and, soon after their defeat at Mortimer’s Cross, they secured a victory at St Albans, which resulted in Henry VI’s release. The earl of Warwick saw this as a dangerous threat and quickly proclaimed Edward, the eldest son of the late duke of York, as King Edward IV. [4]

Battle of Towton, March 29, 1461.
Known as the bloodiest battle of The War of the Roses, the battle of Towton was fought on Palm Sunday at Towton, Yorkshire. The two armies had faced each other already at Ferrybridge but, a few days later, an army led by the Lancastrian Henry Beaufort, duke of Somerset, came face to face with Edward IV and his followers, who included Sir William Herbert I. The Lancastrians were defeated and a number of important noblemen were killed or executed, such as the earl of Northumberland, Lord Dacre and Andrew Trollope. Soon after the battle, the earls of Devon and Wiltshire were executed. Henry VI, Queen Margaret and Prince Edward escaped from York to Scotland. Edward IV of the house of York replaced Henry VI of the house of Lancaster, who had ruled (nominally) since 1422 as king of England, and Edward was crowned on June 28, 1461.

Battle of Twthill, October 16, 1461.
A relatively small battle fought outside the town of Caernarfon. William Herbert came to north Wales with an army in a bid to capture Jasper Tudor, who had been leading the Lancastrians of Wales on behalf of his half-brother, Henry VI. They confronted one another near the town walls in Twthill. Jasper and the rest of the Lancastrians were defeated and it seems that he fled to Ireland.[5]

Battle of Banbury / Edgecote, July 24, 1469.
The supposed battlefield at Banbury
The supposed battlefield at Banbury
Click for a larger image

The battle of Banbury (or Edgecote Moor) was the outcome of a conspiracy against Edward IV by Richard Neville, earl of Warwick, and George Plantagenet, duke of Clarence (Edward’s own brother). Warwick was unhappy with the political influence exerted upon the king by his in-laws, the Woodville family, and with the favouritism he displayed towards William Herbert (now earl of Pembroke) and others. Warwick and Clarence plotted a rebellion against the king under the false name ‘Robin of Redesdale’, hoping to depose him and crown Clarence in his place.

As the king marched to the north of England to confront the rebels, William Herbert and his army from Wales were also travelling north to assist him, whilst Humphrey Stafford, earl of Devon, brought a contingent from the West Country. On Monday, July 24, 1469, the armies of Herbert and the rebels met at Edgecote in Northamptonshire, near Banbury. [6] Stafford’s role in the battle is unclear. Several chronicles suggest that he was in the vicinity but failed somehow in his duty to fight alongside his Welsh allies, either failing to fight at all, perhaps due to a quarrel with Herbert, or fleeing during the battle. A poem by Guto’r Glyn lends further weight to the idea that Stafford absented himself from the field, and rejoices in the fact that he died soon afterwards (he was executed on August 17):

Arglwydd difwynswydd Defnsir 
A ffoes – ni chafas oes hir! 
The lord of Devon, his service was worthless,
fled – he didn’t live long!

(poem 24.17-18)

Herbert’s army was defeated, suffering heavy casualties, and both he and his brother Richard were executed soon after. The same poem by Guto, an elegy for Herbert, compares the battle to the ‘Dance of Death’:

Dawns o Bowls! Doe’n ysbeiliwyd, 
Dwyn yr holl dynion i’r rhwyd. 
Dawns gwŷr Dinas y Garrai, 
Dawns yr ieirll: daw’n nes i rai! 
Duw Llun y bu waed a lladd, 
Dydd amliw, diwedd ymladd. 
Duw a ddug y dydd dduw Iau 
Iarll Dwywent a’r holl Deau. 
The Dance of Death! Yesterday we were despoiled,
the snatching up of all the men into the net.
The dance of the men of Doncaster,
the dance of the earls: to some it will come closer yet!
On Monday there was blood and slaughter,
a day of disgrace, the end of all fighting.
On Thursday God took away
the earl of both regions of Gwent and all south Wales.

(poem 24.1-8)

Another poem by Guto celebrates Herbert’s great power and influence before his downfall, comparing the close relationship between him and Edward IV to that between the legendary hero Roland and his uncle, Charlemagne:

O rhoed Siarlmaen yn flaenawr, 
Rolant a ddug meddiant mawr; 
Edwart a Herbart hirbost 
Yn un i gyd a wnân’ gost. 
Ei aelod yw a’i elin, 
Ei law a’i droed pan wnêl drin. 
Yn y cwnsel y gelwir 
Ym mhob peth gyda’r mab hir, 
Arglwydd dewr o gledd a dart 
A cheidwad heddwch Edwart. 
If Charlemagne was made leader,
still Roland enjoyed great authority;
Edward and Herbert the tall column
as one together do hard work.
He is his limb and his elbow,
his hand and his foot when he gives battle.
In the council the decision goes
in every matter according to the tall man’s opinion,
a bold lord with sword and dart
and keeper of Edward’s peace.

(poem 23.39-48)

After Banbury, Warwick tried to depose Edward IV but he was not able to persuade the lords of the royal council to crown another king. He planned another rebellion, but this proved unsuccessful and he fled to France.
A reproduction of the 'Battle of Barnet' in a Ghent MS 236, end of the 15th century.
Battle of Barnet
Click for a larger image
There, he agreed to enthrone Henry VI in exchange for the support of Margaret of Anjou, and that of France, to invade England.

Henry VI was restored to the throne in October 1470. Edward went to Burgundy to seek the support of Charles, duke of Burgundy, and when he returned to England he was supported by many lords and gentry who continued to favour the house of York. By April 1471, Edward was once again King Edward VI and Henry VI was a prisoner in the Tower of London.

Battle of Barnet, April 14, 1471.
Amidst the fog on Easter Sunday, 1471, Edward IV succeeded in conquering the supporters of the traitor, Warwick. Warwick and many others were killed and Edward IV’s position as king was secure again. He marched triumphantly back to London, accompanied by the new, young earl of Pembroke, William Herbert II. [7]

In a poem in praise of Sir Roger Kynaston ap Gruffudd, who fought in the Yorkist army, Guto’r Glyn refers to the victory at Barnet, regarding it as fitting vengeance for the death of the young earl’s father, William Herbert I, after the battle of Banbury:

Ar dduw Pasg, arwydd paham, 
Y dialodd Duw Wiliam. 
on Easter day, indication why,
God avenged William.

(poem 79.3-4)

Indeed, there is a suggestion in one manuscript that Sir Roger was responsible for killing Richard, earl of Warwick (see note on line 49, poem 79).

Battle of Tewkesbury, May 4, 1471.
After returning to England, Margaret of Anjou and her son, Edward, sought to muster an army in an attempt to defeat Edward IV and place a Lancastrian king on the throne once again. But the army of Edward IV were successful and the young prince Edward, son of Henry VI, was killed. Later in the same month Queen Margaret was imprisoned in the Tower of London, and her husband Henry VI, already a prisoner there, died, probably murdered by the Yorkists.

Another poem by Guto’r Glyn, sung to comfort Ann Herbert after the death of her husband (poem 26), William Herbert I, may date from the period soon after the decisive Yorkist victories of 1471. Guto compares Ann to an Isolde grieving for Tristan (line 31) but also points out that those responsible for her husband’s death have been killed (lines 21-2) and that there is hope for a more peaceful future:

Treiaw ystorm a gormes 
Trwy Raglan dir, troi’r glaw’n des. 
storm and affliction ebbing away
all over Raglan’s land, rain yielding to sunshine.

(poem 26.39-40)

This hope was realized, to some extent, during the remainder of Edward IV’s reign. But Edward died suddenly in April 1483 when his eldest son, Edward, was only twelve years old. Richard, duke of Gloucester, Edward IV’s last surviving brother, was appointed Protector to the young king, Edward V, but plotted to seize the crown for himself. On June 22, 1483, it was declared that Edward V and his brother Richard were illegitimate, on the grounds that Edward IV’s marriage to their mother Elizabeth Woodville had been invalid. Their uncle was crowned King Richard III on July 6, 1483. As for the two young boys, Edward V and his brother Richard, it appears that, some time during the months of June to September in 1483, they died in the Tower of London. Their deaths remain a mystery, although many believe they were killed on their uncle’s orders.

Battle of Bosworth, August 22, 1485.
Many of Richard III’s opponents fled to Brittany, where Henry Tudor was living in exile. Following the deaths of Henry VI and his son, Henry Tudor was the main Lancastrian claimant to the throne and he also proposed to unite the houses of Lancaster and York, promising that he would marry Elizabeth of York, Edward IV’s daughter, when he became king. With the support of his uncle, Jasper Tudor, and many other Welshmen, along with Breton, French, Scottish and English forces, Henry Tudor met with Richard III on Bosworth Field. See further G.A. Williams, ‘The Bardic Road to Bosworth: A Welsh View of Henry Tudor’, The Transactions of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion (1986), 7-31.]
Henry Tudor had appointed the earl of Oxford to lead his army, but during the fighting it seems Richard III recognized Henry’s own company by his standard and led a charge against him. Henry’s men managed to protected their lord, however, and the tide of the battle turned when Sir William Stanley’s force came to their aid. Richard was killed in fierce fighting, and Henry Tudor was crowned on the battlefield.

An extremely important discovery in 2012 was the finding of the skeleton of Richard III. An examination of the bones revealed ten injuries sustained around the time of his death, of which eight were head wounds. Two particularly large wounds at the base of the rear of the skull, probably inflicted by a sword and halberd, are likely to have been fatal. [8].]

Guto’r Glyn’s poem to Rhys ap Tomas of Abermarlais describes Richard III’s death on the battlefield, with the mention of ‘shaving’ the king (whose emblem was a boar, see Noblemen’s interests: Status and heraldry: Badges) seeming to reflect the nature of some of his injuries:

Cwncwerodd y Cing Harri 
Y maes drwy nerth ein meistr ni: 
Lladd Eingl, llaw ddiangen, 
Lladd y baedd, eilliodd ei ben, 
A Syr Rys mal sŷr aesawr 
Â’r gwayw ’n eu mysg ar gnyw mawr. 
King Henry won the day
through the strength of our master:
killing Englishmen, capable hand,
killing the boar, he shaved his head,
and Sir Rhys like the stars of a shield
with the spear in their midst on a great steed.

(poem 14.35-40)

This passage also implies that it may have been a member of Rhys’s company who killed Richard, whilst avoiding singling out any individual.


[1]: H.T. Evans, Wales and the Wars of the Roses (second ed., Stroud, 1995), 62-5.
[2]: H.T. Evans, Wales and the Wars of the Roses (second ed., Stroud, 1995), 69-80.
[3]: A. Chapman, ‘ “He took me to the duke of York”: Henry Griffith, a “Man of War” ’ in B.J. Lewis, A. Parry Owen and D.F. Evans (goln), ‘Gwalch Cywyddau Gwŷr’: Essays on Guto’r Glyn and Fifteenth-century Wales (Aberystwyth, 2013), chapter 5.
[4]: For further discussion of the life of Edward IV, see. C. Ross, Edward IV (second ed., Newhaven, 1997).
[5]: This battle receives little attention in history books, see H.T. Evans, Wales and the Wars of the Roses (second ed., Stroud, 1995), 86.
[6]: The battle is often said to have occurred on July 26, a Wednesday, but a number of references in Welsh poetry, and some English sources, indicate that it actually took place on Monday, July 24; see W.G. Lewis (1982), ‘The Exact Date of the Battle of Banbury, 1469’, Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, LV: 194-6, and B.J. Lewis (2011), ‘The Battle of Edgecote or Banbury Through the Eyes of Contemporary Welsh Poets’, Journal of Medieval Military History, 9: 97-117.
[7]: Evans, Wales and the Wars of the Roses, 114.
[8]: R. Buckley, M. Morris, J. Appleby, T. King, D. O'Sullivan and Lin Foxhall (2013), ‘ “The king in the car park”: new light on the death and burial of Richard III in the Grey Friars church, Leicester, in 1485’, Antiquity, 87, 519-38, [link:
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