George Nevill on second St Albans and Towton

Posted: July 14, 2010 in George Nevill, Archbishop of York, Letters, Primary sources, Second St Albans, Towton

(British History Online – Calendar of state papers relating to English affairs in the Archives of Venice, vol 1: 1202-1509)

Letter from George Nevill, Bishop of Exeter, Chancellor of England, to Francesco Coppini, Bishop of Teramo, in Flanders.

To the most Reverend, etc the Lord Francesco, by the grace of God Bishop of Teramo, our most holy Lord’s Legate in England

As something new has occurred here since your departure, I will write briefly about these events, as learnt by letters, from the lips of messengers, or from common report; although they are much incumbered and perplexed with many important matters.

On the 13th kalends of March [17 February] we fought unsuccessfully near St Albans, the details of which action would be too long to narrate, but I think it right to give a summary of the battle. Lord Berners [John Bourchier], brother of the Archbishop of Canterbury [Thomas Bourchier], with my brother Lord Montagu [John Nevill] and Sir Thomas Charleton, Knight, were captured and taken as far as York. Lord de Bonneville and Sir Thomas Kiryel were taken and beheaded, and many of inferior station on our side were destroyed. The loss on both sides amounts to well nigh 3,000 men. We however fled, and lost that puppet of a King—fortunate assuredly in this disaster; whereupon the puppet was carried off northwards and the country ravaged; at length the woman with her consort got to York, big everywhere of their not bloodless and unquestionable victory. Meanwhile Prince Edward, then commonly called Earl of March, was leading an army of 30,000 men towards London, where he made his entry with my brother the Earl of Warwick (who had escaped to him from the former battle) on the 3rd kalends of March [27 February]. He was received joyfully by the entire population, and at Westminster on the fourth of the nones of the month [4 March], at the demand, nay, by compulsion of well nigh all present, both Lords and Commons, he was appointed King; the ceremony of his coronation, for important reasons, being alone deferred. Thereupon, on the third of the ides of the month [13 March], he proceeded northwards with a numerous army, having a week previously dispatched my said brother westward to muster forces. The King and the brave Duke of Norfolk, with my brother, and my uncle Lord de Fauconbridge, took different roads, and at length joined forces near York. There, having recruited and marshalled their brigades, they forthwith marched towards the enemy, and at daybreak on Palm Sunday, not far from York, namely at Ferrybridge, a town 16 miles from that city, the attack commenced. The enemy had broken the ferry-bridge, and, occupying the narrow raft which our people had made after its destruction by handicraft, they stoutly disputed its passage, but we carried it sword in hand. Very many were killed on both sides, but at length the enemy showed their backs and many fell in the flight. That day’s battle was a great one; for it commenced about sunrise and lasted till about ten o’clock at night, such was the obstinacy and boldness of mortal men on the verge of a wretched death. At the town of Tadcaster, eight miles from York, very many of the fugitives were drowned in the river, the enemy having themselves broken the bridge in their rear beforehand. Of the remainder who escaped for the moment a great part were killed in that town, and in the city [of York]; and quite lately one might have still seen the bodies of these unfortunate men lying unburied, over a space nearly six miles in length and three or four furlongs broad. I understand that eleven lords of the enemy’s party perished, including the Earls of Devon and Northumberland, Lords de Clifford and Nevill, together with sundry knights; and according to the report of those acquainted with the particulars, the loss on both sides amounted to well nigh 28,000 men. Oh luckless race!

…to use the words of Lucan—a mighty people turning their victorious weapons against their entrails. Alas! we are a race deserving of pity even from the French, if indeed their breasts contain the smallest spark of pity for the blood of our people, who for civil and intestine war have thus set that hand which, if directed by a fitting leader against the perfidious enemies of Christendom, might possibly not a little have crippled their forces. But it is just that we—who, when so strongly urged by you and others to aid the army of the Pope against the foes of Christ, would neither contribute men nor money—should diminish our own wealth and shed our own blood in torrents for the sake of civil strife. But returning to the subject, the above mentioned puppet and Margaret herself, with her son, the Duke of Somerset and a few others, escaped to Newcastle, sixty miles north of York; though two letters have been forwarded hither, stating that the fugitives have been captured by certain knights, our adherents in that district. I cannot, however, venture to assert anything in this matter; but I fancy they will not easily get away.

I prefer you should learn from others than myself how manfully our King, the Duke of Norfolk, and my brother and uncle bore themselves in this battle; first fighting like common soldiers, then commanding, encouraging, and rallying their squadrons like the greatest captains.

After this, on the morrow, the eve of the kalends of April, our King with his army entered York peaceably, my brother, Lord Montagu, and Lord Berners, who had been left in the city when the enemy fled, having on that same day come to ask pardon for the citizens. I believe the King will remain there some time, to reorganise matters in those parts; whither I have bean quite lately commanded by his Majesty to betake myself.

I now hope that such storms will be succeeded by halcyon days, that a calmer breeze may rejoice us after such cloudy skies, and that we may at length reach the desired haven after so many wrecks. I will send news of further events, and hope you may return to England.

London, 7th ides of April [7 April]

George of Exeter

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