Battle of Blore Heath and the attainting of the countess of Salisbury

Posted: September 24, 2010 in Alice Montacute, Countess of Salisbury, Blore Heath, John Nevill, Richard Nevill, Earl of Salisbury, Thomas Nevill

23 September 1459 – Battle of Blore Heath

Here’s my notes for this battle:

• Salisbury on his way to Ludlow;

• Lancaster led by Audley and Dudley

• Salisbury chose a position at Blore Hill

• Lancster had to cross stream to attack

• Salisbury pursued them

• Dead – Audley;

• Taken – Dudley

– Thomas Nevill, John Nevill (& Harrington ?) possibly while seeking shelter/help for injuries

• Augustinian friar covers Salisbury’s withdrawal by firing cannon all night; when found next day, claims he did it to keep his spirits up.

And THAT’s why I’m a day late and getting later blogging this battle! Sometimes I think I should fire myself and hire a research assistant!

So, what I thought I’d do, rather than reach for my books and give you something more comprehensive and sensible about the battle itself, is talk about the involvement of Alice Montacute, countess of Salisbury.

I’ve mentioned before that she was attainted at the so-called Parliament of Devils, along with York, Salisbury, Warwick, Thomas and John Nevill, the earls of March and Rutland and a whole bunch of other people. The other wives were explicitly exempted from this, their personal wealth untouched and their safety not in question. They remained in England (or in the countess of Warwick’s case, Calais) able to get on with their lives, so far as anyone can whose husband and sons have been forced to flee the country or have been captured and imprisoned. Alice had to get herself gone fast.

Here’s the relevant section from the parliamentary rolls dealing with Alice.

And forasmoch as Aleyse the wyf of the seid Richard erle of Salesbury, the first day of August, the yere of youre moost noble reigne xxxvij at Middleham in youre shire of York… falsely and traiterously ymagyned and compassed the deth and fynall destruccion of you, soverayne lord; and in accomplisshment and executyng therof, the seid Aleise, at Middleham aforeseid the seid first day of August… traterously labored, abetted, procured, stered and provoked the seid duc of York, and the seid erles of Warrewyk and Salesbury, to doo the seid tresons, rebellions, gaderynges, ridynges and reryng of werre ayenst youre moost roiall persone, at the seid toune of Blore and Ludeford: to ordeyne and establissh, by the seid auctorite, that the same Aliese… for the same be reputed, taken, demed, adjugged and atteinted of high treson.

What she actually did is almost impossible to glean from this, though it’s likely that she was raising troops in the north of England. One fairly recent fictional portrayal of her has her swooning at news that her husband is in danger and falling into a state of catatonia at the news of his death. (And, incidentally, not being attainted at the Parliament of Devils.) This does the real countess of Salisbury a huge disservice.

The Duke of York went to Ireland with his son, Edmund earl of Rutland. Salisbury went to Calais with Warwick and the earl of March. Ireland is where Alice ended up, fetched back to Calais and reunion with her husband the following year by her son, Warwick. Why she went to Ireland and not Calais is a question I’ve been trying to unravel.

Though it’s not mentioned in reports of the battle, she may have been with her husband and sons as they travelled to Ludlow, Salisbury being reluctant to leave her behind in Yorkshire when things were so unsettled. While York had an easier journey ahead of him, and as his welcome in Ireland was almost guaranteed, Salisbury, March and Warwick had a much more difficult time getting to Calais. If Alice was at Ludlow, her taking the safer option makes a great deal of sense. If she travelled later, on her own, then Ireland would seem an odd choice. On the balance of probability then, I’m putting Alice at Ludlow in 1459 and in the vicinity of Blore Heath during the battle.

Though Salisbury’s victory would have heartened them, the disappearance of their two sons would have been cause for worry. How and when the Salisburys heard that Thomas and John had been captured and were on their way to imprisonment in Chester Castle is also unclear, but the news may have been waiting for them at Ludlow, though their sons’ fate would still have been very unclear at that point. However, it is possible that they heard a number of confused and confusing reports after the battle, including the possibility that one or both of their sons had been killed.

This must have been a particularly difficult time for Alice. She left the country in the company of the duke of York and the earl of Rutland, not knowing where her husband and Warwick were going to end up, not knowing what was going to happen to Thomas and John, an attainder for treason hanging over all their heads, including hers. She left behind in England her son George and all of her daughters and grandchildren. Though she no doubt had great faith in the men in her life, and believed in their cause, she couldn’t have been sure she’d see them again or, indeed, return to England.

When Warwick came to Ireland the following year for talks with the duke of York, and to fetch his mother back to Calais, I imagine a low key but emotional reunion, both with her son and later her husband.

Alice Montacute was, I think, an amazing woman of enormous courage and heart. She grew up ten children who all had a strong presence in the world and an impact either on a national level or on their own families. She very much deserves to be recognised, not as a proto-feminist figure, but as a woman who dealt with a greater than usual burden of both political and personal drama by wiping her hands on her skirts and getting on with it.

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Comments
  1. A great tribute! She must have been a tough lady, in the good sense.

  2. Gerald says:

    Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.

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