Having spent a good part of my morning listening to some talks given by members of the [English] Battlefields Trust, reading various interpretations by several historians and making notes in preparation for an intelligent and fairly scholarly post, I decided to set all that aside and just let the sources speak for themselves.
(My thanks to Geoffrey Carter who sent me a number of very useful files.)
Just one little niggle of frustration and disappointment – a paper cited in a number of sources, Ian Jack’s A Quincentenary: The battle of Northampton, July 10 1460, refuses to allow itself to be found. It is frequently described as ‘the best’ look at this battle. I must have it!
Four brief accounts of the battle of Northampton
From An English Chronicle
[‘the erles’ here refer to the Earl of March and the Earl of Warwick – commonly referred to, along with Warwick’s father, the earl of Salisbury, as the ‘Calais earls’, after their recent voluntary exile in Calais.)
The kyng at Northamptone lay atte Freres, and had ordeyned there a strong and myghty feeld, in the medowys beside the Nonry, armed and arrayed wythe gonnys, hauyng the ryuer at hys back.
The erles with the nombre of ix M, as it was sayd, came to Northamptone, and sent certayne bysshps to the kyng beseechyng hym that in eschewyng of effusyone of Crysten blood he wolde admytte and suffre the erles for to come to his presence to declare thaym self as thay were. The duk of Bukynghame that stode besyde the kyng, sayde unto thaym, ‘Ye come nat as bysshoppes for to trete for pease, but as men of armes’; because they broughte with thayme a notable company of men of armes. They answered and sayde, ‘We come thus for suerte of oure persones, for they that bethe aboute the kyng bythe nat oure frendes’. ‘Forsooth,’ sayde the duk, ‘the erle of Warrewyk shalle nat come to the kynges presence, and yef he come he shalle dye.’ The messyngers retorned aganye, and tolde thys to the erles.
Thanne the erle of Warrewyk sent an herowde af armes to the kyng, beseechyng that he myghte haue ostages of saaf goyng and commung, and he wolde come naked to his presence, but he myghte nat be herde. And the [third] time he sente to the kyng and sayde that at ii howres after none, he wolde speke with hym or elles dye in the feeld.
The archbysshoppe of Caunterbury sent a bysshoppe of this lond to the kyng with an instruccione, the whyche dyd nat hys message indyfferently, but exorted and coraged the kynges part for to fygte, as they sayde that were there. And another tyme he was sent to the kyng by the commones, and thanne he came nat ayene, but pryuely departed awey. The bysshiop of Herforde, a Whyte Frere, the kynges confessoure, ded the same; wherfore after the batayle he was commytted to the castelle of Warrewyk, where he was log in pryson.
Thanne on the Thursday, the Xth day of Juylle, the yere of oure Lorde Mcccclx, ay ii howres after none, the sayde erles of Marche and Warrewyk lete crye thoroughe the felde, that no man should laye hand vponne the kyng ne on the commune peple, but onely on the lordes, khyghtes and squyers; thenne the trumpettes blew vp, and bothe hostes countred and faughte togedre half an oure. The lorde Gray, that was the kynges vawawarde, brake the feelde and came to the erles party, whyche caused sauacione of many a mannys lyfe; many were slayne, and many were fled, and were drouned in the ryuer.
The duk of Bykyngham, the erle of Shouesbury, the lorde Beaumont, the lorde Egremont were layne by the Kentysshmen besyde the kynges tent, and meny other knyghtes and squyers. The ordenaunce of tyhe kynges gonnes avayled nat, for that day was so grete rayne, that the gonnes lay depe in the water, and wer queynt and myghte nat be shott.
Jean de Waurin
(We pick this up after the fruitless toing and froing of heralds.)
… and on that, without waiting any longer, they sent their men forward in good order to invade their enemies. Soon after the said herald had left, the Duke of Buckingham called together all the lords who were around the King and said to them: “Good lords, today it is necessary for us to fight, because our enemies are marching forward”, and they all replied “we will stand our ground, because there are enough of us”, which there were, around 50,000. And to him who says that those who reckon without one’s host customarily reckons twice over; I say to him that it is very difficult to guard against a traitor, as you can hear, because before going into battle the Earl of Warwick had ordered his war chiefs to warn their men that all who bore the ravestoc noue [black ragged staff – Grey of Ruthyn’s badge] were to be saved, for it was they who were to give him entry to the park. After the Earl of Warwick had had his men instructed in what they must do, he sent forward the advance guard, commanded by lord Fauconberg, which descended to the bottom of the valley; and the earls of March and Warwick led the battle, which pushed so far forward that they came to fight hand to hand in a great struggle which lasted three hours and would have lasted much longer had sir Ralph Grey not betrayed the Duke of Buckingham by allowing the Earl of March inside the camp on his side, as a result of which there was much killing. King Henry was captured by an archer called Henry Montfort and the Duke of Buckingham, lord Chursbury, Viscount Beaumont, sir Thomas Fyderme and many other great lords were killed, In this defeat the dead numbered 12,000 and the prisoners were a great multitude.
from Whethamstede’s Register
Alle soo thes for sayde lordys came agayne unto Sondewyche the xxi day of June nexte folowyng. And the comyns of Kente and there well-wyllers brought hem to London, and so forthe to Northehampton. And there they mete with the kynge and foughte manly with the kyngys lordys and maynty, but there was moche favyr in that fylde unto the Erle of Warwycke. And there they toke the kynge, and made newe offycers of the londe, as the chaunceler and tresyrar and othyr, but they occupyde not forthe-with, but abode a seson of the comyn of the Duke of York owte of Irlonde. And in that fylde was slayne the Duke of Bokyngham, stondyng sylle at hys tente, the Erl of Shrovysbury, the lord Bemond and the lord Egremond, with many othyr men. Ande many men were drownyd by syde the fylde in the revyr at a mylle. And that goode knyght syr Wylliam Lucy that dwellyd besyde Northehampton hyrde the gonne schotte, and come unto the fylde to have holpyn the kynge, but the fylde was done or that he come, an one of the Staffordys was ware of hys comynge, and lovyd that knyght ys wyffe and hatyd hym, and anon causyd his dethe.
And on the friday and Saterday suyng they brake agein and departed in two weyes that is to wite oon wey toward Seint Albons and that other wey toward Ware because that the seid lordes wold mete wit the king and countre wt his ost and lett and stopp them their entre into the Isle of Ely, wher then the kings counceill hadde proposed as was seid to have left the king and for their strength and saufgard ther to have hiden. But in as moche as the kings counseill might not opteyn that purpose they set a feld beside Northampton and thedir cam the seid lordes and their peple departed in iiii Batailles and ther was nombred than of them C ix M and of the kings ost xx M. And on the thursday was Bataill in which wer slain in the kings Ost the Duk of Buk, the Erle Shrovesbury, the lord Beaumond, the lorde Egremond and many other gentiles and of the other to the nombre of  persones and on the other partie not over viii persones…
The treachery of Grey of Ruthyn
Of the (at least?) three potential ‘traitors’ in the king’s army, Grey of Ruthyn seems to me to be the least likely. (For a brief look at the other two, see here.) He was an associate of Ralph lord Cromwell (1394-1456) and had been caught up in Cromwell’s dispute with the duke of Exeter over the manor of Ampthill. Warwick’s brother, Thomas, was married to Cromwell’s niece, Maude Stanhope, but this is a tenuous link indeed. I’ve been trying to get a handle of Grey for some time, and I’ve yet to succeed.
Whethamstede says this of the events at Northampton:
… the attacking squadrons came to the ditch before the royalist rampart and wanted to climb over it, which they could not do quickly because of the height [but] Lord Grey and his men met them and, seizing them by the hand, hauled them into the embattled field.
In his Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses, Wagner has Grey ordering his men to lay down their arms and welcome the Yorkists into their camp. Waurin has this treachery arranged in advance with Warwick, but doesn’t say how far in advance. Nor does he elaborate on either his sources for this nor the mechanics of the arrangement. Grey was given no immediate reward.
No-one goes so far as to even speculate as to Grey’s motives. Whatever they were, his actions brought about a swift end to the battle. The English Chronicle suggests this saved lives, Waurin says it caused many deaths. I don’t think I’m going to find any real solutions to this puzzle – it does seem to be one of those times when I shall have to Make Crap Up.
I do love Whethamstede’s gossipy little codicil! Such a pity he doesn’t give us an ending to that story. I could, of course, research William Lucy’s widow – if she remarried after his death, we might be able to give a name to the man who so lovyd her and hatyd her husband that he took his chance after the battle was done and dusted!
UPDATE: I have the paper I so badly wanted when I wrote this. My thanks to the Northamptonshire Records Office.