England,  Phoebe,  Western Europe

Battle of Empingham

battlefield at Empingham/Tickencote Warren
battlefield at Empingham/Tickencote Warren

It has gone down in history as one of the shortest and least bloody battles that is known to have taken place in England. Casualties numbers are not recorded but were thought to be light, and two were executed before the battle started.

Its 1470. Edward IV has regained his control following his defeat at Edgecote Moor the previous year, as a result of the intrigues of his brother George, Duke of Clarence and Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick who had later taken Edward captive for a period, before being forced to release him as a result of an uprising in the North by Lancastrian supporters under Humphrey Neville. Finding the Yorkist armies unwilling to muster to defend, Warwick was left with no alternative but to release his King, who then successfully raised his armies and brought the rebellion under control. Edward witnessed the ringleader executed personally, some say in response to the executions of his father- and brother- in- law Richard and John Woodville’s executions following the battle, at Kenilworth. Also lost were Edward’s closest men, and commanders, the Earl of Pembroke, William Herbert and his brother Sir Richard, and Humphrey Stafford, Earl of Devon who were captured following the battle and also executed. Herbert had previously been tasked with guardianship of Henry Tudor following the death of his father, Edmund and the later exile of his uncle Jasper, both half-brothers of the deposed King Henry VI.

Back in control, and welcoming Clarence and Warwick back to court, ostensibly in forgiveness, Edward set about re-organising the peace that had settled on England for a period. But Warwick’s plots were not at an end. With an alliance formed between the pair and Lord Robert Welles, and Sir Thomas Dymmock, a new plan was formed to take on the King once again. Edward meanwhile had busied himself with matters of what appeared to be domestic but with the ever present underlying necessity of power alliances, had taken the steps of releasing the heir to Northumberland, Henry Percy, from prison where he had been for around three years following the battle at Towton which led to his father’s death and the forfeiture of the lands and title. Edward knew that it was pivotal to his support in the North to restore the title to Percy, but this left the burning question of what to do with John Neville, Lord Montagu, on who the same titles had been bestowed at Percy’s loss. Edward had desire of keeping this Neville firmly on his own side.

John Neville, unlike his older brother, was an open and ardent supporter of the King, and this was reflected with his receipt of Northumberland. Instead, he was given the title of Earl of Devon now vacant following the execution of Stafford after Edgecote Moor. Edward also agreed the betrothal of his eldest daughter Elizabeth to Montagu’s son, George, which had the effect of appeasing Warwick somewhat with George being his nephew, and it also re-ignited the possibility of marriage between his own daughter Isobel to Clarence, a union he had been aiming for, for some time. Along with his plan to put Clarence on the throne in Edward’s place; a plot that he had been forced to put to one side for a while as a result of the Northern rebellion of 1469.

Inside of Church of St Peter at Tickencote. One of possible contenders for burial of any dead from the battle
Inside of Church of St Peter at Tickencote. One of possible contenders for burial of any dead from the battle

Some theories would have it that Edward truly had forgiven his brother and cousin, however others argue that Edward was working under the old adage “keep your friends close and your enemy closer” following Warwick and Clarence’s disloyalty, and that he was in fact observing their actions whilst feeding them enough rope with which to hang themselves. Following the revolt in the North, Edward had demanded the presence of those to whom rumours abounded of a follow up rebellion. Lord Welles, his son Robert (Baron Willoughby de Eresby) and Sir Thomas Dymmock had fallen into dispute with a neighbor, Sir Thomas Burgh and had encroached upon his property. Edward intervened on behalf of Burgh, his master of horse.

Dymmock and Lord Welles were taken into court and the questions put to them regarding the agenda of the men. They squeaked their innocence of matters, and Edward decided to detain them to see what happened next. His information being what it was, he sent word for his men to muster at Grantham on March 12th 1470 to relieve Burgh. Word spread through Lincolnshire undoubtedly fanned by young Welles that the King’s army were going to march on Lincolnshire with a view to further retaliation for the previous years’ uprising. Men began to gather under Willoughby, and Warwick called his men to arms, seemingly on the pretext of sending them to join Edward’s growing forces at Grantham.

Meanwhile, Dymmock and Lord Welles petitioned Parliament and received pardons. Edward by now was sure that the pair were working for Warwick and another plot was afoot. Edward spoke briefly with his brother, after the pair rode out to see their mother, and Clarence assured him, he was going home to his wife, and staying there. This was however untrue, and he only reached his meeting with Welles and Dymmock at Clerkenwell before heading out. Edward gathered his ordinance from the Tower, and being joined by his allies, Arundel, Hastings and Percy to march north to Grantham. Following his meeting, Clarence headed North also, to meet with Warwick. By the time Edward reached Waltham Abbey on March 6th, it was apparent that Robert Welles was organising a rebel muster at Lincoln, confirmation being sent by messenger from Lord Cromwell of Tattershall Castle, who stated that the call to arms had been shouted from every Sunday pulpit. Edward summoned the senior Welles and Dymmock for further questions.

Clarence meanwhile had sent an undeniably dubious note to his brother that he was going to continue north and rendezvous with Warwick where he would assist him in raising men from Warwickshire and Worcestershire. It seems logical that by this point Edward was aware that his brother and Warwick were switching allegiance once again. This seems to be substantiated by notes on the matter that Edward himself passed to his leaders, and that his play seemed to be one of “let’s make like an idiot, let it go and see where it takes us”. He was under no disillusions that he had the superior forces both with numbers, experience and with cannon. Edward was in Huntingdon when he received word that the rebels were being led by Sir Robert, after confirmation received via Lord Welles and Dymmock. He sent word to the younger Welles that unless he was prepared to disperse his rebels and submit to the King, his father would be “offed” as a result of his treason.

On the 11th, whilst Edward was at his family home in Fotheringhay, he received word that Warwick was ostensibly parked with his forces in Leicester ready for muster on the 12th. It was then that he received word that the rebels marching from the north had passed Grantham and had changed course for Leicester. Welles meanwhile had continued on his own journey with his force towards Stamford 31 miles away. Edward had his men already encamped outside Stamford, after receiving word of Welles’ route and intentions. By medieval standards, a 30-mile march in armour would take a full day. Unless Warwick and the north-men ran, they were going to miss all the fun. It seemed Welles felt that with Edward’s army camped in Stamford, and Edward seemingly isolated at Fotheringhay, it would appear more pertinent to effect a rescue attempt with a large show of numbers.

On the 12th, Edward’s advance pickers had gone out on reconnaissance and the army was placed to the North of Welles’ force of rebels, at the edge of the Great North Road, in a field to the south of the village of Empingham in Rutland, a few miles north of Stamford at a place locally known as Tickencote Warren. As both sides formed under their banners, Edward brought out Lord Welles and Sir Dymmock, to the front of his forces and had them both summarily executed on the spot in full view of the enemy, led by Welles’ son. Edward then ordered forth his cannon to fire an opening volley on the rebels. They turned and fled.

Edward’s forces routed the remainder who tried to escape in all directions. Popular legend has it that they shed their coats in the process in order to prevent identification, leading to the alternative romantic name of the Battle of Lose-coat field. I can assure you however that this is a popular name for certain fields in Rutland, from its translation of the old English for a cottage with a pig-sty “hlose-cot” of which there were several. Locally the battle had faded away into the murky depths of memory and time, not many know of the event, much less where it took place. The few who do, refer to it as the battle of Empingham or the battle of Tickencote. Another legend states that at the commence of battle,the army under Welles shouted “A Warwick, A Clarence” and gave the confirmation of their allegiance, and the treason of Edward’s brother and cousin. But I would posit that it would be pretty illogical to be shouting allegiances when one is running away.

Varying sources have claimed differences in the number of dead, however it would seem with the abrupt conclusion of the battle with only the one volley and not much else, that deaths would be few and mostly restricted to the rebel forces. Certainly there don’t seem to be any local records of potential burial places for the casualties; Rutland is unique in that pretty much every village contains a church dating back to the Period immediately following the Norman conquest, up to around the 14th Century, including both Tickencote and Empingham. No remains are knowingly held in these places. The battlefield continues to be harvested every year by the owner. The lack of deaths could be mainly because they were fired upon, and then ran away. Contemporary sources do state that several rebels were chased into the local woods where some were captured and put to the sword. It was from one of these victims who was dressed in the rebel livery that a letter was found about his body which conclusively linked Welles’ force to those of Warwick and Clarence. And provided Edward with the next step of the plan, which was to march Northwards to reach Yorkshire before Warwick and Clarence reached there, and mustered a waiting Yorkshire enemy…..