Establishing royal authority in the Welsh Marches in 1460

(Photograph of Wigmore Castle, Herefordshire)

On the night of 12 October 1460, the Yorkist lords abandoned their army, encamped at Ludford Bridge a short distance from Ludlow, and took flight. They eventually reached safety overseas, but their followers were forced to submit to the royalists led in person by Henry VI. The king subsequently issued orders for the confiscation of Yorkist estates, most notably those held by Richard, duke of York, and the two Neville earls of Salisbury and Warwick. This was quickly carried out in most places, with many of their properties and possessions pillaged and looted in the process.

In the north-east of Wales, the king’s officials were faced with determined resistance in the lordship of Denbigh. Jasper Tudor, earl of Pembroke, the king’s half-brother, was forced to attack Denbigh Castle, whose defenders only surrendered after being besieged. This event is well known in the literature and is frequently described in standard accounts of the Wars of the Roses.

Yet what has been less well understood is how royal authority was established elsewhere in Wales and the Marches of Wales in the aftermath of the Yorkist rebellion. Whilst carrying out research for my book I came across an interesting document in the National Archives in Kew, which sheds new light on this process.

It takes the form of a letter written to Henry VI in the name of ‘your humble trewe ligeman and first begotten son Edward’, i.e., his son Edward of Westminster (1453-71). The letter is dated 1 June 1460 and is partly damaged, with some of the words illegible.

Given Edward’s young age, he was almost seven years old, it was more probably composed under the auspices of his uncle, Jasper Tudor. Jasper played a leading role in maintaining royal authority in Wales in this period, and as previously mentioned, had overseen the siege of Denbigh. However, as Edward held the title of Prince of Wales, it was no doubt seen as important for Jasper to defer to him in carrying out military operations, if only nominally.  

The letter states that the composer had been ordered to ‘entre take and sease in to your hondes’ all the castles, lordships, manors, and lands, which had formerly belonged to the duke of York and the earls of Warwick and Salisbury in Wales and the Marches of Wales.

Their instructions included appointing people to ensure the safeguard and defence of these estates against thieves. It was for this reason that they had taken control of various lordships and castles, including Wigmore, Radnor, Pencelli, and Clifford, whose inhabitants had sworn allegiance to the king and pledged to act as his faithful liegemen.

It goes on to explain that garrisons of soldiers had been placed in these castles by royal command, with the specific number of men described in an attached schedule. Sadly, the latter is no longer attached to the letter and most probably no longer survives. All that can be established about the composition of the garrisons is that they were composed of men who received 4d. per day, which shows that they were infantry.  

The letter then finishes with the request that these lordships should be granted to them to offset the expenses they incurred in the ‘establisshement of goode rewle’ and in the wages of the soldiers in garrisons.  

Unfortunately, any interpretation of this source is impaired by its partly damaged condition and the loss of its attachment. Nevertheless, it provides a fascinating insight into how royal authority was established in the Yorkist lordships of the Welsh Marches. The decision to install garrisons in the castles of the region suggests that the royalists had faced opposition in carrying out the king’s commands, or at the very least, that the loyalty of the local inhabitants was doubted, despite their oaths of allegiance. It also provides evidence of the importance of castles in securing territory during the Wars of the Roses.

I hope you enjoyed reading this post. If you want to find out more about this episode and other events during the Wars of the Roses, then consider checking out my book

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/The-Castle-in-the-Wars-of-the-Roses-Hardback/p/18426

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