1453 Battle of Heworth Moor?
OR
"A wedding and 300 funerals?"

 

Was there a "Battle of Heworth Moor"?

It is well known that during the period 1452-55 there was tension in the North of England between the Nevilles and the Percies as the former steadily increased their influence in the North West, traditionally a region of Percy dominance. The two families had been rivals a long time and both had properties in the Vale of York, including Spofforth, Topcliffe and Catton for the Percies and Middleham, Sheriff Hutton and Elvington for the Nevilles. 

During 1453-4 the hostilities exploded into a private war and threw much of the North, especially Yorkshire, into turmoil. Of the skirmishes in which many men of both parties were"beten, slayne and hurte"there were violent incidents at Topcliffe, Gargrave, Aughton and Catton in 1453 and in 1454 the Percies terrorised the Mayor and Recorder in York plus a battle at Stamford Bridge*.

Heworth Moor is described as the first overt battle in "a greate discorde betwixt"  Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland and Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury. A fifteenth century analyst has described an attack on a wedding party of Nevilles led by Lord Egremont that took place near York as "the beginning of great sorrows in England".

On 24/8/54 members of the Neville family were returning to Sheriff Hutton castle following a family wedding. The group included Sir Thomas Neville, the groom, Maud Stanhope his wife of a week, and Sir John Neville the groom's younger brother. Maud was the niece and heiress of Ralph, Lord Cromwell. After a week of festivities at Lord Cromwell's splendid new house Tattersal in Lincolnshire, which was build in the new fashion of brick, the couple headed north, escorted by the grooms parents the Earl and Countess of Salisbury and as befits their status an escort of powerful retainers. Lord Cromwell had confiscated several Percy strongholds, including Wressle in Yorkshire and Bunwell in Lincolnshire, following Hotspur's death at Shrewsbury in 1403 during the Northumberland rebellion against Henry lV. The mere thought of these properties becoming part of the Neville domain caused Lord Egremont, 2nd son of Henry Percy Earl of Northumberland to throw his own party for the newly weds! Together with a band of around 1000 retainers and thugs from York he arranged an ambush at Heworth Moor, a mile or two NW of York.

The Nevilles gave good account of themselves and repelled the attackers without any fatalities on either side. The skirmish, described by contemporaries as a battle is often regarded as the first military action of the War of the Roses and drove the Nevilles to seek the protection of the House of York.

Armies in these times were generally made up of local levies rather than professional soldiers. By July 1453 the Percies and Nevilles had mustered 5000 armed men between them. Of the names and occupations of 710 who were indicted for their share in this incident, 94% of them were from Yorkshire. They included 6 knights, 32 esquires, 26 gentlemen and 24 clerks (amongst them several chaplains and belligerent priests. The city of York provided a sizeable contingent of around 100 artisans and tradesmen, but the largest single group was the 330 yeomen. The 44 husbandmen suggests that the Percies had been able to call out many of their tenant farmers including some from their lordship of Cockermouth in Cumberland (Cumbria). Only a tiny proportion were Percy retainers, no doubt these were important in providing leadership and organization. ( this aspect of a retainer's job in providing men, and arms, would be written into his indentures (contract between him and his lord)).

Until a rereading of some Ancient Indictment in the Public Record Office in 1966 this skirmish was placed at Stamford Bridge. This account describes the assembly of 5000 men, Percy tenants and York craftsmen on Heworth Moor and how they lay in wait for the Neville wedding party. There were altercations and threats and doubtless a fair amount of rough play, but the Nevilles reached home without bloodshed.

Following Heworth bands of partisans of both families rode around the country attacking their enemies tenants and property.

*Stamford Bridge took place on either 31 October or 1 November 1454. Lord Egremont, brother of the Earl of Northumberland, clashed with Sir Thomas and Sir John Neville. Hundreds were killed and many wounded and the flight of Peter Lound, bailiff of the nearby Percy manor of Pockington with 200 of Egremont's retinue cost him the day. Egremont and his brother Richard Percy were captured. In a civil action the Nevilles successfully sued him for damages of £11,200 and as his income was only £100 per year were able to have him locked up out of harms way in Newgate debtors prison. They spent the next two years imprisoned for debt until they were able to escape on 13/11/1456 after a warder was bribed and weapons smuggled into the prison.

 

[Footnote]
The original documents from which the wedding fracas emerges are in the form of prosecutions of Percy tenants and York Citizens for a riotous assembly on Heworth Moor and the road to Huntington. They were invariably clad in "jakkies loricis and salettes and arrayed for war" (
quilted or padded? jackets, breastplate? and bowl shaped light helmet). The 710 prosecutions included at least 24 York freemen. There were no mentions of any deaths in the indictments although one man sues for injuries done him. The York Civic Records of this time have no record of Heworth Moor and there is no direct evidence of this incident. The Chamberlain's Account Rolls of this time includes details of some citizens including scholars being fined for taking the Percy livery. A larger number than usual had their goods confiscated as outlaws. Messengers and lawyers ride between York and the Percy and Neville properties and have their expenses paid with the addition of a present of a pike and a capon (castrated cock). The Chamberlain's Account Books for 1453 has similar entries to the Rolls and include the payments to messengers but no trace of the 'battle'.

[footnote 2]

This all started by a chance remark in May 2000 when I first heard of the battle which took place a stone's throw from the "Moor" where I once lived. It has proved difficult to find anything about the battle as most books on the Wars of the Roses ignore it and where there is a mention it is little more than one line.

The above has been built up from various sources. I have not seen any of the ancient records mentioned in the first footnote but I have no reason to doubt the original authors findings. I have also made enquiries to a number of societies with connections to the period. The above is a combination of all data received. There were many conflicting details but I have taken the view that Heworth Moor and Stamford Bridge were separate battles in different years. The former was no more than a bloodless skirmish and the later the real thing with 400+ deaths.

I do not have permission from any of my sources to reproduce their findings but as the only mention of this battle on the web is the date it took place I don't think they should have any reason to complain. I would be grateful for any further information which would help to clarify the truth and if any of the authors whose work I have borrowed publish a true and full account of this incident on the web I will remove this page. Please send mail to ufo@(REMOVE)area51b.freeserve.co.uk delete (REMOVE) before using email


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