ALL THE KING'S MEN SCULPTURE WALK


THE HISTORY

Mike Stokes, Shrewsbury & Atcham Borough Council's Archaeologist, wrote the following summary of the Battle of Shrewsbury events as part of the Heritage Lottery Fund application. He also suggested five of the six themes for the sculptures. 

Why Shrewsbury?


Topography:

The only large area of open ground in the region is Battlefield. The Old River bed provides an obstacle to the south of it as does the current course of the Severn. The sandy heathland defined by the ridge to the north is a natural venue for two forces to take up classic opposing positions.

History:


Setting is all. Wroxeter and Shrewsbury control the river crossings and the heart of Wales through closing the Church Stretton Gap. From 901(ish) Shrewsbury was a 'Royal' town, established by Aethelflaed, defined by Roger de Mungumeri on behalf of William the Conqueror, used by Edward I et al as a front line fortress. By Richard II's time this had declined but royal patronage of the monastic institutions in and around the town kept the profile viz.Richard's charter. 


1403:

Control of the vital link between Wales and England is all. Hence Hotspur's move to Cheshire, Hal's presence versus Glyn Dwr and Henry IV's need to take the 'site' before Hotspur could link up with the Welsh.


The Scene


Richard II
comes to the throne in 1377 at age 10. He comes to rule a country still recovering from the Black Death. Population decimated, old Feudal system breaking down and peasantry no longer so tied to the 'higher' landowners - beginning to take more land each and expand their wealth potential. 

1381 laws brought in to try to curb this result in Peasant's Revolt. Richard was young, inexperienced and effete. More interested in the arts and culture, his peers who had run the country as council were horrified when at age 18 he took over the reins of power, had rows with his nobles, resulting in the exile of John of Gaunt, one of the wealthiest and largest landholders of the day (father of Bolingbroke). These descendants of Edward III fought hard in court to keep their influence but lost. 


1399, Richard's fatal error - invasion of Ireland. Fatal to all who have tried ever since. Whilst away, Henry Bolingbroke, who has been in comfortable exile in courts in France and Germany, seizes opportunity to play for return to England, ostensibly to reclaim the family estates and no more. This is typical of the codes of chivalry which still exist at this point but which will be gone within a few decades.


Percy
 -  the Percy family have marital and blood ties to the Mortimers, Earls of March (who have a blood claim to the throne) and also to Owain Glyn Dwr who, it is thought, has in turn marital links to the Mortimers through his daughter.

They see an opportunity to set Bolingbroke in power as King, to remove Richard and ultimately to secure their lineage through the Mortimer connection (Edward IV is eventually that result). 


Bolingbroke (soon to become King Henry IV) is supported by the Percies, first landing on the Yorkshire coast. This campaign, provision of troops and political shenanigins costs the Percies some £60,000. They anticipate receiving this from the new King once he's been instated as well as reward of estates in Cumbria and Westmorland, making them effectively 'Kings' of the Scot's March - they get neither.


The estates go to the Nevilles, their greatest rivals and the King fails to pay. Eventually they receive some £40,000 - still not enough. This is because Richard had almost emptied the royal coffers for his abortive Irish campaign. 


Hence, Henry IV also seizes the Percy prisoners after the battle of Homildon Hill in 1402 and claims the ransoms for himself, at the same time refusing to ransom Mortimer from Glyn Dwr - presumably for both financial and political reasons. The Percies now have a major grievance.


Grieved parties - the peasantry have not recovered from the revolt, Black Death etc.; the minor nobility have lost status after the Black Death; the Great Lords are still burning after Richard's reclamation of the throne and the number of exiles that were caused by him; those families with good reason to have blood claims on the throne are smarting and the Percies want due recognition of their place in society. 

1403 - according to the (pro royal) sources, King Henry IV decides to move north to support the Percy forces against the Scots, one presumes with a reasonable force of arms. 

In the Percy shoes we must imagine a certain amount of 'concern' at the reports that the King has raised an army and is moving north - especially since the Percies have been griping publicly and volubly for three years!Hotspur, legitimately, as Justiciar of Cheshire, Flintshire and North Wales (appointed by Henry IV) moves with 200 men of horse to Chester to raise his troops - mostly archers- and to test their readiness for war. This is exactly what he should have done on a regular basis on the King's behalf to fulfil his obligations.


However, if you were in the King's shoes, marching north to an uncertain reception, even if you really did intend to settle your account and differences with the Percies, how would you view the knowledge that an army was being raised by the most experienced soldier in the Kingdom in an area already unsettled by rebellion and with the risk of alliance with the Welsh? 


This is why young Prince Hal (the son of Henry IV and the future Henry V) had been leading forces in the Marches since the age of 10 (a very different mind to the 10 year old Richard II), coincidentally taught all he knew by Harry Hotspur. 


Nottingham
- The King hears of the apparent revolt. His reaction must have been to turn westwards to deal with the matter even if it was a misunderstanding. He could not afford to leave the potential disaster in his wake and continue northwards without settlement. 

He travels with his men, calling for forces to be raised from 14 counties (a standard phrase) and within three or four days has amassed his army en route to Shrewsbury (the natural Royal stronghold). 


He passes via Burton upon Trent, Tutbury and Lichfield (and presumably eating everyone out of house and home, trampling crops etc. on the way) and arrives somewhere near Haughmond Hill/Abbey on the eve of July 20th. 


Meanwhile
- Prince Hal (Henry IV's son) has been stationed in and around Shrewsbury as his base for campaigns against Glyn Dwr for five years.

One assumes he had a base, perhaps in the Abbey at the Hospitium/Old Infirmary, with troops camping along the river around Coleham/Gay Meadow. 


Percy has arrived from the north attempting to make a huge political statement by taking Shrewsbury - the royal stronghold. Seeing Hal's i.e the royal standards already flying on the walls probably of the castle he is forced to retreat to Berwick where he has the river at his back, Glyn Dwr possibly en route and if all else fails, the road north is still open via Whitchurch to Chester, where he can go back to trying to justify that his actions were entirely proper and not at all a threat (ha ha). 


Other protagonists - The Earl of Worcester, Hotspur's Uncle joins the rebellion, making it clear that it now is revolt pure and simple. Presumably he brings troops. 

The Earl of Northumberland, Hotspur's father, however, fails to materialize and so the forces are only those of Hotspur?s Cheshire and north Wales estates and of Worcester since no one else braves the venture. The royal army has swelled to - well how many thousand would you like? 


On July 21st  


Hotspur receives news that the royal forces are preparing to enfold him in a pincer from south and east and soon after dawn moves his forces to high ground somewhere north of the Old Riverbed - presumed to be the ridge north of the church. He may still have been hoping to avoid conflict with his old family friends. 

The King is advised of the apparently threatening troop movement and is forced to bring his forces forward. They take up positions in the lower ground out of bowshot (to the south of the church). 


Hal apparently moves out of Shrewsbury to a supporting position on the west of the field but not necessarily in the main force array.


Afternoon

Negotiations take place between the two sides conducted by Worcester for Hotspur and the Abbots of Shrewsbury and Haughmond for the King - perhaps in or near the chapel of the Albright Hussey or perhaps even on the site that is later Battlefield Church. 

The night before and during the day, mass would have been celebrated by priests for both armies, perhaps in front of wooden crosses in the field, therby making the whole battlefiled effectively consecrated ground. 


It is worth remembering that Hotspur's reasoning with his men was that they were to meet and reinstate King Richard II, the rightful King - Henry Bolingbroke being a usurper . 


Those who gathered first at Sandiway on the Wirral expected to meet Richard (who couldn't come because he was already dead, having been incarcerated in Pontefract and allowed to starve). When he didn't arrive, Hotspur's men assured the troops that they would meet King Richard at Prees Heath (its only claim to fame?) and eventually that he would be waiting at Shrewsbury. 


By the time they got that far, like the royal forces being mustered from the east, they would all have been on a huge adrenaline rush of fear and anticipation of the terror of battle. 


Early evening

It's too late. Worcester has consistently told Percy that the King will not negotiate and that battle is inevitable. The King is bound to defend his crown and the armies are almost too highly charged to allow the main protagonists to back off in order to 'save face'. 

Jaw, jaw has become war, war. 


As dusk approaches, the King moves his men into battle positions. He cannot risk the Percy forces simply melting away into the night. He must settle matters once ad for all. 


In medieval warfare, the only solution to political problems like this was for the defeat (although not necessarily death) of an opponent. It had to be a strong public statement of power. 


The Battle


Early in the evening, when all negotiation was past and battle was inevitable, the troops drew closer. 

Percy's archers loosed their arrows in a hailstorm of iron. The higher ground probably gave them 50 extra yards range over the royal archers. 


Initially the royal forces were pinned back and seriously depleted by this although return fire would have begun to take its toll.


Unfortunately, the Percy forces saw the royal troops in disarray and made the mistake of leaving the high ground to stream down and strike into the royal men. 


Initially the power of their rush into a disrupted force gave them an advantage but the king's men were trained soldiers and soon regrouped to repel the thrust. 


The King had himself dressed several of his knights in the royal arms as decoys and it was only when at a point early in the hand to hand fighting, that he raised his visor to draw breath and wipe the sweat from his eyes, that he was spotted by Percy and a charge by Percy and his entourage was launched. 

Unfortunately (for him) Percy also raised his visor to take stock of the situation and was apparently picked off by an archer who shot him in the face, killing him. 


After only moments before his men were crying out 'Harry Percy King', the royal force were crying 'Hotspur is Dead' and the rout began.


Chronicles suggest that the whole event had lasted less than two hours and that the rout scattered over two or three miles back to Berwick with very few survivors. 


Aftermath

(a good album by the Rolling Stones if I remember rightly). 

Young Prince Hal, who had led a secondary charge into the Percy forces at the point when they were assaulting the King's position, took an arrow to the left cheek, lodging in his nasal bone. 


He refused to leave the field, broke away the shaft and fought on at the head of his men. After the victory, he was taken to Shrewsbury Abbey for treatment, using the latest Arabic treatises and skills used by military physicians, the arrow head was extracted and, presumably under opiates and soporific chants by the monks he was nurtured back to health, the wound being kept open to suppurate naturally. After a month or so he recovered enough to retire to Kenilworth Castle for three months R & R. 


Hotspur, who had been taken for Christian burial at Whitchurch, was disinterred for public display at Shrewsbury on the site of the butter cross on Pride Hill to prove that he was dead and the revolt was over (think about his claims that Richard II was still alive). 


His body was eventually quartered, par- boiled and sent for display around the country - his head being on a spike on Micklegate Bar York. After three months the remains were returned to his wife for burial. No one is sure where he was actually buried but it is apparently not in either Beverley or York Minster. 


The future


Henry IV is confirmed in his crown. He lives until 1413 when young Hal becomes Henry V, complete with huge battle scar on his left cheek, a feature which allows him to prove to his men in France two years later that he is a genuine military leader and by using his Shrewsbury experience of the longbow to wipe out almost all the French nobility in one volley from his archers at Agincourt. The French have failed to learn that mounted knights are at a major disadvantage when facing the longbow. Their horses are entirely vulnerable; in the mud of Agincourt, any knight who fell down was instantly vulnerable to a thrust from even the lowliest footsoldier. 


What was war like? 

Proud, honourable, religious, honest (depending on which side you were on) could all be used. 

Equally, terrifying, disgusting, vicious, bloodthirsty in its aftermath were also relevant. 


Imagine standing in a ploughed field, uneven, stony and perhaps under a crop (of peas?) less than arms length from one other person.


You are both armed with a bill or a sword, war hammer or pitchfork, you may have a small shield, you may even have body armour of leather or of cloth layered with steel plates (a jack) or maybe, just maybe, chain mail or plate. You may have a steel helmet. 


Either way you have got a very restricted view. You cannot see what is happening behind you or to either side of you, all you know is that you or the man (or woman) in front of you is going to die - soon and very nastily! 


If you take a blow to the shoulder, then your collar bone and maybe shoulder blade will be shattered - end of story whether its your sword or shield arm. 

If you take a blow to the helmet, the force will drive your skull downwards so sharply that your spine will drive up into your brain! 


If you take only a glancing blow, you will be off balance long enough for your opponent to slip the point of their weapon into a gap in your armour - either your throat or more likely your groin, cutting the femoral artery and leaving you to bleed to death in agony. 


Even those who may survive their wounds would be lucky to avoid serious infection since most men went into battle without breeches or underwear so that when fear loosened their (probably already dysenteric) bowels it would splatter to the floor and not distract their eyes from their foe, but would mean the most unhealthy environment possible for wounds to fester in. 


Throughout the fight you could have smelt the sweat, blood, fear and body fluids of all around you - not the antiseptic theatre of war we like to believe happens today - but doesn't, because war is still the same, gut wrenchingly terrifying but still the only way that nations accept victory or defeat. 


Commemoration 


The King, through his local agent Richard Husse, orders the construction of a memorial, chantry chapel. Presumably on a site which had some significance in the events of the battle, the church is set in an enclosed two acres of Hateley Field. Archaeology suggests that there is no major burial pit here despite almost contemporary claims. 

The church is founded - i.e.work starts on construction in 1406 (presumably memories of the event were still strong locally) and by 1409-10 it has added a college of priests (never more than seven strong) within the enclosed area. 


This is finally dissolved in 1564 and becomes a parish/estate church for the Corbetts, later of Sundorne Castle). 


Today, it is the only memorial chapel from the whole of English history which stands on the site if the battle which it commemorates - there were never many, most had a cross or some other memorial. 








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