Saturday, 17 July 2010

Mortimer's Cross

It always puzzles me why Edward continues to be known as Earl of March after his father's death. Surely he immediately became Duke of York, and Regent, as well as in effect becoming Prince of Wales?

Another interesting quibble is that although Mortimer's Cross is usually stated to be a York v Lancaster fixture, Edward, the Rose of Rouen, was technically the accredited representative of Henry VI's government at this point.

Anyway - no one is sure exactly where Mortimer's Cross was fought, although it was obviously somewhere around Mortimer's Cross. It was a relatively small contest, essentially a defence of England from a predominantly Welsh force led by Jasper Tudor (aka Uncle Jasper) Earl of Pembroke, Owen - or Owain - Tudor, his father, and the Earl of Wiltshire and Ormond. The objective of the Tudor force - maybe for simplicity I should just go with the flow and call them Lancastrians - was undoubtedly to join up with Somerset's main army.

No one knows the details of what happened, except that Edward won, fairly decisively. Jasper Tudor and Wiltshire ran off and survived to fight another day but many of the other leading Lancastrians, including Owen Tudor, were taken off to Hereford and executed. A woman, generally described as mad, reportedly combed Owen's head, washed away the blood and lit over 100 candles around it. A point often missed is that she must have been a wealthy 'madwoman' as wax candles in this era did not come cheap.

Edward has been criticised for his ruthlessness, but the context must be borne in mind. He had recently lost his father, brother, uncle and cousin to Lancastrian violence and he undoubtedly wanted revenge. Although Warwick sometimes is seen as the more ruthless, Edward was no soft touch as he was later to prove on numerous occasions, not least in executing his own brother!

Edward and his army now moved east, with the intention of joining the Earl of Warwick and dealing with the main body of Lancastrians.

(I should mention that the battle is still re-enacted on a regular basis. See this link)


Caroline said...

Thanks for the post, Brian. Even though the line between childhood and adulthood was much more blurred in those days, it's always amazed me that EIV was only 18 when he won Moritmer's Cross-something that's quite unthinkable today! In a lot of the history/historical fiction I've read about the period it seems to me that the authors attribute the "Rose of Rouen"'s success (as a general and as King) to the fact that he was 6'4", very handsome (by the standards of the time, at least) and had a lot of charisma.
Sometimes I think that his womanizing and gluttony, especially toward the end of his reign, has made it easy for his strengths to be overlooked.

Brian said...

Yes Edward was a very successful general and his physical attributes probably helped him as a warrior and leader.
(Though how much control a medieval general had once battle was joined is hard to assess - probably not a lot.)

Ragged Staff said...

Nice post again, Brian. I think Edward continues to be called the earl of March simply to avoid confusion. He was technically duke of York, but the relative shortness of time between his father's death and Edward taking the crown means it's just easier to go on calling him March. I know all about the pitfalls of hindsight, and there's no doubt he was a very good battle commander, but his dallying in Wales after the battle did help put Warwick under considerable pressure at St Albans. And yes, he was only 18, but his first 'battle' experience had come 5 years earlier - I don't think he grasped the overall picture very well at the time. Still, Mortimer's Cross was a landmark achievement for him.

John Foelster said...

In thinking of Edward's lack of instantaneous reception of the Dukedom of York, I am reminded of Terry Pratchett's musings on the subject:

"The only things known to go faster than ordinary light is monarchy, according to the philosopher Ly Tin Weedle. He reasoned like this: you can't have more than one king, and tradition demands that there is no gap between kings, so when a king dies the succession must therefore pass to the heir instantaneously. Presumably, he said, there must be some elementary particles -- kingons, or possibly queons -- that do this job, but of course succession sometimes fails if, in mid-flight, they strike an anti-particle, or republicon. His ambitious plans to use his discovery to send messages, involving the careful torturing of a small king in order to modulate the signal, were never fully expanded because, at that point, the bar closed."

-- (Terry Pratchett, Mort)