Battle of Worksop 16th December 1460

Wars of the Roses Skirmish

Priories Historical Society/David Cook

"It is the year of our lord, 1460, our country is in great strife and bloodshed is imminent. Our Queen has begun an uprising in the north against the pretender, Richard of York. He has himself risen an army and is marching north to meet us in battle”. You can imagine the Lancastrian Lord of Worksop Manor John Talbot, thinking this, little knowing that the area where he lived would become the first place where the Yorkist and Lancastrian forces would clash on their way to the Battle of Wakefield.

On the 16th December somewhere around Worksop, was this little known chapter in the Wars of the Roses. Quite how many men were involved and the exact location were unfortunately never recorded for future generations. There is only one contemporary account of the battle written by William of Worcester, a chronicler in his book ' Annales rerum Anglicarum'. If it hadn't been for this account, the battle would have disappeared into the mists of time :

"The Duke of York, with the Earl of Salisbury and many thousand armed men, were going from London to York, in December 1460, when a portion of his men, the van, as is supposed, or perhaps the scouts… were cut off by the people of the Duke of Somerset, Edmund Beaufort at Worksop”


In October 1460 Richard Plantagenet, the 3rd Duke of York, had declared the Act of Accord which parliament passed on the 25th. This sealed him and his sons as the future Kings of England after Henry VI's death, which was unacceptable to Henry's wife, Margaret of Anjou as their son, Edward of Lancaster, would never be monarch. The Lancastrian sympathizers, under Queen Margaret, who had fled to Wales after Northampton, and aided by the Percy family, grouped their army together at Hull before taking the city of York and moving onward to the royal fortress at Pontefract. The Lancastrians had had been pillaging Yorkist estates whenever possible to cause as much psychological insult as possible. Richard marched out of London on December 9th with Lord Salisbury and the Earl of Rutland and a supposed 6,000 strong force to muster an opposing army to destroy this uprising. Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, and Edward, Earl of March who had been the deciding factor at Northampton, however remained in London.

South Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire loyalties were split: Lancastrian forces controlled Sheffield and Worksop under the Talbot family whilst Tuxford and Doncaster were controlled by Yorkist forces. It is unclear who was in control of Conisbrough castle as it had been forfeited during the time Richard was classed as a traitor and in Ireland. But why did the Yorkists come out of their safe zone and into enemy territory?

The first possible explanation is that Yorkist forces had come to raid the market which was held every Wednesday. Coming into the town the day before would have been opportunistic for grabbing goods from farmers and labourers as they were coming into town. Food would be scarce at this time of year which is why warfare at this period was normally confined between Easter and September. Retford also held a market but this was held on a Saturday so most stock and goods would probably be still on their respective farms and harder to source. There were also markets at Blyth and Bawtry (Wednesday or Thursday).

The only other plausible explanation is revenge! The Lancastrian Talbot family who owned Worksop Manor had done well under  Henry. Before his death at the Battle of Northampton on 10th July 1460, John Talbot, the 2nd Earl of Shrewsbury had been High Treasurer of England as well as High Steward of Ireland. He had married Elizabeth Butler whose family was also Lancastrian and had seven children. Elizabeth's brother James Butler had married Eleanor Beaufort which may explain why Edmund came to Worksop before going north. Richard hated the Beaufort family and blamed them for losing the Hundred Years War. He had successfully disposed of the 1st Earl of Somerset at the Battle of St. Albans in 1455. If he had heard one of the family were close and without huge forces behind them, he may have wished them to be killed on the spot.

Routes Taken

So how did both forces end up in Worksop? The only thing we can be sure of is where the armies set out from. The Lancastrian forces of Somerset had started off at Corfe Castle in Dorset and marched north via Exeter where the cavalry split from the foot soldiers to reach the Queens forces faster. The Yorkists had come from London so more than likely had come up the Great North Road and were heading towards Doncaster. Although Conisbrough was one of Richard's castles this was extremely small so was not an option for a large army. William of Worcester noted they were heading for York. This would have not been possible however as Lancastrian forces had already stormed the city walls. Keith Dockray and Richard Knowles's report on the 'Battle of Wakefield' describes widespread flooding at this time. This would make progress slow, cumbersome and miserable especially with the heavy armour and wagons which would have accompanied both forces.

Newark was the 'Key to the North' and during this time, was in Yorkist hands so very friendly territory. The town also had a market on a Wednesday so it would have been likely that Richard's army would have stayed here. This could also be a reason why a full scale battle didn't happen in Worksop - the main forces were here and the forces further north were trying to source food so when the main army came north they would not go hungry! The 'County Corporate' of Nottingham was also in favour of the Yorkist cause and became heavily fortified during this period. This could also give a good reason for the Lancastrian forces staying so north as to avoid confrontation without their superior numbers now centred around Pontefract.

So what route did the Yorkists take from London to Sandal Castle? History seems to be very quiet on this! I would have expected lots of details along the lines of “Richard of York came here and recruited xx soldiers” but no, nothing seems to be available which is strange especially as the south was mainly Yorkist territory. This may be because the 'Commission of Array', where the army was recruited on the way, was becoming replaced at this time by 'indentures' (a legal contract giving land/buildings for services). But official histories for the time note he went with a commission so there must have be some record at some point - maybe it was destroyed during the reformation or is in the back of a collection or museum undiscovered! Hunter noted in his 'History of Yorkshire' the Croyland Chronicle, written in 1486 in Lincolnshire, was badly damaged for the part before the Battle of Wakefield. Were preceding events erased from history on purpose?

One thing seems to be certain: the only large crossings over the Trent big enough for an army were at Nottingham and Newark. Newark's bridge had been replaced in 1457 after flooding on the Trent had washed the original away. The replacement was made out of oak with stone towers at each end and paid for by the church. Nottingham's bridge was maintained by public donations and was known as Heyghbeythbrugge or the Hethbeth bridge. This was large enough to have its own chapel and two wardens. There are quite a few records relating to this bridge from the period but the only mention of an army travelling over it occur in 1470.

Assuming Richard went from London via Newark and Doncaster to Sandal, this would have been a trip of around 190 miles. We know he set off on December 9th and arrived on December 21st which averages out at roughly 16 miles per day. If the main force was at Newark on 16th December (120/7) this would average out at 17.14 miles per day which easily fits into the schedule. Newark onwards though takes considerably longer: 70 miles in 5 days or 14 miles per day. This is probably due to entering a mainly Lancastrian area and having to send scouts out looking for the enemy. Would the army have marched on a Sunday? This day would have been an important religious day of rest and possibly the troops would have had to find several local churches to pray in.

Is it possible that the return of York's body in July 1476 for burial at Fotheringhay retraced his route north? This funeral cortege stopped at Doncaster, Blyth, Tuxford and Newark in our area which seems quite appropriate. All these townships were Yorkist strongholds and the Great North Road would have been the easiest route to take thousands of troops, cavalry, wagons and associated blacksmiths and personnel.

Where was the battle?

Assuming revenge was in order, the area around Worksop Manor would be a likely place. The Lancastrian troops may have been up at the original Manor Lodge which was next to the present building. A quick dash could have resulted in unprepared soldiers taking on a centralised and prepared marching camp of men ready to go north.

If they were looking to capture the market and the Lancastrian army was resting up in town, the area around the priory would have been ideal - the troops may have camped out on the common (now under Smith flour mill). The battle could have occurred right there. These factions were not scared of fighting next to holy ground, in fact,  it seems to happen quite often - the battle of Northampton took place just north of Delapre Abbey and Tewkesbury was in the fields just south of their abbey. Of course all this is speculation. The fight's location was not recorded so could have easily been on a road outside of town. The castle is an unlikely spot – it was out of use before the end of the Norman occupation and would have been pretty hard to defend.

No weapons have ever been found which could locate the area either. Swords were still the mainstay of the army but muskets and canons had begun to be used. Rich people could afford plate armour and chainmail but normal troops had to do with whatever they could take from bodies of the enemy so anything left could have been taken at the time. The bodies would have probably been buried although depending on what side they were from, could have resulted in being thrown in a pit rather than individual graves. Headstones weren't in use at this period and only rich people could afford effigies. Regardless of side, someone would have been paid for the work of digging and this evidence could exist in pipe rolls.

Size of the fight!

The term 'Battle' may be a bit over exaggerated. My own personal theory is that scouts from the Yorkist army met stragglers from the Lancastrian army and the fight was over pretty quickly. This could explain why Edmund Beaufort is mentioned and not his brother Henry who was the Earl of Somerset at this date. I would expect Henry would have stayed with the cavalry when leaving Exeter, leaving his younger brother in charge of the foot soldiers. No major league players were killed either, which happened at every other battle over the next few months. Prisoners of the Earls, Lords and Royalty doesn't happen – they were killed on the spot or executed pretty soon after capture.

Missing Tomb

It is well known that the second Earl of Shrewsbury/seventh Baron Furnivall, John Talbot, was killed at the Battle of Northampton trying to stop the Yorkist forces capturing the king. His body would have eventually been returned to his family and should have been buried at Worksop Priory with his ancestors. His tomb has never been discovered unlike those of the rest of his family. Could this have been desecrated by the Yorkist forces or is it still lying somewhere in the priory grounds awaiting discovery? One thing is certain though - the Talbots after this point decided to be buried at Sheffield Cathedral.

Other Important Figures:

Conisbrough: Vicar Richard Symmes (resigned Nov 1471) Doncaster: Vicar Thomas Pesson (Pereson) (resigned Dec 1471) Thoresby Hall: Henry Pierrepoint Lancastrian – knighted Tuxford: Humphrey Bourchier (later Lord Bourchier of Cromwell) Welbeck Abbey: Abbot John Greene Worksop Manor: Elizabeth Butler (John Talbot's widow) Worksop Priory: Prior Carolus de Flemyng/Vicar John Emsley or Walter Burne

This page was added by Penske Sixsixsix on 01/12/2010.

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