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Looking south from close to Edgcote village to Edgcote Hill, across the plain identified by some as the location where the two armies clashed.
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The probable site of Danesmoor, to the east of Edgcote Hill
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The Battle

NB The date of the battle has traditionally been given as the 26th July, the day after the feast of St James, in English histories of the battle. Contemporary evidence from the Coventry Leet Book, and the poems of record written by Welsh poets who met and wrote about those involved in the battle, clearly place the battle of the eve of the Feast of St James, or the 24th, which was a Monday. This is confirmed by one of the “Three Fifteenth Century Chronicles” edited by James Gairdner of the Camden Society in 1880, the earliest chronicle written in England. The earliest use of the 26th is to be found in Warkworth, which was used by Hall in the writing of his epic work. This error has been carried forwards in mainstream English historiography with the notable exception of Hicks’ biography of the Earl of Warwick, despite attempts by Welsh historians working on medieval Welsh records to draw the error to wider attention. See works in the “Further Reading” section for more information on this important matter.

The night before the battle, according to Warkworth and Hall, the Earls of Pembroke and Devon quarrelled over quarters in Banbury. As a result, Devon had withdrawn from the field before the action, some 10 or 12 miles according to the account in Hearne’s fragment. This left Pembroke’s army dangerously weakened, most importantly because Devon’s force had included at least 800 archers, while Pembroke had few or none.

According to Waurin, that night the two armies were camped on either side of a waterway, which he refers to as a “rivière” and the rebels made an attack on Pembroke’s camp that night. There are doubts as to how close the camps actually were. Some would place the royal army much closer to Banbury, especially as Pembroke and Devon are said to have argued over quarters in Banbury, but it is also likely that the army had encamped near Edgcote, and the leaders retired to Banbury for more salubrious accommodation. However, what is certain is that the two armies were already  aware of each other by that evening. The battle of Edgcote was not a chance encounter.

Balancing the sources to determine where the fighting took place produces two interpretations that are close to each other, and both of which place the fighting on the area known as Danes Moor, at the foot of Edgcote Lodge Hill. One interpretation identified during the 550th anniversary commemoration activities by the Northamptonshire Battlefields Society, places the fighting on an east/west alignment across what is now the boundary between Edgcote Estate and Culworth Grounds. The Battlefields Trust and Historic England favour a location on a north/south alignment, slightly further south on the area now part of Edgcote racecourse.

In the first of the two interpretations, on the morning of the 24th the two forces fought for the crossing of the “rivière” mentioned in Waurin. Pembroke at first had only men at arms, but when reinforced by his infantry he gained the crossing. The rebels then rallied and regained the crossing. Waurin claims that it was actually at this point that Devon withdrew from the field, not the night before. Some historians have equated Waurin's stream with the river Cherwell and identified the crossing with Trafford bridge, just to the east of Edgcote. However, Waurin’s word usage in medieval French clearly indicates that the waterway was not a major river, such as the Cherwell, which would have been referred to as a “fleuve”. Waurin’s rivière is identified as a tributary to the Cherwell that runs to east of Danes Moor, at the foot of Culworth Hill, and can clearly be seen on maps of the area from the late 16th century onwards.

Hall’s description of the action differs but is compatible with Waurin’s, and combined it provides a location for Waurin’s “rivière”. He claims that the two armies met in a ‘fair plain’ between a western, eastern and southern hill, a plain that was called Danes Moor according to Stow, which, in the Northamptonshire Battlefields Society interpretation, is bounded on the eastern side by Waurin’s rivière. The rebels had originally camped on the southern hill (Thorpe Hill) and the Welsh forces on the west hill (Edgcote Lodge Hill). Hall states that the Welsh believed they would have victory if they gained the east hill, based on an ancient prophecy. It is possible the rebels moved from the southern hill to the eastern hill (Culworth Hill) by the morning of the battle and this is why the Welsh believed they would have victory if they captured the hill. 

In the other interpretation less stress is placed upon the fighting across the “rivière” running north/south, but postulates an attack on Pembroke’s position directly from the rebel encampment on the south hill. This part of Danes Moor also historically had small water courses that may have been Waurin’s riviere. Alternatively, as the Culworth Hill tributary runs west-east before the north facing slopes of Thorpe Hill before turning north and passing by Culworth Hill, the fighting across the ‘riviere’ may have been at some point south of Culworth Hill or before Thorpe Hill.  This interpretation means that the rebels have no need of an approach march to occupy the East hill, with the prophecy  relating to blocking the arrival of the reinforcements, rather than driving the rebels off a hill crest position.

The battle started when the rebel force descended from their hill and their archers attacked Pembroke’s army, which was deployed on the western of the three hills. Unable to respond with his own archers (Welsh sources particularly lament the archers from Yorkshire), because of Devon’s departure, Pembroke was forced to descend from the hill, initially with his mounted troops to drive the bowmen back.

The battle then developed along the line of the rivière, Pembroke’s knights and men at arms, now all fighting on foot, had considerable success. In the action it seems that Sir William Conyers, one candidate for the role of the rebel leader Redesdale, was killed. The rebel army appears to have been about to collapse.

It was at this critical stage, when the rebel force appeared on the brink of defeat, that reinforcements arrived. According to Hall they appeared over the side of the East hill. As the reinforcements approached, crying “A Warwick, A Warwick” they were mistaken for Earl of Warwick’s main army. Pembroke’s men broke and ran, not realising that there were no more than perhaps 500-1500 troops, not Warwick’s whole army. In the ensuing rout large numbers of the fleeing troops were killed. Pembroke himself was captured and, with his brother, taken to Northampton, where they were both executed a few days later.

Given the largely untouched nature of the landscape a visit to the area is well worth the trouble to compare the two alternative locations.


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