7/13/13

The Northumberland Rebellions of 1405-1408 and the Battle of Bramham Moor 1408

Henry Percy (b.1341-1408), the Earl of Northumberland did not remain quiet for long following the Battle of Shrewsbury and the death of his eldest son Sir Henry in 1403. He first had to answer for the crimes and treasons of his son which he denied involvement in and successfully distanced himself from despite strong supporting evidence that he knew and supported his late son’s rebellion. As a leading lord of the kingdom he must have been deeply troubled by the great upheavals caused by Welsh wars, the Scottish raids into his own lands, and the rebellion of his son now dead eldest son and heir which just been crushed by the king at Shrewsbury field. See Sir Hotspur's Uprising: The Battle of Shrewsbury, July 21, 1403, for more.

18th century engraving of the elderly Earl of Northumberland

As a father he must have grieved deeply, swearing atonement for his son and heir whose head now adorned the gate above the city of York as a lesson to would-be traitors and usurpers. If the Earl of Northumberland had not been a traitor already he most certainly was by 1404 into the new year in 1405, when the Welsh rebellion was going decisively in Owain Glyndŵr (Glendower’s) favor. He was an ally of France for a time actively courting allies at home in the British Isles to win not just independence for Wales but to dethrone King Henry IV in favor of the House of Mortimer.

The war in Wales continued on long after the uprising of Hotspur had been defeated. In the year 1404, Harlech castle fell to Glendower and his rebels becoming the uprisings military headquarters until the English re-took it in 1409. Sir Edmund Mortimer died during the siege most likely due to sickness, the plotter, turncoat, and pretender escaping being hung, drawn and quartered, his sentence if apprehended. French armies came and went in 1405-1406 and by 1412-1413, Glendower and his Welsh rebels showed the last flashes of their brilliant guerrilla campaign shortly before King Henry IV died in 1413. English control was eventually asserted by early 1415.

First Rebellion of the Earl of Northumberland and the Tripartite Indenture of 1405: Treasons and plots of a disinherited earl

In the year 1405 the Welsh patriot made a costly err in judgment in agreeing to the Tripartite Indenture which slowly eroded the strength that his rebellion had during the first years of the guerrilla conflict before and after the Percy’s had campaigned in Wales for King Henry, 1401-1403. Glendower, Sir Edmund Mortimer, and the Earl of Northumberland agreed to a formal alliance which would divide England into three kingdoms, the North and the Midlands would be ruled by Northumberland. Mortimer would take the south and sit on the throne as King of England while Glendower would take all of Wales and parts of east England as King of Wales.

The Earl of Northumberland hoping to raise a significant rebellion in the north among his liege lords made the first move as an ally in the short lived Tripartite. During the summer of 1405 a Northern uprising took place led by the Earl of Northumberland, Thomas Bardolf the Baron Bardolf, Thomas de Mowbray the Earl of Norfolk. This rebellion was instigated by Bishop Richard le Scrope, the Archbishop of York from 1398-1405. The king sent a royalist army in response to crush the rebellion and bring Northumberland to justice.

Henry Percy, First Earl of Northumberland, Baron Percy, & King of Mann (b.1341-1408)

Royal command was given to Ralph Neville the Earl of Westmoreland who had become Warden of the Scottish Marches after Hotspur’s death in 1403. The royalists succeeded rather quickly in putting down the uprising, fully disarming or scattering most of 8000 men who has mustered for the rising under the three principle lords, Northumberland, Bardolf, and Norfolk. Despite his position with the church le Scrope arrested and later beheaded for his involvement in the failed revolt. The Earl of Northumberland fled to Scotland attainted and marked for execution. He retreated to relative safety of the Scottish highlands.

There Northumberland had some anonymity the further he traveled from the Cheviot Hills with Baron Bardolf his chief conspirator and lord in-exile following the failed rebellion of 1405. Little is known of Northumberland’s dealings in exile but he was in contact with various Scottish lords and later with French diplomats in Belgium; likely seeking assistance to help invade the North and take back his castles and his earldom. Besides reclaiming his castles and lands, the old lord was also motivated to gain revenge for his son by spilling the blood of Lancaster and Neville alike. Further plotting around the young Edmund Mortimer (b.1391-1425), King Richard II's heir before his usurpation and death in 1399-1400, also played a role in the later Percy Rebellions.

All-in-all a woeful exile in Scotland had awaited the once powerful Earl of Northumberland. Very few Scots, Welsh, or Frenchmen were willing to risk their lives on an exiled rebel lord who had no knights to do battle with and no feudal properties or incomes to bargain away. Eventually however he was able to raise a very small invading force of Northumbrians who hadn't forgot their loyalties to the ‘Lion in the Blue’ and some Lowland Scottish knights seeking adventure and plunder. Northumberland failed greatest early on by making the assumption that has led to some of the greatest military disasters of the 20th or 21st centuries as well as his own downfall, “the people will rise up!”.

Battle of Bramham Moor

Numerous sources including the Historia Anglicana note that the severe winter of 1407-1408 had made it nearly impossible for the Earl of Northumberland and Bardolf to raise an army, meeting the royalists at Bramham Moor in Yorkshire with maybe only 300-500 men or less. Apparently a letter sent throughout the north by the latter urging all Northern men to take arms fell on deaf ears. The royalist force of Sir Thomas de Rokeby, Knight of the Shire and sheriff for the county of Yorkshire had at least double this when they met in the middle of a a snowstorm in the brutally cold northern winter of February 1408.

The Earl of Northumberland in battle on Bramham Moor (click to see a larger view)

Battle was joined at a place called Camp Hill around 2 pm. A short but "furious and bloody" melee began around the hill. Numerous sources confirm the the Earl of Northumberland was cut off, unable to escape and willing to do battle because he had no other recourse left. De Rokeby most definately took the fight to Northumberland. The Battle of Bramham Moor came to a decisive end; the Earl of Northumberland despite his advanced aged (66 years old) fighting in vain to protect the rear of his army after the royalists charged and destroyed the rebel ranks. Baron Bardolf was killed early in battle as many rebels fell under accurate royalist arrows. The most decisive factor in the victory for the king is considered to be the superb training and weapons of the royalist yeomen. 

Revenge was savage after the Lancastrian victory as hundreds were killed and at least fifteen major barons, earls, or lords were put to death after. Rather famously the Abbott of Hailes in Gloucestershire was executed after being captured dressed in full armor, or 'harness' in medieval parlance, yet the Bishop of Bangor who was also in the rebel army was spared because he dressed in his priestly vestments.

Apparently the elder Percy died of wounds received (or was executed) near a small hollow between Oglethorpe Hills and Old Wood. Many despaired seeing his head paraded mockingly to London where the rest of his body was drawn and quartered. His death that day ended the Percy Rebellion of 1402-1408, nearly destroying Percy influence in the North as well. A reversal of fortunes occurred in the year 1416 however when King Henry V conferred the title of Earl of Northumberland to Hotspur's adolescent son, who was to be killed in the first battle of the Wars of the Roses (1455-1487) at St. Albans in 1455.

Memorial stone placed near the site of the battle in Yorkshire, England

The younger Percy became one of the single most important figures in the North leading directly into the Wars of the Roses (preceded by the relatively minor Percy-Neville feud of 1453-1454), where he lost his life fighting in the (First) Battle at St. Albans whilst commanding Northumbrian knights in the royalist army of King Henry VI (b.1421-1471). His son and heir also named Henry, would perish in the war's bloodiest and biggest battle in the ice and snow at Towton in March of 1461.

Conclusion: The Hotspur and Percy family legend lives on

The rebellion of the Percy’s of Northumberland 1402-1408, the Lions of the North and de facto kings of North England is one of the most important events in the beginning to the Wars of the Roses, which would engulf England in feudalistic violence that would all but end the middle ages in the British Isles.

While Hotspur’s actions at the Battle of Shrewsbury have eclipsed the rest of the history behind the Percy families' rebellions, due in-part to William Shakespeare’s fictionalized portrait of him in appearing in Henry IV, Part I, the role of the Percy family in English history from the 1200’s to the beginning of the renaissance in the 1500’s is undeniable.

Hotspur in bronze, standing watch today at Pottergate garden in Alnwick

Especially in their home county of Northumberland where he is still remembered and celebrated as an icon in modern times, the Hotspur and Percy legend as "kings in the north" continues to thrive. In just about every major conflict fought in EnglandWales, and Scotland for three centuries, Percy family members offered their services as knights and men of war. The blue lion of the North, steeped in the blood of Englishmen, Scot, Frenchman, and Welshman became both the shining example of knighthood and a testament to the bloody minded etiquette of chivalry & feudalism which the lords, knights, and kings of the British Isles adhered to during the high medieval ages 1314-1499.


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[Note] Two life sized statues of Hotspur reside today in Alnwick, Northumberland, with the newest unveiled in August of 2010.

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