The Battle of Shrewsbury

The Battle of Shrewsbury occurred on 21 July 1403 between the forces of King Henry IV of England (AKA Henry of Bolingbroke) and those of the rebelling Henry “Harry Hotspur” Percy, the 1st Earl of Northumberland.


As can be inferred from the name, the battle took place near Shrewsbury in Shropshire, England less than 15 miles from the Welsh border. Hotspur was probably expecting some help from the Prince of Wales, Owain Glyndŵr, who was also rebelling against Henry IV.

The battle was fought over the fact that Henry Bolingbroke made Henry Percy a whole bunch of promises about how Hotspur would be rewarded if he backed Bolingbroke’s usurpation of the throne from  Richard II. Hotspur kept his end of the bargain, but the newly-crowned Henry IV did not.

Henry IV had promised land, money and royal favour in return for their continued support. When the war ended, lands in and around Cumberland promised to the Percys were instead given to a rival. The promised money never materialised, and so the Percys revolted. Henry Percy, 1st Earl of Northumberland and Thomas Percy, 1st Earl of Worcester publicly renounced their allegiance to King Henry IV. They charged him with perjury because he claimed the throne in addition to his old lands and titles, taxed the clergy despite his promise not to without the consent of Parliament, imprisoned and murdered King Richard II, did not allow a free Parliamentary election, and refused to pay a just ransom to Owain Glyndŵr, who was then holding Edmund Mortimer. The King also retained custody of the Scottish nobles captured at Homildon Hill as prisoners of war rather than permitting the Percys to release them for ransom.

The Percy’s went to war, meeting the the king’s army at Shrewsbury on 20 July 1403. There was an initial attempt to resolve the conflict peaceably, but when that failed the two camps joined in battle shortly before dusk on the 21st. Since both sides had English longbow archers and there were mass casualties. Not only was Hotspur killed by an arrow to the face, the Prince of Wales – the future Henry V – was also shot in the head. The prince lived thanks to luck and “the skilled treatment of the Physician General John Bradmore using honey, alcohol and a specially designed surgical instrument” that basically acted like a corkscrew and drew out the remainder of the arrow’s shaft like cork from a wine bottle. That must have been a pleasant experience for the prince!

Hotspur at Battle-of-Shrewsbury

Considering Henry V was the source of the French defeat at Agincourt and his son was the tinder for The Wars of the Roses, history would have been a LOT different without John Bradmore’s skills as a chriurgeon after the battle. Medieval chriurgeons deserve more credit than they’re given, considering how much they did with how few tools.

After the battle, which Henry IV had won by a whisker, several of the ringleaders – including Hotspur’s uncle Thomas Percy – were hung, drawn, and quartered as an example of what happens to those who rise up against the king. It didn’t seem to have been much of a deterrent because nobles rebelled against Henry IV in 1405 and 1408 as well. It didn’t even deter the Percys, who would go on to act against the English throne numerous times, including the Rising of the North, scheming to liberate Mary Queen of Scots, and the Gunpowder Plot. Due to these various naughty behaviors, the eighth and ninth Earls of Northumberland spent many years in the Tower.

The Percys redeemed themselves to the crown when the tenth Earl, Algernon, fought for King Charles in the Civil War. In the 18th century the Percys ran out of male heirs, and the heiress of Northumberland, Elizabeth Percy married the Duke of Somerset. Elizabeth’s son, Algernon Seymour, 7th Duke of Somerset, had a daughter, Lady Elizabeth Seymour,  who married on  Sir Hugh Smithson 16 July 1740, through a private Act of Parliament. Smithson adopted the name Percy, and was created the first Duke of Northumberland and Earl Percy in 1766. Hugh and Elizabeth’s descendant, the 12th Duke of Northumberland, still lives in the ancestral seat of Alnwick Castle and Syon House.


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