The Battle of Tewkesbury occurred on 4 May 1471 and cemented the reign of King Edward IV by destroying the hopes of the House of Lancaster. Although their king, Henry VI, was still alive, his only son and heir, Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales, who was only a 17 year old boy, was defeated and killed by the Yorks.
The Yorkists won because Edward IV, his younger (and recently reconciled brother) George, Duke of Clarence, and his baby brother Richard of Gloucester (future Richard III) were flat out better military commanders than Edmund of Westminster, his chief ally, Edmund Beaufort, 4th Duke of Somerset, and Somerset’s younger brother John Beaufort, Marquess of Dorset.
Edward of Westminster was slaughtered by the Duke of Clarence toward the end of the battle when he “was found in a grove by some of Clarence’s men”. The boy pleaded with Clarence to be spared for ransom, but he was nonetheless beheaded with dispatch. Clarence, who had fled to France to escape his elder brother’s wrath a year before, had sworn his allegiance to Edward of Winchester. Clarence’s promises of friendship were worth much less than a soft leaf in a privy, to be honest. The man had less honor than a dock rat. Clarence’s own brothers would kill him with as little care as he killed his cousin Edward just a few years later.
Margaret of Anjou, Henry VI’s queen and the mother of Edward of Westminster, surrendered to Edward IV. She had nothing left to fight for. She would later be paraded as a captive through the streets of London, and her husband would die “mysteriously” of sorrow that night. Some people embrace the theory that if Margaret had just been nicer to Richard 3rd Duke of York, the Yorks would never have been spurred to take the throne. Horsefeathers. Even leaving aside the slanders and untruths regarding her evil deeds to the Yorks and others, the Yorks had started an immediate whisper campaign suggesting Edward of Westminster was a bastard, started wooing powerful nobles to their side, and treated Margaret like a skivvy, rather than a queen. What was she supposed to do? Play nice, mend hosiery, and hope they wouldn’t murder her son? No way would a man be blamed for defending his son and spouse the way she defended hers.
After winning the battle, the Yorkists made damn sure they had won the war by killing almost everyone left to challenge them for the throne.
Lancastrian nobles and knights sought sanctuary in Tewkesbury Abbey … However, two days after the battle, Somerset and other leaders were dragged out of the Abbey, and were ordered by Gloucester and the Duke of Norfolk to be put to death after perfunctory trials. Among them were Hugh Courtenay, younger brother of the Earl of Devon, and Sir John Langstrother, the prior of the military order of St. John. The Abbey was not officially a sanctuary, though it is doubtful whether this would have deterred Edward even if it had been. It had to be reconsecrated a month after the battle, following the violence done within its precincts.
The only person still standing on the Lancastrian side was a young Beaufort lad named Henry Tudor, who was fiercely protected by his Welsh uncle, Jasper Tudor. Jasper made haste to get his nephew to the safety of Brittany in France, where they would spend the remainder of Edward IV’s reign.
Ironically, if Richard III had not claimed the throne, alienating his allies by the disappearance of his nephews, then Henry Tudor would have had no chance to ever make a play for the throne, and would never have become Henry VII.