Just a couple of miles from our little oasis of tranquility here at Beanley Wood Cottage lies the busy A697 road, which runs north from Morpeth to Wooler. For much of its course the A697 follows an old Roman road known as Devil’s Causeway, and a mile or three from where it crosses the Breamish River, at what was the old Roman ford in Powburn, stands an innocuous copse of trees inside a walled triangular plantation.
Blink and you might very well miss it. But behind an iron gate and within its litter-strewn confines is a reminder of a little bit of local history from the English civil war over 500 years ago.
Here’s an account of events I’ve borrowed from elsewhere online which, like the now fading signage at the site itself, reports that the battle of Hedgeley Moor (25 April, 1464) was a Yorkist victory which marked the beginning of the end of Lancastrian resistance in Northumberland.
After the battle of Towton of 29 March 1461 the most effective centre of opposition to Edward IV was in Northumberland. Queen Margaret and Henry VI had escaped from Towton to relative safety in Scotland, and the Lancastrians were able to use their Scottish base to make repeated attacks on the castles of Alnwick, Bamburgh and Dunstanburgh. Edward IV attempted to find both a political and military solution to this problem, sending armies to recapture the castles and attempting to come to terms with some of the remaining Lancastrian leaders. During 1463 he appeared to have made peace with Henry Beaufort, third duke of Somerset. Somerset had spent some time in exile, and had returned with a French mercenary force that seized the castles in October 1462. When Queen Margaret retreated back into Scotland Somerset was left to defend Bamburgh, and in December he surrendered it to Edward IV.
Somerset had been a dedicated enemy of the Yorkists, but Edward was determined to win him over. His estates were restored, his brother was released from prison and Somerset spent much time with the king. This dramatic pardon didn’t make Somerset popular, and after a near riot he was sent to his estates in Wales for his own safety. His change of heart would prove to be short-lived, and late in 1463 he left north Wales and attempted to make his way to Henry VI, who was at Bamburgh Castle. On the way he made an unsuccessful attempt to seize Newcastle, but the plot was discovered and foiled.
Despite this setback Somerset was able to reach Bamburgh, which was now the centre of Lancastrian resistance. Scotland was now closed to them and peace negotiations were underway between Edward IV and the Scots. A number of other pardoned Lancastrians joined Somerset, amongst them Sir Henry Bellingham, Sir Humphrey Neville and Sir Ralph Percy. The Lancastrians were able to capture Norham, Langley, Hexham, Bywell and Prudhoe, and by late March had created a small Lancastrian enclave in the far north east.
This caused Edward a number of problems, including disrupting the Anglo-Scottish talks, which had been due to take place at Newcastle on 6 March. The talks were rearranged for late April and were to be held in York. An army commanded by John Neville, Lord Montagu, was sent to Northumberland to collect the Scottish envoys, and on 27 March Edward announced that he intended to lead a large army north in person to deal with the rebels.
Edward’s presence wouldn’t be needed – Montagu would win two battles that ended the Lancastrian threat before the king could reach the north.
Montague was heading into dangerous territory. The Lancastrians attempted to ambush him while he was heading north to Newcastle, with a force of archers and 80 men at arms. Montague was able to elude this force and reached Newcastle, where he picked up reinforcements. From Newcastle he moved north to Alnwick, then north-west towards Wooler. The Lancastrians decided to make a major effort to intercept him and Somerset led their main army south-west from Bamburgh. The two armies clashed at Hedgeley Moor (now close to the A697 just to the south-east of Wooler).
The events of the battle are fairly obscure. The Lancastrians may have had as many as 5,000 men, and were led by Somerset, Percy, Robert Hungerford, Lord Hungerford, Thomas Roos, Lord Roos, Lord Grey and Sir William Tailboys. But before the two sides came to blows the Lancastrian left fled the field, leaving Somerset outnumbered. At some point during the following battle Sir Ralph Percy was killed and the main Lancastrian force withdrew. Somerset pulled back to Alnwick, while Montague was able to continue on to the Scottish borders, meet the envoys and escort them to York.
So there you have it. A battle of sorts – but with most of the Lancastrians high-tailing it before a blow had been traded, I guess you could call it more of a skirmish.