The Battle of Tewkesbury, which took place on 4 May 1471, was one of the decisive battles of the Wars of the Roses. The forces loyal to the House of Lancaster were completely defeated by those of the rival House of York under their monarch, King Edward IV. The Lancastrian heir to the throne, Edward, Prince of Wales, and many prominent Lancastrian nobles were killed during the battle or were dragged from sanctuary two days later and immediately executed. The Lancastrian king, Henry VI, who was a prisoner in the Tower of London, died or was murdered shortly after the battle. Tewkesbury restored political stability to England until the death of Edward IV in 1483.
The Lancastrians arrived at Tewkesbury first on 3rd May. They had marched swiftly for several days, covering the last twenty four miles in just sixteen hours, and so their troops were exhausted. With Edward hard on their heels Somerset chose to stand and fight, rather than risk his army being caught in a bottle-neck as they attempted the difficult crossing of the Severn at Lower Lode, a mile south of the Abbey.
Somerset had the choice of ground and he chose to set his camp in a pasture close called ‘Gastum’ (now The Gastons) to the south of the Abbey. The next morning, the 4th May, he probably deployed his army between the Gastons and Gupshill Manor, with his left flank against the Swillgate River (little more than a stream) and his right across the gently sloping ground to a stream on the west. Thus Edward arrived to find the Lancastrians already deployed and so he arrayed his army to the south of and parallel to Somerset’s.
The battle of Tewkesbury was to prove a decisive encounter, which ended the second phase of the Wars of the Roses. Edward IV’s victory and the death of Henry VI’s son and heir, shortly followed by Henry’s own death and Queen Margaret’s imprisonment, destroyed hopes of a Lancastrian succession and led to fourteen years peace.
There is an annual festival to commemorate the battle and the town has recently erected new statures.