Hexham was a short, but significant engagement in the Wars of the Roses resulting in the capture and execution of Lord Somerset, one of the main Lancastrian supporters and leading to the capture of King Henry VI.
After the battle of Hedgeley Moor, the Lancastrians failed to prevent the Yorkists from concluding peace negotiations with Scotland in 1463, and soon found that their northern base of operations was now threatened. It was decided to mount a campaign in the North of England to gather Lancastrian support before a huge force under Edward IV could muster in Leicester and move north to crush the rebellion.
The Lancastrian army moved through Northumberland in late April 1464 under the Duke of Somerset, and gathered support from Lancastrian garrisons until it camped near to Hexham in early May. A Yorkist force under John Neville raced north in vanguard of Edward’s larger force and the two sides met outside Hexham on 14 May 1464.
The Lancastrian camp was near Linnels Bridge over theDevil’s Water found slightly to the south of Hexham. The Yorkists crossed onto the south bank of the Tyne on the night of 12th/13 May and were by the morning of the 14th in a position to attack Hexham. Presumably the Yorkist advance was at speed, as despite warnings by their own scouts the Lancastrians had little time to prepare for battle.
It is thought Somerset rushed his forces to a site near Linnels Bridge and deployed his troops in 3 detachments in a meadow near the Devil’s Water, here he hoped he could engage the Yorkist army before it moved past him into Hexham. No sooner had the Lancastrians taken their positions than the Yorkists charged down from their positions on higher ground. Upon seeing the Yorkist advance the right detachment of the Lancastrian army, commanded by Lord Roos, turned and fled across the Devil’s Water and into Hexham, before a single blow had been struck. The remnants of Somerset’s force were in a hopeless situation, hemmed in and unable to manoeuvre; the Yorkist troops charged through the one opening at the east end of Linnel’s Meadow and engaged the bewildered Lancastrian soldiers.
Lancastrian morale collapsed, and after some token resistance the remains of Somerset’s army was pushed into the Devil’s Water by the Yorkist infantry. A chaotic rout followed, men either drowned in the river or were crushed as they tried to climb the steep banks of the Devil’s Water in the retreat towards Hexham. Most, however were trapped in West Dipton Wood on the north bank of the river and were forced to surrender when the Yorkists approached.
John Neville showed little of Edward’s concilatory spirit, and had thirty leading Lancastrians executed in Hexham on the evening following the battle, including the unfortunate Duke of Somerset and Lord Roos. Sir William Tailboys was captured and executed shortly after as he tried to flee north with £2000 of Henry’s war chest. On the loss of its leadership and bank roll, the Lancastrian resistance in the North of England collapsed. The capture of Henry at Bolton By Bowland, Clitheroe, Lancashire meant the rebellion was effectively over. There followed a relative period of peace until the Earl of Warwick’s defection to the Lancastrian cause in 1469 and the wars started anew.
There are two current interpretations of the battle/. the positions are shown on the map. The alternative interpretation is
There is an account on the Richard III Foundation page here