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"The missing battles of the WOTR - Piltown, Nibley Green, etc" Topic

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Warspite104 Oct 2020 4:13 a.m. PST

In a post on the Medieval Discussion board, there is a question about why the Irish Battle of Piltown is 'missing' from most accounts of the WOTR. In truth there are a number of actions which do not 'make the final cut' during the period which historians misleadingly call the Wars of the Roses (I hate the term and much prefer The Cousins' War).

Piltown in 1462 can be seen as a microcosm of the WOTR as it was two local lords – FitzGerald and Butler – who already had rivalry issues with each other and each sided with either York or Lancaster.


Much the same happened in England with prominent land owners siding with either side, often on the basis of petty squabbles they already had with neighbouring lords. A good example is the Percys and the Nevilles. The families were already in dispute over inheritance issues but when powerful neighbouring Nevilles such as the Earls of Warwick and Salisbury finally sided with royal claimant Richard Duke of York, the Percys had very little option but to side with King Henry VI and the Lancastrian faction


Now given the Percys' earlier history with the Lancastrians this is a rather odd choice. The first Lancastrian king, Henry IV, had been the target of a serious Percy-led rebellion which culminated in the Battle of Shrewsbury as recently as 1403. This led to the deaths of eldest son Harry 'Hotspur' Percy and later his father, the Earl. So the new Percy Earl of Northumberland would have had very little love for the London-based (Lancastrian) king but he had DID remember the old saying of: "My enemy's enemy is my friend." Thus the Percys fought, and died, for the Lancastrian cause (theoretically) but in practice to defend themselves from those thieving Nevilles next-door. Controversially, one wing of the Nevilles actually sided with the Percys.

Another battle which falls outside the accepted WOTR canon is Nibley Green in 1470.


Nibley Green is often billed as the last 'private' battle in England as it appears that neither side were actively declaring for the Houses of York or Lancaster. The date is significant as there was considerable instability in England 1469/1471 given the machinations of the Neville Earl of Warwick in weakening the powerbase of his protege, Edward IV. Given this power vacuum, and the lack of faith in a corrupt legal system for settling disputes, Lord Lisle challenged Baron Berkeley to settle matters with their personal retinues. Lisle stopped an arrow in the temple when he left his visor open and – one way or another – matters WERE settled.

Also in this period (1469) the Duke of Norfolk pressed his claims against the humbler Paston family over their inheritance of Caister Castle, near me in Norfolk, resulting in a private siege, an exchange of gunfire, and the Pastons then being sued in the courts for causing the deaths of four Norfolk besiegers while defending the disputed castle. 'Compensation culture' is not a new phenomenon, it seems.

Piltown may also suffer from an Anglo-centric interpretation of history and Irish affairs. The Yorkists spread a lot of bread on the waters in Ireland when Richard, Duke of York ruled there before the WOTR and the Irish remembered him kindly enough to support those Yorkists who fled defeats in England. Indeed historians have suggested that the Duke of York had enough popular following among the Anglo-Irish and native Irish to have set himself up as an independent king of Ireland when he first began to break with Henry VI. See the biography 'Richard, Duke of York' by Matthew Lewis for a longer discussion on this point.

Despite this English historians have tended to write-off Ireland and the Irish, describing those Irish who fought at Stoke Field in 1487 as 'naked and beggarly'. An undercurrent of anti-Hibernian feeling should not be dismissed when considering Piltown.


mghFond04 Oct 2020 6:51 a.m. PST

While I have read about the usual major battles of the wars, I did not know this. Thanks for the revelations, interesting.

Huscarle04 Oct 2020 6:55 a.m. PST

Very interesting, I was unaware of Piltown. Thanks for sharing thumbs up

Warspite104 Oct 2020 7:01 a.m. PST

To give credit where it is due, Piltown was first raised by Knight of St John on the Medieval Discussion group but I chose to reply in the WOTR group and double post to Medieval as well.

Thank you both, Nibley Green seems to pass a lot of people by.

I should also point out that there was a second Battle of Stamford Bridge during this period, again Nevilles and Percys.

Wiki says:
"Despite these precautions, it is probable that a few hundred men clashed at Stamford Bridge on 31 October or 1 November 1454, resulting in hundreds dead and more wounded. Lord Egremont was then captured and imprisoned by John Neville."


Warspite104 Oct 2020 7:35 a.m. PST

Having had some time to do further research, I can now add another 'unknown' battle, the Battle of Clyst in 1455:


This was part of the ongoing Bonville and Courtney feud in the West Country (the counties of Somerset, Devon and Cornwall) which mirrored the Neville and Percy feud in the north of England – and at exactly the same time. Both were reactions to the weak rule of the feeble Henry VI and lack of confidence in the legal process to settle land disputes

When the so-called Wars of the Roses began, the Courtney Earls of Devon allied with King Henry VI and the Lancastrian party while the Bonvilles went with the Yorkist party so – again – we see local animosities reflected in their choices of which side to go with – see "My enemy's enemy is my friend" earlier!

But just a few months before Towton in 1461, Bonville family members died at both the Battle of Wakefield in December 1460 and at 2nd St Albans in February 1461. After the latter it is said that Thomas Courtney, Earl of Devon, instigated a mock trial against the captured Lord William Bonville which resulted in the summary execution of Bonville and the effective end of the feud.
The triumphant Earl of Devon never made it to Easter though… as he was executed after being on the losing side at Towton just a couple of weeks later.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP04 Oct 2020 7:36 a.m. PST

Piltown I normally see included in Irish military history. It could be bias. (How does one ever prove bias is not a factor?) But I suspect it's a question of impact. If you were teaching a short series on the WOTR, you wouldn't have to include any of these to explain what came next.

Warspite104 Oct 2020 7:54 a.m. PST

@robert piepenbrink:
I suspect both, in varying degrees, but certainly agree on its lack of impact on the national struggle.


MajorB04 Oct 2020 8:19 a.m. PST

All of these battles are covered in Richard Brooks' "Cassell's Battlefields of Britain and Ireland", (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2005), a definitive book on the subject.


Yesthatphil04 Oct 2020 8:45 a.m. PST

Great book, MajorB …


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