1464 : The Battle of Hexham
Stacks Image 1148

Hexham Battlefield and Swallowship Hill viewed from the direction of the Yorkist Charge

In December 1463 Henry Beaufort's brief defection to Edward IV ended and he rode north with his retainers to rejoin Queen Margaret in Scotland. However by early 1464 the Scots had become weary of the Earl of Warwick’s continual cross border raids and decided that it was time for hostilities to end and as a result a peace conference was arranged for 6 March in Newcastle (although this was later rescheduled for the 20 April in York) with Lord Montagu dispatched to Norham to rendezvous with the Scottish delegation and escort them south.

Somerset, desperate to prevent peace dispatched “four score spears and bows” under Sir Humphrey Neville to lay an ambush for Montagu in a wood to the south of Newcastle but Montagu, having been forewarned by his spies, chose a different route and was able to reach Newcastle safely before heading north once more to Norham. Somerset’s best chance now lay in forcing a decisive encounter and after stripping the handful of garrisons under his command he managed to mustered 5000 men and blocked Montagu’s route to Norham at Hedgley Moor. The subsequent encounter on the 25 April 1464 was a short and savage affair and despite Somerset having the advantage in terms deployment on high ground the Lancastrian Force was routed and driven from the field.

Somerset, having escaped the rout, managed to rally some 2000 troops at Bywell Castle, Tynedale, the residence of Henry IV but by the first week in May Montague, having returned to Newcastle from York, decided to deal with Somerset once and for all and dispatched a 4000 strong mounted force along the north bank of the Tyne. Somerset, accompanied by Henry IV, retreated ahead of the advancing Yorkist but on reaching Hexham was forced to make camp as his soldiers refused to go any further due to lack of pay.

Somerset drew his meager force up in two divisions on Swallowship Hill with his back to Devil's Water, a fast flowing stream set in a deep cutting. As the Yorkist cavalry charged down on them the Lancastrian division under Lords Hungerford and Roos turned to flee without striking a blow and the line quickly began to unravel.

Somerset, mounted and with a handful of loyal supporter, attempted to fight his way out and although he was unhorsed and badly wounded he briefly escape the carnage and took shelter within a cottage but was quickly discovered and dragged to Hexham where, after being humiliated by having his spurs struck off, was thrown into Hexham Gaol. The following day he was taken out into the town square and beheaded and later buried within Hexham Abbey.

Henry VI escaped the battle but after wandering the North of England for a time was eventually captured and sent to the Tower. The mystery of Somerset’s missing pay was solved when shortly after the battle Montagu's men discovered Sir William Tailboys hiding in a coalmine near Newcastle with 3000 marks