The Battle of Shrewsbury - 21st July 1403


When Henry Bollingbroke usurped the English throne in 1399 by capturing Richard II he had enjoyed the support of many English Lords and Earls in his fight, but since proclaiming himself King Henry IV his style of rule had distanced some of his previously loyal supporters. One such noble was Henry "Hotspur" Percy, Earl of Northumberland. As a noble who's land bordered Scotland, Percy was an important noble to keep loyal, as he and his men were often the first line of defense and peacekeepers in the troublesome border regions. When the King failed to keep promises of granting land and Scottish prisoners to Percy for ransom Percy's loyalty was tested too far, and in 1403 he openly challenged the authority of Henry IV by launching a rebellion.


Initially with just a personal retinue of 200 men, Percy marched cross country to Cheshire, an area loyal still to the late Richard II, where he raised several thousand men including many of the famous "Cheshire Archers" with their deadly longbows. After joining up with his uncle, Thomas Percy, Earl of Worcester, his army had reached almost 13,000 men. His next plan seems to have been to march into Wales to join forces with the rebel self-proclaimed Prince of Wales, Owain Glyndwr and his army. However his movements and gathering of forces had not gone unnoticed and Henry IV, along with his son Henry Prince of Wales (future Henry V of Agincourt fame) and a Royal army of 14,000 men marched to intercept them before the two forces could meet up and it was near Shrewsbury in Shropshire on the Welsh borders where the two armies met.



Suggested initial set-up for the Battle of Shrewsbury

ORDERS OF BATTLE - using the figure/man ratio of 1:50

REBEL ARMY - left to right

Thomas Percy 1st Earl of Worcester - sub-commander - experienced, veteran, respected leader

Longbowmen (1000 men) -20 figures - open order, lightly armoured infantry, well trained, experienced, longbow

Billmen (1500 men) - 30 figures - close order infantry, medium armour, trained, steady, bill

Men-At Arms (500 men) - 10 figures - close order, heavy armour, experienced, veteran, 2 handed swords

Henry "Hotspur" Percy, 2nd Earl of Northumberland, Commander in Chief - experienced, veteran, ferocious warrior, inspirational leader

Knights (150 men) - 3 figures - close order, fully armoured cavalry, experienced, veteran, impetuous, lance, shield, sword

Longbowmen (1500 men) -30 figures - open order, lightly armoured infantry, well trained, experienced, longbow

Billmen (2000 men) - 40 figures - close order infantry, medium armour, trained, steady, bill

Men-At Arms (1000 men) - 20 figures - close order, heavy armour, experienced, veteran, 2 handed swords

Archibald Douglas, 4th Earl of Douglas - sub-commander - experienced, veteran, inspirational leader

Longbowmen (1000 men) -20 figures - open order, lightly armoured infantry, well trained, experienced, longbow

Billmen (1500 men) - 30 figures - close order infantry, medium armour, trained, steady, bill

Men-At Arms (500 men) - 10 figures - close order, heavy armour, experienced, veteran, 2 handed swords


ROYAL ARMY - left to right

Henry, Prince of Wales - sub-commander - experienced, ferocious warrior, inspirational leader

Longbowmen (1000 men) -20 figures - open order, lightly armoured infantry, well trained, experienced, longbow

Billmen (2000 men) - 40 figures - close order infantry, medium armour, trained, steady, bill

Men-At Arms (1000 men) - 20 figures - close order, heavy armour, experienced, veteran, 2 handed swords

King Henry IV - Commander in Chief - experienced, veteran, respected leader

Longbowmen (2000 men) -40 figures - open order, lightly armoured infantry, well trained, experienced, longbow

Billmen (2500 men) - 50 figures - close order infantry, medium armour, trained, steady, bill

Men-At Arms (1500 men) - 30 figures - close order, heavy armour, experienced, veteran, 2 handed swords

Edmund Stafford, 5th Earl of Stafford - sub-commander - experienced, veteran, respected leader

Longbowmen (1000 men) -20 figures - open order, lightly armoured infantry, well trained, experienced, longbow

Billmen (1500 men) - 30 figures - close order infantry, medium armour, trained, steady, bill

Men-At Arms (500 men) - 10 figures - close order, heavy armour, experienced, veteran, 2 handed swords


THE BATTLE AS IT HAPPENED

For many historians the Battle of Shrewsbury is viewed as an early prelude to the Wars of the Roses that would be a reemergence of the rivalry between supporters of the House of York and the House of Lancaster fifty years later and like those battles, Shreswbury began with a duel of longbows.

Percy had formed his army up along a ridge behind a hedgerow in front of farm land planted with peas that sloped gently down towards the Royal army, this subtle geographical advantage meant the Rebel's longbows achieved a greater range and began to inflict serious casualties to the Royal army. Earl Stafford decided enough was enough and launched a charge on the right wing. The incline, though looking slight, proved to be more difficult to scale, also the Rebels had used the pea crop to their advantage, knotting the long vines together to create trip-traps that the armoured knight struggled to see and avoid before falling over, all the while coming under a hail of arrows.

Finally Stafford and his men reached the Rebel lines and hand to hand combat began, the exhausted Royal soldiers attacked hard, but when Stafford himself was cut down in the melee, his men began to retreat before deciding to fully flee the field. So intense had the archery been that Rebels had almost run out of arrows and as Stafford's men fled the Rebel archers ran after them to recover arrows from the ground and pulling them from corpses of the fallen.

King Henry now decided his only option was an all out advance, and both he and his son's divisions moved forward up the slopes, once again under a hail of longbow arrows and trying to avoid the knotted pea traps.

Henry Prince of Wales is hit by an arrow in the face

In the slow advance young Henry, Prince of Wales lifted his visor to get a better view of the slopes and traps in front of him and at that moment a longbow arrow struck him in the face, lodging itself in his cheekbone. Heroically he kept on fighting and leading his men to the Rebels, before then engaging in viscous hand to hand fighting with the arrow still stuck in his face. His father King Henry, was also under intense attack, the Rebels now holding superior numbers as well as the terrain advantage. Percy saw his chance to finish the battle and mounting his warhorse he led his 150 knights around Douglas's flank to hit the Royal army in the side. His target was the Royal Standard, and his hope was to kill King Henry IV. Luckily for Henry his bodyguard had sensed the potential danger and had ordered the King to the rear lines, leaving his standard bearer in the front. Percy and his knights smashed into the Royal army's flank and began hacking their way towards the Royal Standard which was loyally carried by Sir Walter Blount, Walter was allegedly cut down by Archibald Douglas at which point Percy lifted his visor and shouted " The King is Dead, aren't you Henry?" only for King Henry to shout back "I'm here and alive, Lord Percy is dead", at which point, no doubt by coincidence rather than good planing or the "Hollywood effect", an arrow struck Percy in the face, only unlike Prince Henry, this once struck an inch further up, piercing his eye then brain and killing him instantly.

So chaotic is any medieval battle, that only those in the immediate vicinity either saw, heard or knew what had happened, and while fighting generally continued, small then growing numbers of both Rebel and Royal soldiers began to flee believing that their own leader had been killed. It was once again, Price Henry, the future Henry V, that saved the situation, rallying his men to push another attack in to the Rebel lines and proclaim that Percy was dead, prompting the end of any Rebel resistance and routing their army.

In the rout, Earl Douglas was captured and held for ransom, while Thomas Percy, also captured was less fortunate, and was instead executed two days later.

By the miracle of medieval medicine using alcohol and honey, Prince Henry's arrow to the face was safely removed, leaving a scar, but no other damage.


WARGAMING THE BATTLE

Shrewsbury is an often overlooked battle, but holds lots of potentials as well as possibility of a "what if" campaign where the rebellion continues and builds to a full civil war as would happen fifty years later.

Figures for gaming this are readily available, being basically "Agincourt era" 100 years war as far as dress and weapons are concerned.


And rules that reflect the levels of generalship such as Mortem et Gloriam would allow a natural flow of events without having to add additional rules to compensate for differences in ability.

All in all it's well worth playing and your figures can double up for 100 Years War battles too.


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