Somerset and the Wars of the Roses

19 September, 2018 - 19:30
white and red roses



A talk by our treasurer,  medieval scholar Des Atkinson,

at the Somerset Heritage Centre

Des Atkinson gave a fascinating presentation on the long war, or series of wars, and the involvement of Somerset. He introduced us to the complexity of late 15th-century politics and the personal disputes between power hungry aristocrats that often undermined political stability. He also gave us an overview of the main battles of the period, the closest to Somerset and one of the bloodiest being at Tewkesbury.

Des then looked at many of the chief players in the wars and their Somerset connections. Sir William Bonville took refuge in Taunton castle in 1451 pursued by his enemy and arch rival Thomas Courtenay, earl of Devon, who laid siege. Fortunately, Richard, duke of York appears to have diffused the situation before any major damage was done.  The following year Henry VI came to Crewkerne when the men involved in the siege were tried and may have visited other parts of the county. Margaret of Anjou’s long march to disaster at Tewkesbury took her through the county in 1471. Revolts against taxation in the west country in 1497 encouraged Perkin Warbeck who amassed an army in Cornwall and Devon and marched on Exeter and then Taunton arriving on the 19th September to news that the king’s army was not far away. Most of the rebel army dissipated and Warbeck fled. After his capture he was brought to Taunton Castle for his meeting with the king. Having been pardoned he rashly rebelled again in 1499 in London and was executed.

Bishop Stillington of Bath and Wells was perhaps unwittingly a major character in later years of the conflict. A powerful prelate and politician, who seldom visited his diocese, his support for the view that Edward IV's marriage was not valid helped Richard III take the throne. However, Stillington does not seem to have benefitted by that. He was later pardoned for his involvement on the grounds of age and infirmity and appears to have died in obscurity. Des concluded by looking at the Beaufort dukes of Somerset all three of whom grandfather, father and son came to a nasty end between 1455 and 1471.

Although there were no major battles in Somerset the retinues of soldiers travelling with royalty and others must have imposed a burden on the areas they passed through and the deaths of many people with Somerset connections and property must have caused headaches for their tenants and officials.