«English Heritage Battlefield Report: Barnet 1471 Barnet (14 April 1471) Parish: Barnet, Hertsmere District: Barnet, Hertsmere County: Greater London, ...»
English Heritage Battlefield Report: Barnet 1471
Barnet (14 April 1471)
Parish: Barnet, Hertsmere
District: Barnet, Hertsmere
County: Greater London, Hertfordshire
Grid Ref: TQ 247979 (centred on Hadley High Stone)
The Battle of Barnet was the last act in the estrangement of King Edward IV and the mightiest subject in the land,
the Earl of Warwick. One time intimates, the King's preference for a Burgundian rather than a French alliance had
ruined their friendship. Warwick restored the Lancastrian King Henry VI to the throne and Edward fled to the Continent. In March 1471, however, Edward returned and landed in Yorkshire. A lightning campaign left Warwick outmanoeuvred and Edward in possession of London. Warwick, advancing from Coventry, had hoped to find Edward barred from the Capital; he could then have crushed his opponent under the City walls. But it had turned out otherwise and Warwick chose to offer battle ten miles north of London near High, or Chipping Barnet, occupying, as has been observed, the highest ground on the road between London and York.
Location and Description of the Battlefield Barnet battlefield lies a short distance to the north of High Barnet. According to contemporary (or near-contemporary) accounts the struggle took place either a mile or half-mile away1. There is little point in trying to determine which claim is the more exact: we do not know, for a start, how extensive the purlieus of High Barnet were in 1471. However, it is worthwhile attempting to pinpoint any topographical references made by contemporary chroniclers.
The Great Chronicle states that the Earl of Oxford, leading the Lancastrian vanguard, 'pycchid his ffeyld upon the playn withowth the toun well lyke a myle thens'2. Edward Hall, although he wrote his Chronicle a generation or two later, clearly felt this observation sufficiently accurate to bear repeating: 'This toune [High Barnet] standeth on an hill, on whose toppe is a faire plain, for two armies to joyne together...'3. The chronicle Historie of the Arrivall of Edward IV in England informs us that when the Yorkists encountered the Lancastrian foreriders in High Barnet they 'chaced them out of the towne, more some what than an halfe myle; when, undre an hedge-syde, were redy assembled a great people, in array, of th'Erls of Warwike'4. Thus far we have a hedge line on a plain north of High Barnet. But the most detailed description of the ground belongs to a source which only came to light this century.
Gerhard von Wesel, a Hanseatic merchant living in London, reported on the battle in a letter home:
Warwick and his liegemen and followers, who had been at Coventry, pitched camp a mile beyond the said village [High Barnet], right beside the St Albans high road, on a broad green. King Edward's followers, not knowing exactly in the darkness where their opponents were, rode on to that same place in the night and pitched their camp on the other side of the aforementioned high road in a hollow, on marshy ground, right opposite Warwick5.
The broad green referred to would appear to be Hadley Green. It stands on a plain, surrounded by falling ground, approximately a mile to half a mile north of High Barnet astride the old St Albans road. Certainly, it is in the vicinity of this patch of ground that historians, whatever their view of the dispositions of the two sides both before and during the fighting, have located the battle. At this stage that is sufficient; discussion of the precise alignments of the Lancastrian and Yorkist battlelines can wait.
The battlefield of Barnet today is partially built over. The village of Monken Hadley, which last century was little more than a manor house, a manor farm, windmill and parish church, now boasts many more houses lining the old St Albans road and the road to Hatfield. High Barnet has encroached on the southern reaches of Hadley Green itself. On the western part of the 'plain' is a golf course, traversed by footpaths. Hadley Green remains mostly intact, framed in a triangle of roads. To the south-east and north-east the ground, which in these areas falls away from the plateau most sharply, affords impressive views. Hadley High Stone, situated where the roads south from St Albans and Hatfield meet (map reference TQ 247979), was erected by Sir Jeremy Sambrook in 1740. It bears an inscription commemorating the battle.
Landscape Evolution As we have seen, contemporary accounts record that the battle took place on high open ground about a mile north of High Barnet. There are references to the broad green, the St Albans high road, a 'hedgeside' and marshy ground on the right flank of the Yorkist line.
The limit of the built-up area of High Barnet in 1471 was considerably further south than today. However, the line of the A1000 follows broadly its earlier route, the actual line surviving as a boundary some 200m west of the eighteenth-century turnpike road. The marshy ground referred to is likely to be in the valley of the Monken Mead Brook, though there is also a smaller valley running east south-east from Hadley Green. The 'hedgeside' referred to may be the old hedgerow with bank and ditch which runs north-westwards across the golf course (a survey by the + Hendon and District Archaeological Society suggested that the hedge is of ancient origin ). While this western part survives, the route of its continuation eastwards across the northern edge of the green is represented now by the continuation of the footpath.
These surviving features of the battlefield landscape were set in a predominantly heathland environment with only sporadic enclosures. The land, both enclosed and common, was used extensively for grazing, not least because of + the livestock passing along the Great North Road and through Barnet market+. Only to the north of the battlefield area does the field pattern take on the regular appearance of Parliamentary enclosure.
Urbanisation in the 18th and 19th centuries saw settlement expand along the Old St Albans Road in Chipping Barnet - along High Street and Wood Street in particular and north and east of Hadley Green. The settlements remained confined to the roads, and featured many prominent public buildings - churches, almshouses, schools and a militia barracks.
Hadley Green has remained largely intact since the 1880s, although 20th century housing development has linked High Barnet and Barnet as one built up area. High Barnet, consisting of mostly 1930s and later housing, has expanded over farmland on the southern edge of the battlefield area. Much of Hadley Wood to the east has been built over. The designation and maintenance of the Metropolitan Green Belt has ensured that the area north of High Barnet has remained open land used for agriculture and recreation.
In view of the changes that have taken place it is perhaps the more surprising that what appears to be an ancient
stretch of hedgerow should have survived to the west of the battlefield on the site of the present golf course. As will be seen later in the report, it has been contended that this is the hedge behind which the Arrivall states the Lancastrians were arrayed before the battle.
The Battle: its sources and interpretation One of the earliest modern writers to attempt a description of the Battle of Barnet was Alfred J. Kempe, a contributor to the Gentleman's Magazine6. Little time need be spent dismissing his conclusions. One of the things of which we can be certain about this battle is that on the west flank the Lancastrian division outflanked its Yorkist
opposite number, and that on the east flank the reverse held good. The Arrivall puts it thus:
So it was, that the one ende of theyr batayle ovarrechyd th'end of the Kyngs battayle, and so, at that end, they were myche myghtyar than was the Kyngs bataile at the same [end] that ioyned with them, whiche was the west ende... And, in lykewyse, at the est end, the Kyngs battayle, whan they cam to ioyninge, ovarrechyd theyr batayle, and so distresyd them theyr gretly...7 Kempe, however, represents the Yorkists massively outflanking the Lancastrians in the west and the situation reversed in the east: the complete opposite of the evidence.
The next article of significance appeared in January 1882 in the Transactions of the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society. Frederick Charles Cass was rector of Monken Hadley and knew the area well. His account of the battle contains some shrewd topographical observations. In particular, his placement of the Lancastrian line is plausible.
A person taking his stand at Sir Jeffrey Sambrooke's obelisk, and looking southwards, will notice that the ground rises, with a scarcely perceptible ascent in front, towards the present Hadley Green, whilst, to the left, commences a rather considerable depression to the north of Hadley church, from which depression there is once more a rise in the direction of the Common eastwards.
Warwick would hardly have allowed this to lie in his immediate rear, though it might have served as a protection to the left flank of his line. If then we suppose that this wing rested upon it, or was drawn slightly in advance of it, we may easily conceive of the whole position as extending westwards, past Old Fold Farm, then a moated manor-house... which may have been within the line or behind it, to the point where the meadows touch the existing New Road [to St.
Albans]. Somewhere here the right flank may have been posted..8 Warwick's wish to avoid having difficult ground immediately to the rear of his left flank would account for the Lancastrian line being drawn up further to the west than King Edward expected. Edward formed up his army the night before the battle and had no opportunity to see exactly where Warwick had made his dispositions. The fog which descended on the battlefield the next morning prevented any rectification of the two sides' battle lines to take account of the fact that the Lancastrian right extended beyond the Yorkist left and the Yorkist right beyond the Lancastrian left.
Any hopes that a historical consensus might emerge regarding the position of the battlefronts were dashed when Sir James Ramsay published his Lancaster and York in 1892. His interpretation of the battle has Warwick's line extending, not from east to west, but from north to south along the line of the old St Albans road either side of Hadley High Stone. 'From that position', Ramsay averred, 'he could take the King's troops in detail as they came out of the narrow street of Barnet'9. According to Ramsay, however, Warwick's plan was thwarted when Edward, under cover of darkness, marched round the east of the plain above Barnet and took up position facing Warwick's army in the valley created by Monken Mead Brook.
Ramsay's interpretation was expanded upon by C R B Barrett in Battles and Battlefields in England (London
1896). The battle took place on a north-south axis along the Barnet-St Albans road. As did Ramsay, Barrett took note of the contemporary reference to Warwick's army being drawn up 'undre an hedge-syde'. Ramsay had thought that 'the "hedge-syde" mentioned in the Arrivall as marking Warwick's line might be the west boundary of the Heath'; Barrett decided 'such a boundary might with considerable probability have fringed the road'10. Ramsay, in describing the course of the battle, touched upon the consequences of the Lancastrian success on the right of their line being counterbalanced by the Yorkist success on the other flank (on each wing, it will be recalled, the right-hand divisions of the two armies outflanked their opponents). 'What with the advance on his [King Edwards's] right and the retreat on his left, it would seem that at the last the two lines had almost faced about; and that Edward's men were looking south, and Warwick's men were looking north'11. This development was taken to have had dire results for the Lancastrians. We know from the Great Chronicle that the Earl of Oxford commanded
the Lancastrian right wing and that at the outset of the battle his men prevailed against their immediate opponents:
...afftyr the Sunne was upp, eythir hoost approachid unto othir, But than it happid to be soo excedyng a myst that nowthir hoost cowde playnly see othir, soo that It happid therle of Oxynfford to sett upon the wyng or end of the duke of Glowcetirs people [actually Lord Hastings' division] & afftyr sharp ffygth slew a certayn of theym & put the Remenant to fflygth, and anoon as they had a while chacid such as ffled, soom Retournyd & ffyll to Ryfelyng & soom of theym wenyng that all had been wonne, Rood In alle haast to london & there told that kyng Edward haddf lost the ffeeld... Then afftyr this ffayt was doon by therle & he parceyvid well that he had erryd of his waye, he then wyth such as were abowth hym sett upon the Remenant of that hoost and held batayll wyth theym..12 Oxford then, led what he could of his command back into the fight. This was the decisive moment of the battle and John Warkworth's A Chronicle of the First Thirteen Years of the Reign of King Edward the Fourth takes up the
But it hapenede so, that the Erle of Oxenfordes men hadde uppon them ther lordes lyvery, bothe before and behynde, which was a sterre withe stremys, wiche [was] myche lyke Kynge Edwardes lyvery, the sunne with stremys; and the myste was so thycke, that a manne myghte not profytely juge one thynge from anothere; so the Erle of Warwikes menne schott and faughte ayens the Erle of Oxenfordes menne, wetynge and supposynge that thei hade bene Kynge Edwardes menne;
and anone the Erle of Oxenforde and his menne cryed "treasoune! treasoune!" and fledde awaye from the felde withe viii c. menne13.
What had happened, according to Ramsay, was that Oxford had led his men back to the battle and they, appearing out of the mist in the rear of their own side, 'were received as enemies'. The similarity of the Earl of Oxford's and
King Edward's liveries compounded the confusion. Barrett explained the theory more fully: