Page last updated at 11:12 GMT, Tuesday, 2 February 2010
Mortimer's Cross battlefield in the Wars of the Roses

Nicola Goodwin
by BBC Hereford & Worcester's Nicola Goodwin
Some of the key features of the battleground at Mortimer's Cross in Herefordshire.

The battleground at Mortimer's Cross as it looks today
The battleground at Mortimer's Cross as it looks today

The two sides in the Battle of Mortimer's Cross, the houses of Lancaster and York, prepared for it in very different ways.

Whilst Edward and his key leaders were able to wait at Ludlow for the month before the battle, the Tudor army was marching from Pembroke to Mortimer's Cross, a journey of 110 miles, which they covered in a week.

The most likely route for their march was from Brecon, down past Glasbury and along the Roman road past Weobley, into Leominster and up to Mortimer's Cross.

Edward's army was mainly recruited from the marches and Welsh borders, so he didn't have to offer them food or board in the weeks leading up to the battle.

The Lancastrian forces had been fighting overseas with the Earl of Wiltshire, and arrived tired and bedraggled before they even started the march to Mortimer's Cross.

It's thought that the Lancastrian army made camp just outside Kingsland, near the present site of Luctonians' rugby and cricket club.

A monument to the battle which was erected in 1799 and Battle Acre Cottage still stand nearby.

Dates

There is some dispute over whether the battle happened on Monday 2 February - Candlemas - or on Tuesday 3 February - St Blaise's Day.

What is not in dispute is the appearance of a parhelion in the sky over Kingsland on the morning of the battle.

Edward's soldiers are said to have been scared by the appearance of three perfect suns in the sky, but their young leader led them in prayer, calling the suns an "omen of divine favour".

A parhelion appears when the sun is rising or setting, and it meets either ice crystal clouds or ice fog.

The two sun dogs which are seen on either side of the sun are normally reflections through the ice crystals.

This indicates that the battle was fought on a cold winter's day, and without the benefit of science that we have now, the soldiers must have been very frightened by the scene.

Shakespeare refers to the Parhelion in his play Henry VI Part 3, act two scene one, although he does not specifically refer to the Battle of Mortimer's Cross:

Three glorious suns, each one a perfect sun;

Not separated with the racking clouds,

But sever'd in a pale clear-shining sky.

See, see! they join, embrace and seem to kiss,

As if they vow'd some league inviolable:

Now are they but one lamp, one light, one sun.

In this the heaven figures some event.

The Lancastrian forces attacked on three sides but they were out fought at the centre and surrounded and then pushed back against the River Lugg.

The York army are believed to have had more archers than the Lancaster army - the longbow was invented in Gwent, and was the favoured choice of weapon for people from the borders and the marches.

They would have used the woodland and high valley walls behind them as natural cover, leaving the Lancastrians to attack across the open fields below.

Many of the soldiers were killed or wounded and left to drown in the river.

A helmet worn by a soldier at the Battle of Mortimer's Cross
A helmet worn by a soldier at the Battle of Mortimer's Cross

A Lancastrian helmet was found in the River Lugg, 12 miles away from Kingsland, and is now in Hereford Museum.

Deaths and burials

It's recorded in many accounts that four thousand men were killed at the battle, although those figures would mean that the two armies were bigger than first thought.

Many of the dead soldiers slain on the battlefields now lie buried in a field just south of Mortimer's Cross, known as the Clamp.

Many of the Lancastrian soldiers fled to Covenhope and along to Kinsham, where they were cornered in the river gorge and killed.

Local folklore says that the river ran red with the blood of the massacred Welshmen.

Visitors to Kingsland and Mortimer's Cross today can still see many signs of the area's past.

Blue Mantle Cottage of the site of the Battle of Mortimer's Cross
Blue Mantle Cottage of the site of the Battle of Mortimer's Cross

Blue Mantle Cottage stands next to the battlefield and gives weight to the rumours that Edward's Herald, Blue Mantle, was slain during attempts to hold peace talks before the battle.

There's also Lancaster House and York House nearby as well as the former Monument Pub which is now a house.

The soldiers who fought at the Battle of Mortimer's Cross would recognise many parts of Herefordshire if they could revisit the county now.

Hereford Cathedral's Norman parts are still standing and look largely as they would have done in 1461, St Michael's Church in Kingsland was built in the late 13th or early 14th century, and is still in daily use.

Leominster Priory and Weobley Church were also important local landmarks that the Lancastrian troops would have marched past on their way to battle.




SEE ALSO
The Battle of Mortimer's Cross
02 Feb 10 |  History
The battle and the Parhelion
02 Feb 10 |  History

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