Wars of the Roses: Battle of Mortimer's Cross

Edward IV. Public Domain

Battle of Mortimer's Cross - Conflict & Dates:

The Battle of Mortimer's Cross was fought February 2, 1461, during the Wars of the Roses (1455-1485).

Armies & Commanders


  • Edward, Earl of March
  • approx. 2,500


  • Sir Owen Tudor
  • Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke
  • approx. 3,500 men

Battle of Mortimer's Cross - Background:

Around 1450, King Henry VI of England began suffering from bouts of insanity. Increasingly crippling, these led to the formation of a Council of Regency three years later.

This was led by Richard, Duke of York, who was named Lord Protector and who had a strong claim to the throne in his own right. Recovering in late 1454, Henry resumed his throne and efforts commenced to reduce York's power. Believing Henry to be ill-advised, York and Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick formed a small army the following year and marched on London with the goal of removing the king's councilors. Attacking Royalist forces at St. Albans in May 1455, York won a victory and captured the king who soon became mentally detached. Resuming his post as Lord Protector, York again was relieved by a healthy Henry the following year. Sent to Ireland, York and Warwick later joined with the latter's father, Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury, in 1459 to renew military action against the king.

Campaigning that September, Salisbury defeated Lancastrian forces loyal to the king at the Battle of Blore Heath.

Though a decisive battlefield victory for the Yorkists, the triumph was soon undercut by York's defeat at Ludford Bridge on October 12. Bested by the king's forces, York fled to Ireland while Salisbury, Warwick, and York's son, Edward, Earl of March, escaped to Calais. Returning to England in 1460, Warwick landed with a small army in June and defeated the Lancastrians the following month at the Battle of Northampton.

Captured during the fighting, Henry became a Yorkist prisoner. Traveling to London, York announced his claim to the throne. Though Parliament rejected his claim, a compromise was reached in October 1460 through the Act of Accord which stated that the duke would be the king's successor. Unwilling to see her son, Edward of Westminster, disinherited, Queen Margaret fled to Scotland and began raising an army. That December, Lancastrian forces won a decisive victory at Wakefield which resulted in the deaths of York and Salisbury.

Battle of Mortimer's Cross - Edward in the Marches:

While his father had been campaigning in the north, Edward spent the later part of 1460 raising men in the West Marches. Having passed Christmas in Gloucester, he learned of his father's death and began making preparations to fall back towards London. These efforts were soon halted after Edward received news of Lancastrian forces led by Sir Owen Tudor and his son, Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke, moving east from Wales. Leading largely inexperienced men, the Tudors sought to unite with Margaret's main Lancastrian army. Marching south from Shrewsbury, Edward passed through Wigmore and assumed a position near Mortimer's Cross with the River Lugg to the east and woods to his west.

On the morning of February 2, 1461, his army observed a rare meteorological event known as a parhelion which made it appear as if three suns were in the sky. Believing this to be a good omen, Edward informed his men that they represented York's three surviving sons and later took the "Sunne in Splendour" as one of his emblems.

Battle of Mortimer's Cross - The Tudors Defeated:

One of the most poorly documented battles of the Wars of the Roses, the particulars of the fighting are not known with certainty. It believed that the Tudors approached from the south via the Hereford Lane. Though they did not wish to seek battle, the Lancastrians ultimately advanced as victory was necessary to cross the River Lugg. Deployments may have been limited or hampered due to the constrained nature of the terrain.

As battles of this period typically commenced with an arrowstorm, it may be assumed that this occurred before the two sides engaged in hand-to-hand combat. Some sources indicate that the Lancastrians gained an early advantage, but were ultimately defeated by determined counterattacks by Edward. Their lines broken, the Lancastrians began fleeing from the field.

Battle of Mortimer's Cross - Aftermath:

Retreating from the defeat, Pembroke and the Earl of Wiltshire succeeded in escaping the Yorkist pursuit. Less fortunate was Sir Owen Tudor who was captured at Hereford. Along with Sir John Throckmorton and eight other captured nobles, he was executed later that day and buried in the town. Casualty figures for the Battle of Mortimer's Cross are not known with certainty. Despite Edward's success, the Yorkist cause sustained a blow two weeks later when Warwick was badly beaten at the Second Battle of St. Albans and Henry liberated. Advancing on London, the Lancastrian army was refused admission and ultimately withdrew north. Uniting with Warwick, Edward moved east and entered London where he was proclaimed king on March 4. Marching against the Lancastrians he defeated them at the Battle of Towton on the 29th. Though the victory led to a long lull in the fighting, the Wars of the Roses would continue until Henry Tudor finally won the crown for the Lancastrians at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. Crowned Henry VII, he founded the Tudor Dynasty and married Elizabeth of York the following year, uniting the two warring houses.

Selected Sources