Richard of Gloucester as Lord of the North and the siege of Berwick 1482

Having recently visited some of Richard’s holdings in the north of England such as Penrith Castle which he was given after the death of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick in 1471, I wanted to write a short piece about his role as Lord Warden of the West Marches and Sheriff of Cumberland (1476-1482) and his involvement in the complicated story of the border town of Berwick-on-Tweed which led to its thirteenth and final change of hands when he successfully took the castle on 24th August 1482.


Plan of Penrith Castle showing the phases of building by the lords who owned it in their preparation for ‘effectual measures against the Scots.’ (Ferguson, A History of Cumberland, 1898, p.238) The blue areas were built during Richard’s tenure when he used Penrith as a base as Lord warden of the West Marches.

Richard seems keen to take on his duties as the principle magnate of the North of England after his brother’s return to power in 1471. There are many reasons why he should have actively sought to become Lord Warden of the West Marches and why Edward IV would have promoted his ambitions. Everyone knows about Richard’s connections to Middleham and the surrounding area where he received his knight’s training as a youth under the guidance of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, The Kingmaker and that the Neville’s were a hugely influential and prolifically fertile family in the area caught in a bitter rivalry with the Percy family who were the Earls of Northumberland and had a track record to make any ruler jittery.


Ralph Neville depicted with some of his numerous offspring including his daughter Cecily who was Richard’s mother by his marriage to Joan Beaufort.

Richard could establish himself in an area where his family connections would stand him in good stead and Edward was very canny at balancing one powerful affiliation against another in order to maintain the status quo and not beyond using his loyal brother in this way to counter-act and check Percy ambitions in the North. Further Richard sought to marry the newly widowed Anne Neville and claim her Neville inheritance including Middleham, Sheriff Hutton and Penrith amongst other holdings in the area. The date of their marriage is disputed but likely to have occurred around 1472 according to one of the Paston letters. Again Edward IV sought to balance the power of his own brothers by negotiating a compromise settlement over the Neville inheritance so that neither gained full control of this massive fortune through their marriages to the two daughters of the Kingmaker and the influence that went with it. The dispute left a further cause of dissent and distrust at the heart of the Yorkist regime which would continue to have consequences in the future but Richard got down to business and began to fully establish himself in his northern power base. Edward IV needed a strong, dependable, able and diplomatically sensitive representative in this crucial area near the border with Scotland for several reasons. The Northern lords were in a constant state of semi-hostile one-upmanship against each other. Related by a complex web of marriage alliances but always seeking to exploit each other’s weaknesses they were a perennial headache for their monarch and far enough away from the seat of government to pose a serious threat to the stability of the state, especially with the Scots watching on and waiting for the opportunity to cross over the border in raiding parties. Edward needed a steady hand on the tiller with sufficient authority to act as a curb to all these power hungry lords and who could undertake the onerous duties to banging heads together and settling minor disputes to take the pressure off his sovereign. The northern lords were also those responsible for keeping the Scots out of English territories and preserving a strong line of resistance during peaceful interludes between raids. Wardens were appointed for the Western, Middle and Eastern Marches reporting to the Lord Warden General who in turn reported to the king. A similar arrangement existed north of the border into Scotland.


Penrith Castle – Richard installed large windows and domestic improvements during his tenure.

Castles like Penrith, Brough and Brougham were built on the ruins of ancient Roman forts that formed a chain of military encampments through Westmorland and Cumbria leading to Carlisle and Hadrian’s wall. You can even still see Roman tombstones which were used in the construction of the castle walls and the rectangular earthworks of the roman camps just outside the castle walls at Brough and Brougham.


The gatehouse at Brougham Castle. The remains of the roman encampment are to the right of the main gateway.

The owners of these defensive structures knew the cost of the proximity to the Scottish border and the walls still bear witness to the destructive raids of the Scots and the desperate defence by the garrisons. It was a ‘twitchy’ area to set up residence and you can imagine the night watch patrolling the battlements and looking for armies on the brow of the distant fells. The landscape is epic in scale, carved by glaciers with huge skies and ever changing weather patterns. It is country to breed hardy men and women who dig in for the long-term and endure like the Herdwick sheep who graze on the hillsides. Richard was taking on what some might see as a poisonous inheritance but the rewards for success were great.


The battered remains of Brough Castle owned by the Cliffords and besieged by the Scots.

As a younger son of the House of York Richard needed a niche for himself. He needed to build a strong affiliation of his own in order to support his brother’s regime in times of trial but also to balance his treacherous elder brother George of Clarence whose instability and ambitious nature posed a great threat to Richard’s position within his brother’s court. George wanted it all, preferably on a golden platter before lunchtime and Richard knew that he wouldn’t survive unless he got his elbows out and his head down and lived up to his nickname of the ‘tantony pig’ of the family. Moreover Edward owed him for the loyalty and success that Richard had brought to the previous period of their lives when he had stood firmly behind his brother and helped fight their way back to power. Richard was a prince of the blood and conscious of his worth and position as any other prince would have been. I don’t see his ambition as over-weaning as some suggest or as any sinister shadow of his later rise to the throne, just the natural product of his position and the circumstances in which he found himself. Ducal status brought with it a substantial burden of financial obligations in order to live to the required level demanded by the status-bound culture of the C15th. A Duke required not only land and property and the revenues raised from those holdings but also the manpower to muster troops in order to defend those holdings and to do their feudal duty to their overlord. There seems to be much criticism and censure from some modern historians and commentators about the ‘greed’ of medieval nobles but when you understand their actions in the context of the world in which they operated it is perhaps easier to appreciate why they appear acquisitive and power-hungry to modern eyes.

Edward IV established the Council of the North in 1472 with Richard as its Lord President supported by a group of loyal nobles to administer royal justice, promote governmental control and increase prosperity and good governance. It is interesting to note that once Richard became king he appointed his little son Edward of Middleham to the position and then his heir John de la Pole, 1st Earl of Lincoln – both people who he could continue to govern through and that Henry VII made first Prince Arthur and then Margaret Beaufort his representative in the North. The monarch had to have complete faith in or control over the holder of this crucial role which speaks for Edward’s trust in his youngest brother.

In 1474 Edward IV and James III of Scotland made a treaty to ensure 45 years of peace between their countries and pledged the hand of his daughter, Princess Cecily, to the young Prince James with a dowry of 20,000 marks to be paid in yearly instalments to keep James sweet.

In 1475 an Act of Parliament granted all the Neville lands in the North to Richard, Duke of Gloucester which dis-inherited George Neville, Ist Duke of Bedford who also lost his mother’s inheritance to Edward IV. This may have been in part due to the continuing deteriorating relationship between Edward IV and Clarence who was finally executed in 1478 but also reflects Edward’s confidence in Richard’s abilities and his success in administering the North for the crown.

By 1480 the truce was in tatters due to a raid on Bamburgh Castle by the Duke of Angus and reprisal attacks by the Earl of Northumberland and furthered by the re-emergence of the ‘auld alliance’ between France and Scotland. The French were supplying artillery and gunners in an attempt to cause trouble for the English crown once more. Edward IV began to prepare for a Scottish campaign in October 1480 and Richard of Gloucester was his intended commander. Edward IV made it clear that the Scots were breaking the terms of the truce in occupying Berwick, Roxburgh and Coldingham and had failed to do homage to Edward.

Edward set up a naval blockade of the Firth of Fourth and King James strengthened the walls at Berwick in preparation for hostilities but then received a letter from the Pope calling for peace and assistance against the Turks and withdrew his forces. Edward continued to pursue his grievance against the Scots harrying the coast and besieging Berwick during the winter of 1481-2. Meanwhile James’s brother, Alexander, Duke of Albany returned from France and offered an alliance with Edward IV if he would assist Albany in taking his brother’s throne. The terms of their agreement were that Alexander would hand over Berwick and various other holdings to England after he became king, renounce the ‘auld alliance’ and do homage to Edward as his vassal. Edward seized the opportunity to become a potential ‘kingmaker’ in Scotland and re-assert English dominance of the border area and Richard marched with Albany and a combined force of 20,000 troops and foreign mercenaries to besiege the town of Berwick which fell quickly but the garrison held out so Lord Stanley was left to continue the siege and Richard took forces into Roxburghshire and Berwickshire devastating the area and expecting to meet with Scottish forces. On 22 July, King James’s dissatisfied lords took their king prisoner at Lauder, hung his favourites from the bridge and returned with their royal prisoner to Edinburgh. As Richard moved towards the capital the rebels moved to Haddington, fifteen miles away, and awaited developments. Despite reaching Edinburgh Richard’s forces were insufficient and support for Albany melted away. Albany settled for the restoration of his lands and titles. The Scottish lords asked for a peace treaty and that the proposed marriage between Prince James and Cecily of York should go ahead. Richard demanded the return of Berwick Castle and the dowry paid for the princess. The settlement was that the marriage would go ahead if it were King Edward’s wish, otherwise the dowry would be repaid. Richard left Edinburgh, disbanded most of his army at Berwick on 11 August, and continued with the siege. The castle fell on 24 August 1482 and has been part of England ever since.


The Scottish campaign of 1482 under the command of Richard, Duke of Gloucester.

The Croyland Chronicle was fairly dismissive of the campaign as a waste of money that gained little for the English crown and of Richard’s part in the capture of Berwick and I think there is an element of ‘spin’ in the ecstatic tone of the official letter to Pope Sixtus IV the following day after Berwick fell to the English which praises Richard for taking the town without a single civilian casual. What the campaign demonstrated though was that Edward IV was no longer the brilliant and active military commander he had been and that Richard was capable of leading a major force in a campaign of national importance. The outcome was not perhaps as glorious as either Edward or Richard might have wanted but it provided a shot across the bows for both the Scottish king and French ambitions in this arena.


Tags: , ,

One Response to “Richard of Gloucester as Lord of the North and the siege of Berwick 1482”

  1. giaconda Says:

    Reblogged this on murreyandblue.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: