Battle of Shrewsbury

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Battle of Shrewsbury
Part of the Glyndŵr Rising
Henry Hotspur Percy.jpg
Death of Henry "Harry Hotspur" Percy, from a 1910 illustration by Richard Caton Woodville, Jr.
Date21 July 1403
Result Decisive royalist victory
Royal Arms of England (1340-1367).svg Kingdom of England Percy Hotspur.gif Rebel forces
Commanders and leaders
Royal Arms of England (1340-1367).svg Henry IV of England
Arms of the Prince of Wales (Ancient).svg Henry, Prince of Wales (WIA)
Percy Hotspur.gif Henry "Hotspur" Percy  
14,000 [1] <14,000 [1]
Casualties and losses
3,000+ [1] 2,000+ [1]

The Battle of Shrewsbury was a battle fought on 21 July 1403, waged between an army led by the Lancastrian King Henry IV and a rebel army led by Henry "Harry Hotspur" Percy from Northumberland. The battle, the first in which English archers fought each other on English soil, reaffirmed the effectiveness of the longbow and ended the Percy challenge to King Henry IV of England. [1]

Medieval warfare History and description of warfare in the European Middle Ages

Medieval warfare is the European warfare of the Middle Ages. Technological, cultural, and social developments had forced a severe transformation in the character of warfare from antiquity, changing military tactics and the role of cavalry and artillery. In terms of fortification, the Middle Ages saw the emergence of the castle in Europe, which then spread to Western Asia.

House of Lancaster English noble family

The House of Lancaster was the name of two cadet branches of the royal House of Plantagenet. The first house was created when Henry III of England created the Earldom of Lancaster—from which the house was named—for his second son Edmund Crouchback in 1267. Edmund had already been created Earl of Leicester in 1265 and was granted the lands and privileges of Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester, after de Montfort's death and attainder at the end of the Second Barons' War. When Edmund's son Thomas, 2nd Earl of Lancaster, inherited his father-in-law's estates and title of Earl of Lincoln he became at a stroke the most powerful nobleman in England, with lands throughout the kingdom and the ability to raise vast private armies to wield power at national and local levels. This brought him—and Henry, his younger brother—into conflict with their cousin Edward II of England, leading to Thomas's execution. Henry inherited Thomas's titles and he and his son, who was also called Henry, gave loyal service to Edward's son—Edward III of England.

Henry IV of England King of England

Henry IV, also known as Henry Bolingbroke, was King of England from 1399 to 1413. He asserted the claim of his grandfather King Edward III, a maternal grandson of Philip IV of France, to the Kingdom of France.


Part of the fighting is believed to have taken place at what is now Battlefield, Shropshire, England, three miles north of the centre of Shrewsbury. [1] It is marked today by Battlefield Church and Battlefield Heritage Park.

Battlefield, Shropshire village 3 miles (5 km) north of Shrewsbury town centre in Shropshire, England

Battlefield is a village 3 miles (5 km) north of Shrewsbury town centre in Shropshire, England. The village is today split between three civil parishes - Shrewsbury, Astley and Pimhill.

Shropshire County of England

Shropshire is a county in England, bordering Wales to the west, Cheshire to the north, Staffordshire to the east, and Worcestershire and Herefordshire to the south. Shropshire Council was created in 2009, a unitary authority taking over from the previous county council and five district councils. The borough of Telford and Wrekin has been a separate unitary authority since 1998 but continues to be included in the ceremonial county.

England Country in north-west Europe, part of the United Kingdom

England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to the west and Scotland to the north. The Irish Sea lies west of England and the Celtic Sea to the southwest. England is separated from continental Europe by the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south. The country covers five-eighths of the island of Great Britain, which lies in the North Atlantic, and includes over 100 smaller islands, such as the Isles of Scilly and the Isle of Wight.


The Percys had previously supported Henry IV in a war against King Richard II of England, which ended when Henry IV took the throne in 1399. [2] The Percys subsequently supported Henry IV in Wales, early in the rebellion of Owain Glyndŵr, and in Scotland, in both negotiations and conflict against the Scots.

Richard II of England King of England

Richard II, also known as Richard of Bordeaux, was King of England from 1377 until he was deposed in 1399. Richard's father, Edward the Black Prince, died in 1376, leaving Richard as heir apparent to King Edward III. Upon the death of his grandfather Edward III, the 10-year-old Richard succeeded to the throne.

Owain Glyndŵr Prince of Wales

Owain ab Gruffydd, lord of Glyndyfrdwy, or simply Owain Glyndŵr or Glyn Dŵr, was a Welsh leader who instigated a fierce and long-running yet ultimately unsuccessful war of independence with the aim of ending English rule in Wales during the Late Middle Ages. He was the last native Welshman to hold the title Prince of Wales.

King Henry IV had been supported by a number of wealthy landowners to whom he had promised land, money and royal favour in return for their continued support. When the war ended, lands in and around Cumberland promised to the Percys were instead given to a rival. The promised money never materialised, and so the Percys revolted. Henry Percy, 1st Earl of Northumberland and Thomas Percy, 1st Earl of Worcester publicly renounced their allegiance to King Henry IV. They charged him with perjury because he claimed the throne in addition to his old lands and titles, [2] taxed the clergy despite his promise not to without the consent of Parliament, imprisoned and murdered King Richard II, did not allow a free Parliamentary election, and refused to pay a just ransom to Owain Glyndŵr, who was then holding Edmund Mortimer. The King also retained custody of the Scottish nobles captured at Homildon Hill as prisoners of war rather than permitting the Percys to release them for ransom. [2]

Cumberland Historic county of England

Cumberland is an historic county of North West England that had an administrative function from the 12th century until 1974. It was bordered by Northumberland to the east, County Durham to the southeast, Westmorland and Lancashire to the south, and the Scottish counties of Dumfriesshire and Roxburghshire to the north. It formed an administrative county from 1889 to 1974 and now forms part of Cumbria.

Henry Percy, 1st Earl of Northumberland 14th-century English noble

Henry Percy, 1st Earl of Northumberland, 4th Baron Percy, titular King of Mann, KG, Lord Marshal was the son of Henry de Percy, 3rd Baron Percy, and a descendant of Henry III of England. His mother was Mary of Lancaster, daughter of Henry, 3rd Earl of Lancaster, son of Edmund, Earl of Leicester and Lancaster, who was the son of Henry III.

Thomas Percy, 1st Earl of Worcester 14th-century English nobleman

Thomas Percy, 1st Earl of Worcester, KG was an English medieval nobleman and naval commander best known for leading the rebellion with his nephew Henry Percy, known as 'Harry Hotspur', and his elder brother, Henry Percy, 1st Earl of Northumberland.

Henry Percy, nicknamed "Hotspur," raised a group initially of about 200 retainers in early July 1403, and started the long march south to meet his uncle, Thomas Percy. Some nobles joined him, such as Lord Bardolf, but he recruited most of his army in Cheshire, an area hostile to Henry IV, which provided many experienced soldiers, notably its Cheshire archers, some of whom had served as Richard II's bodyguard. Henry Percy may have hoped for reinforcements from Wales under the self-proclaimed Prince of Wales, Owain Glyndŵr, but he was disappointed. Glyndŵr, at the time fighting in Carmarthenshire, was unaware that Hotspur had acted. Some Welsh forces from the Cheshire borders may have joined him. The rebels then marched towards Shrewsbury, the heavily defended county town in Shropshire. [3]

Henry Percy (Hotspur) 14th-century English noble

Sir Henry Percy KG, commonly known as Sir Harry Hotspur, or simply Hotspur, was a late-medieval English nobleman. He was a significant captain during the Anglo-Scottish wars. He later led successive rebellions against Henry IV of England and was slain at the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403 at the height of his career.

Cheshire County of England

Cheshire is a county in North West England, bordering Merseyside and Greater Manchester to the north, Derbyshire to the east, Staffordshire and Shropshire to the south, and Flintshire and Wrexham County Borough in Wales to the west. Cheshire's county town is the City of Chester (118,200); the largest town is Warrington (209,700). Other major towns include Crewe (71,722), Ellesmere Port (55,715), Macclesfield (52,044), Runcorn (61,789), Widnes (61,464) and Winsford (32,610), Northwich (19,924)

Wales Country in northwest Europe, part of the United Kingdom

Wales is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It is bordered by England to the east, the Irish Sea to the north and west, and the Bristol Channel to the south. It had a population in 2011 of 3,063,456 and has a total area of 20,779 km2 (8,023 sq mi). Wales has over 1,680 miles (2,700 km) of coastline and is largely mountainous with its higher peaks in the north and central areas, including Snowdon, its highest summit. The country lies within the north temperate zone and has a changeable, maritime climate.

King Henry IV only became aware of the Percy forces on 12 July, apparently while he was marching an army north to assist the Percys against the Scots, receiving the news at Burton-on-Trent. He may have anticipated the Percys' change of heart, but instantly altered his plans to meet the immediate threat posed by the Percys. He changed direction and marched west towards Shrewsbury with his army, arriving before the Percys could capture the town. [3]

Both forces arrived in the Shrewsbury area on 20 July 1403 and set up camp to the north and south of the Severn River, which loops around the town. Hotspur based himself initially at the house of William Betton, his army camping close to the town. The next day the King's forces crossed the River Severn at Uffington, about a mile to the east of Shrewsbury to cut off Percy's line of retreat to Chester. They failed and the armies took up position in a field that was variously named: "Haytleyfield", "Husefeld", "Berwykfeld", "Bolefeld". The battle commenced in the manor of Harlescott about a mile south west of where Battlefield Church now stands. (The owner of this manor, Richard Hussey swore to this fact under oath in the escheator's court in January 1416). The battle took place in a large field of peas.

Estimates of the sizes of the two armies vary widely, and the medieval chronicles are subject to exaggeration. Annales Henrici Quarti states 14,000 Royal troops, far fewer than Waurin's estimate of 60,000. Although Henry's army is generally agreed to have been larger, John Capgrave writing in the Chronicle of England quotes Percy's army as 14,000. [1]

For much of the morning of Saturday 21 July, the two forces parleyed. [3] Thomas Prestbury, the Abbot of Shrewsbury and the Abbot of Haughmond presented the King's terms. Hotspur declined any terms and Thomas Percy spoke to the King, trading insults. Henry Percy was somewhat inclined toward accepting the King's position, while his uncle Thomas Percy was not. Negotiations ended near noon, and the two forces advanced closer for the fight. One rebel, later pardoned, went over to the royal army and the king knighted several of his followers. [4]


Battle of Shrewsbury, an illustration from Pennant's 'A tour in Wales', 1781 Battle of Shrewsbury 1403 01981.jpg
Battle of Shrewsbury, an illustration from Pennant's 'A tour in Wales', 1781

About two hours before dusk, King Henry IV raised his sword. The battle opened with a massive archery barrage, [5] arrows killing or wounding many men before they could meet hand to hand in the field. Percy's Cheshire bowmen proved generally superior. Thomas Walsingham recorded how the King's men "fell like leaves in Autumn, every one [arrow] struck a mortal man". According to the Dieulacres Chronicle the King's right wing under the command of the Earl of Stafford (who was killed) fled from the field. Far more than this wing may have fled as well, as there is evidence that some baggage was looted and after the battle the Cheshire rebels were "prosecuted" for taking some 7,000 horses with them. Prince Henry, Prince of Wales was hit in the face with an arrow during the fighting, sustaining a terrible wound. He later recovered due to the skilled treatment of the Physician General John Bradmore, who used honey, alcohol and a specially designed surgical instrument to extract the arrowhead. He was left with a permanent scar. Bradmore recorded treating Prince Henry in his Latin manuscript, Philomena. An account of this can also be found in Thomas Morstede's 1446 surgical treaty.

Enough of the King's men remained on the field, particularly on the left wing, which was under the command of the Prince of Wales. Perhaps in desperation, Hotspur led a charge aimed at killing the King himself, during which the Royal Standard was overthrown and its bearer, Sir Walter Blount, was hacked down by Archibald Douglas, 4th Earl of Douglas. Hotspur was killed in the charge, reputedly shot in the face with an arrow when he opened his visor. His death was initially not realised, and some point soon afterwards the Northumbrian knights hailed the death of Henry IV, exclaiming "Henry Percy King!". Henry IV was not dead however, and retaliated by shouting "Henry Percy is dead"; the absence of a reply confirmed that Henry Percy was indeed dead. The battle ended soon after. It is recorded that many did not know who had won. The King's forces sustained greater losses than the rebels, and Henry IV very nearly lost both his life and his throne.

Plan of the battle 140 of 'Battles and Battlefields in England ... Illustrated by the author. With an introduction by H. D. Traill' (11299773103).jpg
Plan of the battle


Henry Percy was initially buried by his nephew Thomas Nevill, 5th Baron Furnivall at Whitchurch, Shropshire, with honours, but rumours soon spread that he was not really dead. In response the King had him disinterred. His body was salted, set up in Shrewsbury impaled on a spear between two millstones in the marketplace pillory, with an armed guard and was later quartered and put on display in Chester, London, Bristol and Newcastle upon Tyne. His head was sent to York and impaled on the north gate, looking toward his own lands. In November his grisly remains were returned to his widow Elizabeth.

Thomas Percy, Sir Richard Venables, Sir Richard Vernon and Sir Henry Boynton were publicly hanged, drawn and quartered in Shrewsbury on 23 July and their heads publicly displayed, Thomas Percy's on London Bridge.

Battlefield Church is said to have been erected over the site of the mass burial pit dug immediately after the battle. It was built initially as a memorial chapel, on the orders of King Henry IV and paid for by him, with prayers and masses being said continually for the dead on both sides. The chapel was replaced in 1460 by a church, which was further restored in 1862. A drain being dug in a corner of the churchyard may have inadvertently opened part of the burial pit. Workmen were surprised by the mass of bones which they thought showed the hurried nature of the burials. They may have merely unearthed a charnel pit containing bones of a variety of different ages.

In 2006, the BBC show Two Men in a Trench proved only that an area to the west of the church was not in fact a graveyard.

There were two other 15th century churches associated with battles. The one at Towton no longer exists, but Wakefield does. Neither were near the battlefield.

Cultural references

The battle itself and many of the key people involved appear in Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part 1 , with the fictional participation of Sir John Falstaff and Hotspur being killed by Prince Henry. It is also depicted in the 1966 movie Chimes at Midnight (released in the UK as Falstaff), in the 2012 BBC Two adaptation of Shakespeare's play, and in the climax to a historical novel by Edith Pargeter, A Bloody Field by Shrewsbury (1972) (US title: The Bloody Field). The battle features early in the 2019 David Michod film The King , in which Prince Hal offers to duel Hotspur in single combat for the outcome of the battle. The battle begins with swords and descends into an armored brawl in the mud, in which Hal triumphs when he kills Hotspur by stabbing him in the neck with a dagger.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 English Heritage (1995). "English Heritage Battlefield Report: Shrewsbury 1403" (PDF). Retrieved 22 August 2011.
  2. 1 2 3 "Battle of Shrewsbury", UK Battlefields Resource Centre
  3. 1 2 3 "Battle of Shrewsbury" . Retrieved 15 January 2015.
  4. Priestley, E.J. (1979). The Battle of Shrewsbury 1403 (booklet). Shrewsbury and Atcham Borough Council. p. 12. The identity of the defectors is not mentioned, although it suggests the 'rebel' was a senior officer with attendants who would have been of status to be knighted.
  5. "Battle of Shrewsbury" . Retrieved 15 January 2015.

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Coordinates: 52°44′51″N2°43′07″W / 52.7475°N 2.7185°W / 52.7475; -2.7185