Sunday, 20 March 2016

The Battle of Shrewsbury, 1403

The Battle of Shrewsbury was fought on 21st July 1403 between the forces of King Henry IV and those of the powerful Percy family of Northumberland.

The Percys had helped to protect England from the marauding Scots, but they were disappointed in the level of recognition and reward they were getting from the king as a result. They claimed that Henry had promised them a large tract of land in Cumbria, but this was given to another supporter.

The Percys’ response was to rise in revolt, with the aim of seizing the throne for themselves. At the head of their forces was Harry ‘Hotspur’ Percy, who had been given his nickname by the Scots after they had observed his tireless pursuit of them in the border country.

The battle was a decisive victory for King Henry and his own son Harry, who was aged 16 at the time. It featured in William Shakespeare’s play ‘King Henry IV Part 1’, in which Hotspur is killed by ‘Prince Hal’, who would succeed his father to become King Henry V. It is, however, unlikely that this was what happened, with contemporary accounts stating that Hotspur was killed by a sword blow from an unknown hand (or possibly by an arrow) when he lifted his visor to wipe sweat from his face.

Hotspur’s head was later displayed over the gates of York to dissuade anyone else from rebelling, and the head of his brother Thomas (who was executed after the battle) was placed over London Bridge.

The battle is notable for being the first example of English longbowmen facing each other in battle. It proved to be a useful rehearsal for young Prince Hal, who only fought one other pitched battle in his lifetime, namely that of Agincourt in 1415.

Although the challenge of the Percy family to the throne of England was ended by the Battle of Shrewsbury, the name Hotspur has lived on. When a 19th century cricket club in North London played on land that belonged to the Duke of Northumberland they adopted the name ‘Hotspur Cricket Club’ in Harry Percy’s honour. When the cricketers started playing football they took the name with them, and the club they founded has been Tottenham Hotspur ever since.

© John Welford