The Battle of Radcot Bridge was fought on the 13th December 1387 between the army of the Lords Appellant who were challenging the rule of King Richard II and the loyalist forces led by Robert de Vere, 9th Earl of Oxford.

The Background

It was in November 1387 that five prominent members of the aristocracy known collectively as the Lords Appellant formally accused certain members of Richard II's government of treason. In order to make their accusations effective in terms of late fourteenth century politics they raised an army and occupied London. Few of the members of Richard's government were prepared to oppose the Lords Appellant, the exception being Robert de Vere, 9th Earl of Oxford and Duke of Ireland who fled to the north-west where, according to his subsequent Act of Attainder, he "assembled a great number of men-at-arms and archers, as well as from the counties of Lancashire, Cheshire, and Wales, and from several other places".

Having thus raised an army in the order of some 4,000 to 5,000 men, Robert then set forth on the journey south to rescue his king from the grip of the Lords Appellant. But as he made his way south, de Vere found that the Appellants were at Northampton blocking the road to London. He therefore sought to avoid them by diverting to the west. By the 19th December de Vere was at Stow-on-the-Wold in Gloucestershire and on the following day managed to avoid the Earl of Arundel who had occupied Witney in order to block the road to Oxford. De Vere then made his way through Burford to Radcot Bridge where he intended to cross the river Thames and march onwards to London.

The Battle of Radcot Bridge

Many of the contemporary accounts of the battle are garbled and place the battle at Windrush; the only apparently sensible information comes from the Knighton Chronicle. From that account it appears that Henry, Earl of Derby (the future Henry IV) had anticipated de Vere's movements and stationed a force of men-at-arms and archers at the head of Radcot bridge. He had also ordered much of the roadway across the bridge to be pulled up so that it could only be crossed by one rider at a time.

Therefore at midday on the 13th December when Robert de Vere attempted to cross the bridge, he found it blocked by Henry's men. Crying out "We are betrayed" he abandoned the attempt to cross, only to find that the main body of the Appellant forces led by the Earls of Gloucester, Warwick and Nottingham had now emerged from the fog behind him, trapping him against the river bank. At this point de Vere threw off his armour, chose his fastest horse and made a run for it. Helped by the fact that dusk was now falling he successfully made his escape. Most of his army appear to have taken a cue from their commander and similarly decided to run away. Although there are no precise records of the casualties, Radcot Bridge does not appear to have been a particularly bloody battle. It seems most likely that only a few of de Vere's men were killed, as most simply fled once they had been abandoned by their leader.

Described as "a brilliantly conceived scheme, executed with devastating effect" the battle of Radcot Bridge proved a decisive encounter that delivered control of the country into the hands of the Lords Appellant. At the subsequent Merciless Parliament of February 1387 the Lords Appellants subsequently took action against those they believed were responsible for the recent mishandling of government, although Robert de Vere had fled abroad by that time where he was later killed by a boar whilst out hunting in 1392.


SOURCES

  • Richard Brooks, Cassell's Battlefields of Britain and Ireland (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2005)
  • Charles Arnold Baker The Companion to British History (Longcross Press, 1996)
  • Maurice Powicke The Thirteenth Century (OUP, 1962)
  • Alexander Rose Kings in the North (Phoenix, 2003)

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