Think Wars of the Roses. Think Yorkists, Lancastrians, and a melting pot of politics. Think Richard Neville, the 16th Earl of Warwick, in a twirl as he swaps his allegiance left, right, and centre. And think Edward IV needing eyes in the back of his head.
1469 had been a tough year for Edward, the Yorkist king. He was licking his wounds after being defeated at the Battle of Edgecote Moor by Warwick, and still scratching his head about his former ally, who’d once been so loyal. The problem was, Warwick, having got used to wielding power when he was protecting a young 12 year old Edward after his father’s murder, had found his taste for authority and influence had become quite embedded. As Edward had matured, the Earl had then been loath to see it all disappear. After Edgecote, Edward’s brother, Richard – Duke of Gloucester – had come to the king’s rescue and Edward had been ‘reinstated’. To protect himself, Warwick had then feigned kissing and making up, but before too long he’d found himself somewhat benign again. By early 1470 he’d decided it was time to wrestle for a bit more control once more, only this time with a different brother on the throne; George, Duke of Clarence.
The only way the Earl of Warwick could achieve this was to turn to his previous foes for support; the House of Lancaster. Between them, they chose a large measure of subterfuge to move things forward.
Smoke and mirrors in Lincolnshire
Sir Robert Welles, whose family had fallen into disfavour with Edward, approached the Earl of Warwick for support. Welles’ father, Richard Welles, had been taken prisoner by Edward and was still being held captive. Warwick spotted a chance at another attempt at changing the balance of power to his benefit.
Welles, Warwick, and Clarence played a canny game. Welles took the role of front man in Lincolnshire. He gathered troops, and none too quietly, craftily fuelling the recruitment process with mixed cries of over-taxing and such like. As soon as Edward got wind of what was going on, he made plans to march to Lincolnshire to deal with the unrest. Rubbing his hands together with glee, Welles allowed rumours that Edward was actually heading up to try the Edgecote rebels (who’d previously been pardoned) to spread like wild fire; no one wanted to be hung, drawn and found guilty. Panic set in. Welles’ call for troops mobilised every able man in the area, and he soon amassed an army of, some say, 15,000, which then marched towards Stamford.
Warwick, duplicitous to the core, sent a letter from himself and Clarence to Edward to advise that they could march all their troops north to support the king. The king fell for it… despite their past, and he issued commissions of array authorising Warwick, among others, to raise their own armies of professional soldiers. They had a mandate to raise arms…
The smoke lifts to reflect a different scene
Before long, however, news reached Edward that Welles was actually marching towards Leicester. And that wasn’t the only news he received… Warwick and Clarence were also marching in the same direction. A grave betrayal was beginning to make itself known.
Edward responded by issuing an order to Welles to disband his army, threatening to execute his father if he didn’t. It appeared to do the trick, for Welles changed direction to Stamford and didn’t meet with Warwick and Clarence as originally planned. It was time for Edward to assert his authority.
Battle lines were drawn 12th March
Scout intelligence told the king that Welles was about five miles from Stamford. Now was the moment to play hard ball. Positioning his troops in a battle line to the north of the rebels, he then took Richard Welles out to the centre ground for all to see, and had him beheaded. Welles’ army responded with resounding war cries supporting Warwick and Clarence, but Edward was nonplussed. A barrage of cannonballs were fired and then he sent his troops in to charge.
The battle lines had merely been pencilled in
But these were lowly farmers, not highly trained fighting machines, and no competition. Within forty five minutes, and minimal clashing of swords, the rebels had broken ranks and fled. Welles and his commander, Richard Warren, were captured and executed within a week. Before his death, Welles confessed to treason and implicated both Warwick and Clarence as co-conspirators, so both had to flee the country.
To call it a battle is perhaps over-egging it, really. In comparison to its later sibling The Battle of Bosworth Field, it’s a bit of a non-event. Nothing changed as a result of it, and the tactics and weaponry were unremarkable. However it did signify a turning point in Edward’s understanding of where his ally, Warwick, actually stood in his (dis)loyalty. And such crafted treachery is always of note, if nothing else to serve as a reminder to be vigilant.
It’s a good question, and in truth historians aren’t agreed on the answer. Some say that as Welles’ army had disbanded and fled, they’d discarded their liveried jackets so as not to be identifiable. However, many believe this explanation only came about in the 19th century through writers of the time loving to put a romantic slant on things. It also appears that contemporary accounts only refer to the battle being sited at Hornfield (a nearby parish), so no reference to the term ‘Losecoat’ is made at all. However, a third theory has also been postured, that many fields in the area were named Hlose-cot (meaning pigsty cottage), which was an Old English phrase used at the time. ‘Losecoat’ and Hlose-cot are close enough for jokes to have been made over the years and perhaps even a double entendre to have become established. Who knows? Let’s face it, Warwick had told enough porky-pies by then for such a ham fisted attempt at humour to be very possible…