Oldest English cannonball linked to War of Roses clash

war of the roses

Researchers believe they have discovered the oldest surviving cannonball used in English warfare.

The damaged lead projectile, about three inches in diameter, was found at site of the Battle of Northampton, a War of the Roses clash fought nearly 555 years ago, in 1460.

The cannonball was actually discovered several years ago by Northampton resident Stuart Allwork and was only found in his house last year following his death.

Its significance was not realized until protests over plans to put sports fields on the battlefield site sparked demands for an archaeological survey, according to the BBC.

A study of the missile has led experts to the belief that artillery was used for the first time in conflict in England at the Northampton battle, fought between the House of Lancaster and the House of York, according to the media outlet.

The ball has been analyzed by medieval artillery expert Glenn Foard, who said the object suffered massive impact damage from at least two bounces and may have struck a tree.

It is not clear which side fired the cannonball, but some contemporary accounts suggest the Lancastrian guns failed to fire because of the rain – which means it most likely came from a Yorkist cannon.

The battle led to the Yorkist Edward IV gaining the English throne and the downfall of the House of Lancaster, headed by King Henry VI.

Image of damaged lead cannonball found at Battle of Northampton site. The projectile is believed to have been fired on July 10, 1460.

Image of damaged lead cannonball found at Battle of Northampton site. The projectile is believed to have been fired on July 10, 1460.

A Yorkist army of about 15,000 led by the Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, and the 18-year-old Edward, then known as the Earl of March, assaulted between 7,000 and 10,000 Lancastrians in a fortified camp.

Henry’s forces had taken up a defensive position at Northampton, in the grounds of an abbey with their backs to the River Nene.

In the early afternoon of July 10, 1460, the Yorkist forces advanced on the Lancastrians. While they were hindered by a hard rain blowing that blew toward them, the conditions also rendered Lancastrian cannon useless.

As Warwick reached the Lancastrian left flank, Lancastrian Lord Ralph Grey had his men lay down their weapons and allow the Yorkists easy access into the camp beyond.

Grey had informed Edward that he would change sides if the Yorkists would back him in a property dispute with another English lord.

Following this, the battle was over within 30 minutes.

Soon afterward the Duke of York returned to England and, in October 1460, was bestowed the right of succession by Henry VI in an Act of Settlement. However, Queen Margaret refused to accept an agreement that disinherited her son and the civil war continued.

Edward was crowned king in 1461 and ruled until he was overthrown in 1470. He regained his throne in 1471 and reigned until his death in 1483.

The War of the Roses would continue until 1487, two years after Yorkist Richard III was defeated at the Battle of Bosworth Field by Lancastrian Henry Tudor, who became Henry VII, ushering in the Tudor Dynasty.

Mike Ingram, chairman of the Northampton Battlefield Society, said the recently discovered cannonball is believed to be the oldest surviving in England.

“It confirms the battle as one of the earliest in England where cannons can be shown to have been used,” he said.

(HT: A Blog About History.)

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8 thoughts on “Oldest English cannonball linked to War of Roses clash

  1. Your interests know no boundaries. Fascinating. It’s amazing to think of Edward as being a child leading an army. Hard to keep track of English royalty, they are known by so many names.

    • Yes, it does seem difficult to believe that English lords would get behind an 18-year old, but one supposes the changes for enhanced prestige and power will make men take what might seem illogical actions.

      And, yes, it would have been nice if they could have mixed the names up a bit more. But for confusion, take a look at the French kings; just about everyone was Louis, Charles or Philip.

  2. I enjoyed this piece of history. It is such a long time ago, surprised me about the cannon ball’s age! This was such a lovely picture to accompany the post, too. War of the Roses, and am not sure whose side I would have ‘rooted’ for!

    • I was a little staggered when I calculated on my calculator that the Battle of Northampton occurred 555 years ago. One of the great things about science today is we’re able to learn about the distant past with far more accuracy than ever before. We may not be able to go back to the past, but we can almost make the past come alive.

      Personally, I’m a “White Rose” kind of guy so I guess I guess I would have been a Lancastrian.

      Thanks for stopping by.

    • I don’t think I would have made it in the “good old days.” Kingmaker or not, Neville had to have had many a restless night wondering if an associate was going to turn on him. I’ll take my lowly status and being at ease with conscious instead.

      • The trouble was that in that period the lowly found themselves being dragged off to fight for their overlord willy nilly….enough to give anyone sleepless nights…
        Mark you, not much had changed by the Great War…if you were employed on an estate you went off to your local regiment or lost your job which entailed your family losing their house…

      • The part about the Great War makes sense. I understand why men would join up in the early days of the conflict as it was probably easy to get swept up in the martial spirit, but after a year or so of horrific losses nothing short of serious pressure and conscription was going to get men to, in essence, knowingly throw their lives away.

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