The First Battle of St. Albans: More From Whethamstede

A while back, in the best tradition of putting the cart before the horse, I posted a translation by Hannah Kilpatrick of an account of the aftermath of the first Battle of St. Albans. Here is the account of the lead-up to the battle and the battle itself, as seen in Registrum Monasterii Sancti Albani, otherwise known as Whethamstede’s Register.


Meanwhile, while they remained deliberating, the King, having been informed of their arrival, sent the Duke of Buckingham to them to enquire whether their intentions were peaceful or otherwise. And they responded, to a man:

“We are the King’s faithful liegemen, and we intend no harm to him, nor did we come here for such a cause as to intend harm to any man. However, may that impious man be handed over to us who lost Normandy and neglected Gascony, and who has brought the realm of England to her current miserable state, bringing her who was until recently the queen of nations, the prince of provinces, to sit like a derelict widow, who has not for consolation any other son but those whom she must devour, together with all their substance. Give him over to us, without the trouble of a fight, or the injury of peace, and we will return peacefully to our homes. But otherwise, if our desire be not granted to us, and the King will not part with him for any of the reasons we have said, then let him know, that we will not voluntarily cede the field, nor, frustrated in our intent, return to our homes without our desired prey.”

The king having been informed of their words and desires, and thinking them more than reason or law would allow, chose rather to try the doubtful outcome of battle rather than either lose this Duke [Somerset] or betray him into the hands of his enemy. And hearing this, to the sound of loud horn blasts these enemies charged in, tearing down barriers, into the centre of St Peter’s Street, where finding their way blocked by the King’s troops they fought together for a short space of time with such atrocities that here you might see brains shaken from the skull lying in the street, there another severed arm, in a third place a punctured throat, in a fourth a perforated chest, and the whole broad street was filled with the bodies of the slain, from here to there on all sides; so that one might see a shield driven back by a shield, a boss by a boss, or a sword threatened by a sword, a foot by a foot, a spearhead by a spearhead, so that, for a very short time until one side should cede victory, the outcome was in doubt, fate’s dice game perfectly balanced.

Yet finally, whether through terror sent from heaven, or by some spirit of frenzy from within or without, turning their backs, many of them were turned to flight, the greater part being of the king’s troops; and, dashing off in different directions into gardens and fields, brambles and briars, hedges and woods, they sought each for himself a place and a bolthole where he might creep and hide snugly, until such a time as the tempest of battle might be quite calmed. Among these were many of the knightly class, men who seemed goodly enough in form, but were more like Paris than Hector in disposition. And because to these men

It was more pleasing to lie upon a soft couch
Twined in the arms of a tender woman
Than to have one’s right shoulder burdened with shield or spear,
Or to have one’s hair confined by a helmet.

And therefore pursuing softness rather than knighthood, and seeking out the nearby farms rather than battle, they abandoned the King in the field of battle, and sought out scattered places where they might hide themselves. They and others of the royal household were among those men who for the most part, because they were dressed in soft clothes, or out of a softness of spirit hated the sight of blood, removed themselves from the camp, that they might not see their own spilt. They were furthermore of that easternmost region of the kingdom, the inhabitants of which are all (by reason of their origins) soft and womanly, and very delicate, as in this couplet:

He who is born under the morning star and in the warm lands
His soul is softened by the clemency of the skies.

therefore they were stricken by the spirit of terror and left their lord alone in the camp; and they fled as the sheep or the tiny lambs flee the shepherd at the approach of the wolf.

6 thoughts on “The First Battle of St. Albans: More From Whethamstede”

  1. Very nice, Susan! (I am assuming that, in the interests of fairness and balance, you will be posting his views on the aftermath of 2nd St Albans? – Whethamstede did not, it seems, much like war.)

    "of that easternmost region of the kingdom" – I believe he's referring specifically to Norfolk here, where my mother's people are from!

  2. I love this account; it's so poetic, especially this part: "bringing her who was until recently the queen of nations, the prince of provinces, to sit like a derelict widow…" Apart from the bit about the atrocities, of course, which is gruesome.

  3. Come on Sue. Don't be so hard on yourself. We all make mistakes and at least you owned up to it.

    Which is more than be said about some people including our respective governments

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