The Sack of Ludlow: The Margaret/Cecily Face-Off

As I mentioned on Margaret of Anjou’s Facebook page, a number of novels set during the Wars of the Roses have a scene where Margaret of Anjou’s troops sack the town of Ludlow, usually resulting in carnage that makes the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre look like a minor street brawl. To top things off, few novelists can resist having the courageous Cecily, Duchess of York, bravely taking her stand at the town’s market cross, come face-to-face with the vengeance-crazed, merciless Margaret of Anjou. After all, it’s a perfect opportunity for an encounter between Good (Cecily, need you ask?) and Evil (Margaret, natch). Throw in a callow young George, Duke of Clarence and a saintly, frail little Richard, Duke of Gloucester, trembling at Cecily’s side, and the chapter practically writes itself.

There’s no doubt that Henry VI’s troops did loot and pillage, and probably rape as well, after the Yorkist leaders fled from Ludford Bridge in 1459. Gregory’s Chronicle reports:

The mysrewle of the kyngys galentys at Ludlowe, whenn they hadde drokyn i-nowe of wyne that was in tavernys and in othyr placys, they fulle ungoodely smote owte the heddys of the pypys and hoggys hedys of wyne, that men wente wete-schode in wyne, and thenn they robbyd the towne, and bare a-waye beddynge, clothe, and othyr stuffe, and defoulyd many wymmen.

[It’s interesting that the poor women are mentioned here almost as an afterthought to the bedding and clothes. But I digress.]

Hearne’s Fragment tells us:

And in the year of our Lord 1459, and then being the 38th year of King Harry the 6th, the Duke of York fled from Ludlow into Ireland. And this Edward, with the Earls of Salisbury and Warwick, departed into Devonshire, and from thence into Guernsey, and so to Calais, &c. After the which departing King Harry rode into Ludlow, and spoiled the Town and Castle, where-at he found the Duchess of York with her two young sons (then) children, the one of thirteen years old, and the other of ten years old: the which Duchess King Harry sent to her sister Anne Duchess of Buckingham.

Benet’s Chronicle, as translated in Elizabeth Hallam’s The Wars of the Roses, simply reports that after the Duke of York and his companions fled, “The king ransacked all of their property between Worcester and Ludlow.”

The English Chronicle mentions Ludlow only after discussing the Parliament that followed the battle:

Thanne was a parlement holden at Couentre, and they that were chosenne knyghtes of the shyres, and other that had interessc in the parlement, were nat dyfferent but chosen a denominacione of thaym that were enemyes to the forseyde lordes so beyng oute of the reame. In the whiche parlement, the sayde duk of York and the iij. erles and other, whos names shalle be rehersed afterward, withoute any answere, as traytours and rebelles to the kyng were atteynt of treson, and theyre goodes, lordshyppys and possessyons escheted in to the kynges hande, and they and theyre heyres dysheryted vn to the ixthe degre. And by the kynges commissione in euery cyte, burghe, and toune cryed opynly and proclamed as for rebelles and traytoures; and theyre tenauntes and there men spoyled of theyre goodes, maymed, bete, and slayne withoute cny pyte; the toune of Ludlow, longyng thanne to the duk of York, was robbed to the bare walles, and the noble duches of York vnmanly and cruelly was entreted and spoyled.

Abbot Whethamstede, with uncharacteristic brevity, simply reports that the town and the surrounding area was sacked. (If anyone’s up for some Latin translation, I’ll be happy to send you the relevant paragraph.)

It’s plain from all of these accounts, as I said, that Ludlow did suffer at the hands of the Lancastrians after the rout at Ludford Bridge. (It wasn’t the first town to suffer in this manner during the Wars of the Roses, however. According to Whehamstede and other sources, St. Albans was looted by the victorious Duke of York’s men after the first battle there in 1455, but the same novelists and historians who wax horrific about the sack of Ludlow breezily pass by the Yorkist misdeeds at St. Albans.) What’s also plain, however, is that not a single source states that Margaret of Anjou was present at Ludlow, much less has her cackling with glee at the Duchess of York and her terrified youngsters. As none of these sources were friendly to Margaret, it’s hard to believe that they would have failed to mention her malevolent presence at Ludlow. Most likely she had stayed behind at a safe place with her son while her husband and his army made their way to Ludford Bridge.

As for Cecily, Duchess of York, it does seem from Hearne’s Fragment, quoted above, that she and her two younger sons (whose ages the chronicler gets wrong) were at Ludlow. The English Chronicle also speaks of her being “entreated and spoiled,” though whether this refers to the duchess’s person or her property is unclear. It seems more likely that it refers to her property, as a physical attack on the duchess and her young children would have surely provoked the fury of the pro-Yorkist chroniclers.

But was she taking a stance at the market cross? This is where Paul Murray Kendall departs into one of his historical flights of fancy. In the text of Richard the Third, he writes, “When the troops of the King stormed triumphantly into the undefended town the next morning, they found Cicely, Duchess of York, and her sons Richard and George courageously awaiting them on the steps of the market cross.” Only when one reads to the end of the paragraph in which this sentence appears does one find an end note, in which Kendall cites the passage from Hearne’s Fragment quoted above and explains, “It is reported that Cecily and her two boys were found in the village. Since she was a woman of spirit and was apparently trying to protect her villagers, I have conjectured that she took her stance at the market cross” [italics mine]. Kendall may not have intended to mislead his readers, but it is nonetheless the fact that many, not bothering to flip to the end note, have come away with the conviction that it is established historical fact that Cecily outfaced the Lancastrians at the market cross. In fact, pace Kendall, one can’t be sure from the wording of the fragment (“spoiled the Town and Castle, where-at he found the Duchess of York”) that she was even in the village; it appears more likely that Cecily was within the castle walls.

So to sum up, while there was certainly looting and pillage at Ludlow, there’s no evidence that Margaret was there, and none except for a twentieth-century historian’s admitted conjecture that Cecily was defiantly standing at the market cross. As Stacey Schiff so aptly says in her new biography of Cleopatra, however, “For well over two thousand years, a myth has been able to outrun and outlive a fact.” Thanks to the power of fiction and fictionalized history, there may be a lot of life left in the story of Cecily and Margaret facing off at the market cross.

11 thoughts on “The Sack of Ludlow: The Margaret/Cecily Face-Off”

  1. Yet another story repeated all over the place that proves to have little if any basis in fact, except for Kendall's biased conjectures!

  2. Hi,
    long time lurker here. Coming out of lurkedom because I'm happy to see one of mr. Kendall' 'conjectures'. I can confirm that people actually remember those conjectures as fact, Cecily bravely facing an enraged Margaret in the middle of the sacked town and all. It's not the only time mr. Kendal put his conjectures in the text and factual truth in the notes.

    If you need a translation from "Registra quorundam abbatum monasterii S. Albani, qui sæculo XVmo. floruere", I think the translation should be:
    "The King, hearing that said Lords had turned their back to him, and had run away shamefully and in confusion, soon, – having been before robbed and sacked by his own people the rich town of Ludlow, a town of the said duke of York, together with other towns in those parts, – dismissing again his people to their homes, changed his route toward Worcester; and once there, on advice of his Council, those he had with him by then, ordered to convene in a short time a Parliament in the city of Coventry, to restrain more strongly and lawfully those Lords; and appointed the day to begin said Parliament, it is, the 20th of November."

  3. Susan Higginbotham

    Kathryn, I'm really beginning to think that Kendall should be categorized as historical fiction.

    Ragged Staff, thanks!

    Courtaud, thanks so much for delurking and translating!

  4. GREAT POST! A friend of mine went to school with PMK's daughter – and sadly is a staunch Ricardian.

  5. PMK mislead his readers? That's an understatement if ever I read one!

    And if you think his R3 is bad you should read take his take on Walpole, not so much for what’s in it as what isn’t. When it comes to cherry-picking PMK is no mean exponent.

    A pity for him and others of his ilk I prefer skeletons particularly all those juicy ones that have been rattling out of their closets recently. You know what really amazes me not so much the skeletons as all those holding the keys to the various closets and seemingly unaware of it.

    As for the skeleton in PMK’s own closet yum-yum.

    A propos Anerje’s comment does anyone think it’s fair Amazon should allow Gillian Murray Kendal to post a favourable comment on her father’s book? Or for that matter any member of R3S particularly given the equally disfavourable comments passed on the likes of Hicks and Weir?

  6. oh, Trish, that's contentious. I expect if she publishes under her full name, then everyone knows she's doing her father a favour. Btw, just caught up with your Tewkesbury comment previously – very interesting. I would love to see a re-enactment there.

  7. Contentious Anerje? Whoops! Another understatement.

    As regards the battle re-enactment it takes place every year and next year will take place on 9-10th July both on Saturday and Sunday.

    Do go if you can as I can thoroughly recommend it. I learnt more on that one visit to Tewkesbury Medieval Fayre than any amount of pouring over books in the British Library. I was really staggered to learn that by 1471 hand firearms albeit primitive were already in use along with artillery There's also a reconstruction of the Yorkist camp which covers all the aspects of medieval military life from the royals to the foot soldier.

    It was a real fun day out and if you want to learn more just log on to http://www.tewskesburymedievalfestival.orgsking As it is I am absolutely fascinated by both archery and falconry which are enjoying a revival in the UK and looking into it further. Just one word of caution – don’t forget to take the ear-plugs. That medieval artillery doesn’t half go off with a bang! That notwithstanding I hope to be back on 9th July.

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