Battles royale: Northampton, the Boyne and Oudenaarde

Several battles that play an important role in British history took place around this time in July. 

On July 10th in 1460, in the early days of the Wars of the Roses, a Yorkist army led by the Earls of Warwick and March, attempted to capture the king, Henry VI, from his influential Lancastrian advisors at the Battle of Northampton. 

The Earl of March was Edward, the 18-year old son of Richard, Duke of York, who was taking part in his first battle. 

Imagine the terror and responsibility the teenager must have grappled with, as he led his men towards the cannons that protected the Lancastrian camp. Luckily for Edward, the heavens opened as they advanced and the soaked cannons were useless. 

Also in his favour, was a moment of treachery from Lord Grey of Ruthin, who had been bribed to switch sides and helped the Earl of March get his men across a defensive ditch. 

With their line broken, the Lancastrians were beaten and the king was captured. The Duke of York returned from Ireland to claim the throne, but he was killed in battle and his teenage son, Edward, carried his mantle, defeating the Lancastrians, taking the crown, murdering the old king, and ruling England until his death more than 20 years later. 

Read the full story of the Battle of Northampton here >>

230 years later, on July 11th in 1690, the Protestant king of England, Ireland and Scotland was leading his men into battle at the Boyne in Ireland, a fight that still has repercussions today. 

William had been invited by English nobles, to take the throne from James II, whose Catholic leanings clashed with their own beliefs. 

James had fled to France and with the backing of the French king, he plotted to retake the throne. His first stop was Ireland to recruit supporters. 

William met the challenge head on, arriving with an army of 36,000 men and intent on crushing James' comeback. The two met at the Boyne, around 30 miles north of Dublin, and fought to a stalemate, with the bigger Protestant army unable to fully engage their enemy. 

To break the deadlock, a wounded William, bravely lead his horsemen across the water. This action turned the tide and the Catholic troops were stretched and finally beaten. 

In contrast to William's act of bravery, James fled the field and abandoned his men, an act of cowardice that angered his supporters. He would never return from France. 

Read the full story of the Battle of the Boyne here >>

With the Protestants now dominant in England, they turned their attention to their influence abroad, and in the early 1700s, John Churchill, the 1st Duke of Marlborough, led an army from an alliance of countries to counter French aggression during the Wars of Spanish Succession. 

The French army was considered the finest in the world, but Churchill was a formidable commander. 

With brave, inventive and decisive tactics he had already beaten the French at Blenheim and Ramillies, and on July 11th in 1708 he faced them again at Oudenaarde. 

The French were intent on besieging the town and cutting off Marlborough's supply lines. 

With the River Scheldt at their back and Marlborough miles away, they focused on their siege. But Marlborough was a bold commander and he sent a small force racing to the river, where they started work on five pontoon bridges. 

By the time Marlborough arrived with the bulk of his men, they were ready to cross and the Duke was able to surprise the French, who said the devil must be on his side. 

Marlborough's quick advance, helped him to smash the French force and it was only a loss of daylight, that stopped him finishing the war for good. 

Click here for more on the incredible Battle of Oudenaarde >>

Picture credit: The Battle of the Boyne by Jan van Huchtenburgh, available under the Wiki Creative Commons license