Had thy brethren here, their lives and thine
Were not revenge sufficient for me;
No, if I digg’d up thy forefathers’ graves
And hung their rotten coffins up in chains,
It could not slake mine ire, nor ease my heart.
– Lord Clifford
Shakespeare (Henry VI, Part 3, 1.3.402-406)
A little something different this time around. Not just the historical miniatures as opposed to my normal science fiction and fantasy models, but also I’m going to tell a fun and easily read, but still semi-scholarly history of the real world person the figure, along with his retinue, is designed to represent. This article is just as much about the story of the real John Clifford as it is the model I’ve created to represent him. Hope you all enjoy.
I’ve been spending some time on Wars of the Roses figures from the beautiful Perry Miniatures kits. A friend’s father is a very avid historical wargamer, and I’ve always been an avid fan of history. The Wars of the Roses are especially fascinating. Most people outside of the United Kingdom know them for their influence on the television show Game of Thrones, but the reality is just as exciting, and possibly even more convoluted, with all the viciousness, intrigue, violence, and power struggles. While the wars would be a blip on the historical radar for anyone not related to the houses of Plantagenet, Lancaster, or Tudor, they’re remarkable for just how bitter and nasty they were.
Joining them one day for their Coat of Steel game, I was given control of the vaward (the army’s left flank), a setup commanded by several personalities. Walking in that day, I knew the basics of the Wars of the Roses, but very little of the specifics. I was mostly just entertained that one of my commanders had the traits “Audacious” and “Bloodthirsty” printed on his card. Very well then. I like this guy already. Then you look him up on Wikipedia, and the first picture is some angry-looking dude about to stab a kid in the face. I decided I needed to make a 28mm likeness of him.
Enter: John Clifford. Also known as Bloody Clifford, Black-Hearted Clifford, Black-Faced Clifford (which had an entirely different meaning back then as it would now), or, simply, The Butcher. And in many ways, after lengthy research I have come to consider John Clifford as a quintessential Wars of the Roses personality. Driven by revenge, violent, merciless, and died relatively ingloriously following a battle that, while he won from a tactical standpoint, ended up being strategically disastrous for the Lancastrian cause.
John Clifford, born on April 8th, 1435, was the son of Thomas Clifford (the 8th Baron of Clifford), and the Cliffords had, for several generations, been the Sheriffs of Westmorland in northern England, no strangers to dustups with Scottish border reivers along the Scottish Marches. Young Clifford would likely have grown up a skilled rider, and, in an era of mostly ad hoc armies and levied troops, the Cliffords were well known for the quality of their standing household retainers, mostly mounted archers and other men at arms. His grandfather had fought with Henry V at Agincourt and died during the siege of Meaux during the Hundred Years War, and his father would fight in the same war roughly ten years later. The Cliffords had also been historical allies with the Percy family, who were one of the strongest houses in the north of England. The Percies and one branch of the Neville family feuded a lot in the decades leading up to the Wars of the Roses, and the final years of this feud are among the leading contributory causes to the Wars of the Roses themselves. It is quite likely that a young John Clifford saw some of his earliest tastes of battle around this time, being named as one of the Percy allies at Heworth Moor in 1453.
A Prelude to War
At the time, England was ruled by Henry VI, who was a fairly “weak” king. Now, there are lots of good things about Henry VI. He loved reading, and philosophy, and architecture, and sponsored two colleges in England, including one for poor scholars. But in the 15th century, the English kinda wanted kings to hit people with axes and conquer France. Henry VI wasn’t much interested in hitting Frenchmen with axes and was a little timid and easily manipulated in matters of state. It didn’t help that Henry VI’s dad was Henry V, and Henry V loved nothing more than hitting Frenchmen with axes. And he had been really good at it, reconquering large portions of French territory that had been lost over the years, to the point where England controlled more of France than the French. Problem was, Henry V had the most Oregon Trail Death ever, dying of dysentery. In France, of course, at the age of 36, when Henry VI was not even a year old.
The Percies were allied with the Duke of Somerset, close adviser to Henry VI, and the Percy-hating Nevilles were allied with the Duke of York, who was a cousin of the king and who also had no small desire for the crown and power. York also hated Somerset, cleverly blaming him for many of England’s woes, referring to him as one of the king’s “evil councillors”. Complicating this was the fact that Henry VI had been subject to some sort of mental illness that would occasionally render him near-catatonic and England without a functional king. The first of these episodes would lead to York assuming control of the country briefly. Oh, and England had just lost the Hundred Years War, something nobody was happy about and everybody was looking for somebody to blame for (guess who York blamed). Also, England was in the midst of economic recession due to depressed prices for domestic products and a bullion crisis in mainland Europe, further turning the populace against the crown. York would take up arms against the king multiple times, breaking not one, but three sworn oaths to not do so, but the first two times, these treasonous acts would be resolved without violence, and amazingly, with the king forgiving his cousin.
Keep all this in mind, because we’re going to have to go with the “short-version” of the Wars of the Roses or you’ll be here all day.
Treachery and First Bloodshed
Fast forward to 1455, and a small town called St Albans. Henry VI had called a special Parliament to deal with the fallout from the Somerset/York rivalry, as well as York’s power maneuvering during the First Protectorate when Henry VI had fallen catatonic for roughly a year. York believed that he was about to end up on the losing side of history… again. So, along with quite a few of the Percy-hating Nevilles, he blocked the king’s procession at St. Albans, making all kinds of demands the king was never going to agree with, until one of the Nevilles (a guy who would eventually get the nickname Kingmaker) found a way to sneak by the barricades and attacked. This was a fairly small battle in the grander scheme of things. Casualties have been estimated at anywhere as few as 60, and rarely more than a couple hundred. In a large part because the king’s retinue didn’t seem to think anybody would actually attack them openly and some hadn’t even fully dressed themselves in their armor. After all, attacking the king’s banner directly was treason. But, it would have ramifications far outsizing its modest death toll. Among the dead were three big names. Somerset, Henry Percy, and, most importantly to our story, Thomas Clifford, who was in all possibility killed in front of the then-20 year old John. York and the Nevilles had essentially used the fighting as a pretext to murder some of their rivals. This also resulted in the capture of Henry VI, which York used to force himself back in as Protector of the Realm. Not that he did much better of a job since most of England’s problems were far outside the control of the king, and York was forced out as Protector less than a year later.
None of this mattered to Clifford, who was described as so enraged that “the sight of any of the house of York was as a fury to torment his soul” following St Albans. In the subsequent years, Clifford and his retainers would get involved in numerous skirmishes and raids on lands and properties owned by the Nevilles and York himself. At one point, York was forced to pay Clifford some money for the death of his father, but it’s apparent that young John did not consider the debt paid in full.
In 1459, the tensions finally spilled over (again) between York and his supporters (Yorkists) and the forces loyal to the king (Lancastrians, named after Lancaster, the historical holding of the royal family). After two battles, however, York fled to Ireland, and the Kingmaker went to Calais in France, the last English holding on the European continent. The so-called Parliament of Devils later that year would see the traitors attainted, with Clifford gaining several lands, castles and titles from the hated Nevilles. Warwick, the Kingmaker, returned in July of 1460, capturing Henry VI (again) at the Battle of Northampton, and murdering more lords loyal to the king. With the king back in Yorkist hands, York returned, and assumed the mantle of Protector of the Realm (again). York, in an error of judgement, overstepped by trying to declare himself King. This move outraged many at court, including some of York’s allies, but Parliament eventually gave the stipulation that on the death of Henry VI, York or his children were now the heirs to the throne. This didn’t sit well with the queen, Margaret of Anjou, since it disinherited her son. She fled north to gather her supporters.
York, once again in control of the country, sent Clifford and the other Lancastrian northern lords the demands that they return all of their newly-gained lands back to their former owners, and that totally didn’t happen, as you can expect. Seeking to put down what he saw as rebellion fomenting in the north, York tried to engage them before they could fully consolidate, but ended up besieged and spent Christmas in a castle just outside Wakefield. For reasons unknown, possibly mistaking one of the Lancastrian wings as his own reinforcements, on the 30th of December, York tried to engage the Lancastrian army outside the castle before realizing he was outnumbered as much as three to one. Clifford’s cavalry and mounted infantry maneuvered to close up the rear between him and the castle, and York was trapped.
Nobody is ever quite sure what is truth or what was later Yorkist-sympathetic propaganda, but the most sordid, and therefore most interesting version has York sending his second son Edmund retreating back to the castle when it was clear the battle was lost. Clifford and some of his men saw the group split off, and caught up to Edmund at Wakefield Bridge, where the young man was likely attempting to take sanctuary in the chantry chapel there with his arms tutor, the knight Sir Robert Apsall. Despite Edmund’s pleas for mercy, Clifford said something to the effect of “Thy father slew mine, and so I will do thee and all thy kin,” and then stabbed young Edmund to death and cut off his head. Back in the main battle, York himself was finally overcome and killed. Clifford was credited (blamed) for severing York’s head as well, though this is unlikely and probably also Yorkist propaganda. Some later sources (including Shakespeare) even claimed he presented both heads to Queen Margret of Anjou, though she wasn’t anywhere near the battle. No matter who did the chopping, both heads (and two more from the Kingmaker’s father and brother) ended up on spikes over one of the main gates in the city of York, the Duke of York’s wearing a paper crown to mock him for his regal aspirations. And you thought Game of Thrones was brutal.
York was dead, but the Yorkists were not done. Edward, York’s oldest son, was surely not pleased with the outcome at Wakefield, and Clifford was certainly not yet done killing people. Clifford would go on be given “great credit” by Queen Margaret for his part in the Second Battle of St Albans a month and a half later, where Henry VI was rescued (again) from the Yorkist forces there. This victory would lead him and the Lancastrian army to the outskirts of Towton and a fateful encounter at a place named Dintingdale.
Ferrybridge, March, 1461.
At this point, the Lancastrians seemed to have momentum on their side. York was dead, as well as several of his biggest supporters, including a sizable chunk of the Percy-hating Nevilles. The Kingmaker’s army had been defeated at the Second Battle of St Albans. Fearing the Lancastrian host with its large numbers of Scottish, Welsh and European mercenaries, the populace of London had refused them entry. Not wanting to have to subdue London by force, the Lancastrians moved north with the aim of finishing off Edward and his army, who had just defeated a Lancastrian army at Mortimer’s Cross. When they arrived at Towton, the Lancastrians possessed the high ground and a larger army. Tasked with delaying the approaching Yorkist forces, Clifford once again took his mounted infantry, and engaged a force of Yorkists who were attempting to repair the sabotaged bridge at Ferrybridge.
Attacking just before dawn, Clifford’s men slaughtered the Yorkist repair party and retook the bridge. They proceeded to sabotage it again, using the Yorkists’ own newly brought planks to fortify their end. The Yorkists would spend the entire day assaulting the Lancastrian fortifications on the bridge, suffering upwards of three thousand casualties trying to wrest control back from Clifford’s five hundred. The Kingmaker himself would be wounded in the fighting. The Yorkists who survived the murderous close-range accuracy of Clifford’s archers would be repulsed by a wall of spears and polearms at the barricades. Having successfully held up the Yorkists for nearly 24 hours, Clifford withdrew his now-tired men and set off to rejoin the Lancastrian host at Towton. However, they would be interdicted at Dintingdale, almost within sight of friendly lines, by a force of Yorkists who had been sent to probe the Lancastrian positions. Clifford had reportedly loosened the straps on his bevor (an armor piece designed to protect the mouth and throat) to take a drink along the way. It is unclear what the order of events was, but at some point, possibly near the beginning of the engagement, he was struck in the neck by an arrow and died. He was ten days shy of his 27th birthday. Many of his remaining his men would die alongside him, outnumbered, exhausted, and cut off from escape. The Lancastrian host would be bedeviled by a snowstorm during the next day’s battle, which forced them to abandon their high ground and had given the Yorkists a decisively favorable wind for the archery exchanges. After several bloody, grinding hours, the Battle of Towton would end in a rout which is still considered the bloodiest battle ever on English soil, and the victory cemented the Duke of York’s eldest son as the new king Edward IV. Ironically, Clifford’s tactical success at Ferrybridge had bought the Lancastrians an extra day to marshal and array their forces, but that day’s weather would turn out to be the end of their cause, at least for the next decade.
So, there ends the story. Hopefully it explains the figure’s composition as well. First, obviously his armor needed a bevor, so he could eventually loosen it and take an arrow in the neck. The difficulty of multi-part plastic late-medieval knights is that there are just so many small details to the armor that don’t function well in conjunction with posability, so I was forced to pick a head I liked, and then mold a bevor from green stuff. I also chose the hard way of sculpting a raised visor because I felt it would look better for a “centerpiece” figure in a formation. Second, I made sure the body had a dagger sheathed on it. It’s not really known if the incident at Wakefield Bridge actually happened, or if Edmund just died in the battle and the Clifford story was just a good and believable bit of propaganda. Remember, his enemies won the war for a while, and later Tudor historians were in the business of presenting the best possible picture of the united houses of Lancaster and York. You can see it in how he was given (posthumously) nicknames like Bloody Clifford or The Butcher. The Yorkists had previously murdered quite a few Lancastrian lords, including blood relatives of the king, instead of granting quarter following the battles at St Albans, and Northampton, which makes Clifford’s killing of Edmund, Earl of Rutland not especially notable for its unique brutality.
Some versions of the story have Clifford stabbing Edmund with a sword, others with a dagger. Well, my Clifford has both. Why the war axe? Well, it would have been common enough for the period, given the popularity of polearms (especially the pollaxe). But I chose it solely because it seemed a fittingly vicious enough weapon for the man described as having “committed such violent acts of battlefield vengeance.”
Parts-wise, this figure is a combination of parts from the Perry Wars of the Roses Infantry and Foot Knights kits. He was created using one of the open-faced sallet heads, with the visor cannibalized off of a second head. In retrospect, this may have been an unnecessarily complicated extra step, but I wasn’t completely satisfied with the existing raised-visor head (which can be seen elsewhere in his retinue on the archer captain). The bevor was then sculpted on slightly off-center to create the appearance of his head shifted slightly to the side inside the static secured bevor.
The axe was made from a slightly cut down pollaxe, with its top spike shortened and moved to the opposite of the axe head. The upper arms are a matched set, with the right forearm having been cut free below the elbow. His hand was then cut off and filed down on a slight angle. This was done to create the “drooping” of the axe head, which would be natural for such a top-heavy weapon gripped at the halfway point.
He comes out at 11 individual plastic parts: Visor, head, left arm, right upper arm, right forearm, right hand, lower axe haft, upper axe haft and head, rear spike, sidesword, body/legs. Then there are three Green Stuff sculpted additions: sash, bevor (face and neck), plackart (belly armor).
The bases are a combination. Ken at LITKO Game Accessories made me some custom laser-cut unit bases, in order to fit 19mm metal washers, which each individual figure is based on. This was a compromise. To use them in my group’s Coat of Steel, they needed to by 40x40mm squares. But I also wanted the figures available individually for use in games like Lion Rampant. Not having the time to do all of the figures I wanted twice-over, I came up with this idea, and Ken made it happen. I chose metal washers over the wood cutouts for weight and balance. Plus they sink in just enough to make the bases flat, rather than humped like can happen when flocking covers the plastic bases. I then covered them in regular spackle, sanded them down, and sealed them with a glue mixture. This has the side benefit of making them very bottom heavy and less likely to topple over.
Interested in more of the Wars of the Roses? Don’t blame you. The audiobook of Dan Jones’s The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors is an easy listen and very accessible.
For a more scholarly look, I find Michael Hicks gives the greatest insight into the complex economic and social pressures while still being readable: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0300181574