Richard Slessor Memorial Prize

The Richard Slessor Memorial Prize for History was established in 2022 in memory of the long-time member and Chair of the Historical Association, Gloucestershire Branch, Richard Slessor. The competition is open to students in Gloucestershire, with two prizes – one for 11-18 year old students and one for 5-10 year old students. Students make a historical submission about Gloucestershire and its history; written, video, podcast etc. The winning prizes of £50 and £25 cash are awarded for an outstanding submission that tells a fascinating and engaging local story.

We had no entrants from primary schools in 2023 but had a number of entries in the secondary category. The winner was Isabelle Adams, 14 years old, in Year 9 at Katharine Lady Berkeley’s School, Wotton-under-Edge, her entry is below. Congratulations to Isabelle and many thanks to all students who took the time to enter.

The Battle of Nibley Green

The Battle of Nibley Green was fought near North Nibley in Gloucestershire on 20th March 1470, during the War of the Roses, between the troops of Thomas Talbot, 2nd Viscount Lisle, and William Berkeley, 2nd Baron of Berkeley. It is notable for being the last battle fought in England entirely between the private armies of feudal magnates. The battle of Nibley Green is important to me as being from Berkeley and going to school in Wotton, it forms a sense of connection as the Berkeley Family had Wotton as one of their lands 500 years before and after the battle of Nibley Green. Another reason that the Battle of Nibley green is important to me is that Lady Katherine Berkeley founded the school that I go to in 1384. It also symbolises the power that the Berkeley family had over Wotton before the Talbots came to power. It was also very likely that older children that went to the school at the time of its founding were in the army on the side of Baron Berkeley, however older children that went to the school at the time of the Talbots power were most likely in the army on the Talbots side, most of these were killed. The school was divided in views during this time. Some children were from Berkeley, so there view was that the Berkeley’s should win and take back Wotton however people from Wotton under the power of the Talbots thought different, they believed that if the Berkeley’s would win the battle they would charge over to Wotton and regain power brutally, this is partly what happened.

The Battle of Nibley Green is important to the local area is it creates a connection between Wotton and Berkeley as Thomas Talbot was from Wotton and he fought against Baron Berkeley. It also brings a considerable amount of history to the local area as it was the last battle to be fought in England purely between private armies, this is important as it shines a light on the area’s history and it also shows the amount of power the Berkeley’s had. The battle also ended the long lasting tension between the Talbots and the Berkeley’s. It is also widely known as the forgotten battle as there were several bigger battles in the country during the same year. It also creates a sense of mystery as no one actually knows where exactly the battle was fought in Nibley and how many casualties and fatalities there actually were. An estimated 150 people were killed during the battle.

A private army is a military or paramilitary force that consisting of armed combatants that pledge their loyalty to a private person or group. Private armies are formed when a land owner arms household retainers for protection of themselves and their properties. Private armies and battles are unusual as the owners of land are usually far apart so battles for land were not common. Another reason why private battles were rare was the risk of losing key land as if two private armies go to battle and one has considerable more land than the other the side with the more land would have more men to get together than the side with a smaller land so it poses a risk of defeat to the smaller side causing them to lose all their land when it could have been easily avoided by not going to battle in the first place. This is what happened to the Talbot family after losing to the Berkeley family. As a result of this the Talbots lost Wotton and all the surrounding manors. Private armies were also very rare as a high up land owner would normally have lots of people working for them to keep all of their land maintained and to do jobs around their estates and not just a group of people waiting around to have a battle and not doing anything otherwise.   

Lisle (Talbot) and Berkeley had been long engaged in a dispute over the inheritance of Berkeley Castle and all the other Berkeley lands. Lisle impetuously challenged Berkeley to a battle, Berkeley agreed, and it was fought the very next day. As there was only less than 24 hours available before the battle time was limited to get an army together. Lisle was only able to get his ill –equipped tenants together, however Berkeley was able to draw upon a garrison at Berkeley Castle as well as his local levies. He was also reinforced by his brother’s men and the miners of the Forest of Dean. Berkeley was also the principal land owner in Gloucestershire, so if he had to he could call upon almost all of Gloucestershire. This gave William a considerable advantage in numbers, 1,000:300.

Lisle and his force descended from Churchdown to the green below after spotting a smaller group of opposition below, however they had fallen into a trap that the Berkeley’s set up, once Lisle had lost the tactical power the rest of Berkeley’s troops emerged from the woods  and the battle began. Lisle fell early in the battle, having been shot in the face with an arrow after lifting his helmet. His death led to the rout of his followers. Now leaderless and heavily outnumbered, few in the Talbot camp would relish carrying on fighting against the odds and already facing annihilation. Many perished on the battle field and any surviving soldiers went into hiding with a fear of being caught and killed.

After the battle Lisle’s manor in Wotton under edge was sacked. As well as forts in Dursley. As result of this the Berkeley family regained Wotton and the surrounding areas.

Written by Isabelle Adams (aged 14)

Year 9 student attending Katharine Lady Berkeley’s School, Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire.

[Katharine Lady Berkeley’s School has a long history. In fact, it is the oldest state secondary school in the country, having been founded in 1384 when Katharine Lady Berkeley set up a school in Wotton-under-Edge, with one master and two students. Since then, the school has come a long way and is now a highly successful 11-18 mixed comprehensive school of over 1500 students.]

In 2022 we were very pleased to award the prize to Emily Boag, 14 years old, in Year 9 at Balcarras Academy, Cheltenham. Emily’s award winning submission can be read here