The Battle of Towton
29th March 1461

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By popular renown the bloodiest battle in English history, something of the order of 10-30,000 men met their deaths during 2 days of pitched fighting on what is today just a quiet field in Yorkshire.

In the parley prior to the battle, the armies agreed that no quarter would be given or asked, both sides hoping to seize a decisive victory in the interminable wars between the houses of York and Lancaster.

The Lancastrians were on the ascendancy - having slain both the Duke of York and the Earl of Salisbury at the battle of Wakefield on the slopes abutting Sandal Castle. The Duke's eldest son had been proclaimed king by the Earl of Warwick in London and marched North to personally oversee the offensive, whereby the Lancastrians were under the command of the Duke of Somerset.

The conditions on the opening day of the battle were unusual for such a late date, in that a fierce blizzard was blowing. This alone meant that the warfare would be difficult, with archers being either aided or hindered by swirling winds.

The Yorkists had the advantage of the wind in the opening exchanges - and massed ranks of archers rained down tens of thousands of arrows on their Lancastrian foes under the command of Lord Fauconberg. The Lancastrians, unable to return fire effectively into the oncoming wind suffered huge initial losses until they decided to attempt to engage the Yorkists on foot.

Pressing forward, they won ground - pushing the Yorkist ranks back and mounting a surprise attack on the left flank with a mass charge of spearmen. The Yorkists held their ground and when they were reinforced with several thousands horsemen under the command of the Duke of Norfolk, the tide of battle turned decisively in their favour. After standing to fight for hours more, the Lancastrian ranks suddenly broke and a rout began.

During the rout, the slaughter was terrible. With the 'no quarter' agreement having been given, the Yorkists showed no mercy to the fleeing soldiers. The River Cock, running behind the Lancastrian lines was plugged with bodies and according to folklore ran red with blood for 3 days afterward. Other legends say that roses grown on the battlefield will not grow elsewhere and, inevitably, that the groans of dying men can be heard on the 'bridge of bodies' over Cock Beck.

Today, a simple stone monument marks the battlefield in a small layby off the road that passes through it. Each year around the time of the battle, societies come to lay wreaths in rememberance of the awful sacrifice made in that long ago war, and the monument is bedecked in the white and red roses of each side.

See also: folklore

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Author: Ian Freud   |  Last updated: 26th March 2012 | © Weird Island 2010-2018
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