Before the Second Battle of St Albans began, Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick’s Yorkist army were marching south towards London with King Henry VI captive. They stopped 20 mile northwest of London at St Albans and positioned ready to block the army sent by Queen Margaret of Anjou.
The Earl of Warwick set up several fixed defences, including cannon and obstacles such as caltrops and pavises studded with spikes. Edward Plantagenet, 4th Duke of York marched with his army, to join up with the Earl of Warwick.
Although strong, the Earl of Warwick’s lines faced north, only Queen Margaret knew of the Earl of Warwick’s position. This was through Sir Henry Lovelace, who was the steward of the Earl of Warwick’s own household.
Sir Lovelace was captured by the Lancastrians at the Battle of Wakefield but had been spared from execution and released. He believed he had been offered the vacant Earldom of Kent as reward for betraying the Earl of Warwick.
16th February 1461, Queen Margaret’s army swerved sharply west and captured the town of Dunstable. From Dunstable, they moved south-east at night, towards St Albans.
Second Battle of St Albans
17th February 1461, Before the Yorkists could join forces, the leading Lancastrian forces attacked the town shortly after dawn. Storming up the hill past the Abbey, they came to be confronted by Yorkist archers in the town centre. The passing Lancastarians came under fire from the house windows.
The Lancastrians regrouped at the ford across the River Ver and sought another route into the town. A second attack had been launched along the line of Folly Lane and Catherine Street. This attack met with no opposition, the Yorkist archers in the town came to be outflanked. They continued to fight house to house, but had now finally overcome after several hours.
Retreat of the Earl of Warwick
Having gained the town, the Lancastrians turned north towards the Earl of Warwick’s rear, positioned on Bernards Heath. The damp conditions dampened the gunpowder, resulting in many of the Yorkists cannon and handguns failing to fire.
As dusk set in, the Earl of Warwick realised that his men had become outnumbered and increasingly demoralised. He withdrew with his remaining forces of about 4,000 men to Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire.
As the Earl of Warwick fled the Battle of St Albans, he left his hostage a bemused Henry VI under a tree. This is where the King had spent the battle, sitting under a tree singing.
After the battle
2nd March 1461, Edward, Duke of York and the Earl of Warwick entered London.
4th March 1461, the Earl of Warwick, also known as the kingmaker, proclaimed the young Yorkist leader as King Edward IV. The country now had two Kings.
Edward IV gathered a large Yorkist army and marched northward to the Lancastarians position to the next Battle at Ferrybridge.