Medieval War of the Roses

Battle of Towton 1461

Battle of Towton was possibly the largest and bloodiest battle ever fought on English soil, ended with a Yorkist victory in 1461.

The Battle of Towton in Yorkshire on 29th March 1461, followed on from a battle that took place the day before at Ferrybridge. It was a battle of 50,000 men, and became the largest and bloodiest battle that had been fought in England. The battle had been fought on Palm Sunday, during a cold day, during a snowstorm.

When Edward IV Yorkist army of 25,000 commanded by William Neville, 6th Baron Fauconberg arrived at the battlefield, they found themselves outnumbered. The Lancastrian Army of 30,000 had arrived earlier and prepared themselves, they had lines of men along the top of a ridge.

John Dynham, 1st Baron Dynham and John Wenlock, 1st Baron Wenlock were the commanders of the Yorkist rear-guard. John Mowbury, Duke of Norfolk had not arrived yet with his troops also supporting the Yorkists.

Fauconbergs archers at Battle of Towton

archers at the battle of towton in 1461
Archers at the Battle of Towton in 1461, by Peter Dennis

Lord Fauconberg made the first move by the Yorkist archers firing upon the opposing Lancastrian line of soldiers. The longbows released their bodkin tipped arrows at the maximum range, but they had the wind behind them. The arrows homed into the Lancastrians, killing the men standing in line.

The Lancastrian archers returned fire, shooting into the wind and snow. Lord Fauconberg gave the order to retreat after one volley, resulting in the Lancastrian arrows falling short of their target. Due to the snowstorm, the archers could not see their arrows were landing short of their target. They kept firing at Yorkist lines until they had depleted their stock.

Lord Fauconberg ordered his archers to move forward and fire upon Lancastrians. Once the arrows run out, the archers used arrows that had been previously shot at them. The Lancastrians advanced towards the Yorkist archers, they gave off another volley of arrows before retreating behind their men-of-arms. The Earl of Northumberland and Sir Andrew Trollope were killed during the attack.

Edward IV inspiring his men

the battle of towton 1461
The Battle of Towton 1461

The Yorkist left flank came under attack by the Lancastrian horsemen, they were at previously at Castle Hill Wood. Edward IV move to the left wing to take charge of the men falling into disarray, while others were fleeing. Edward VI started to engage the Lancastrians, while inspiring his men to stand their ground and fight.

As more Lancastrians joined the battle, the Yorkist archers fired at them from close range. The Yorkists became overwhelmed with the amount of Lancastrians reinforcements. The Yorkists gave up ground, and then retreated up the southern ridge.

The fighting had been ranging on for around three hours, before the Duke of Norfolk’s reinforcements arrived. They came over the ridge and attacked the left flank of the Lancastrians. The Lancastrian line started to split up and men began fleeing from the battlefield.

Lancastrian slaughter at Battle of Towton

the battle of towton 1461
The Battle of Towton 1461 – by Graham Turner

While the Lancastrians were fleeing, their amour became discarded to run faster. The Duke of Norfolk’s men gave chase, and cut them down in an area later called Bloody Meadow.

The fleeing Lancastrians reached the river of Cock Beck and the wider River Wharfe, they struggled crossing with some drowning in the strong currents. Others became trampled on and drowned while their comrades panicked in the crossing. The Yorkists took advantage with their archers firing their longbows to rain arrows down upon the Lancastrian men in the river.

lancastrians being slaughtering in the river wharfe at towton 1461
Lancastrians being slaughtering in the River Wharfe at Towton 1461 – by Richard Caton Woodville Jr.

The Lancastrians that escaped the slaughter at the river, fled and hid the towns of Tadcaster and York. The Yorkists killed the Lancastrians once found. By the end of the Battle of Towton there was around 28,000 dead.

Lancastrian knights taken prisoner

Forty-two Lancastrian knights surrendered had became prisoners, they were brutally killed later. Thomas Courtenay, 14th Earl of Devon was beheaded at York on 3rd April 1461, and James Butler, 1st Earl of Wiltshire was beheaded at Newcastle on 1st May 1461.

Henry VI received news of the defeat, he fled into exile in Scotland with Queen Margaret of Anjou, and their son Edward, Henry Beaufort, 3rd Duke of Somerset and Henry Holland, 3rd Duke of Exeter. A few other Lancastrian nobles also fled to Scotland after the Battle of Towton.

There had been three years of peace before the Battle of Hedgeley Moor took place on 25th April 1464.