Medieval War of the Roses

Battle of Wakefield 1460

Lancastrian victory by Duke of Somerset at the Battle of Wakefield that resulted in the death of Richard, Duke of York in 1460.

Leading up to the Battle of Wakefield, Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York had reached his own fortress of Sandal Castle, near Wakefield. He had sent for help to his son Edward Plantagenet, Earl of March. Before any reinforcements could arrive, the Duke of York had sortied from the castle.

artists impression of the keep and barbican of sandal castle in 1300
Artist’s impression of the keep and barbican of Sandal Castle in 1300

Battle of Wakefield

30th December 1460, Half of the Lancastrian army under Henry Beaufort, 3rd Duke of Somerset and John Clifford, 9th Baron Clifford advanced towards Sandal Castle. The remainder under James Butler, 1st Earl of Wiltshire became concealed in the woods surrounding the area.

The Duke of York had become short of provisions within the castle. He had seen the Lancastarian army were no bigger than his own army. He seized the opportunity to engage them in the open. This was rather than withstand a siege while waiting for reinforcements to arrive.

The Yorkists marched out of Sandal Castle towards the Lancastrians located to the north of the castle. The Duke of York engaged the Lancastrians to his front. Others attacked him from the flank and rear, cutting him from the castle. The Yorkist army had become surrounded and then destroyed.

the battle of wakefield 1460
The Battle of Wakefield 1461 – painted by Graham Turner

The Duke of York had been struck down and killed during the battle. His 17-year-old son Edmund Plantagenet, Earl of Rutland attempted to escape over Wakefield Bridge. He was killed by Lord Clifford, possibly in revenge for his father’s death at the First Battle of St Albans.

Capture and execution of the Yorkist leaders

Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury’s fourth son, Sir Thomas Neville also died in the battle. His son-in-law William, Lord Harington and Harington’s father, William Bonville, were both captured and executed immediately after the battle.

The Earl of Salisbury himself escaped the battlefield but had been captured during the night, and was taken to the Lancastrian camp. The Earl of Salisbury was dragged out of Pontefract Castle. He was then beheaded by local commoners, to whom he had been a harsh overlord.

Queen Margaret of Anjou wanted a to send a strong message to the Yorkists. She had the heads of the Duke of York, Earl of Rutland and Earl of Salisbury impaled on spikes and displayed over Micklegate Bar. At the south-western gate through the York city walls. It has been said that to mock the Duke of York, a paper crown had been placed upon his severed head, and a sign that said “Let York overlook the town of York”.

Edward of March, became the 4th Duke of York. While based at Wigmore Castle in Herefordshire, he heard that a Lancastrian army was marching from Wales. They were to join up with their main body of Lancastarian forces. The Duke of York would intercept the Lancastarians at the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross.