Towton, England (1461 AD)
The Battle of Towton was the decisive engagement of the War of the Roses, and arguably the largest battle ever fought on English soil. It was also one of the bloodiest, with very heavy casualties on both sides. Although the war would continue to drag on for a further two decades, Towton essentially marked the downfall of the ruling Lancaster family and established the authority of the Yorks. Two of England’s most famous commanders of the Late middle Ages, Edward IV and Henry Beaufort, were present at the battle. The Battle of Towton was famously depicted in the play Henry VI by William Shakespeare.
The War of the Roses was one of the most famous non-religious civil wars in European history. It pitted two branches of the royal family, the Lancasters (red roses) and the Yorks (white roses), against each other in a thirty-year fight for the throne. In the early 14th century, Henry IV, a descendant of Edward III’s third son seized the throne and established the reign of the House of Lancaster. This did not sit well with another branch of the family descended from Edward III’s second son.
By the 1450s, England was under the rule of the unpopular Lancaster King Henry VI. Prompted by his family and supporting nobles, the Yorkist Edward, later Edward IV, launched a civil war against the Lancasters in 1455. For six years the two sides battled it out, with victories and defeats for both armies. By the Spring of 1461, Both the Lancastrians and Yorks had assembled massive armies and prepared to deal each other a final, decisive blow.
The armies moved towards each other, the Lancasters from the north and the Yorks from the south, meeting just outside the town of Towton south of the city of York in central England. The two leaders made an informal agreement that the battle would decide the conflict. The fighting was subsequently fierce, and casualties immense on both sides.
The battle was a stalemate until the sudden arrival of the army of Norfolk, an ally of the Yorks, on the Lancastrian flank. Despite putting up a fierce fight, the Lancastrian army finally collapsed after ten hours of fighting. Many were then butchered during the retreat. After the battle, the victorious Yorks established Edward IV as the sole king of England. Although fighting continued for many years, and the Lancasters were briefly restored, the Yorks essentially retained control of the throne until the arrival of the Tudors in 1485.
The Battle of Towton was the largest military engagement in the history of England. The site of the battle, a largely undeveloped field outside of modern-day Towton, is one of England’s most popular military sites. Evidence of the battle is constantly turning up, as nearly thirty thousand soldiers of both sides died in the vicinity. The most popular related siter is the Towton Cross, erected in 1929 to commemorate the battle.
The Towton Battlefield is located just outside of the town of Towton, approximately ten miles southwest of York. The field is an open site, and there is no cost of admission. Web: www.towton.org.uk (official tourism website of the Towton Battle).