Battle of Towton

Last updated

Battle of Towton
Part of the Wars of the Roses
Richard Caton Woodville's The Battle of Towton.jpg
The Battle of Towton, Richard Caton Woodville Jr. (1922)
Date29 March 1461
Location 53°50′10″N01°16′25″W / 53.83611°N 1.27361°W / 53.83611; -1.27361 Coordinates: 53°50′10″N01°16′25″W / 53.83611°N 1.27361°W / 53.83611; -1.27361
Result Yorkist victory
White Rose Badge of York.svg House of York Red Rose Badge of Lancaster.svg House of Lancaster
Commanders and leaders
50,000–60,000 [lower-alpha 1]
Casualties and losses
3,000 to 4,500 dead [lower-alpha 2] 6,000 to 8,500 dead [2] [3]

The Battle of Towton took place on 29 March 1461 during the Wars of the Roses, near Towton in North Yorkshire, and "has the dubious distinction of being probably the largest and bloodiest battle on English soil". [4] Fought for ten hours between an estimated 50,000 soldiers in a snowstorm on Palm Sunday, the Yorkist army achieved a decisive victory over their Lancastrian opponents. As a result, Edward IV deposed the Lancastrian Henry VI and secured the English throne.


Henry VI succeeded his father Henry V when he was nine months old in 1422, but was a weak, ineffectual and mentally unsound ruler, which encouraged the nobles to scheme for control over him. The situation deteriorated in the 1450s into a civil war between his Beaufort relatives and Queen Margaret of Anjou on one side, with those of his cousin Richard, Duke of York on the other. In October 1460, Parliament passed the Act of Accord naming York as Henry's successor, but neither the queen nor her Lancastrian allies would accept the disinheritance of her son, Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales. They raised a large army, who defeated and killed York and his second son Edmund at Wakefield in December. Financed by the City of London his son and heir, Edward, found enough backing to denounce Henry and declare himself king. The Battle of Towton was to affirm the victor's right through force of arms to rule over England.

On reaching the battlefield, the Yorkists found themselves heavily outnumbered, since part of their force under the Duke of Norfolk had yet to arrive. The Yorkist leader Lord Fauconberg turned the tables by ordering his archers to take advantage of the strong wind to outrange their enemies. The one-sided missile exchange, with Lancastrian arrows falling short of the Yorkist ranks, provoked the Lancastrians into abandoning their defensive positions. The ensuing hand-to-hand combat lasted hours, exhausting the combatants. The arrival of Norfolk's men reinvigorated the Yorkists and, encouraged by Edward, they routed their foes. Many Lancastrians were killed while fleeing; some trampled one another and others drowned in the rivers, which are said to have run red with blood for several days. Several high-ranking prisoners were also executed.

The strength of the House of Lancaster was severely reduced as a result of this battle. Henry fled the country and many of his most powerful followers were dead or in exile after the engagement, leaving a new king, Edward IV, to rule England. In 1929 the Towton Cross was erected on the battlefield to commemorate the event. Various archaeological remains and mass graves related to the battle have been found in the area centuries after the engagement.


England location map.svg
Battle icon active (crossed swords).svg
Battle icon (crossed swords).svg
Battle icon (crossed swords).svg
Battle icon (crossed swords).svg
Mortimer's Cross
Battle icon (crossed swords).svg
St. Albans
Steel pog.svg
Steel pog.svg
Battle icon active (crossed swords).svg – Battle of Towton; Battle icon (crossed swords).svg – other battles; Steel pog.svg – other places

In 1461 England was in the sixth year of the Wars of the Roses, a series of civil wars between the houses of York and Lancaster over the English throne. The Lancastrians backed the reigning King of England, Henry VI, a weak and indecisive man who suffered from intermittent bouts of madness. [5] The leader of the Yorkists was initially Richard, Duke of York, who resented the dominance of a small number of aristocrats favoured by the king, principally his close relatives, the Beaufort family. Fuelled by rivalries between influential supporters of both factions, York's attempts to displace Henry's favourites from power led to war. [5] [6] After capturing Henry at the Battle of Northampton in 1460, the duke, who was of royal blood, issued his claim to the throne. Even York's closest supporters among the nobility were reluctant to usurp the dynasty; the nobles passed by a majority vote the Act of Accord, which ruled that the duke and his heirs would succeed to the throne upon Henry's death. [7] [8]

The Queen of England, Margaret of Anjou, refused to accept an arrangement that deprived her son—Edward of Westminster—of his birthright. She had fled to Scotland after the Yorkist victory at Northampton; there she began raising an army, promising her followers the freedom to plunder on the march south through England. Her Lancastrian supporters also mustered in the north of England, preparing for her arrival. York marched with his army to meet this threat but he was lured into a trap at the Battle of Wakefield and killed. The duke and his second son, Edmund, Earl of Rutland were decapitated by the Lancastrians and their heads were impaled on spikes atop the Micklegate Bar, a gatehouse of the city of York. [9] The leadership of the House of York passed to the duke's heir, Edward. [10]

The armies of York (white) and Lancaster (red) move towards Towton. Movement to Towton.svg
The armies of York (white) and Lancaster (red) move towards Towton.

The victors of Wakefield were joined by Margaret's army and marched south, plundering settlements along the way. They liberated Henry after defeating the Yorkist army of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, in the Second Battle of St Albans and continued pillaging on their way to London. The city of London refused to open its gates to Henry and Margaret for fear of being looted. The Lancastrian army was short of supplies and had no adequate means to replenish them. When Margaret learned that Richard of York's eldest son, Edward, Earl of March, and his army had won the Battle of Mortimer's Cross in Herefordshire and were marching towards London, she withdrew the Lancastrians to York. [11] [12] Warwick and the remnants of his army marched from St Albans to join Edward's men and the Yorkists were welcomed into London. Having lost custody of Henry, the Yorkists needed a justification to continue the rebellion against the king and his Lancastrian followers. On 4 March Warwick proclaimed the young Yorkist leader as King Edward IV. The proclamation gained greater acceptance than Richard of York's earlier claim, as several nobles opposed to letting Edward's father ascend the throne viewed the Lancastrian actions as a betrayal of the legally established Accord. [13] [14]

The country now had two kings — a situation that could not be allowed to persist, especially if Edward were to be formally crowned. [14] Edward offered an amnesty to any Lancastrian supporter who renounced Henry. The move was intended to win over the commoners; his offer did not extend to wealthy Lancastrians (mostly the nobles). [15] The young king summoned and ordered his followers to march towards York to take back his family's city and to depose Henry formally through force of arms. [16] The Yorkist army moved along three routes. Warwick's uncle, Lord Fauconberg, led a group to clear the way to York for the main body, which was led by Edward. The Duke of Norfolk was sent east to raise forces and rejoin Edward before the battle. Warwick's group moved to the west of the main body, through the Midlands, gathering men as they went. On 28 March, the leading elements of the Yorkist army came upon the remains of the crossing in Ferrybridge crossing the River Aire. They were rebuilding the bridge when they were attacked and routed by a band of about 500 Lancastrians, led by Lord Clifford. [17]

Learning of the encounter, Edward led the main Yorkist army to the bridge and was forced into a gruelling battle: although the Yorkists were superior in numbers, the narrow bridge was a bottleneck, forcing them to confront Clifford's men on equal terms. Edward sent Fauconberg and his horsemen to ford the river at Castleford, which should have been guarded by Henry, Earl of Northumberland, but he arrived late, by which time the Yorkists had crossed the ford and were heading to attack the Lancastrians at Ferrybridge from the flank. The Lancastrians retreated but were chased to Dinting Dale, where they were all killed, Clifford being slain by an arrow to his throat. Having cleared the vicinity of enemy forces, the Yorkists repaired the bridge and pressed onwards to camp overnight at Sherburn-in-Elmet. The Lancastrian army marched to Tadcaster, about 2 miles (3.2 km) north of Towton, and made camp. [18] As dawn broke the two rival armies struck camp under dark skies and strong winds. [2] [19] Although it was Palm Sunday, a day of holy significance to Christians, the forces prepared for battle and a few documents named the engagement the Battle of Palme Sonday Felde but the name did not gain wide acceptance. [20] Popular opinion favoured naming the battle after the village of Towton because of its proximity and it being the most prominent in the area. [21]

Force compositions

The armies gathered at Towton were among the largest at the time. [22] Contemporary sources (like Gregory's Chronicle ) claimed that the soldiers on each side numbered in the hundreds of thousands. [23] These figures are thought to be exaggerated, and modern historians believe that a combined figure of 50,000–65,000 is more likely, between one and two percent of the English population at the time. [24] [25] [26] An analysis of 50 skeletons found in mass graves between 1996 and 2003 showed most were 24 to 30 years old and many were veterans of previous engagements. [27]

Henry's physical and mental frailty was a major weakness for the Lancastrian cause, and he remained in York with Margaret. [25] In contrast the 18-year-old Edward was a tall and imposing sight in armour and led from the front: his preference for bold offensive tactics determined the Yorkist plan of action for this engagement. His presence and example were crucial to ensuring the Yorkists held together through the long and exhausting struggle. [2]

Edward's presence was crucial to Yorkist victory. The Battle of Towton by John Quartley.jpg
Edward's presence was crucial to Yorkist victory.

Approximately three-quarters of English peers fought in the battle; [25] eight were with the Yorkist army, whereas the Lancastrians had at least nineteen. [28]

Of the other Yorkist leaders, Warwick was absent from the battle, having suffered a leg wound at Ferrybridge. [29] Norfolk was too old to participate and his contingent was commanded by Walter Blount and Robert Horne; this may have been an advantage, since he was regarded as an unpredictable ally. [30] Edward relied heavily on Warwick's uncle, Lord Fauconberg, a veteran of the Anglo-French wars, highly regarded by contemporaries for his military skills. [31] He demonstrated this in a wide range of roles, having captained the Calais garrison, [31] led naval piracy expeditions in the Channel, [32] and commanded the Yorkist vanguard at Northampton. [33]

The senior Lancastrian general was Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, an experienced leader credited with victories at Wakefield and St Albans, although others suggest they were due to Sir Andrew Trollope. [34] Trollope was an extremely experienced and astute commander, who served under Warwick in Calais, before defecting to the Lancastrians at Ludford Bridge in 1459. [35] Other notable Lancastrian leaders included Henry Holland, Duke of Exeter, [36] and northern magnates the Earl of Northumberland, [37] Lord de Ros and Lord Dacre. Another leading Lancastrian, Lord Clifford, had been killed by an arrow in the throat at Ferrybridge. [38]


Initial deployments: the Yorkists (white) and Lancastrians (red) at Towton Battle of Towton - Initial deployment.svg
Initial deployments: the Yorkists (white) and Lancastrians (red) at Towton

Very few historical sources give detailed accounts of the battle and they do not describe the exact deployments of the armies. The paucity of such primary sources led early historians to adopt Hall's chronicle as their main resource for the engagement, despite its authorship 70 years after the event and questions over the origin of his information. The Burgundian chronicler Jean de Waurin (c. 1398 – c. 1474) was a more contemporary source, but his chronicle was made available to the public only from 1891, and several mistakes in it discouraged historians at that time from using it. Later reconstructions of the battle were based on Hall's version, supplemented by minor details from other sources. [39] [40]

The battle took place on a plateau between the villages of Saxton (to the south) and Towton (to the north). The region was agricultural land, with plenty of wide open areas and small roads on which to manoeuvre the armies. [41] Two roads ran through the area: the Old London Road, which connected Towton to the English capital, and a direct road between Saxton and Towton. The steeply banked Cock Beck flowed in an S-shaped course around the plateau from the north to west. The plateau was bisected by the Towton Dale, which ran from the west and extended into the North Acres in the east. Woodlands were scattered along the beck; Renshaw Woods lined the river on the north-western side of the plateau, and south of Towton Dale, Castle Hill Wood grew on the west side of the plateau at a bend in the beck. The area to the north-east of this forest would be known as Bloody Meadow after the battle. [42]

According to Gravett and fellow military enthusiast Trevor James Halsall, Somerset's decision to engage the Yorkist army on this plateau was sound. Defending the ground just before Towton would block any enemy advance towards the city of York, whether they moved along the London–Towton road or an old Roman road to the west. The Lancastrians deployed on the north side of the dale, using the valley as a "protective ditch"; [43] [44] the disadvantage of this position was that they could not see beyond the southern ridge of the dale. [45] The Lancastrian flanks were protected by marshes; their right was further secured by the steep banks of the Cock Beck. The width of their deployment area did not allow for a longer front line, depriving the Lancastrians of the opportunity to use their numerical superiority. [43] Waurin's account gave rise to the suggestion that Somerset ordered a force of mounted spearmen to conceal itself in Castle Hill Wood, ready to charge into the Yorkist left flank at an opportune time in battle. [46]

The Yorkists appeared as the Lancastrians finished deployment. Line after line of soldiers crested the southern ridge of the dale and formed up in ranks opposite their enemies as snow began to fall. Edward's army was outnumbered and Norfolk's troops had yet to arrive to join them. [47] The Yorkist vanguard was commanded by Lord Fauconberg. Hall names John Wenlock and John Dinham and others as commanders of the Yorkist rearguard. [40] [48] Sources variously mention the Duke of Somerset, Trollope, the Earl of Northumberland and the Duke of Exeter as the commanders of the Lancastrian host, but show little agreement as to which portion of the host each of them was assigned. [49]


Yorkist leader William Neville (on horse) and his archers took advantage of the wind to inflict early damage on the Lancastrians - 19th century drawing Fauconbridge's tactics at Towton.jpg
Yorkist leader William Neville (on horse) and his archers took advantage of the wind to inflict early damage on the Lancastrians – 19th century drawing

As Somerset was content to stand and let his foes come to him, the opening move of the battle was made by the Yorkists. [50] Noticing the direction and strength of the wind, Fauconberg ordered all Yorkist archers to step forward and unleash a volley of their arrows from what would be the standard maximum range of their longbows. With the wind behind them, the Yorkist missiles travelled farther than usual, plunging deep into the masses of soldiers on the hill slope.

The response from the Lancastrian archers was ineffective as the heavy wind blew snow in their faces. They found it difficult to judge the range and pick out their targets and their arrows fell short of the Yorkist ranks; Fauconberg had ordered his men to retreat after loosing one volley, thus avoiding any casualties. Unable to observe their results, the Lancastrians loosed their arrows until most had been used, leaving a thick, prickly carpet in the ground in front of the Yorkists. [2] [51]

Bodkin arrows were among the missiles that killed many in the battle. Bodkin1.jpg
Bodkin arrows were among the missiles that killed many in the battle.

After the Lancastrians had ceased loosing their arrows, Fauconberg ordered his archers to step forward again to shoot. When they had exhausted their ammunition, the Yorkists plucked arrows off the ground in front of them—arrows loosed by their foes—and continued shooting. Coming under attack without any effective response of its own, the Lancastrian army moved from its position to engage the Yorkists in close combat. Seeing the advancing mass of men, the Yorkist archers shot a few more volleys before retreating behind their ranks of men-at-arms, leaving thousands of arrows in the ground to hinder the Lancastrian attack. [2] [52]

As the Yorkists reformed their ranks to receive the Lancastrian charge, their left flank came under attack by the horsemen from Castle Hill Wood mentioned by Waurin. The Yorkist left wing fell into disarray and several men started to flee. Edward had to take command of the left wing to save the situation. By engaging in the fight and encouraging his followers, his example inspired many to stand their ground. The armies clashed and archers shot into the mass of men at short range. The Lancastrians continuously threw fresher men into the fray and gradually the numerically inferior Yorkist army was forced to give ground and retreat up the southern ridge. Gravett thought that the Lancastrian left had less momentum than the rest of its formation, skewing the line of battle such that its western end tilted towards Saxton. [53] [54]

The fighting continued for three hours, according to research by English Heritage, a government body in charge of conservation of historic sites. [2] [54] It was indecisive until the arrival of Norfolk's men. Marching up the Old London Road, Norfolk's contingent was hidden from view until they crested the ridge and attacked the Lancastrian left flank. [54] [55] The Lancastrians continued to give fight but the advantage had shifted to the Yorkists. By the end of the day, the Lancastrian line had broken up, as small groups of men began fleeing for their lives. [2] Polydore Vergil, chronicler for Henry VII of England, claimed that combat lasted for a total of 10 hours. [56]


At the crucial moment, Norfolk's troops arrived, helping the Yorkists (white) overcome the Lancastrians (red). Battle of Towton - Engagement.svg
At the crucial moment, Norfolk's troops arrived, helping the Yorkists (white) overcome the Lancastrians (red).

The tired Lancastrians flung off their helmets and armour to run faster. Without such protection, they were much more vulnerable to the attacks of the Yorkists. Norfolk's troops were much fresher and faster. Fleeing across what would later become known as Bloody Meadow, many Lancastrians were cut down from behind or were slain after they had surrendered. Before the battle, both sides had issued the order to give no quarter and the Yorkists were in no mood to spare anyone after the long, gruelling fight. [57] A number of Lancastrians, such as Trollope, also had substantial bounties on their heads. [15] Gregory's chronicle stated 42 knights were killed after they were taken prisoner. [2]

Archaeological findings in the late 20th century shed light on the final moments of the battle. In 1996 workmen at a construction site in the village of Towton uncovered a mass grave, which archaeologists believed to contain the remains of men who were slain during or after the battle in 1461. The bodies showed severe injuries to their upper torsos; arms and skulls were cracked or shattered. [58] One exhumed specimen, known as Towton 25, had the front of his skull bisected: a weapon had slashed across his face, cutting a deep wound that split the bone. The skull was also pierced by another deep wound, a horizontal cut from a blade across the back. [59]

The Lancastrians lost more troops in their rout than from the battlefield. Men struggling across the Cock Beck were dragged down by currents and drowned. Those floundering were stepped on and pushed under water by their comrades behind them as they rushed to get away from the Yorkists. As the Lancastrians struggled across the beck Yorkist archers rode to high vantage points and shot arrows at them. The dead began to pile up and the chronicles state that the Lancastrians eventually fled across these "bridges" of bodies. [2] [60] The chase continued northwards across the River Wharfe, which was larger than Cock Beck. A bridge over the river collapsed under the flood of men and many drowned trying to cross. Those who hid in Tadcaster and York were hunted down and killed. [61]

A newsletter dated 4 April 1461 reported a widely circulated figure of 28,000 casualties in the battle, which Charles Ross and other historians believe was exaggerated. The number was taken from the heralds' estimate of the dead and appeared in letters from Edward and the Bishop of Salisbury, Richard Beauchamp. [2] [62] Letters from an ambassador and a merchant from the duchy of Milan broke this number down into 8,000 dead for the Yorkists and 20,000 for the Lancastrians; [63] in contrast, bishops Nicholas O'Flanagan (Elphin) and Francesco Coppini reported only 800 dead Yorkists. [64] Other contemporary sources gave higher numbers, ranging from 30,000 to 38,000; Hall quoted an exact figure of 36,776. [2] [62] An exception was the Annales rerum anglicarum, which stated the Lancastrians had 9,000 casualties, an estimate Ross and Wolffe found to be more believable. [2] [3] A more recent analysis of the sources and archaeological evidence, which posits accounts of Towton were combined with those of the actions of Ferrybridge and Dintingdale, suggests total casualty figures in the range 2,800 - 3,800. [65]

The Lancastrian nobility sustained heavy losses. The Earl of Northumberland, lords Welles, Mauley, and Dacre, and Sir Andrew Trollope fell in battle, while the earls of Devon and Wiltshire were afterwards taken and executed. [3] Lord Dacre was said to have been killed by an archer who was perched in a "bur tree" (a local term for an elder). [66] In contrast, the Yorkists lost only one notable member of the gentry, Horne, at Towton. [38]


Towton Cross: a memorial for the Battle of Towton DacreCross.JPG
Towton Cross: a memorial for the Battle of Towton

On receiving news of their army's defeat, Henry fled into exile in Scotland with his wife and son. They were later joined by Somerset, Ros, Exeter, and the few Lancastrian nobles who escaped from the battlefield. The Battle of Towton severely reduced the power of the House of Lancaster in England; the linchpins of their power at court (Northumberland, Clifford, Ros, and Dacre) had either died or fled the country, ending the house's domination over the north of England. [67] Edward further exploited the situation, naming 14 Lancastrian peers as traitors. [68] Approximately 96 Lancastrians of the rank of knight and below were also attainted: 24 of them members of parliament. [69]

The new king preferred winning over his enemies to his cause; the nobles he attainted either died in the battle or had refused to submit to him. The estates of a few of these nobles were confiscated by the crown but the rest were untouched, remaining in the care of their families. [68] Edward also pardoned many of those he attainted after they submitted to his rule. [70]

Although Henry was at large in Scotland with his son, the battle put an end (for the time being) to disputes over the country's state of leadership since the Act of Accord. The English people were assured that there was now one true king; Edward. [67] [71] He turned his attention to consolidating his rule over the country, winning over the people and putting down the rebellions raised by the few remaining Lancastrian diehards. [72] He knighted several of his supporters and elevated several of his gentry supporters to the peerage; Fauconberg was made the Earl of Kent. [73] Warwick benefited from Edward's rule after the battle. [74] He received parts of Northumberland's and Clifford's holdings, [75] and was made "the king's lieutenant in the North and admiral of England." [76] Edward bestowed on him many offices of power and wealth, further enhancing the earl's considerable influence and riches. [77]

By 1464, the Yorkists had "wiped out all effective Lancastrian resistance in the north of England." [78] Edward's reign was not interrupted until 1470; [55] by then, his relationship with Warwick had deteriorated to such an extent that the earl defected to the Lancastrians and forced Edward to flee England, restoring Henry to the throne. [79] The interruption of Yorkist rule was brief, as Edward regained his throne after defeating Warwick and his Lancastrian cohorts at the Battle of Barnet in 1471. [80]


Shakespeare used the Battle of Towton to illustrate the ills of civil war; in 3 Henry VI, Act 2, Scene 5, a father finds he has killed his son, while a son finds he has killed his own father. Francois Gravelot's Henry VI Act 2 Scene 5 (crop 2).jpg
Shakespeare used the Battle of Towton to illustrate the ills of civil war; in 3 Henry VI, Act 2, Scene 5, a father finds he has killed his son, while a son finds he has killed his own father.

In the sixteenth century William Shakespeare wrote a number of dramatisations of historic figures. The use of history as a backdrop, against which the familiar characters act out Shakespeare's drama, lends a sense of realism to his plays. [81] Shakespeare wrote a three-part play about Henry VI, relying heavily on Hall's chronicle as a source. [82] His vision of the Battle of Towton (Henry VI, Part 3, Act 2, Scene 5), touted as the "bloodiest" engagement in the Wars of the Roses, [71] [83] became a set piece about the "terror of civil war, a national terror that is essentially familial". [81] Historian Bertram Wolffe said it was thanks to Shakespeare's dramatisation of the battle that the weak and ineffectual Henry was at least remembered by English society, albeit for his pining to have been born a shepherd rather than a king. [84]

Shakespeare's version of the battle presents a notable scene that comes immediately after Henry's soliloquy. Henry witnesses the laments of two soldiers in the battle. One slays his opponent in hope of plunder, only to find the victim is his son; the other kills his enemy, who turns out to be his father. Both killers have acted out of greed and fell into a state of deep grieving after discovering their misdeeds. [85] Shakespearian scholar Arthur Percival Rossiter names the scene as the most notable of the playwright's written "rituals". The delivery of the event follows the pattern of an opera: after a long speech, the actors alternate among one another to deliver single-line asides to the audience. [86] In this scene of grief, in a reversal of the approach adopted in his later historical plays, Shakespeare uses anonymous fictional characters to illustrate the ills of civil war while a historical king reflects on their fates. [81] Michael Hattaway, Emeritus Professor of English Literature at the University of Sheffield, comments that Shakespeare intended to show Henry's sadness over the war, to elicit the same emotion among the audience and to expose Henry's ineptitude as king. [87]

The Battle of Towton was re-examined by Geoffrey Hill in his poem "Funeral Music" (1968). Hill presents the historical event through the voices of its combatants, looking at the turmoil of the era through their eyes. [88] [89] The common soldiers grouse about their physical discomforts and the sacrifices that they had made for the ideas glorified by their leaders. [90] They share their superiors' determination to seek the destruction of their opponents, even at the cost of their lives. [91] Hill depicts the participants' belief that the event was pre-destined and of utmost importance as a farce; the world went about its business regardless of the Battle of Towton. [92]

An episode in C.J. Sansom's historical novel "Sovereign", set in 1541, sixty years after the battle, concerns a Towton farmer appealing to King Henry VIII to be compensated for the time and effort he has to spend on turning over to the Church the skeletons discovered nearly every day on his land.


Re-enactors from the Towton Battlefield Society observe a moment of silence in memory of the dead of the battle. Battle of Towton reenactment 2010.jpg
Re-enactors from the Towton Battlefield Society observe a moment of silence in memory of the dead of the battle.

Obtaining an accurate figure for casualties has been complicated: remains were either moved or used by farmers as fertiliser, and corpses were generally stripped of clothing and non-perishable items before burial. However some survived when later buildings were constructed over their graves; the first were uncovered in 1996 and excavations have so far uncovered more than 50 skeletons from the battle. An analysis of their injuries shows the brutality of the contest, including extensive post-mortem mutilations. [93]

15th-century documents confirm some casualties were reburied in graveyards at Saxton and a chapel constructed for the purpose by Richard III in 1484. [94] His death at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 meant the building was never completed and eventually collapsed. [95] In 1929 stones allegedly from the chapel were used to create the Towton Cross, also known as Lord Dacre's Cross, which commemorates those who died in the battle. [96]

Lord Dacre was buried at the church of All Saints in Saxton and his tomb was reported in the late 19th century to be well maintained, although several of its panels had been weathered away. [97] The tree from which Dacre's killer was supposed to have shot his arrow had been cut down by the late 19th century. [98] In 2010 fragments from what are some of the earliest known handguns found in Britain were discovered on the battlefield. [99]

Views of the Wars of the Roses in general and of the battle as a charnel house were formed by Shakespeare and endured for centuries. [83] However at the start of the 21st century the battle was no longer prominent in the public consciousness. Journalists lamented that people were ignorant of the Battle of Towton and of its significance. [100] According to English Heritage the battle was of the "greatest importance": it was one of the largest, if not the largest, fought in England and resulted in the replacement of one royal dynasty by another. [54] Hill expressed a different opinion. Although impressed with the casualty figures touted by the chroniclers, he believed the battle brought no monumental changes to the lives of the English people. [101]

The Battle of Towton was associated with a tradition previously upheld in the village of Tysoe, Warwickshire. For several centuries a local farmer had scoured a hill figure, the Red Horse of Tysoe, each year, as part of the terms of his land tenancy. Although the origins of the tradition have never been conclusively identified, it was locally claimed this was done to commemorate the Earl of Warwick's inspirational deed of slaying his horse to show his resolve to stand and fight with the common soldiers. [102] [103] The tradition died in 1798 when the Inclosure Acts implemented by the English government redesignated the common land on which the equine figure was located as private property. [102] [103] The scouring was revived during the early 20th century but has since stopped. [104] [105]


  1. Contemporary sources claim over 100,000 on each side, modern estimates suggest 75,000 in total as the upper limit, over 3% of the English population at the time [1]
  2. Based on total casualties of 9,000 to 13,000, 1/3 Yorkist [1]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Battle of Bosworth Field</span> Last significant battle of the Wars of the Roses

The Battle of Bosworth or Bosworth Field was the last significant battle of the Wars of the Roses, the civil war between the houses of Lancaster and York that extended across England in the latter half of the 15th century. Fought on 22 August 1485, the battle was won by an alliance of Lancastrians and disaffected Yorkists. Their leader Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, became the first English monarch of the Tudor dynasty by his victory and subsequent marriage to a Yorkist princess. His opponent Richard III, the last king of the House of York, was killed during the battle, the last English monarch to die in combat. Historians consider Bosworth Field to mark the end of the Plantagenet dynasty, making it one of the defining moments of English history.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Edward IV of England</span> King from 1461 to 1470 and 1471 to 1483

Edward IV was King of England from 4 March 1461 to 3 October 1470, then again from 11 April 1471 until his death in 1483. He was a central figure in the Wars of the Roses, a series of civil wars in England fought between the Yorkist and Lancastrian factions between 1455 and 1487.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Battle of Tewkesbury</span> 1471 Yorkist victory in the Wars of the Roses

The Battle of Tewkesbury, which took place on 4 May 1471, was one of the decisive battles of the Wars of the Roses in England. King Edward IV and his forces loyal to the House of York completely defeated those of the rival House of Lancaster. The Lancastrian heir to the throne, Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales, and many prominent Lancastrian nobles were killed during the battle or executed. The Lancastrian king, Henry VI, who was a prisoner in the Tower of London, died shortly after the battle, perhaps murdered. Tewkesbury restored political stability to England until the death of Edward IV in 1483.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Battle of Barnet</span> 1471 engagement in the Wars of the Roses

The Battle of Barnet was a decisive engagement in the Wars of the Roses, a dynastic conflict of 15th-century England. The military action, along with the subsequent Battle of Tewkesbury, secured the throne for Edward IV. On Sunday 14 April 1471, Easter Day, near Barnet, then a small Hertfordshire town north of London, Edward led the House of York in a fight against the House of Lancaster, which backed Henry VI for the throne. Leading the Lancastrian army was Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, who played a crucial role in the fate of each king. Historians regard the battle as one of the most important clashes in the Wars of the Roses, since it brought about a decisive turn in the fortunes of the two houses. Edward's victory was followed by 14 years of Yorkist rule over England.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Battle of Wakefield</span> 1460 battle in the English Wars of the Roses

The Battle of Wakefield took place in Sandal Magna near Wakefield in northern England, on 30 December 1460. It was a major battle of the Wars of the Roses. The opposing forces were an army led by nobles loyal to the captive King Henry VI of the House of Lancaster and his Queen Margaret of Anjou on one side, and the army of Richard, Duke of York, the rival claimant to the throne, on the other.

John Neville, 1st Marquess of Montagu was a major magnate of fifteenth-century England. He was a younger son of Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury, and the younger brother of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, the "Kingmaker".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Battle of Mortimer's Cross</span> 1461 battle in the English Wars of the Roses

The Battle of Mortimer's Cross was fought on 2 February 1461 near Kingsland, Herefordshire, not far from the Welsh border. It was a major battle of the Wars of the Roses. The opposing forces were an army led by Jasper Tudor and his father, Owen Tudor, and other nobles loyal to King Henry VI of the House of Lancaster, his wife, Margaret of Anjou, and their seven-year-old son, Edward, Prince of Wales, on one side, and the army of Edward, Earl of March. Some sources say it was fought on 3 February, and the exact location has been the subject of some speculation.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Battle of Northampton (1460)</span> Major battle of the Wars of the Roses

The Battle of Northampton was fought on 10 July 1460 near the River Nene, Northamptonshire. It was a major battle of the Wars of the Roses. The opposing forces were an army led by nobles loyal to King Henry VI of the House of Lancaster, his Queen Margaret of Anjou and their seven-year-old son Edward, Prince of Wales, on one side, and the army of Edward, Earl of March, and Warwick the Kingmaker on the other. The battle was the first in which artillery was used in England.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Battle of Ferrybridge</span> 1461 battle in the English Wars of the Roses

The Battle of Ferrybridge, 28 March 1461, was a preliminary engagement between the houses of York and Lancaster before the larger battle of Towton, during the period now known as the Wars of the Roses.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John Mowbray, 3rd Duke of Norfolk</span> Fifteenth-century English magnate

John Mowbray, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, KG, Earl Marshal was a fifteenth-century English magnate who, despite having a relatively short political career, played a significant role in the early years of the Wars of the Roses. Mowbray was born in 1415, the only son and heir of John de Mowbray, 2nd Duke of Norfolk, and Katherine Neville. He inherited his titles upon his father's death in 1432. As a minor he became a ward of King Henry VI and was placed under the protection of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, alongside whom Mowbray would later campaign in France. He seems to have had an unruly and rebellious youth. Although the details of his misconduct are unknown, they were severe enough for the King to place strictures upon him and separate him from his followers. Mowbray's early career was spent in the military, where he held the wartime office of Earl Marshal. Later he led the defence of England's possessions in Normandy during the Hundred Years' War. He fought in Calais in 1436, and during 1437–38 served as warden of the east march on the Anglo-Scottish border, before returning to Calais.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">William Neville, Earl of Kent</span> 15th-century English nobleman and soldier

William Neville, Earl of Kent KG and jure uxoris 6th Baron Fauconberg, was an English nobleman and soldier. He fought during the latter part of the Hundred Years War, and during the English dynastic Wars of the Roses.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John Clifford, 9th Baron Clifford</span> 15th-century English noble

John Clifford, 9th Baron Clifford, 9th Lord of Skipton was a Lancastrian military leader during the Wars of the Roses in England. The Clifford family was one of the most prominent families among the northern English nobility of the fifteenth century, and by the marriages of his sisters John Clifford had links to some very important families of the time, including the earls of Devon. He was orphaned at twenty years of age when his father was slain by partisans of the House of York at the first battle of the Wars of the Roses, the Battle of St Albans in 1455. It was probably as a result of his father's death there that Clifford became one of the strongest supporters of Margaret of Anjou, wife of King Henry VI, who ended up as effective leader of the Lancastrian faction.

Events from the 1460s in England.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Humphrey Stafford, 1st Earl of Devon</span> 1st Earl of Devon (1439–1469)

Sir Humphrey Stafford, 1st Earl of Devon, 1st Baron Stafford of Southwick was a dominant magnate in South West England in the mid-15th century, and a participant in the Wars of the Roses. A distant relative of the Earls of Stafford, Humphrey Stafford became the greatest landowner in the county of Dorset through fortunes of inheritance. Later, Stafford was one of several men promoted rapidly through the nobility by King Edward IV, to fill the power vacuum left by dead or forfeit Lancastrians. In the West Country it was particularly the forfeitures of the Lancastrian Courtenay family that benefited Stafford. In 1469 he received the Courtenay title of Earl of Devon.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Readeption of Henry VI</span> 1470 restoration of Henry VI to the throne of England

The Readeption was the restoration of Henry VI of England to the throne of England in 1470. Edward, Duke of York, had taken the throne as Edward IV in 1461. Henry had fled with some Lancastrian supporters and spent much of the next few years in hiding in the north of England or in Scotland, where there was still some Lancastrian support. Henry was captured in 1465 and was held as a prisoner in the Tower of London. Following dissent with his former key supporter, Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, Edward was forced to flee in 1470. Henry was then restored to the throne, although he was deposed again the following year.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Wars of the Roses</span> Dynastic civil war in England from 1455 to 1487

The Wars of the Roses (1455–1487), known at the time and for more than a century after as the Civil Wars, were a series of civil wars fought over control of the English throne in the mid-to-late fifteenth century. These wars were fought between supporters of two rival cadet branches of the royal House of Plantagenet: Lancaster and York. The wars extinguished the male lines of the two branches, leading to the Tudor family inheriting the Lancastrian claim to the throne. Following the war, the Houses of Lancaster and York were united, creating a new royal dynasty and thereby resolving their rival claims. For over thirty years, there were greater and lesser levels of violent conflict between various rival contenders for control of the English monarchy.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">First Battle of St Albans</span> 15th-century battle traditionally marking the beginning of the Wars of the Roses

The First Battle of St Albans was fought on 22 May 1455 at St Albans, 22 miles (35 km) north of London, and traditionally marks the beginning of the Wars of the Roses in England. Richard, Duke of York, and his allies, the Neville earls of Salisbury and Warwick, defeated a royal army commanded by Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, who was killed. With King Henry VI captured, a subsequent parliament appointed Richard of York Lord Protector.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Second Battle of St Albans</span> 1461 battle in the English Wars of the Roses

The Second Battle of St Albans was fought on 17 February 1461 during the Wars of the Roses in St Albans, Hertfordshire, England.

The Rose of Rouen is a fifteenth-century carol, written after the Battle of Towton in 1461, eulogizing the Yorkist leader and later King Edward IV, Edward, Earl of March.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Siege of the Tower of London (1460)</span> 1460 battle in the English Wars of the Roses

The siege of the Tower of London was an episode of the Wars of the Roses, in which adherents of the rival Plantagenet houses of Lancaster and York were pitted against each other. In June 1460, several Yorkist nobles, who had unsuccessfully rebelled against King Henry VI the year before and had fled to Calais, invaded the south east of England at Sandwich. They enjoyed widespread support through popular discontent with the ruling court among the populace of Kent and the merchants of London, and were greeted by enthusiastic crowds when they entered London on 2 July.


  1. 1 2 Dean 2015, p. 35.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Ross 1997, p. 37.
  3. 1 2 3 Wolffe 2001, p. 332.
  4. Gravett 2003, p. 7.
  5. 1 2 Wolffe 2001, p. 289.
  6. Ross 1997, pp. 11–18.
  7. Carpenter 2002, p. 147.
  8. Hicks 2002, p. 211.
  9. Wolffe 2001, pp. 324–327.
  10. Ross 1997, pp. 7, 33.
  11. Harriss 2005, p. 538.
  12. Ross 1997, pp. 29–32.
  13. Hicks 2002, pp. 216–217.
  14. 1 2 Wolffe 2001, pp. 330–331.
  15. 1 2 Ross 1997, p. 35.
  16. Wolffe 2001, pp. 332–333.
  17. Hicks 2002, pp. 218–219.
  18. Gravett 2003, pp. 32–39.
  19. Gravett 2003, p. 47.
  20. Morgan 2000, pp. 38, 40.
  21. Gravett 2003, p. 44.
  22. English Heritage 1995, p. 1.
  23. Gravett 2003, p. 25.
  24. Ross 1997, p. 36.
  25. 1 2 3 Wolffe 2001, p. 331.
  26. Sadler 2011, p. 78.
  27. Scott 2010, p. 24.
  28. Goodman 1990, p. 51.
  29. Penn 2019, p. 46.
  30. Carpenter 2002, p. 126,156.
  31. 1 2 Goodman 1990, p. 165.
  32. Hicks 2002, pp. 147, 240.
  33. Hicks 2002, p. 179.
  34. Gravett 2003, pp. 20–21.
  35. Goodman 1990, p. 166.
  36. Ross 1997, p. 17.
  37. Gravett 2003, p. 20.
  38. 1 2 Ross 1997, p. 38.
  39. English Heritage 1995, pp. 2–5.
  40. 1 2 Gravett 2003, pp. 50–51.
  41. English Heritage 1995, p. 2.
  42. Gravett 2003, pp. 44–46.
  43. 1 2 Halsall 2000, p. 41.
  44. Gravett 2003, p. 46.
  45. Halsall 2000, p. 42.
  46. Gravett 2003, p. 59.
  47. Gravett 2003, pp. 49–50.
  48. English Heritage 1995, p. 4.
  49. English Heritage 1995, pp. 3, 4–5.
  50. Gravett 2003, pp. 52–53.
  51. Gravett 2003, pp. 53–56.
  52. Gravett 2003, pp. 56–57.
  53. Gravett 2003, pp. 60–61, 65.
  54. 1 2 3 4 English Heritage 1995, p. 6.
  55. 1 2 Harriss 2005, p. 644.
  56. Gravett 2003, p. 68.
  57. Gravett 2003, pp. 50, 69–73.
  58. Gravett 2003, pp. 85–89.
  59. Gravett 2003, pp. 37, 88.
  60. Gravett 2003, pp. 72–73.
  61. Gravett 2003, p. 73.
  62. 1 2 Gravett 2003, pp. 79–80.
  63. Hinds 1912, pp. 68, 73.
  64. Hinds 1912, pp. 65, 81.
  65. Sutherland 2009, pp. 21–24.
  66. Gravett 2003, p. 77.
  67. 1 2 Ross 1997, pp. 37–38.
  68. 1 2 Carpenter 2002, p. 159.
  69. Ross 1997, p. 67.
  70. Ross 1997, pp. 67–68.
  71. 1 2 Carpenter 2002, p. 149.
  72. Ross 1997, pp. 41–63.
  73. Carpenter 2002, p. 148.
  74. Ross 1997, p. 70.
  75. Carpenter 2002, p. 158.
  76. Hicks 2002, p. 221.
  77. Ross 1997, pp. 70–71.
  78. Wolffe 2001, pp. 335–337.
  79. Hicks 2002, pp. 281, 292, 296.
  80. Ross 1997, p. 171.
  81. 1 2 3 Berlin 2000, p. 139.
  82. Edelman 1992, p. 39.
  83. 1 2 Saccio 2000, p. 141.
  84. Wolffe 2001, p. 3.
  85. Warren 2003, p. 236.
  86. Hattaway & Shakespeare 1993, pp. 32–34.
  87. Hattaway & Shakespeare 1993, p. 34.
  88. Sherry 1987, pp. 86–87.
  89. Wainwright 2005, p. 7.
  90. Sherry 1987, pp. 88.
  91. Wainwright 2005, p. 18.
  92. Wainwright 2005, pp. 19, 37.
  93. Sutherland & Schmidt 2003, pp. 15–25.
  94. Sutherland & Schmidt 2003, p. 17.
  95. NHLE 1000040.
  96. Gravett 2003, p. 51.
  97. Fallow 1889, pp. 303–305.
  98. Ransome 1889, p. 463.
  99. Catton 2010.
  100. Gill 2008; Kettle 2007
  101. Wainwright 2005, p. 83.
  102. 1 2 Harris 1935.
  103. 1 2 Salzman 1949, p. 175.
  104. Askew 1935.
  105. Gibson 1936, p. 180.



Essays and journals

Newspaper articles

Online sources

Further reading