3 Battles, Nature of

Battles, Nature of

   Although involving the deployment of ARCHERS and ARTILLERY, most battles during the WARS OF THE ROSES were relatively brief hand-to-hand mêlées fought by bodies of armored foot soldiers.
   Because the wars were civil conflicts, with Englishmen fighting Englishmen, neither side possessed any great technical advantage. Both armies had the same components and WEAPONRY, usually an artillery contingent, complements of archers and cavalry, and a core of similarly equipped footmen. Battles usually opened with an exchange of bow and gun fire, but neither weapon had much effect on the fighting once hand-to-hand combat was joined. The great English victories of the HUNDRED YEARS WAR, in which ranks of longbowmen had decimated enemy cavalry charges, had taught armored cavalry to fight on foot as heavy infantry wielding swords, battle- axes, maces (heavy, spiked staffs or clubs), or flails (a mace with a spiked ball attached to it by a chain). These latter weapons were devised to counter fluted ARMOR, which could deflect sword or arrow but might be crushed by the impact of mace or flail. Unlike the Battles of Crécy (1346) and Agincourt (1415), English victories in FRANCE that were won by the army on the defensive, most Wars of the Roses battles were won by the attacking force—the impact of the charge giving the attackers an advantage at the clash of battle lines. Because armor was heavy, and a fighting man encased within it quickly grew hot and weary, few battles continued more than a few hours—the momentous Battle of BOSWORTH FIELD in 1485 may have lasted little more than one hour. The Battle of TOWTON, fought throughout the length of a March day in 1461, was altogether exceptional in its duration. Because most cavalry fought on foot, the longbow was not a decisive weapon in civil war battles. After discharging a series of opening volleys to draw the enemy from his position, the lightly armored archers were at a severe disadvantage against heavily armored infantry. Battles were decided by the experience and morale of the infantry, who slugged it out with one another until one side gained an advantage. Thus, the heart of any army consisted of the retinues of the PEERAGE and GENTRY, men better trained and equipped in arms than the local levies of peasants and townsmen who comprised the bulk of most civil war forces (see Armies, Recruiting of). The RETAINERS of a lord or gentleman tended to be more disciplined and steadier in battle, less likely to break and run when heavily engaged. For instance, at the Battle of TEWKESBURY in 1471, EDWARD IV may have been victorious because he had a higher proportion of nobility and their retainers in his army than the Lancastrians, who were relying on hastily recruited shire and town levies from the West Country (see Commissions of Array).
   In terms of morale, a final factor in the outcome of civil war battles was the quality of leadership (see Generalship). Commanders were expected to lead their armies into combat and to inspire their men with their own deeds of valor. In this regard, the Yorkists had a distinct advantage, for Edward IV was a skilled and confident soldier and leader, while HENRY VI never led an army into battle. Richard NEVILLE, earl of Warwick, was also an inspiring commander, whose leadership greatly benefited the house of YORK in the early stages of the wars, and the house of LANCASTER during the READEPTION of 1470–1471.
   See also Armies, Size of; Casualties; Men-at-Arms; Mercenaries; Military Campaigns, Duration of; entries for each battle listed in the table below
   Further Reading: Boardman, Andrew W., The Medieval Soldier in the Wars of the Roses (Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Sutton Publishing, 1998); Haigh, Philip A., The Military Campaigns of the Wars of the Roses (Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Sutton Publishing, 1995); Ross, Charles, The Wars of the Roses (London: Thames and Hudson, 1987).

Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. . 2001.

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