St. Albans, Battle of

   1) (1455)
   As the first armed encounter between the military forces of HENRY VI and those of Richard PLANTAGENET, duke of York, the battle fought at St. Albans in the southeastern county of Hertfordshire on 22 May 1455 is often considered the starting point of the Wars of the Roses.
   When Henry VI recovered his health in January 1455,York’s FIRST PROTECTORATE ceased, and the king released York’s rival, Edmund BEAUFORT, duke of Somerset, from the TOWER OF LONDON. York’s allies, Richard NEVILLE, earl of Salisbury, and his son, Richard NEVILLE, earl of Warwick, also found their chief enemies, Henry PERCY, earl of Northumberland, and his sons, back in royal favor. Without taking leave of the king, York and the Nevilles left LONDON for their estates in the north. In April, the king and his advisors summoned the three peers to a great council to be held at Leicester on 21 May. Believing the council was an attempt to force them into an oath of submission, if not something worse, the disaffected lords gathered forces to intercept Henry on his way to the council, seeking thereby to restore their control of the royal government by seizing control of the royal person.
   Hearing of York’s southward march, Henry sent the duke a letter ordering him to disarm or be branded a traitor.York’s reply, that only the arrest of Somerset would appease him, reached Henry on 21 May shortly after he had left London, accompanied by Somerset, Northumberland, and various other peers. The royal army, command of which Henry had only hours before transferred from Somerset to Humphrey STAFFORD, duke of Buckingham, reached St. Albans at about 9 A.M. on 22 May. The king set up his standard in the town square, while York and the Nevilles deployed on a ridge east of town. After an hour of fruitless negotiation, hostilities commenced around 10 A.M., with the Yorkists storming the town gates. Fighting in such close quarters nullified the Yorkist advantage in numbers, and the Lancastrians stood firm until Warwick led a small force through the gardens and lanes of the town, bursting into the square to cut the royal army in two. Warwick’s attack, which won him a mighty reputation, caused many of the royal troops to flee and allowed the entire Yorkist army to flood the square and overwhelm the remnant of men guarding the king. Henry and Buckingham were both wounded by arrows during the fighting in the square. Within minutes, Yorkist troops killed Somerset, Northumberland, and Thomas CLIFFORD, Lord Clifford. Under cover of battle, York and the Nevilles had eliminated their chief rivals at one stroke. Now under York’s “protection,” Henry made peace with the victors, who had him removed to the safety of the abbey. Next day, the king, riding between York and Salisbury, returned to London, where York formally began his parliamentsanctioned SECOND PROTECTORATE in November 1455. Besides placing the king and the government in York’s hands, the Battle of St. Albans turned the sons of the slain peers into bitter enemies of York and ensured that his period of power would be troubled and brief and that civil strife would continue.
   Further Reading: 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 (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1987).
   2) (1461)
   Fought on 17 February 1461, the second Battle of St. Albans was a Lancastrian victory that reunited HENRY VI with his family and threatened the destruction of the Yorkist cause.
   After the death of Richard PLANTAGENET, duke of York, at the Battle of WAKEFIELD in December 1460, the Lancastrian forces that had defeated him joined at York with Queen MARGARET OF ANJOU and the Scots and French MERCENARIES that she had gathered in SCOTLAND. Plundering Yorkist towns as it marched south, the queen’s army panicked LONDON, where Richard NEVILLE, earl of Warwick, the custodian of Henry VI, was seen as the only man able to defend southern England from Margaret’s horde of Scots and northerners (see March on London), a viewpoint encouraged by Warwick’s PROPAGANDA efforts. Warwick and the king led a large army out of London on 12 February and reached St. Albans the next day. Unsure of the Lancastrians’ whereabouts, Warwick deployed his army on a broad front extending through and north of St. Albans. On the evening of 16 February,Warwick received reports that the Lancastrians were nearby at Dunstable, where they were said to have overwhelmed a small Yorkist outpost. Believing the Lancastrians were much further away, the earl dismissed the report. However, the Dunstable information was true, and Margaret’s army reached St. Albans early the next morning. Andrew TROLLOPE led a Lancastrian force into the town, where they surprised a body of Yorkist ARCHERS. The Yorkists repulsed Trollope’s initial assault, but Warwick’s brother, John NEVILLE, Lord Montagu, in command of the Yorkist left, had to quickly reposition his troops. Deployed to meet an attack from the west, they now needed to face south to meet the Lancastrians advancing on them from the town. When his scouts informed him of an unguarded lane into St. Albans, Henry BEAUFORT, duke of Somerset, the Lancastrian commander, repeated Warwick’s maneuver from the first Battle of ST. ALBANS in 1455 and sent a force streaming into the square to drive out the Yorkists and capture the town. After a brief rest, the Lancastrians renewed their attack around noon, their entire army falling upon the Yorkist left under Montagu. Hindered by the hedgerows and lanes that had so strengthened the initial Yorkist position, Montagu’s messengers had difficulty finding Warwick, who commanded the Yorkist center, and Warwick had equal trouble bringing his troops into position to aid Montagu. The defection of part of his force caused Montagu’s line to collapse, and Warwick arrived in late afternoon to find Montagu a prisoner and his troops in flight. Panicked by rumors and the sight of fleeing comrades, Warwick’s men began to desert; the earl rallied what forces he could and withdrew from the field. That evening, Lancastrian troops discovered Henry VI sitting under a tree, deserted by all except William BONVILLE, Lord Bonville, and Sir Thomas Kyrill, who had stayed with Henry on his personal assurance that they would not be harmed. Henry was reunited with his wife and son, Prince EDWARD OF LANCASTER, who knighted Trollope and, on his mother’s instructions, ordered the executions of Bonville and Kyrill. Because Somerset’s brother was a prisoner of Warwick, Montagu was spared and sent to York. Having lost control of Henry VI, the Yorkist regime that had governed England since July 1460 was over. Warwick joined with Edward, earl of March, York’s son, on 22 February, and the Yorkists entered London four days later, Margaret’s army having moved north after being denied entry to the capital by its terrified inhabitants. Playing on southern fears of the Lancastrian host, the Yorkists proclaimed March king as EDWARD IV on 4 March, and the stage was set for a great battle between rival monarchs.
   See also Towton, Battle of
   Further Reading: Haigh, Philip A., The Military Campaigns of the Wars of the Roses (Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Sutton Publishing, 1995).

Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. . 2001.

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