Towton, Battle of

(1461)
   Fought on 29 March 1461, Towton was the largest and bloodiest battle of the Wars of the Roses. Although the Yorkist victory left EDWARD IV in possession of the Crown, HENRY VI and his family fled to SCOTLAND after the battle, leaving England with two living, anointed monarchs and ensuring that dynastic conflict and political turmoil would continue for the next decade.
   After the death of Richard PLANTAGENET, duke of York, at the Battle of WAKEFIELD in December 1460, Edward, earl of March, the duke’s eldest son, assumed leadership of the Yorkist cause. March joined forces with Richard NEVILLE, earl of Warwick, on 22 February 1461, five days after Queen MARGARET OF ANJOU had defeated Warwick at the Battle of ST.ALBANS and reunited herself and her son with Henry VI. While the queen’s army withdrew into the north, March entered LONDON, where he was crowned as Edward IV on 4 March. Leaving the capital on 13 March, Edward moved slowly northward to give his principal lieutenants time to raise troops. He united with two of them, Warwick and William NEVILLE, Lord Fauconberg, on the road to York, but the third, John MOWBRAY, duke of Norfolk, had not yet arrived when the Yorkist army reached Pontefract on 27 March. Receiving a message that Norfolk was close, Edward advanced against the Lancastrian army, which had taken up a position about fifteen miles southwest of York, near the village of Towton. After two engagements at FERRYBRIDGE on 27 and 28 March, the armies met next day, a cold and snowy Palm Sunday. Henry BEAUFORT, duke of Somerset (Henry VI stayed in York with his family), led a Lancastrian army—probably the largest of the war—that contained most of the nobility of England. Commanded personally by Edward, the smaller Yorkist force included few nobles. For hours, the two armies struggled in the bitter weather. When a concealed Lancastrian force fell on the Yorkist left in the early afternoon, Edward’s line, which had been slowly giving ground, almost collapsed, but the young king’s presence helped to steady the men (see Generalship). In midafternoon, Norfolk arrived and attacked the Lancastrian left. Confronted by these fresh troops, the Lancastrian line broke, turning the battle into a rout and leaving several important Lancastrians dead on the field, including Henry PERCY, earl of Northumberland, and Sir Andrew TROLLOPE. Somerset escaped with Henry VI and his family, and several other prominent Lancastrians were captured and executed afterwards. Although likely exaggerated, the contemporary estimates of 28,000 dead on the field suggest that Towton was the largest, longest, and bloodiest battle of the war.
   Further Reading: Boardman, Andrew W., The Battle of Towton (Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Sutton Publishing, 1996); 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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