Casualties

   As with the overall size of armies during the WARS OF THE ROSES, figures for the casualties suffered in civil war battles are difficult to calculate and often seriously inflated by contemporary commentators.
   Because Wars of the Roses armies probably rarely numbered more than 10,000 to 15,000 men, with perhaps some smaller battles counting their combatants in the hundreds, chronicle accounts such as the one claiming that over 3,000 Lancastrians died at the Battle of MORTIMER’S CROSS in February 1461 are highly suspect. The figure 3,000 probably exceeds the entire strength of the Lancastrian force engaged at Mortimer’s Cross, which was not a major battle but a regional encounter between the Welsh and Marcher (i.e., borderland) supporters of the houses of LANCASTER and YORK.
   The one possible exception to the untrustworthiness of contemporary casualty figures is the number given for those killed in March 1461 at the Battle of TOWTON, the largest and longest battle of the Wars of the Roses. Various chroniclers claimed that between 30,000 and 38,000 men lay dead on the field after the battle. Although modern historians estimate that between 50,000 and 75,000 men participated in the fighting at Towton, the chronicle figures would still strain belief, except that a letter written immediately after the battle states that the heralds counted 28,000 slain, and the same figure was shortly thereafter reported by both EDWARD IV and by several other contemporary observers. Clearly, the magnitude of the slaughter at Towton was unprecedented during the wars, even if one accepts later estimates that only about 9,000 died in the battle.
   In many battles, the number of dead was small. At the Battle of ST. ALBANS in May 1455 only a few thousand men were engaged and the fighting ended abruptly on the death of Edmund BEAUFORT, duke of Somerset, and his noble allies. At the Battle of NORTHAMPTON in July 1460, the armies involved were larger, but the fighting was brief, and the casualties were highest among the Lancastrian noblemen who fought to defend the person of HENRY VI, for Richard NEVILLE, earl of Warwick, the Yorkist commander, told his men to spare the king and commons and to concentrate their efforts on killing the peers and gentlemen who led the Lancastrian force. At the Battle of EDGECOTE in July 1469, the slaughter of Welsh gentry in the royalist force was particularly high, with one account claiming that 168 Welsh gentlemen fell on the field. About 2,000 Welsh commons were said to have died at Edgecote, but that figure is again probably high for the number of men engaged (see Commons and the Wars of the Roses).
   Other encounters, such as the Battle of LUDFORD BRIDGE in 1459 or the Battles of HEDGELEY MOOR and HEXHAM in 1464, were mere skirmishes or involved small forces and few casualties. At the Battle of Hexham, the executions of captured Lancastrians after the battle may have rivaled the number of men killed during the actual fighting. Warwick and his brother John NEVILLE, Lord Montagu, who were rarely hesitant to dispatch captured opponents, executed over two dozen Lancastrian leaders after Hexham, including Henry BEAUFORT, duke of Somerset; Robert HUNGERFORD, Lord Hungerford; and Thomas ROOS, Lord Roos. Although the number of noble and GENTRY dead, both in the fighting and through execution afterward, was high in many battles, the number of casualties among the commons probably was counted in the hundreds for all battles except the largest, such as the Battles of Towton, BARNET, and TEWKESBURY.
   Further Reading: Boardman, Andrew W., The Medieval Soldier in the Wars of the Roses (Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Sutton Publishing, 1998); Goodman, Anthony, The Wars of the Roses (New York: Dorset Press, 1981); Ross, Charles, The Wars of the Roses (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1987).

Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. . 2001.

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