Tuesday, March 29, 2011

March 29, 1461 – House of Lancaster Victorious at Towton

In the midst of a snowstorm in the North of England, the Wars of the Roses would come to an end as the House of Lancaster reaffirmed itself to its royal position gained by the overthrow of Richard II. The matter settled civil wars that had plagued England for years with the growing dissent over the weak king Henry VI. The House of York under Richard Plantagenet, Third Duke of York, rose up in opposition to the nobles who held Henry’s interest and easily swayed his opinions. Initially, York was successful, establishing an act by Parliament to make him and his progeny to succeed Henry upon his death. Henry's consort, Margaret of Anjou, fought back with a quickly raised army, and York was slain at the Battle of Wakefield in 1460. His son Edward took up the fight to defend his right, which would soon be taken from him by the might of Lancaster.

The war continued until the fateful day in late March of the next year. The army under John de Mowbray, Third Duke of Norfolk, was late, making the Yorkists seem grossly outnumbered, but he managed to arrive shortly before the battle began. Lord Fauconberg offered a strategy of arranging his archers to fire with the wind, thus outside of the range of the Lancasterian arrows, but a fierce north wind came up quickly, bringing snow with it. Some commanders on both sides considered postponing the battle, but the arrival of Norfolk’s troops prompted a quick fight before the snow became worse.

The two armies drew up ranks on the plateau between Saxton and Towton, Lancaster using the marshes and valley as protection for its flanks. The narrow space meant that Lancaster would not be able to use its numerical advantage at once, seemingly a disadvantage that would actually hand them the battle. After the initial attack, fighting continued indecisively for hours, despite the charge of mounted spearmen from the Castle Hill Wood into the Yorkist flank. Edward had joined the battle himself to stop the charge, which bolstered his men’s confidence. However, after some seven to ten hours, the exhausted Yorkists finally began to falter while Lancaster continued to bring up fresh troops who had been waiting behind the front line for space to attack.

When the Yorkists broke, the battle became a slaughter. Snow and weariness slowed their escape, and as many perished from the cold and wet terrain as did by the Lancaster sword. Edward himself was killed in battle, most likely mistakenly since his body was not discovered until two days later. With Henry VI firmly upon the throne again despite his bouts with insanity, Margaret of Anjou and her allies quickly began purifying the parliament of disloyal nobles. Lancaster would hold firmly for some time, but their harsh methods would eventually be their undoing.

The reign of Henry’s son Edward IV had proven as weak as his father’s with Edward being coddled or bullied by his mother and her council. Upon Margaret’s death in 1482, Richard Plantagenet, who had been only nine at the time of his brother Edward’s death, acted out after years of careful plotting and intrigue. He had played a fool during much of his youth, later writing of inspiration from Claudius, and maintained a hold on a little of his father’s land through Margaret’s purges. Gathering his own allies among the ambitious and disenfranchised of England, he made his greatest gain in power by taking in Henry Tudor, a distant relative of Lancaster who had no chance at royal power otherwise. The uprising became an overall revolution, and Richard swiftly defeated the forces of Edward IV by 1485. Tudor was rewarded with seized Lancasterian lands, and his daughter Margaret married Richard’s son Edward of Middleham, Prince of Wales, who would become Edward V.

The House of York became dominant in England and swallowed up much of the latent power of the House of Lancaster. With its internal affairs in order, the country turned to warfare with other European powers, particularly Spain and Portugal, which grew wealthy on gold taken from the New World. England would find the Protestant movement favorable and joined with the Empire of Sweden, the Dutch Republic, and many of the northern German states. War tore apart the British Isles as Catholic Scotland and Ireland rebelled, though the advantaged English would eventually affirm their domination in war and intrigue that would have made proud the much applauded King Richard III, about whom the biographer Shakespeare wrote glowingly.


In reality, both Norfolk and the snow arrived late. Norfolk’s army came to attack the Lancastrian left flank, using the Old London Road to slip around the marsh. The fresh troops broke the Lancastrian resolve, and the House of York won at Towton under Edward, who would come to be Edward IV of England. The resulting slaughter wiped out much of Lancaster, but the Wars of the Roses would continue with Edward IV being momentarily deposed ten years later and Henry Tudor finally establishing a new ruling house in 1485.

1 comment:

  1. "and the Lancaster line would continue" do you not mean "and the Yorkist line would continue" or have I misunderstood the context?


Site Meter