The First Battle of St Albans

by Ellen Castelow

During the 15th century struggle for power between the rival houses of Lancaster and York, the First Battle of St Albans fought on 22nd May 1455, marked the beginning of the Wars of the Roses.

Following their exclusion from court, Richard Duke of York and his ally Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, had assembled their private armies in the north and now marched south to confront the Lancastrian King Henry VI at St Albans, just north of London.

The 2,000 strong Lancastrian army under the command of the Duke of Buckingham arrived at the town first and set about organising its defences.

Following several hours of failed negotiations the slightly larger Yorkist force launched a frontal assault on the town.

In the bloody fighting that followed through the narrow streets of St Albans, the Yorkists suffered heavy casualties. The Lancastrian defences finally broke after a small force under the Earl of Warwick, having picked their way through the smaller back lanes and rear gardens, made a surprise appearance in the town’s market square.

Quickly Warwick ordered his men to charge the main body of Henry’s army who were being held there in reserve. Meanwhile the Lancastrian defenders, realising they had been outflanked, abandoned their barricades and fled the town.

Warwick’s longbowmen reigned arrows onto Henry’s bodyguard, killing Buckingham and several other influential Lancastrian nobles and wounding the king. The wounded Henry was later escorted back to London by York and Warwick.

With York restored as Lord Protector of England, he now effectively ruled the country. Henry’s wife Queen Margaret, along with their young son Edward of Westminster, fled into exile.

The site of the First Battle of St Albans is located in the heart of the city centre close to the Skipton Building Society on St Peter’s Street.

Key Facts:

Date: 22nd May, 1455

War: Wars of the Roses

Location: St Albans, Hertfordshire

Belligerents: Lancastrians and Yorkists

Victors: Yorkists

Numbers: Lancastrians 2,000, Yorkists 3,000 – 6,000

Casualties: Both sides negligible

Commanders: King Henry VI and Edmund, Duke of Somerset (Lancastrians), Richard, Duke of York and the Earl of Warwick (Yorkists)

Location:

The First Battle of St Albans

More Battles in the Wars of the Roses

First Battle of St Albans 22 May, 1455
Battle of Blore Heath 23 September, 1459
Battle of Northampton (1460) 10 July, 1460
Second Battle of St Albans 17 February, 1461
Battle of Towton 29 March, 1461
Battle of Barnet 14 April, 1471
Battle of Tewkesbury 4 May, 1471
Battle of Bosworth Field 22 August, 1485
Battle of Stoke Field 16 June, 1487
Background to the Wars of the Roses  

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