The Wars of the Roses had started in 1455 at the First Battle of St Albans, when Richard of York had openly rebelled against the mentally unstable and weak Lancastrian King Henry VI.
Following the Battle of Northampton in 1460, King Henry had been captured by the Yorkists leaving his queen, Margaret of Anjou, in charge of the Lancastrian cause. Having recently tasted victory at the Battle of Wakefield, the Lancastrian army now began its advance on London.
The Yorkists under the command of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, moved to block Queen Margaret’s march southward. Warwick established his defences just north of St Albans, digging in deep on the old Roman road of Watling Street.
Learning of Warwick’s substantial defences, on the evening of 16th February Margaret veered her Lancastrian army sharply west, capturing the town of Dunstable. The Lancastrians then used the cover of darkness to move south-east, arriving in St Albans early in the morning on 17th February.
Margaret (pictured to the right) had effectively outflanked Warwick’s defences. Advancing through the narrow streets of St Albans, the Lancastrians initially suffered heavy casualties from Yorkist archers who had been billeted in the town. The fierce hand-to-hand fighting continued for several hours, but without reinforcements the Yorkist archers were eventually overcome.
Now in control of the town, the Lancastrians turned their attention to the main Yorkist army to the north. Realising that he had been outmanoeuvred, Warwick ordered a tactical withdrawal, marching his remaining force of around 4,000 men to Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire.
As they retreated the Yorkists left behind a little present for Margaret - her husband King Henry, who is said to have enjoyed the battle sitting under a tree, singing.
Date: 17th February, 1461
War: Wars of the Roses
Location: Bernards Heath, St Albans, Hertfordshire
Belligerents: Lancastrians and Yorkists
Numbers: Lancastrians around 14,000, Yorkists approximately 10,000
Casualties: Lancastrians around 2,000, Yorkists approximately 4,000
Commanders: Margaret of Anjou (Lancastrians), Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick 'The Kingmaker' (Yorkists)
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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