The Battle of Towton
by Ellen Castelow
The Battle of Towton on 29th March 1461 was possibly the largest and bloodiest battle ever fought on English soil.
Although the Lancastrian King Henry VI had transferred the right of succession to the English throne to Richard, Duke of York and his heirs, his wife Queen Margaret was not prepared to accept an arrangement that deprived her son of his birthright without a fight.
England was effectively a country with two kings, a predicament that could only be settled on the battlefield.
Following the death of his father at the Battle of Wakefield, the 18 year-old Yorkist Edward marched his followers northwards to depose Henry through force.
The two huge armies, estimated at between 50,000 – 65,000 men, confronted each other in the middle of a snowstorm on an open field between the villages of Towton and Saxton, in North Yorkshire on Palm Sunday.
The fierce fighting continued for several hours with neither side gaining the upper hand until towards the end of the day, the Lancastrian line finally crumbled. Prior to the battle, both sides had been issued with the order to give no quarter and the Yorkists were intent on following this instruction to the letter.
The fleeing Lancastrians were cut down from behind as they fled the battlefield; many were killed after they had surrendered including, according to one source, 42 knights.
Towton proved to be a decisive victory for the Yorkists. With a death toll said to number 28,000, the Lancastrians were unable to muster a field army for another three years. The Lancastrian cause was far from over however, as King Henry and his wife Margaret, along with their son and heir had all escaped to Scotland. It would be another 25 years before the political struggle and fighting would finally end.
Click here for a battlefield map.
Date: 29th March, 1461
War: Wars of the Roses
Location: Near Towton, Yorkshire
Belligerents: Lancastrians and Yorkists
Numbers: Lancastrians 30,000 – 35,000, Royalists 25,000 – 30,000
Casualties: A total of around 28,000 dead, unknown wounded or captured
Commanders: Henry Beaufort (Lancastrians), King Edward IV of England (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|