Monday, 31 January 2011

Towton - the aftermath

King Henry VI, Queen Margaret and the Prince managed to escape, eventually to Scotland. With them were Somerset and Exeter, who presumably had very good horses.

Many Lancastrians were less fortunate. Northumberland died of his wounds, which almost certainly saved him from the block. Wiltshire managed to get away from the battle but was eventually captured at Cockermouth (of all places) probably on his way home to Ireland. He was promptly executed.

Devon was also executed, along with more than 40 Lancastrian knights. Edward's mood was probably not improved by finding his father's, brother's, and uncle's heads still displayed over the gates of York when he arrived. Replacing them with Devon's was doubtless some consolation. (Ironically Devon had been one of York's early supporters.)

After this initial blood-letting Edward's policy became more moderate. Many pardons were eventually issued including ones in favour of Earl Rivers and Lord Fitzhugh. Rivers and his family seem quite genuinely to have changed sides at this time, perhaps swayed by Edward's personal charisma. Fitzhugh on the other hand is an example of a man whose heart probably remained loyal to Henry VI. He was Warwick's brother-in-law and from now on can perhaps be understood better as a satellite of Warwick rather than a devoted subject of King Edward.

Battle of Towton Phase 2

One thing the Battle of Towton was not was Lancashire v Yorkshire. I am sure that most of you are well aware of this, but I find that many people are under the delusion that the Wars of the Roses were a Lancashire v Yorkshire fixture. Cricket may have caused this confusion. Or maybe stupidity.

Anyway, passing lightly on. The commanding general on the Lancastrian side was Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, a young man of 25 and a veteran of both the battles of St. Albans and of Wakefield. (He had commanded at 2nd St.Albans and Wakefield, so had a winning track record.) King Henry VI, Queen Margaret and Prince Edward were all safely left behind in York, a prudent and sensible precaution.

We can safely assume that Somerset commanded the Lancastrian centre. Their right was under Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland. His flank was usefully protected by the Cock Beck. It is less clear who commanded the left but a fair guess is Henry Holland, Duke of Exeter, by virtue of his rank. (He had few other qualities, but his rank was undeniable.)

On the Yorkist side, Edward IV commanded the centre in person. Their right was under Lord Fauconberg whose performance the previous day was soon to be equalled on this one. Warwick is the most likely commander of their left, facing Percy.

Snow began to fall, and as the morning drew on it turned into something of a blizzard. Fortunately for the Yorkists, the wind was blowing from the south, into the very faces of their opponents. Fauconberg advanced his men, who shot arrows into the Lancastrian left wing. The Lancastrians naturally tried to reply in kind, but because of their conditions their arrows fell short, while the Yorkist ones were 'wind assisted.' The Yorkists eventually ran out of arrows to shoot, but by stepping forward a little way were able to replenish their stocks with the Lancastrian arrows that had fallen short.

The Lancastrians now advanced so as to fight at close quarters. Although doubtless badly mauled by the arrow storm, there were still plenty of them left and anxious to give a good account of themselves. The lines locked together, and an almost unimaginable slugfest ensued, men hacking at one another in the snow.

The blizzard eased somewhat, but it seems likely that visibility was limited and that most of those engaged were only aware of their own local situation. From time to time men drew off to rest; possibly they did so by silent, mutual agreement. However the conflict was always renewed, and it went on for hours, through daylight and beyond. The strength and courage of all concerned must have been tested to the limit. Slowly, faced with superior numbers, the Yorkists were forced back.

Suddenly, out of the gloom, the Duke of Norfolk's division arrived to reinforce the Yorkists. Norfolk, who had been seriously left behind the advance of the main Yorkist force, evidently marched in haste to the 'sound of the guns' or the general racket of a major battle. His men peppered the Lancastrian left with arrows and then fell upon its flank. After what it had already endured that day it's not surprising that the Lancastrian left faltered and broke before this new onslaught.

It was not long before the rest of the Lancastrian army followed suit, as soaring Yorkist morale pushed their men forward in one last effort. Before long the battle had turned into a pursuit and slaughter, halted only by the gathering darkness of night. Many Lancastrians drowned trying to ford the Cock while others were trapped in a killing ground next to it and slaughtered. Edward had ordered that there should be no quarter. The days of 'kill the lords and spare the commons' were over.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Battle of Towton - Phase 1

Edward reached Pontefract on 27 March, having passed through Cambridge and Nottingham. Here he concentrated his forces, but the Duke of Norfolk was not yet arrived. Norfolk was sickly (he was to die on 6 November 1461) and his troops may have been commanded (nominally) by his young son, John Mowbray or (in practice) by his kinsman, Sir John Howard. Anyway, the Mowbray East Anglians were missing in the initial phases, putting Edward at a serious disadvantage.

Edward ordered Lord Fitzwalter to take the bridge over the Aire at Ferrybridge. Fitzwalter initially secured the bridge (which had not been guarded) but early next morning was taken by surprise by a Lancastrian force under Lord Clifford (aka 'Butcher Clifford.') In a fierce fight the Yorkist contingent was driven off, with the deaths of Fitzwalter and Sir Richard Jenney (Warwick's illegitimate half-brother.)

This was bad news indeed for the Yorkists, but Edward did not panic. Instead he sent Lord Fauconberg (Warwick's uncle) to take the bridges over the Aire at Castleford and then attack Clifford in the rear. Fauconberg undertook this task with great success, taking the Lancastrians by surprise and more or less wiping out their contingent. Clifford himself was among those killed. The road was now open for the main Yorkist army (still missing Norfolk) to cross the Aire and take up positions ready to attack the Lancastrians next day, 29 March, which was Palm Sunday.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

An Irrelevant Post - Edward II

I have lately been wound up by various people who insist on believing the fable that Edward III was fathered by William Wallace.

Let me set it out in plain terms for the hard of thinking. He wasn't! Edward III was not born until several years after Wallace's death. Human biology teaches us that the normal term of pregnancy is nine months, not seven years! Moreover, Queen Isabella was only 9 or 10 years old at the time of Wallace's execution, and she was still in France.

Edward and Isabella had several children and Edward also had at least one outside marriage. Fact - it is possible for a gay man to father children. Many if not all of us descend from such men in our ancestry, given that until very recently it was common for them to marry and give the appearance of being 'normal'.

There really is no reason to believe that Edward III was fathered by anyone other than Edward II - but he certainly wasn't fathered by William Wallace.

Rant over!

Monday, 10 January 2011

A bit overdue for a Post so here it is.

I know I am a bit overdue for a post. Have I been ill? Yes, but apart from Christmas when I felt like I was dying, no more than usual, which is not enough of an excuse. Have I tired of the project? No, but I'm not in any haste to complete it. Am I lazy? Yes, probably. Unproductive? Yes, tend to be.

Anyway, a few preliminary words about Towton. Obviously a Yorkist v Lancastrian fixture, but in some ways more. Progressives versus traditionalists. The Establishment versus the Outs. Neville v Percy. Neville v Beaufort. Mowbray (a thoroughly pissed off Mowbray) v Lancaster. Warwick v anyone keeping him from the light. South v North. There are probably more sub-plots I haven't thought of.

Edward IV's support among the nobility was a bit limited at this stage. Just one earl fought for him, and that was Warwick. If, instead of a battle, they'd had a vote in the House of Lords there's little doubt Henry VI would have won. Despite his inadequacies, the depth of the continuing loyalty to King Henry should not be underestimated.

Towton is sometimes said to be the largest battle ever fought on English soil. The other contender is Marston Moor in the Civil War, also fought within a few miles of York. I will offer no opinion on this, except to say Towton was certainly a very large battle indeed, with almost the whole nobility engaged. Even Lord Stanley was there, an almost unique event. This was an achievement in itself, a bit like getting me to a current-day football match.

The Yorkists advanced from London in three groups, led by Edward himself, Warwick and Norfolk. They each went by a different route, probably as a means of achieving maximum recruitment to their colours. However, logistics and supply must also have been an issue, because by medieval English standards the forces raised were simply massive.