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This Week In History

The Battle of Towton. March 29, 1461

The Battle of Towton took place on March 29, 1461 in the city of Towton, Yorkshire, during the English Wars of Roses. It is now considered by historiographers the biggest and bloodiest battle in English territory with Yorkist victory.

Edward had advanced from the west to the outskirts of London, where he joined his forces with Warwick´s. This coincided with the withdrawal of Queen Margaret to the north to Dunstable, and so, Edward and Warwick entered London with their army, where they were greeted with enthusiasm, money and supplies by most people in the city, that were Yorkists. With his brother and father both dead in battle, war was by that time a pure dispute for the crown, as Edward of York could no longer argue that he wanted to free his father from his “bad advisors”. The need for Edward´s authority was confirmed when the Bishop of London asked the people and they answered hailing “King Edward”. The Parliament confirmed the popular demand, and he was crowned in a hasty ceremony in Westminster Abbey with much rejoice.

Warwick and Edward had control over London, although Edward made the promise that he wouldn´t be officially crowned while Henry and Margaret had not been executed or exiled. He also announced that Henry had broken the Act of Accord by letting his wife Margaret raise armies against the throne heirs. Therefore, the legal argument meant a victory for Edward as it meant the restoration of his legitimate rights, meaning that Henry and the Lancasters were nothing but usurpers.

The country had now two kings, a situation that could not last long, specially if Edward was going to be officially crowned. Edward offered amnesty to every Lancaster supporter who renounced Henry. This measure was destined to win over the commoners, his offer was not destined for noblemen. The young king called his followers to march to York and recover his family city and depose Henry by force.

Yorkist forces displayed through three routed. Lord Fauconberg (Warwick´s uncle) led a group to clear the way to York for the main body to follow, led by Edward himself. The Duke of Norfolk was sent to the east to raise forces and rejoin Edward before the battle. Warwick advanced through the West, through the Midlands, recruiting men, and captured the bastard son of the Duke of Exeter and executed him.

On March 28, the vanguard of the Yorkist army arrived to Ferrybridge, over the River Aire. They were rebuilding the bridge that had been destroyed y Lancastrian forces when they were attacked and defeated by a small group of 500 men and had to retreat to the other side of the river.

When Edward knew about this skirmish, he headed to the bridge and was forced to an exhausting battle. Yorkists were superior in number, but the narrow bridge was a bottleneck, so the clash was on more even conditions. Edward sent Fauconberg to cross the river through Castleford, where Henry should have been, but he arrived too late, so Fauconberg and his horsemen crossed and attacked Ferrybridge from the other side.

Lancastrians retrieved, but were pursued to Dinting Dale, where they were caught and killed. After this, Yorkists finally rebuilt the bridge and continued their way to camp that night in Shermun-in-Elmet. The Lancastrian army camped in Tadcaster, 3 km north of Towton.

On arriving to the battle camp,  the northerners found themselves outnumbered, as the troops commanded by the Duke of Norfolk had not yet arrived. Fauconberg, taking advantage of the wind in favor in the snowstorm, giving advantage to the northern bowmen, forced the southerners to abandon their strong defensive position, starting a ferocious man-to-man encounter. After several hours, soldiers were exhausted, and finally Norfolk´s troops arrived, which led to the Yorkist victory.

According to the chroniclers, between 50.000 and 75.000 men fought in the snowstorm of March 29, coinciding with Palm Sunday. A publication stated a week later that at least 28.000 men died during the combat, although modern chronicles recount 9.000.

The House of Lancaster lost great part of its power and influences after the defeat. Henry took exile and almost all of his supporters died or fled with him. Edward IV reigned for 9 years, until Henry returned.

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