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Battle of Towton
Battle of Towton
29th March 1461
Name: Battle of Towton
Date: 29 March 1461
War period: Wars of the Roses
Strat time and duration: 9am, lasting ten hours
Outcome: Yorkist victory
Armies and losses: Yorkist army under Edward Duke of March; Lancastrian army under Duke of Somerset. Claims of 40,000 men on each side are almost certainly exaggerated. Losses: large number of Lancastrians, fewer Yorkists. Chronicler claims for the number of dead improbable.
Location: securely located between the villages of Saxton and Towton, fought across open field
Map details: Grid Reference: SE482384 (448237,438420); OS Landranger map: 105; OS Explorer map: 290
A victory for Edward IV over the main Lancastrian army established the House of York as the new royal dynasty in England.
The Act of Settlement signed by King Henry VI in October 1460 transferred the right of succession to Richard, Duke of York and his heirs. However Queen Margaret was, not surprisingly, unwilling to accept that her son should be disinherited. The Lancastrians once more attempted to resolve the matter through force of arms and three battles followed: Wakefield, 30 December 1460, at which the Yorkists were defeated and the Richard, Duke of York, killed; Mortimer’s Cross, 2 February 1461, at which Edward, Richard's son, defeated a Lancastrian army; and St. Albans, 17 February 1461, where the Yorkists were defeated and Henry VI released from captivity. Despite this latter setback, the Earl of Warwick, 'The Kingmaker', saw to it that Edward became king in March 1461. England now had two kings, a matter that could only be resolved on the battlefield. After St. Albans Henry's forces had retreated into the north and so, soon after his coronation, Edward set off to confront him.
Edward was able to muster a large army as he marched north, though the claim that he had as many as 40,000 troops may be exaggeration. The Lancastrian army was of at least equal number to that of the Yorkists. The Lancastrians sent a vanguard forward to Ferrybridge and on the 28th March they contest Edward's attempt to cross the river Aire. But the Yorkist vanguard was dispatched north westward to cross at Castleford and so outflank the Lancastrian detachment. They had to retreat back towards their own army, leaving the main route open at Ferrybridge for the rest of Edward's army.
It seems that the Yorkist vanguard caught and defeated the retreating Lancastrians on the main road from Ferrybridge to York at Dintingdale, just to the east of Saxton village. The scene was now set for what may have been the largest battle of the Wars of the Roses. On Palm Sunday, following day (though a convincing argument is now proposed by Sutherland that all the events, including the actions at Ferrybridge and Dintingdale, took place on Palm Sunday), the two armies met in the open field between the villages of Towton and Saxton.
It is said that Towton was the largest and longest battle fought on British soil, though it seems likely that, even more than usual, the medieval chronicles grossly exaggerate both the numbers engaged and the casualties incurred at Towton. What cannot be disputed is that Towton was of huge significant in both military and social terms. The political significance was also substantial, for it secured the throne for the Yorkists, although the Lancastrian cause was far from extinguished. Henry, his extremely ambitious wife Margaret, and his son and heir had all escaped.
The battlefield remains undeveloped agricultural land. The open fields of the time of the battle were finally enclosed in the 18th and 19th centuries, but removal of many of the hedgerows in the latter part of the twentieth century has returned the landscape somewhat towards its medieval character. Though two roads, the A162 and B1217, run north-south across the battlefield they are both busy and dangerous to walk. A walking route with interpretation panels has been established by the Towton Battlefield Society starting from the parking on the Lancastrian side, next to the cross. This takes the walker either south toward the Yorkist lines or west toward the Cock Beck and then north into Towton village.