LIC Blog

On this day ... The Battle of Towton

Palm Sunday fell on the 29th March in 1461. On that day the bloodiest ever conflict took place between Englishmen on their native soil. After a brutal skirmish at Ferrybridge Edward IV brought his army to the southern edge of a platform south of Tadcaster. Only a few hundred yards away the Lancastrian army of Henry VI had formed its battle line stretching from the Cock Beck in the west to straddle the approach to the village of Towton at their rear.

Estimates of the number of men present vary from 20,000 to 25,000 with Edward and 30,000 to 35,000 for Lancaster. Henry VI was not present on the field of combat. Instead the Duke of Somerset was in command of Lancaster's army. Both sides faced each other across a no-man's land, which dipped down from their positions. Neither wanted to yield the advantage of higher ground. As a blizzard descended on the Towton plateau, William Fauconberg led the Yorkist archers forward before his lines. The archers disappeared from view of the Lancastrians, as the snow blasted into their eyes. Out of the white fury a storm of arrows fell, smashing into the Lancastrian ranks. On command the Lancastrian archers returned fire only to be struck by volley after volley from the darkness before them.

Panic began to seize Somerset's men-at-arms, as the arrow-storm wreaked havoc. What they did not know was that the wily Fauconberg had used the gale to increase the range of York's archers, whilst keeping them out of range of Somerset's. Then York's men advanced, retrieved spent Lancastrian arrows from the ground and fired them back into the ranks of their enemy.

Somerset ordered his men to advance down hill towards York, whilst the nerve of his men still held. 

So began the battle of Towton fought in the snow of that Easter Sunday. The carnage lasted from early morning until Lancaster's men broke and fled as dusk descended.

Thousands died on both sides in that day of slaughter, but many more Lancastrians perished in the rout.

As the sun set on March 29th, Edward IV was undisputed victor and possessor of the English Crown.