Battle of Towton 1461 – Wars of the Roses DOCUMENTARY


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our patron Jetson. You can join the ever-growing army of Kings and Generals via patreon or
youtube membership. Wars often happen because different sides
have intractable contradictions, but each new war often creates the causes for the next
one. The Hundred Years’ War between England and France was no different, causing many
conflicts in Europe. In England, the Wars of the Roses stemmed from the Hundred Years’
War. The first phase of that conflict culminated in the bloodiest battle fought on English
soil – the battle of Towton. The king of England Edward III had five sons
who survived into adulthood. For the first time in English history he created duchies
for them, making his sons the biggest landowners in the country. On the one hand this strengthened
the crown, but at the same time it formed a new class of nobility, which had claims
to the throne and enough power to vie for it. Edward’s son and heir, the famous Hundred
Years’ War commander Edward the Black Prince passed away in 1376, followed by the king
himself a year later. The Black Prince’s son was crowned as Richard II. The reign of
this monarch was tumultuous: The Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, was followed by the Parliamentary
crisis of 1386-1388. Richard’s attempts to reach peace with France, his marriage to
the young Valois princess, the lack of an heir and the constant strife with the nobility
made him deeply unpopular. Richard’s cousin and one of the most powerful
lords – the Duke of Lancaster Henry Bolingbroke – was exiled to France in 1398. In May of
1399 Richard embarked on a campaign in Ireland, and Henry used the opportunity to return to
England. He immediately garnered enough support to dethrone Richard and assumed the throne
as Henry IV, the first Lancastrian king. Richard was arrested and died in 1400, while his heir
presumptive, another grandson of Edward III – Edmund Mortimer was bypassed. That created
legitimacy problems for the king and he faced at least six significant rebellions. In 1413 Henry IV succumbed to chronic disease
and was succeeded by his son Henry V. The new king was one of the most talented monarchs
of England during this era. In 1415 he renewed hostilities with France and won an impressive
victory at Agincourt. In less than a decade he conquered more French land than any English
king before him. The Treaty of Troyes was signed with France in 1420, according to which
Henry married French princess Catherine. Their descendants would inherit the French throne
after the death of Charles VI the mad. Both sovereigns passed away in 1422. Henry V’s son Henry VI, who was less than
one year old, was crowned as the king of England. The King’s uncle, John of Bedford, became
the regent and took command in France, while his other uncle Humphrey of Gloucester looked
after English affairs. Although Bedford was a decent commander, the French soon rallied
around Joan of Arc and Charles VII was crowned as king of France in Rheims. Henry’s coronation
in Paris was a mere symbol. By the time Henry reached adulthood and started
governing in 1437, Bedford was dead, and the situation in France was untenable. The king
was weak and easily swayed by his nobles, and at that point the peace party led by Edmund
of Somerset and William of Suffolk had more influence on the king than the war party of
Gloucester and Richard of York. The sides agreed to peace at Tours in 1444. According
to their agreement, Henry was to marry Charles’ niece Margaret of Anjou and return Maine and
Anjou to France. The marriage and the peace conditions were unpopular in England. Among those who protested was Gloucester and
that gave Henry a cause to imprison his uncle in 1447. Gloucester died shortly after and
this weakened the war party even more. Richard, who commanded the English lands in France,
was stripped of his office and sent to govern Ireland, which was an exile. Somerset and Suffolk became dukes in this
period. However, Suffolk was exiled under popular pressure and then murdered. Hostilities
with France were renewed and Somerset, who was appointed the commander in Normandy, lost
all the northern holdings save for Calais by 1450 and returned to England. He and Queen Margaret had the king under their
influence. The prestige of the monarchy was at an all-time low. The Hundred Years’ War
impoverished England, the losses in France were hard to swallow, and the nobles who lost
their lands on the continent were unhappy. At the same time, all the duchies created
in the last century had become too strong and independent, and the dukes often had personal
retinues larger than that of the king. At this point it is essential to show you
the family tree of the Plantagenet dynasty, as many grandsons of Edward III controlled
these duchies, ushering in the era of what is controversially known as bastard feudalism.
This era was characterized by the loyalty of the soldiers being to their lords, rather
than the king. The nobles would use that to procure offices, lands, and finances from
the king. These lords and their heirs would play a central role throughout the Wars of
the Roses. Richard, who had a strong claim to the throne
as a great-grandson of Edward III, used the circumstances to return from exile in 1452.
Although many came to his banner and demanded Somerset’s arrested, the queen’s party
still was stronger, and Margaret’s pregnancy made her position even more secure. The situation
would change in 1453: affected by the loss of Bordeaux and Aquitaine, the king suffered
a mental breakdown and became unresponsive. Scholars still argue about the nature of his
illness, but it is clear that Henry VI lost the remainder of his political power. In the north, two noble families, the Nevilles
and Percys, used the lack of central power to renew a feud, and as Somerset supported
the latter, the Nevilles allied with Richard. By 1454 Richard had enough backing to become
the Royal Protector and appoint his supporters to offices, while Somerset was arrested. However, in 1455 the king recovered, and queen
Margaret managed to influence him yet again. Richard’s decisions were rolled back, and
he was exiled. This time the Duke of York wasn’t going to take it, and he raised an
army to move to London. The conflict that would be later called the Wars of the Roses
because of the heraldic badges used by the Lancasters and the Yorks became inevitable. Henry knew that he would receive no support
in London and moved out to a town called St. Albans with his 2 thousand men, where an at
least 5 thousand strong Yorkist army was waiting for him. Richard wasn’t ready to dethrone
Henry, so negotiations started, but as the latter refused to surrender Somerset, the
Yorkists attacked. Many Lancastrian commanders, among them Somerset, were killed, while the
king was captured. Richard returned him to London and was appointed the Protector by
Parliament. By that time Margaret gave birth to Edward
and became the leader of the Lancastrian party. It seemed that both sides were shocked by
St. Albans as hostilities continued only in the form of Percy-Neville feud between 1456
and 1459. Henry attempted to reconcile the parties on a few occasions, but the suspicions
were too strong, and in the Fall of 1459, the sides clashed once again. This time the Lancastrians gained the upper
hand, and the Yorkists were forced to find refuge in Calais and Ireland. The Yorkists
recovered quickly and returned to England in the Summer of 1460. The King’s forces
were defeated at Northampton, and Henry was captured. Richard attempted to claim the throne,
but even his staunchest supporters refused. Instead, the so-called Act of Accord was adopted,
according to which, Henry VI would rule for life, but would be succeeded by Richard of
York. The Queen was willing to fight for her son’s
inheritance and was gathering her forces in the north. Richard moved toward the Lancastrian
troops to prevent their recruitment efforts, but his enemies were already on the way, and
their 18 thousand blockaded his 5 to 10 thousand strong force near Sandal castle. What happened
next is still debated, but the Yorkists sallied out from the castle and were crushed near
the town of Wakefield. Richard of York was killed. In early 1461 his son Edward became the leader
of the Yorkists. In February he defeated a Lancastrian army at Mortimer’s Cross. Meanwhile,
a smaller Yorkist force under Warwick was defeated at St. Albans by the army commanded
by the Queen. Henry VI was recaptured by the Lancastrians. Edward learned about this defeat
and moved south where he united with the remainder of Warwick’s troops. As Lancastrian soldiers committed atrocities
in the area, Margaret and Henry lost all their support and decided to move to the north.
That allowed Edward to enter London in March and take the throne as Edward IV. The showdown
was imminent. Both sides continued to recruit troops over
the next few weeks. Edward left London on the 13th and arrived in Nottingham on the
22nd. Here he received the news that the 30 to 35 thousand Lancastrian troops commanded
by Somerset were to the south of the city of York. Edward had less than 30 thousand. On the 28th of March King Edward sent FitzWalter
to secure the bridge over the Aire River, near Ferrybridge. However, Fitzwalter was
ambushed by Clifford’s cavalry. Many Yorkists were massacred or drowned. King Henry had sent a messenger to negotiate,
but his offer was refused. Edward knew that the main Lancastrian forces led by Somerset
were waiting two miles away, ready to crush the Yorkists if they pushed Clifford away
and crossed the river. He sent a vanguard under Suffolk, which managed to push the Lancastrians
back to the end of the bridge. Edward then marched with the main force to Ferrybridge
and led his men personally to Suffolk’s aid. To stop the Yorkist advance, the Lancastrians
destroyed the bridge, but the former constructed a narrow raft to ferry across. This raft was
captured by the Lancastrians, and the fight continued in the area for some time, until
the Yorkists managed to cross the river to the north, at Castleford and set up camp. At dawn on the 29th of March, both armies
found themselves in a snowstorm. At eleven in the morning, the Yorkists marched northward
and encamped on the hill ten miles south of York, with their backs to the village of Saxton.
Edward put his men in formation – their lines stretched for a mile along the ridge. At the
same time, the Lancastrians moved north and took positions to the north of the Yorkists
on high ground a hundred feet above them, on the meadowland to the south of Towton.
Part of their cavalry was hidden in the forest to the west of the Yorkist positions. The
Lancastrians had the advantage of the high ground. The Yorkist position was shaky, as
any retreat would trap them along the river. Edward had artillery, but the weather conditions
did not allow its usage. Somerset didn’t want to descend from the
high ground and waited for the Yorkists to approach. The battle started with the archers
exchanging volleys. However the wind was blowing into the faces of the Lancastrian archers,
and they were unable to see the enemy properly. Their arrows fell short of the mark, and according
to the sources, all they could hear through the whirlwind was the laughter of their counterparts.
A hail of counter-volleys accompanied this: the Yorkists were gathering thousands of enemy
arrows and were firing them back at them, retreating after each volley to avoid the
return fire. The Lancastrians suffered heavy losses and were forced to descend from the
hill, taking up melee weapons and charging. The Yorkist archers sent a few more volleys
and then retreated behind their man-at-arms. As the main Lancaster force charged into the
Yorkist army, a fierce melee began across the line. At the same time, the hidden flanking
force attacked the left flank of Edward’s army, did significant damage and almost routed
it. Edward himself led the reserves and stabilized the situation on the left side. Still, the
Lancastrians outnumbered their enemies and slowly pushed them back. It was then that
the forces send by Norfolk to assist Edward arrived. It is not clear if Edward gave an
order or if the commander of this unit took the initiative, but these troops attacked
the Lancastrians in the flank. Soon Henry’s forces were routed. Sources claim that 20
thousand Lancastrians and up to 10 thousand Yorkists were killed, making Towton the bloodiest
battle fought on English soil. Henry, alongside his wife and son, escaped
to Scotland. Edward IV’s position was strong for now, but the Wars of the Roses were just
starting… We are planning more videos about the Wars
of the Roses down the line, so make sure you are subscribed to our channel and pressed
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