The Pilgrim has spotted a cracking walk around Towton Battlefield.
It’s Palm Sunday and on this day in 1461 one of the bloodiest battles of the Wars of the Roses took place near Tadcaster at a place called Towton. More than 28,000 fighting men were subject to the most violent and for some, agonising deaths.
King Henry VI had transferred the right of succession to the English throne to Richard, Duke of York and his heirs; however, his wife Queen Margaret was a bit miffed and unable to accept this arrangement as it deprived her son of his birthright and she was prepared to fight. It effectively created a country with two kings and this was clearly not going to last for long. Henry VI was said to be pious and not suited to the violent, dynastic, civil warfare; he also suffered periods of madness whereas Edward was a young 18-year-old with a lofty ambition so he declared himself king. Clearly, there’d been a lot of other things happening over the previous years including the battle of Wakefield and the odd throat-cutting that enabled Edward to accuse the Lancastrians of rebelling against the recent act of accord that stated the York line (Edward) should be the legitimate claimants to the throne. Edward managed to find enough backing to declare himself King but Henry wasn’t going to let go without a fight. In total rather more than 50,000 men were mustered between the House of York and the opposing House of Lancaster and the two armies met in a cold blizzard at Towton near York and the blood of 28,000 of them would stain the snow for miles around.
Initially, the Yorkists were heavily outnumbered as the unit commanded by the Duke of Norfolk had not arrived; however, the wind was blowing into the face of the Lancastrian army and the Yorkist leader, Lord Fauconberg turned the tables by commanding his archers to use the strong wind to outrange the enemy. In the next hour, thousands of arrows rained on to the advancing hoards of footsoldiers who were already half-blinded by the snow and rain being blown by the vicious wind into their faces. All of this was compounded by the waves of arrows helped by the gale as they penetrated the skin of the hapless victims. Their involuntary response was to hold up their arms in front of their faces in an act of pathetic defence but sadly, to no avail, as blood and brains gushed from eye sockets and more blood pumped from puncture holes in necks or flowed from other unprotected areas staining the snow and taking the victim into a one-way journey from terrifying agony to warm-and-peaceful semi-consciousness to eternal rest. The one-sided exchange, with Lancastrian arrows falling short of the Yorkist ranks due to the wind, provoked the Lancastrians into abandoning their defensive positions and once routed, they ran towards Cock Beck.
Picks, knives, lances, arrows and swords were used to pierce eyes, necks, arms, groins and, if they were lucky, hearts. It was the first time that the term “rivers of blood” was recorded and Cock Beck did indeed run red. The weather on the day had been appalling. It was cold and there was more snow to come and if we include the rout, the battle lasted over 10 hours. For those that were injured, there was no Geneva Convention or Rules of War, the winning side went around the fallen and cut their throats.
The Lancastrians were routed and as they crossed Cock Beck, which was swollen and flooded, the extra weight of their arms rendered them unable to swim but as they were unaware of this and with the absolute knowledge of certain death at the swords of the Yorkists (Both sides had given the order that there was to be no quarter) they had to attempt the crossing anyway. The result was that a bridge assembled itself from the build-up of bodies of the desperate fighters, the lucky ones were in the middle of the throng too late to become a drowned component of the bridge and too early to be the victim of a Yorkist blade.
The outcome of this little spat was the defeat of the House of Lancaster and the installation of Edward as King but it was to last only a few years.
Click on any image and you can page through them full size…
So… it’s 556 years later and in contrast, It’s a beautiful, tranquil and sunny day and it’s an easy walk on well-kept tracks and includes a stop at The Rockingham Arms. The simple cross that marks the entrance to the fields of carnage has both red roses and white roses with a few palms, some in the shape of the cross and others as cut,
I find the red and white roses resting together both fitting and moving. Lancaster and York still have fun at each others expense and I’m certainly one that likes to express who has the most wonderful county but seeing this is both poignant and reassuring..
There are oilseed rape fields glowing yellow and trees in full white blossom down in the aptly named Bloody Meadow and a slight breeze blowing, ideal conditions for a ramble.
If you’re able-bodied this is an easy walk and with a bit of imagination, you can see the two armies in the fields. Your imagination is aided and abetted by some excellent signs that give you details of what happened, how they were dressed, how they were armed and how they died.
There is little to no parking but the road verge is sufficient and safe and at least it’s free!
Enjoy the snaps…G..x
Feel free to comment and/or share.
If you liked this post then you’ll probably like some of the others that breath a bit of history into York Walls and the River.
The “York Bridges…” walk has a rude paragraph or two that illustrates the working life of a lane and not in use now.
The “Walls of York…” walk has some descriptions of severed heads and the crushing to death of a lady who, later, was made a saint.
I leave it with you…