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Towton, 29th March 1461: The Bloodiest Battle in English History?

Giaconda's Blog

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Towton is regarded by many historians as the worst battle to ever be fought on English soil in terms of the number of combatants, casualty figures, conditions on the day and treatment of those captured during the rout.

It is always extremely difficult to gauge the reality of the medieval battlefield due to a number of factors. There were other, more ancient battles that were recorded in annals and chronicles which talk of massive numbers of combatants and bloody routs – Boudicca’s last stand on Watling Street in 60-1 AD, the Battle of Brunanburgh in 937 AD and the Battle of Hastings in 1066 for example but how reliable were the figures recorded at the time or later by chroniclers and historians?

Without reliable eye witness accounts and archaeological evidence of mass grave pits, it is difficult to establish exactly how many troops were present, how many were actually killed…

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IN AN OXFORDSHIRE VILLAGE

In a beautiful, sleepy Oxfordshire village stands the church of St Mary the Virgin.  Once this village was a much busier place, with ornate Almhouses known as ‘God’s House’ (now partly a school)  and a lavish manor house that was near enough a palace.  Other than a wall of the old dairy, not one trace of the manor now remains above ground,  but in the 15th century this was the home of Alice de la Pole, wife of William de la Pole, Earl and later Duke of Suffolk.

Alice was the grand daughter of one of the most famous English writers of all time, Geoffrey Chaucer of Canterbury Tales fame.Her father was Thomas Chaucer and her mother Maud or Matilda Burghersh who are both buried in the church in an altar tomb set with fine  brasses and covered in the wheel symbol of the de Roets and the leopards of the Plantagenets. Alice was married  three times, first to Sir John Philip, then Thomas Montagu  Earl of Salisbury, and finally to William de la Pole. Her son, John de la Pole,  married Elizabeth of York, sister of Edward IV and Richard III, and John’s son, Alice’s grandson, was John Earl of Lincoln, whom Richard III made his heir after the death of Edward of Middleham.

Alice’s husband William was murdered when his ship was intercepted by a huge royal warship called ‘Nicholas of the Tower’ while  crossing the Channel as he went into exile. Immediately he knew doom had befallen him; he had been told years before by the astrologer Stacey that he must ‘beware the Tower.’ Taken on board the enemy ship, he was beheaded with ‘many blows’ from a rusty sword and his body displayed for all to see upon the sands at Dover, his head stuck upon a stake.

Alice inherited  many lands and manors from her husband and as she loaned  a considerable amount of  money to the Crown, the lands and titles were not placed under attainder. At one point she was constable of nearby Wallingford castle and as such custodian of  both the ill-fated Henry  Holland Duke of Exter (later to suspiciously ‘fall off’ a ship and drown after Edward IV’s French campaign) and Margaret of Anjou in the aftermath of Tewkesbury. Years before, Alice had been one of Queen Margaret’s ladies in waiting.

Alice died in 1475 at the age of 71. She has a large and elaborate alabaster tomb of exceedingly fine workmanship. On top lies the effigy of a strong-featured but peaceful-looking woman wearing a coronet; below the top, in a recess, lies a macabre memento mori monument of the Duchess as a decaying corpse, a grim reminder of the transience of life.

 

 

Like father, like son …

(by Matthew Lewis, originally published in History Today):

http://www.historyextra.com/article/feature/father-son-richard-plantagenet-and-richard-iii?utm_source=Facebook+referral&utm_medium=Facebook.com&utm_campaign=Bitly

 

 

Chronicle of the Revolution

What happened in 1483 was certainly a revolution of sorts, however you dress it up. It is therefore rather naive to expect that everything ought to have been done in strict accordance with common and statute law. After all, it wasn’t in 1399 or 1461, was it? If you think Richard III’s election to the throne was a bit thin, please have a serious read-up on the election of Edward IV – it was a good deal thinner.

Let’s go through the events – again!

First, Richard did not act like a man who was planning to take the throne. After gathering the Yorkshire notables together to swear allegiance to Edward V, he went south with a following of about 300 men. This was probably a bit more than his normal riding-household, but it was certainly not an army, and Richard would have been well aware that Edward V had an escort of 2,000. The only immediate reinforcement he could expect was that of Buckingham (between 200 and 300, depending on who you believe). We have no reason to think Buckingham was, prior to this date, Richard’s lapdog or part of his affinity. At best he was a hoped-for ally. Northumberland, who was Richard’s associate in the north, and had vast resources in manpower, was left behind. Nor is there any evidence that Richard made any attempt to mobilise the rest of his own, considerable following.

Rivers, on the other hand, had taken care to check his own authority to raise men in the Marches. The only reason he did not raise more than 2,000 was that Lord Hastings had threatened to withdraw to Calais if he did. This demonstrates that something was going on at court to make Hastings suspicious. So Woodville plotting was not all in Richard’s head.

Richard met Rivers and Buckingham at Northampton, and here, undoubtedly, something happened. Richard’s suspicions may have been aroused by the fact that Rivers had sent Edward V forward to Stony Stratford, on the excuse (apparently) that Northampton could not hold all their retinues. Northampton was actually a (relatively) large place. Parliaments had been held there in the past. Richard may have assumed that Rivers was trying to delay the meeting between Richard and his nephew, or get Edward V that little bit closer to London.

Alternatively, what Buckingham said may have been the issue. For example, did Buckingham tell Richard that the Woodvilles were planning to ambush him? They were very close to what passed for Woodville country, so the general area would be a likely place for such an ambush. Next day, forewarned, did Richard take an alternative route to Stony Stratford to foil the ambush? It’s impossible to say, but such a scenario would help explain his sudden anger and his decision to arrest Rivers, Grey and Vaughan.

Another explanation is that Richard, having carefully hidden his plans up until this point, suddenly decided to usurp the throne. Perhaps his change of face was caused by a bad dish of lampreys. Anyway, on this explanation, Richard, going against every aspect of his character displayed to this point, inexplicably seized the perfectly innocent Rivers, Grey and Vaughan and had them thrown into custody. If this is the case, one wonders why he did not follow the example of his mentor, Warwick, and simply have his enemies executed on the spot. It would certainly have concentrated a few minds. But one must also wonder why he left so many men behind in Yorkshire if this was what he was planning all along. Why leave himself outnumbered by 2,000 to (at best) 600? It doesn’t make sense.

Surely the most likely explanation is that ‘something’ happened at Northampton which hardened Richard’s attitude. What that ‘something’ was exactly is impossible to say with assurance, but almost certainly it was something which he thought put his life in peril. A plotted Woodville ambush, or a tale of one, is a possibility.

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