'So many dead bodies were seen as to cover an area six miles long by three broad.'

Build-up

Following The Yorkist invasion of 1460 and the ensuing Act of Accord, which secured the crown for Richard Duke of York and his heirs, Queen Margaret of Anjou rallied the Lancastrians around her in Hull. In November 1460 they marched south, intent on freeing the King from his captors in London.

The Duke of York was taken by surprise at such a rapid Lancastrian response to recent developments. York marched north, leaving the Duke of Warwick to safeguard London, with 4,000 soldiers to meet the large Lancastrian force of 20,000. York recruited as he marched, but he still confronted Queen Margaret with only around 12,000 men.

This was to be the Duke's final battle, and was fought outside his castle at Sandal, near Wakefield. His army, depleted while soldiers were out foraging for provisions, was quickly overwhelmed by the Lancastrian force. The Duke perished, and his head was placed on a spike over a gate into York, adorned with a paper crown.

Margaret continued to march south, her forces ravaging the towns and villages 'like so many locusts', according to one contemporary chronicler. The poor and disreputable joined them for no other reason than to loot and pillage the manor houses, villages and monasteries they plundered as they passed. As news of the northerners' atrocities spread south, whole towns switched sides from Lancaster to York. Queen Margaret overwhelmed the Duke of Warwick's army at St. Albans on 17th Febuary. Warwick had brought Henry VI with him, and after the battle he was reunited with his wife, Queen Margaret.

The people of London now saw the War of the Roses as a battle between north and south, and they prepared themselves for the onslaught of Lancastrian butchery. It is said that out of genuine concern for the people of London, Margaret chose to withdraw and allow the Yorkists, under Edward Earl of March (the Duke of York's son) to enter the capital on the 27th of Febuary. The 18 year old declared himself King, and parliament and the ordinary people backed him up.

The battle of Towton

The battle of Towton was the greatest and bloodiest battle of the War of the Roses, and some say the bloodiest ever on English soil. Between 60,000 and 100,000 men met at Towton (2% of the population) on the 29th March. The Lancastrian army was made up mainly of northerners, the Yorkist of southerners. The battle was exceptionally long, lasting from 11am to about 9pm in an era when most battles where over in a few hours.

The battle started badly for Edward, with an advance party ambushed and massacred by Lord Clifford. Edward raised morale by slaying his horse and saying he would fight on foot with his men.

The Yorkists shattered the enemy with the killing of several Lancastrian peers and 40 knights. It is likely that as many as 9,000 more people died, many drowning in the river or cut down as they fled the battlefield. From their base in York, Henry VI and Queen Margaret received news of the defeat, and fled to Scotland, narrowly avoiding pursuers.

Edward entered York in triumph. As he passed through the gate he was greeted by the dismal sight of his father's head on the gates. This he had removed and buried, and replaced by the heads of Lancastrian nobles.

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