Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Palm Sunday Field 1461

Today is the 549th anniversary,(allowing, that is, and being pedantic - you would expect nothing less I know - for the calendar change of 1752) of the battle of Towton, fought on a snowy Palm Sunday, and known to contemporaries as Palm Sunday Field. The Yorkist victory secured the crown for Edward IV and the battle is often considered to have been both the largest and bloodiest fought on English soil. It marked the end of a vicious series of battles which had begun at Wakefield three months earlier - one of the few periods of intense conflict in the so-called Wars of the Roses.

Towton lies a few miles north of my home town of Pontefract and it was one of those local links to the late middle ages which shaped my historic interests.

To learn something about the battle look here and for a review from The Ricardian of September 1995 of Andrew Boardman The Battle of Towton (Stroud 1994) click here. For something about the archaeology of the burials discovered in 1996 adjacent to the site of the battlefield chapel erected at Towton look here and here.
The website of the Towton battlefield society is here

The battlefield has survived relatively unscathed, and can be walked and studied. There are locations there which are eerie and atmospheric even on a summer day. To look across the centre of the battlefield or to follow the line of the Lancastrian flight and the Yorkist pursuit along the old road towards Tadcaster and York makes anyone aware of what happened that day and to sense, chillingly, the horror and brutality of civil war.

In 1986, the 525th anniversary year, as Secretary of the Local History Society in Pontefract I organised a commemorative event on the Easter Monday - as close as we could get to the actual date. My inspiration was knowing that in 1971 to mark the the quincentenary of the battle of Tewkesbury there had been the celebration of a requiem in the Abbey church there and that there had been the revival of the Sarum liturgy for the burial of the unknown sailor from the Mary Rose in the Anglican cathedral in Portsmouth a year or two previously. We therefore had an Anglican Requiem - I was not then up to organising a Use of York one - in Saxton Church, which lies just off the battlefield, and in whose churchyard lie the remains of many of those who died at the battle. These include not only Lord Dacre under his table tomb, but many anonymous bodies, re-interred there a generation after the battle. Many of us then walked the battlefield, following an excellent trail outlined in a leaflet produced shortly beforehand. The fates were kind to us in so far as we actually had flurries of snow at one point.

For the next few years I organised an Anglican-rite requiem in the church - it seemed the least, yet also the best one could do for all the participants. I remain very grateful to those Anglican clergy who enabled this to take place, notably Brian Harris, then Vicar of Aberford cum Saxton. I rather think this liturgical celebration may have ceased when I left the area and moved to Oxford. There continues to be, I assume, the tradition of walking the battlefield on Palm Sunday, and a short service in the chapel at Lead on the western edge of the battlefield.

Today, if I was in the area, I would organise something similar, but now it would be an Extraordinary Form Mass, or indeed see if it could be the occasion for a reconstruction of a York Use Requiem.

Please remember in your prayers all who died at Towton and all the combatants.

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