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 2021

The Battle of Towton 1461

Today is the 560th anniversary of the Battle of Towton in 1461. It was fought in a snow storm on Palm Sunday - hence its contemporary name of Palm Sunday Field - and is usually reputed the bloodiest battle in English history.

I have posted about it in previous years in  Palm Sunday Field 1461 and Towton links from 2010, The Battle of Towton - 550th anniversary in 2011, Towton - remembering the dead in 2012, Victims of the Battle of Towton in 2014 and Palm Sunday Field in 2015.

That last post has reproductions of some of the excellent art work by Graham Turner, which I first encountered at the Tewkesbury battle re-enactments. There is a link to his paintings depicting Towton at The Battle of Towton - Medieval art print by Graham Turner.

These include not only the battle itself but the preliminary fighting at Ferrybridge and Dintingdale - there Lord Clifford, “Butcher Clifford” as he is often termed, was killed.

There are many general accounts of the battle in print and online, including a number of videos. I have not had the opportunity to catch up on these so far. Many popular accounts still quote very improbable sizes for the two armies. As I heard a very distinguished historian of the period say online the other day medieval people did have a problem with numbers. 

One article which has that failing, but which does stress the importance of the battle and is well illustrated, is available from the Mail Online site from 2012 and can be seen at Towton was our worst ever battle, so why have we forgotten this bloodbath in the snow?

As Towton is very much part of the local history of my home area, where it was not forgotten, it fuelled my own interest in the history of the fifteenth century as a boy. In 1986 I organised an Anglican requiem for the combatants in the church at Saxton, which lies in the edge of the battlefield and in whose churchyard many of the victims are buried. This was a service I kept going until I left the area.

In those years there began to be greater interest in providing information and guides around the area of the battle, and that, combined with the investigation of the skeletons found at Towton Hall has sustained interest.

As we begin to be able to think about getting out and about if this is a topic which interests readers I would urge them if they are in the area to visit the site of the battle. Towton has not been built over, not overly affected by other changes in the last 560 years, though what was once the main road was by-passed in the early nineteenth century and is now a footpath leading down to the bridge over the Cock Beck where so many died. On a summer day it is a pleasant walk. It is also atmospheric. In 1986 at the commemorative walk we had after the requiem we actually did get some snow flurries... The rather bleak site of the front lines marked by a solitary tree is sobering, let alone the thought of so many dying violent, cold and intimately solitary deaths there and on the road towards York. A place where history was made, whatever side you take, or do not take, in the politics of the mid-fifteenth century, and where lives were changed, transformed, or wrecked, or ended.

Today at Mass I prayed for the souls of the combatants at Towton and would urge readers to do so. 

Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord and let light perpetual shine upon them. May they rest in peace.

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