The Battle of Towton: This Bitter Field
The ‘biggest, bloodiest and longest battle on English soil’ was fought at Towton in Yorkshire on Palm Sunday 1461. Its brutality was a consequence of deep geographical and cultural divisions which persist to this day, writes George Goodwin.
In his article Barriers to the Truth, published in the December 2010 edition of History Today, Ian Mortimer elegantly explained the difficulties caused by the fragmentary nature of medieval sources. However there are some vibrant gems from the later medieval period which instantly propel you back to the age of their creation. One such is William Gregory’s 15th-century Chronicle, full of the type of barbed jest that would please a newspaper columnist today. Take for instance his sneer at James Butler, 1st Earl of Wiltshire (1420-61) for deserting the Royal Standard at the First Battle of St Albans in 1455: ‘He fought mainly with his heels for he was called the most handsome knight in the land and was afraid of losing his beauty.’ In contrast to such jocularity there is the spiritually transcendent tone of John Blacman’s first-hand account of Henry VI (r. 1422-61; 1470-71), capturing, if unintentionally, the full extent of the king’s troubled mind.
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