Towton 1461: England's bloodiest battle (Campaign) Paperback – Illustrated, 20 Apr 2003
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About the Author
CHRISTPHER GRAVETT is Senior Curator at the Royal Armouries and a recognised authority on the arms, armour and warfare of the medieval world. He has worked as an advisor for numerous television and film productions. His other Osprey titles include the three-volume analysis of the development of the English Medieval Knight, Warrior 35, 48 and 58, and Campaign 66 Bosworth 1485. Graham Turner was born in Harrow in 1964, the son of the respected aviation artist Michael Turner. Graham has been a freelance artist since 1984, specialising in historical and military subjects, particularly of the medieval period, and has illustrated numerous Osprey titles.
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To begin with, the introduction includes some necessarily limited but nevertheless interesting considerations on the sources. For once, as the author mentions, they are abundant and varied. Several are from eyewitnesses. There are four chronicles representing the viewpoints of several sides. Finally, there is archaeology, and in particular the skeletons and skulls discovered in one of the mass graves dug after the battle, and which offer grim testimony of its ferocity, and much more besides.
All along, the author follows the usual Campaign series format and walks you through, step by step, starting with the origins of the campaign and brief summary of the early phases of the War of the Roses before presenting the opposing commanders and armies.
Although succinct by necessity, the author manages to present the main characteristics of both, with, in particular, very interesting portraits of Edward IV, the young, brave and dashing giant war lord, and his glamourous but “more nervous” (to use the author’s apt expression, because his military leadership was not always equal to his political skills or his huge wealth) Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, the future “Kingmaker”. The presentation of the respective forces also includes a comprehensive discussion of the respective forces, with the numbers favoured by the author – 20000 for the Yorkists and 25000 for the Lancastrians – being the most plausible. Also included in a brief description of troop types and how they were recruited and equipped.
The author then moves on to the march to Towton, with a comprehensive description of the first clash – the battle at Ferrybridge. This is where John, Lord Clifford, a dashing, talented and ruthless (as most were) Lancastrian commander, succeeded in holding up for a while the whole Yorkist army and gave it a hard time when it attempted to storm the crossing. Although well described, this episode is where I had my only reservation regarding this title. This is because Clifford’s force is mentioned as totalling 500 but the total casualties come up to some 3000 according to the author. Since Clifford and his force were pursued as they retreated and caught and destroyed before managing to reach the main Lancastrian army, something does not seem to add up. Either the Yorkists suffered massive and disproportionate losses when trying to force the crossing or perhaps the 3000 include both fatalities and wounded. Alternatively, the 500 mentioned for Clifford’s force may only represent his mounted vanguard, with additional men reaching him after he had occupied the bridge and thrown back the Yorkist reconnaissance party.
The next stage is a careful and thorough description of the positioning of the two armies. In particular, Christopher Gravett meticulously presents the alternative options which have been argued between historians before explaining the reasons for his own personal preference. He also presents the rather terrible weather conditions under which the battle was fought - cold, with wind and a snowstorm blowing in the face of the Lancastrians – and how the Yorkists, and Lord Falconberg (the Kingmaker’s uncle) in particular, took advantage of it to poor arrows into them and trick them into attacking.
Although the battle turned out to be a massive triumph for the Yorkists, these are well shown to have had a hard time. They almost lost as superior Lancastrian numbers began to tell before being essentially saved by the very timely arrival of the fresh troops of the Duke of Suffolk. As in all late medieval battles, once the Lancastrian broke and were pursued by the Yorkists, the slaughter started. Also interesting is the discussion on the respective losses, at least 8000 for the Lancastrians or a third of their force, and some 5000 for the Yorkists, a number which I found high, not entirely convincing and somewhat inconsistent with the previous point made about most fatalities taking place once one side broke and the rout began.
The most fascinating (however morbid this may sound!) part for me, however, was the five pages (a bit less) on the grave pits, the detailed analysis of the grievous wounds inflicted to some 28 skulls that have been found in one of these pits, and the types of weapons that could inflict such wounds.
Four very strong stars.
However, I have given this four stars due to the first few pages of the "Introduction" section of the book, where the author summarises the events of the Wars of the Roses up to and around 1461. Whilst explaining how the Wars of the Roses in the space of around two pages is difficult, there is a fairly significant factual error, as the book states that Richard, Duke of York, was Henry V's brother. In actual fact, the two were cousins, not brothers.
Other than this error, the book offers a fantastic description of the battle itself with an accessible step-by-step narrative, accompanied by battle maps, pictures and fantastic colour artworks by Graham Turner.
The Battle of Towton has been given the title of the Bloodiest Battle ever fought on English soil and there is no reason to doubt this. It was fought in atrocious conditions, in fact in the middle of a snow storm on palm Sunday and when the Yorkists finally routed the Ancestries a wave of slaughter spread over many miles. The beaten Lancastrians were followed back towards Tadcaster and York and many of them died in the `Cock beck' that bordered the battlefield.
The book is full of all the information necessesary to be able to get a vivid picture of what the battlefield was like at the time and to show how the opposing armies lined up their troops. It gives a detailed account of the battle, a battle that the Lancastrians appeared to winning until the Yorkists were re-inforced by more troops arriving and then the brutal and bloody rout that followed as the Lancastrians were chased from the field. The fighting was brutal and after the archers had done their bit, mainly hand to hand. There have been many skeletons unearthed from the many mass graves that littered the battlefield and some of the skulls have a square hole in them, a shape that suggests they had been pole axed. For anyone interested in battles in general and the battle of Towton in particular, it is a must read.
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