West Yorkshire Archaeology Service
The Tudors in
of the Roses
Nowadays the image of the Wars of the Roses is often invoked for sporting events between Lancashire and Yorkshire. However, this is a misunderstanding of the political situation in the mid 15th century. The two counties were not at war with one another : the people who held those dukedoms were. This is particularly relevant to West Yorkshire where the Duke of York owned Sandal Castle and the large collection of estates known as the Manor of Wakefield, but the Duke of Lancaster held Pontefract Castle and a second large collection of estates known as the Honour of Pontefract. This meant that the affinities of a large number of West Yorkshire's residents would lie with the Lancastrians, not with the Yorkist party as might be expected. Pontefract Castle is still owned by the Duchy of Lancaster, that is to say, Queen Elizabeth II.
Of the battles of the Wars of the Roses two are of local interest. One is the battle of Wakefield (1460) and the other is the Battle of Towton. (1461).
The Battle of Wakefield (30 December 1460)
Clifford was also responsible for the death of Edmund, Duke of Rutland, York's son. The youth was caught fleeing away from the battle towards the town with his tutor. Clifford showed no mercy on the boy, and stabbed him instantly saying that as York had killed his father so he would kill York's son. Tradition has it that the Earl of Rutland had tried to seek shelter in one of the houses near the chantry chapel on Wakefield Bridge, but no-one would take him in. Given Clifford's amply justified reputation, this hardly seems surprising.
The Battle of Towton (Palm Sunday 29 March 1461)
On the following day the two armies met at Towton, between Leeds and Tadcaster, just outside the modern West Yorkshire border. The Lancastrians had chosen the better ground but the weather was against them. It was snowing hard and the wind blew the snow directly into their faces. It also brought a hail of Yorkist arrows carried by a following wind. The Lancastrian fire, on the other hand fell some 40 yards short. The Lancastrians had no choice but to advance on the Yorkist army or be shot down where they stood, and hand to hand fighting began. The fighting lasted most of the day, but at last the Lancastrian army broke and men fled from the field in a rout. Many were trapped in the boggy valley of the River Cock and cut down from behind by the pursuing Yorkist army. Local tradition claims that the river ran red with blood for days afterwards.
Historians have estimated that in all there were some 28,000 bodies scattered over the battlefield and Towton is considered to be the bloodiest battle ever fought in Britain. The more important figures were given proper burial. Lord Dacre, for instance, is buried in Towton churchyard. (Local tradition asserts that he was buried mounted on his horse.) However, the majority of the combatants were buried in a series of grave pits in the vicinity of where they fell. One of these at Towton Hall was excavated by the West Yorkshire Archaeology Service and the University of Bradford in 1996. The pit contained 69 bodies, the majority of which had been stripped of all items of any potential value. All had met a violent death and wounds caused by a variety of weapons were clearly visible on the bodies.
Boardman, A. W., 1994, The Battle of Towton
Fiorato, V., et al (eds), 2000, Blood Red Roses The Archaeology of a Mass Grave from the Battle of Towton AD 1461
Haigh, P. A., 1996, The Battle of Wakefield
Walker, J. W., 1967 (3rd edition), Wakefield its History and People
This material was compiled by Dave Weldrake, Education Officer for