Towton is a small village in the Selby District of North Yorkshire. It is charming and quaint and few people driving through the village along the A162 would guess that Towton is the site of possibly the bloodiest battle ever fought on English soil. We had never walked in Selby before, as it is generally quite a lot flatter than the neighbouring districts and we like our hills, but I really wanted to make the trip to visit the site of one of the most important battles of the Wars of the Roses.
The Wars of the Roses
When I was at uni I studied History and my favourite topic BY FAR was the Wars of the Roses. For some reason this period is not as popular as the Tudors who emerged from this period as the rulers of England. I don’t know why as the drama of these wars was enough to inspire an entire saga – George R. R. Martin borrowed heavily from the Wars of the Roses when he wrote Game of Thrones – and in my opinion the Tudors are overdone anyway!
To cut a very long story short, the Wars of the Roses were a series of conflicts fought between two branches of the Plantagenet family. The King at the time, Henry VI of the Lancastrian branch of the family, was a very nice man but an absolutely appalling ruler who had no concept of finance or foreign policy. His cousin, the Duke of York, seized control of the government and the King, after Henry started to suffer prolonged periods of mental disability, where he would be practically comatose for months at a time. This did not go down well with the opposing faction at Court headed up by Henry’s French Queen, Marguerite of Anjou. This was the start of a tug-of-war between the Queen and the Duke for control of the King and the country. The Duke of York was later killed at the battle of Wakefield in 1460, but the ‘Yorkist’ faction continued, under his teenage son Edward.
Over the next two decades war would rage in England with opposing armies tramping across the countryside. The teenaged Edward deposed Henry and was crowned as King Edward IV in 1461, imprisoning Henry in the Tower of London, but Henry’s wife Marguerite and her allies continued to fight for his restoration. Edward was temporarily deposed in his turn after a complicated series of allegiance shifting, before a series of battles in 1471 marked the end of the ‘true’ Lancastrian line, leaving Edward IV as undisputed King with only an obscure Tudor cousin in hiding in France as the heir to the Lancastrian claim…
The Battle of Towton
The battle of Towton was fought on Palm Sunday in 1461 in awful conditions. A blizzard was blowing and visibility must have been terrible. Edward IV was newly crowned, still just 18 years old, and looking to resolve the conflict once and for all. The battle itself was long and bloody, with some estimates placing the number of dead at upwards of 28,000 men, out of 50,000-60,000 men in the field. This is all the more shocking when you remember that the bulk of the men fighting were common people who were only their because their local landowner told them they had to be. The battle ended in a crushing victory for the Yorkists and marked the start of a period of peace which lasted for almost 10 years. For more detailed information about the battle you can look on the Battlefields of Britain website.
The Battlefield Today
We we visited the battlefield I was thrilled to find that while the land is privately owned, the land owner allows the public to access the battlefield, and there is a specially constructed battlefield walking trail. From Towton village head west down Old London Road where there are a few large lay-bys that you can park in. Continue down this road to the Information Board at the start of the road which marks the start of the 4 mile sign posted walk. The walk is very easy and mostly flat along the edges of farmland and gives excellent views across the battlefield. Information boards around the walk tell the story of the battle and explain what happened on this part of the site. These boards also include photographs of artefacts which have been recovered from the site and of items similar to those which would have been in use during the battle. It was actually a very moving experience to look over the field known as the ‘Bloody Meadow’, where the Lancastrian troops were mown down by fresh Yorkist reinforcements under instructions to give no quarter, and to think about what a terrifying and harrowing experience it must have been for those on the field of battle.
Dog friendly rating – 4/5. This walk is dog friendly and we saw plenty of other dog walkers – for this reason I’m knocking off a point, as if you’re looking for a very quiet walk, this isn’t it. There are sections where you can let your dog off the lead as livestock is behind fences, but please keep an eye out for where you re-join the road. As always, make sure you pick up poo and only let your dog off the lead if it is well behaved – this land is privately owned so please don’t repay their kindness by letting your dog rampage over the fields and leaving poo everywhere!
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