Sunday 29 March 2009

Britain's bloodiest battle

On this day.....548 years ago was fought the bloodiest battle on British soil since Roman times. The Battle of Towton was part of the 30 year struggle for the throne between the houses of Lancaster and York that became known as the Wars of the Roses. On Palm Sunday – March 29, 1461 - the rival armies met two miles south of Tadcaster.

Estimates of the number of soldiers involved go as high as 100,000 – much more than in any battle of the Civil War two centuries later. Towton was fought in a blizzard. The Lancastrians had taken up a good position on a hill, but a strong wind favoured the Yorkists, whose arrows found their target with deadly effect, while the Lancastrians archers, blinded by the snow, were ineffective.

The Lancastrians then had to come down the hill to take on their opponents in hand-to-hand fighting, which went on for hours until Yorkist reinforcements arrived, and the Lancastrians were gradually pushed back into a stream. The battle then turned into a murderous rout, with the Lancastrians mercilessly cut down as they tried to flee.

Altogether about 28,000 died. The only higher death toll in a battle in Britain came in Boudicca’s defeat by the Romans at a place unknown, but probably somewhere in the Midlands near the A5, in AD 60 or 61, when perhaps 80,000 perished.

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