First Battle of St Albans. 1455.


Henry 6th of ENGLAND

The Wars of the Roses were fought between the supporters of the House of Lancaster, represented by King Henry VI, and those of the rival House of York, headed by Richard of York, who would in 1483 seize the throne following the mysterious disappearance of the two sons and heirs of Edward IV of England and Elizabeth Woodville. The Battle of St Albans was the first battle of the Wars of the Roses and was fought on 22 May1455 in the town of St Albans, 22 miles (35 km) north of London. Richard, Duke of York and his ally, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, defeated the Lancastrians under Edmund, Duke of Somerset, who was killed. York also captured Henry VI and had himself appointed Constable of England.

The Lancastrian army of 2,000 troops arrived at St Albans first, and proceeded to defend it by placing troops along the Tonman Ditch and at the bars in Sopwell Lane and Shropshire Lane. The 3,000 strong Yorkist army arrived and camped in Keyfield to the east. Lengthy negotiations ensued with heralds moving back and forth between the rival commanders. After several hours, Richard, despairing of a peaceful solution, decided to attack. The bulk of Henry’s forces were surprised by the speed of Richard’s attack; most of the army was expecting a peaceful resolution similar to the one at Blackheath in 1452. However, two frontal assaults down the narrow streets against the barricades made no headway and resulted in heavy casualties for the Yorkists. Warwick took his reserve troops through an unguarded part of the town’s defences, through back lanes and gardens. Suddenly the Earl appeared in the Market Square where the main body of Henry’s troops were talking and resting. There is evidence they were not yet expecting to be involved in the fighting, as many were not even wearing their helmets. Warwick charged instantly with his force, routing the Lancastrians and killing the Duke of Somerset. The Earl then ordered his archers to shoot at the men around the King, killing several and injuring the King and the Duke of Buckingham. The Lancastrians manning the barricades realised the Yorkists had ouflanked them, and fearing an attack from behind abandoned their positions and fled the town. This battle was relatively minor in military terms, but politically was a victory for York: he had captured the King and returned himself to complete power; his rival Somerset was dead; and Warwick’s arch-enemies Henry Percy, 2nd Earl of Northumberland and Lord de Clifford both fell during the rout. After several armed clashes and attempts at reconciliation, York and his friends finally openly rebelled in 1459. At the Battle of Northampton in 1460, the Yorkist forces under the Earl of Warwick defeated a Lancastrian army and captured King Henry, who had taken no part. In the aftermath, York attempted to claim the throne, but his supporters were not prepared to go so far. Instead, an agreement was reached, the Act of Accord, by which Richard was to become King after Henry’s death. This agreement disinherited Henry’s young son Edward of Westminster. Henry’s Queen, Margaret of Anjou refused to accept the Act of Accord and took Edward to Scotland to gain support there. York’s rivals and enemies meanwhile raised an army in the north of England. York, together with his brother in law, the Earl of Salisbury (Warwick’s father), led an army to the north late in 1460 to counter this threat, but he fatally underestimated the Lancastrian forces. At the Battle of Wakefield, the Yorkist army was destroyed and York, Salisbury and York’s second son Edmund, Earl of Rutland, were killed, or executed after the battle.

The Battle of Bosworth Field (22 August 1485) saw Lancastrian Henry Tudor defeat Yorkist Richard , ending the Plantagenet dynasty to begin a new Tudor dynasty. Historically, the battle is considered to have marked the end of the Wars of the Roses as well as the Middle Ages in England, although further battles were fought in the years that followed as Yorkist pretenders unsuccessfully fought to usurp the crown. The fight was perhaps the last significant Medieval battle, and Richard the last English monarch to have been killed in battle.