“At Tow­ton, the per­ceived sa­cred na­ture of king­ship was shat­tered”

BBC History Magazine - - Anniversaries -

Tow­ton, the most bru­tal bat­tle of the first War of the Roses, was also its most de­ci­sive. The clash ended a pe­riod of 11 years of di­vi­sion among the English no­bil­ity fol­low­ing the ef­fec­tive loss of the English king­dom of France in 1450. Be­tween 1459 and Fe­bru­ary 1461, there were six sig­nif­i­cant mil­i­tary en­gage­ments, with three vic­to­ries apiece to each side.

The blood­let­ting had be­come in­creas­ingly fe­ro­cious as the strug­gle es­ca­lated from aris­to­cratic feud into full civil war. At Tow­ton, a largely north­ern army in sup­port of Henry VI of Lan­caster faced a York­ist force of mainly south­ern­ers and Welsh­men, led by Ed­ward IV.

But the fun­da­men­tal im­por­tance of Tow­ton lay be­yond its butch­ery; it per­tained to the na­ture of king­ship. Ed­ward II and Richard II had lost their thrones be­cause they per­son­ally acted against, and alien­ated, their no­bil­i­ties as a group and were seen to have bro­ken their corona­tion oaths. But the bulk of the no­bil­ity at Tow­ton still favoured the saintly and in­ac­tive Henry VI, be­liev­ing his rule ap­proved by God through his anoint­ing at corona­tion. At Tow­ton, a mi­nor­ity of the no­bil­ity de­throned a king and the per­ceived sa­cred na­ture of king­ship was shat­tered. In­clud­ing Henry VI, three out of four suc­ces­sive kings would be killed. A fifth, Henry VII, would never feel se­cure, and his son, Henry VIII, would con­tinue to ex­e­cute per­ceived dy­nas­tic ri­vals un­til his death.

Ge­orge Good­win is the au­thor of Fa­tal Colours: Tow­ton 1461 and Fa­tal Ri­valry: Flod­den 1513 (both Wei­den­feld & Nicolson)

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