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