War­wick the King­maker is slain in bat­tle

The royal power bro­ker meets a mer­ci­less end at Bar­net

BBC History Magazine - - Anniversaries -

When Richard Neville, Earl of War­wick, awoke on 14 April 1471, it was to a land­scape ob­scured by thick fog. The day be­fore, the rich­est and most pow­er­ful mag­nate in Eng­land had ar­rayed his army along a ridge north of Bar­net, ready for bat­tle.

The stakes could not have been higher, but War­wick was a hard­ened gam­bler. He had been in his mid-20s when the dy­nas­tic feud­ing known as the Wars of the Roses had bro­ken out in earnest. At the start of the wars he had been a York­ist, in­stru­men­tal in plac­ing the young Ed­ward IV on the throne. But af­ter the two fell out, War­wick had switched sides. Now his men fought for the House of Lan­caster.

Dawn had not yet bro­ken when the fight­ing be­gan, and the fog was so thick that it was im­pos­si­ble to work out ex­actly what was go­ing on. On War­wick’s right, his ally, the Earl of Ox­ford, over­whelmed his op­po­nents, but on his left, the York­ists were mak­ing bloody head­way. Ox­ford man­aged to round up his men and lead them back into the fray, but in the heavy fog his badge – a star with rays – looked very sim­i­lar to Ed­ward IV’s sun in splen­dour. As a re­sult, the Lan­cas­trian cen­tre, be­liev­ing them the en­emy, poured ar­rows into Ox­ford’s men. All was chaos, con­fu­sion and panic; some men were shout­ing about trea­son, oth­ers run­ning from the field. The York­ist re­serves piled in; the Lan­cas­tri­ans broke. What fol­lowed was a bloody mas­sacre.

Wait­ing with his re­serves, peer­ing through the mist, War­wick re­alised that the game was up. Ac­cord­ing to the chron­i­clers, he was try­ing to get away when the York­ist sol­diers over­took him. There was, of course, no mercy.

The bat­tle of Bar­net, as de­picted in a near- con­tem­po­rary Flem­ish il­lu­mi­na­tion. The bat­tle was a gam­ble for the Earl of War­wick, and one that did not pay off

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