Warwick the Kingmaker is slain in battle
The royal power broker meets a merciless end at Barnet
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