Re-enactors breathe new life into ‘Britain’s bloodiest battle’

The Lancastrians and the Yorkists fighting at The Battle of Towton Commemorative event.
The Lancastrians and the Yorkists fighting at The Battle of Towton Commemorative event.
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It was Britain’s bloodiest battle, but few could name it today.

More men fell when Yorkist and Lancastrian armies clashed near Towton in a snowstorm on Palm Sunday, 1461, than in the Battle of the Somme 455 years later.

Some 20,000 men died and in the bloody rout that followed another 8,000 are thought to have perished - incredibly one per cent of the population was wiped out that day.

The outcome meant Edward - the tallest ever monarch standing at 6ft four inches and aged just 19 - took the Crown from King Henry V1.

Yesterday 200 re-enactors stepped out before thousands of spectators to act out part of the battle.

The weather was kinder than last year when six inches of snow blanketed the waterlogged fields and organisers Towton Battlefield Society had to cancel the event, which also includes a medieval encampment and falconry, archery and gunnery demonstrations.

So why is the battle not better known? “It is largely because the War of the Roses aren’t taught in school,” says secretary of re-enactment group Frei Compagnie Helen Cox. “We do our best to redress the balance.

“It came about because we had a rubbish King, who was unable really to govern, unable to control his nobility, so yes, it was a pretty inglorious episode.”

The Lancastrians who initially had the upper hand with higher ground and more forces retreated when a fierce blizzard turned against them and Yorkist reinforcements arrived.

Chroniclers wrote of a huge bloody stain in the aftermath, some six miles long, covered in corpses and littered with armour and weapons. Ms Cox said: “We do take it seriously and we have a commemoration service with prayers. We are talking about the horrible deaths of an awful lot of people and the bereavement of a great many more so we approach it with respect, but also to try and show the other side of mediaeval life, the vibrancy that was the 15th century, which we enjoy and is our hobby.”