If you’re a Wars of the Roses enthusiast, even if you hate military history, please help protect the Towton battlefield – site of the bloodiest battle ever fought on English soil. Towton, the key victory that brought Edward IV to the throne, left roughly 20,000 to 50,000 men dead on a snowy, blood-soaked battlefield on Palm Sunday 1461.
On January 8th, only four days from now, the Selby District Council is voting on whether or not to allow the construction of a Traveller’s site within the new Towton battlefield boundary. The boundary is scheduled to change this spring, but it has not changed yet so this part of the battlefield site is still unprotected and vulnerable. See the Selby public notice page and the Towton Battlefield Society Facebook page.
Some historians, such as Annette Carson, have already objected to the plan to build on the new Towton site. But not enough people have objected yet to make a difference.
I’m not into military history, why should I care?
Towton is not only a battlefield location, it’s also a mass gravesite for approximately 50,000 people and a source of rich archeological evidence. Respect for the people who died at the site, regardless of how vainglorious the reason, is one reason not to allow construction on Towton.
Pre-twentieth century sites where archaeologists can find skeletons known to have died on a specific day are extremely rare at a global level. The only other known example is from the Swedish Battle of Wisby in 1361. In addition, Towton has preserved a rich variety of objects due its dry environment and unique soil, which is over a band of Magnesian Limestone. Independently from the history of war, we can learn a lot about how medieval people lived, including their health and diet, from the skeletons found at Towton.
In some cases, this results in myth busting. Who was healthier the medieval nobles or the peasants? From Towton skeletons, we know that the average medieval peasant was in better health than many medieval nobles because the peasants primarily ate coarse grains. We know the peasants who fought at Towton ate grain because their molars were worn down and flat. (The nobles molars retained their uneven surface and many nobles, who lived primarily on meat, had more rotten teeth than the peasants.) We know the peasants were healthier from analyzing their bone composition.
What does the Towton battlefield site tell us about Edward IV? Before the Battle of Towton, both sides, eager to resolve the conflict, ordered no quarter [lodging] would be given. In other words, neither side would take prisoners or ransom off captives, so it was a fight to the death. In previous battles, Edward commanded to spare the common men. At Towton, however, Edward IV kept his promise to fight to the death – with savage results. When archaeologists examined skeletons from the mass grave found under Towton Hall, they discovered Edward’s men carried out his instructions with incredible brutality.
The vicious wounds inflicted on the captured men show the extreme rage Edward’s soldiers must have felt by this point in the conflict. Edward’s men must have tied the men’s hands – their forearms didn’t have any defensive wounds. Their instinct would have been to raise their arms in defense. Edward’s men also cut off their ears to keep as souvenirs of their hard and bitter slog to victory. Archaeologists learned the Yorkists took the Lancastrian men’s ears from the serrated knife wounds on their skulls.
When Edward’s men finally killed their captives, they didn’t quickly behead or stab them. They repeatedly smashed their skulls with, most likely, pole axes and war hammers. Some victims had as many as thirteen blows the head; the Yorkist soldiers “overkilled” these men. Skull fractures indicate that any one of these blows would have been enough to kill them; however, Edward’s men still had enough energy after hours of fighting to unleash their wrath upon their now defeated enemies.
What about the Travellers?
I have the following on good authority: “The root cause of the issue is that the council was given a significant amount of time to address their past poor performance in relation to providing sufficient pitches for Travellers. They have failed to take sufficient action and current Human Rights law means that they can’t be moved on as they have nowhere to go.”
On a personal note, this doesn’t mean I’m not fully supportive of the Traveller’s plight, and I fully support creating a site in a different non-heritage location.
How do I let the Selby council know I want to protect the Towton battlefield?
You can leave a comment on the proposal page or email them (firstname.lastname@example.org). If you email, please be sure to mention you object to the removal of the appeal to ref APP/N2739/C/09/2103054 to make the planning permission permanent to build a Traveller’s site on the soon-to-be-adjusted Towton battlefield site. The case officer is Claire Richards.
How do I leave a comment for the Selby council if I’m not in the UK?
You can do one of the following:
- Comment by using a UK postal code, such as YO1 7HU, YO26 5SQ, or YO7 3RW. This is what I did since I saw non-UK residents doing the same. This may not be ideal, but it is a way to make your voice heard and make the council realize that people from around the world are watching their decision.
- Email the Selby council directly before the vote on January 8th. at email@example.com (or possibly firstname.lastname@example.org)
Where can I find some terrific information about Towton?
The Towton Battlefield Society website. They also have Edward IV’s attainder list as well as databases of combatants and other information that may be of interest to genealogists: http://www.towton.org.uk/research/ .
Some media articles with lots of color photos about Towton and its archaeology: the and Towton: Nasty, Brutish and Not that Short, “Towton was our worst ever battle, so why have we forgotten this bloodbath in the snow?” by Nigel Jones.
Blood Red Roses by Veronica Fiorato, Medieval Soldier in the Wars of the Roses by Andrew Boardman
If you are ever in the UK and care to make the trek to Yorkshire, the Towton Battlefield Society has battlefield or walks. This is the list of last year’s dates. Be sure to check with them if and when they are holding them this year.
Please Tweet about this issue, share this article on Facebook — and most of all leave a comment or email the Selby District council this weekend so the comments will be considered at the committee hearing.
By Jamie Adair