Remembering the Battle of Towton
The National Archives holds many records from the period of the Wars of the Roses. They show how this recurring struggle for the crown, made famous in Shakespeare's history plays, dominated how England and Wales was ruled for more than 40 years in the 15th century. Even into Henry VIII's reign in the 1520s, the shadow of civil war and rebellion affected how the king viewed the power and loyalty of his leading subjects.
This month sees the 550th anniversary of the Battle of Towton - the decisive clash in the Wars of the Roses. Fought in a bitter snowstorm in Yorkshire on 29 March 1461, Towton was the largest and bloodiest battle ever fought in Britain. The casualties could even have exceeded those of the British army on the first day of the battle of the Somme in 1916: a loss that might have been near to one percent of the nation's population in 1461.
The battle pitted the forces of two kings against each other. Henry VI, king for 40 years, was a weak monarch whose last 15 years had seen a catalogue of foreign and domestic disasters. Opposing him was the 18 year-old Edward IV, proclaimed king three weeks earlier, but still not certain of keeping the crown. He now led the supporters of his father, Richard of York, who had died in battle the previous year after shocking the nation with his claim to be the rightful ruler.
With two huge armies, totalling between 50,000 and 75,000 men, the battle was to decide the fate of a kingdom.
Find out more about the Battle of Towton.