Posts Tagged ‘Towton’


Guest Post by Helen Cox

   Posted by: Helen Cox    in News

History Matters: Shakespearean Battles at Towton

Helen Cox, author of two excellent books on the Battle of Wakefield, here tells us about her meeting with the Bard at Towton.  We are very grateful to Helen for making this article, which was first published on her blog, Helen Rae Rants!, available to us.  You can find out more about Helen on Herstory Writing & Interpretation.

On Sunday 14th July, history was made again on the battlefield at Towton in North Yorkshire, when the world-renowned Globe Theatre company performed a Shakespearean marathon – all three parts of Henry VI, at the site where some of the action in Part III actually took place in 1461.

I went with some trepidation, I confess; Shakespeare can be hard going, so the prospect of three plays back-to-back, (starting at 12.30 and finishing at 10 pm, with an hour’s break between them), was slightly daunting. However, thanks to Nick Bagnall’s superb direction and an equally superb cast, it was a joy – beautifully interpreted, easy to follow and altogether riveting. I boggled in amazement at what they achieved with imaginative use of a very simple set; no fancy backdrops or painted scenery, just scaffolding towers and a few bits of cloth – but it became everything from the gates of Orleans to Wars of the Roses killing fields to the Tower of London, and much more besides. (You’ll find some pictures of it, and a link to BBC 1′s Breakfast News item about the plays, on the News page of Herstory Writing & Interpretation).

The way the fighting was rendered was also massively impressive. How will they recreate Towton, (a battle where more than 20,000 men are said to have died), with a cast of 14, I’d wondered beforehand. Well, now I know: with the beating of enormous drums, the clash of swords on scaffolding poles, and a handful of actors facing the audience, performing slow-motion, stylised movements with their weapons. It worked beautifully – as did the well-choreographed one-on-one fight scenes that crop up throughout.

Although all the actors were marvellous, Henry VI, played by Graham Butler, was possibly my favourite. I particularly enjoyed his appearance in Part I; as an infant or young child while much of the action takes place, he naturally does not speak; but he was a dominant, silent presence in his central tower, reacting to the dialogue, shrinking in horror from the violence, studying his book or twiddling his thumbs. It was a clever, subtle, very effective way of evoking this hapless king’s character; and sometimes very funny, as when the juvenile Henry reaches down for an important scroll, only to have it whisked away from his groping fingers. Wonderful. But Mary Doherty also played a corking Margaret of Anjou, especially in Part III when she gleefully slays Richard of York. Simon Harrison’s Richard, Duke of Gloucester was another real treat, portrayed as the classic limping, withered-armed hunchback (archaeology has proved that he wasn’t really like that, but the acting had to fit Shakespeare’s script!). And he made a delicious, gloating villain; also very funny, and (not surprising!) warmly received by a Yorkshire crowd.

The performance ended with a sprightly dance on stage and a standing ovation from the audience – and by heck, those actors had earned it. But I wasn’t sorry to go home, because Part III (featuring the Battle of Towton) had given me the heebie-jeebies. As a member of Towton Battlefield Society, I’ve studied, written about and talked about that battle ad infinitum. I’ve ‘met’ some of the battle dead – at least, their poor mutilated skeletons. And as one of the Society’s Wars of the Roses re-enactors, I’ve been on that field (the site of the Lancastrian camp, close to the location of the mass graves made famous by Channel 4′s documentary, Blood Red Roses), at all hours of the day and night. I’ve even slept there on numerous occasions, waiting, hoping, wanting to feel some frisson of atmosphere – but it never really happened until Sunday. Maybe it was listening to the hours of near-contemporary language that did it… for the first time, I felt the full horror of Towton not just intellectually but physically. Yes, it had really happened, right where we were sitting… and as the evening wore on I kept tensing, expecting a rout of exhausted Lancastrians to come panting over the hill, pursued by screaming Yorkists on horseback, cut down and hacked to pieces; expecting to see blood and body parts around my chair; becoming deeply unsettled.

So I have The Globe Theatre to thank for that – not only the most amazing day of drama I’ve ever enjoyed, but the deepest, most poignant connection with the true history I’ve ever experienced on that field. I commend it to you, if you get chance to go; the company are taking it to three more battlefield sites: Tewkesbury on 4th August, St Albans on 8th August and Barnet on 24th August. (It’s also on at various theatres round the country… but it won’t be quite the same indoors!).

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Palm Sunday Event

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in News

Just a reminder that this coming Sunday (1 April) is Palm Sunday and thus the day to commemorate the Battle of Towton, fought in a snow storm on Palm Sunday 1461 (29 March).  As every year the Towton Battlefield Society is hosting an event to “commemorate those men from the House of York and the House of Lancaster who fell on that fateful day’.

As we have seen before, Helen Cox will be launching her new book Walk Towton 1461 at this event.  We are grateful to Adrian White and theTowton Battlefield Society for providing us with a link to their official programme.  What a pity that for us “down under” it’s just that little bit too far to go round – we can just be jealous of all our readers, who have the opportunity to visit the commemoration with its fascinating shows and walk the battlefield on one of the guided tours.

We all wish all those taking part in the commemoration, whether actively or as a visitor, an interesting day and hope that the weather will be better than on that fateful Palm Sunday 551 years ago.

To find out more and view the programme, visit the page of the Towton Battlefield Society.

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Visiting Yorkshire?

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in News

Helen Cox, author of the highly acclaimed The Battle of Wakefield Revisited:  A Fresh Perspective on Richard of York’s Final Battle, December 1460, told us about two upcoming events, which would be of great interest to all Ricardians.

Tomorrow, Saturday 24 March 2012, the event ‘Searching for Wakefield’s Battlefield’ is launched with the aim to find evidence of the battle, which cost Richard’s father, brother and uncle as well as thousands of others their lives.  If you should be lucky enough to find yourself in the area, make sure that you go to the Sandal Castle Visitor Centre and meet Helen in person.  And don’t forget to bring your copy of Helen’s brilliant Walk Wakefield 1460: A Visitor Guide to Battle-Related Sites along!

The feeling among the Yorkists was doubtlessly rather depressed after the loss of the Battle of Wakefield, however, just three months later with the victory of the Battle of Towton on Palm Sunday, 29 March 1461 the Yorkist supremacy seemed complete.

To commemorate this bloody battle (no, I’m not swearing – it is regarded as the bloodiest battle ever fought on British soil) there will be an event hosted by the Towton Battlefield Society on this year’s Palm Sunday on 1 April 2012.  At the event Helen is also launching her new book Walk Towton 1461.  To quote from the flyer:

With Walk Towton 1461, you can follow the Earl’s campaign from his first victory at Mortimer’s Cross to disaster at St Albans, the fierce contests of Ferrybridge and Dintingdale, and the bloody finale at Towton, with an illustrated guide to visiting sites connected with the battles. Each of the four main sections contains a short history, directions to sites (including maps), and information on opening times and admission charges

During the commemoration, you can buy this new book at the TBS Authors Stall in the Barn, Old London Road, Towton for £6.00.  And all of us, who can’t be there, can order a copy of Helen’s latest book as well as of her others from York Publishing Services on for £7.50.

Helen Cox & Alan Stringer, Walk Towton 1461: A Visitor Guide to Battle-Related Sites, Herstory Writing & Interpretation/York Publishing Services, 2012.  ISBN 978-0-9565768-2-8 (Paperback, 70 pages, 20 black-and-white plates, 6 line drawings)

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Battle of Towton Commemoration

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in News, News from Other Organizations

With thanks to Helen Cox for alerting us about this event.

The Towton Battlefield Society is planning a commemoration of the Battle of Towton, fought in a snowstorm on Palm Sunday, 29 March 1461.  The battle is considered to have been the biggest, bloodiest and longest battle on English soil.  It was fought between the adherents of Henry VI of the House of Lancaster and those of Edward of the House of York, ending with a Yorkist victory and Edward IV on the throne.

The commemoration will take place on this year’s Palm Sunday, 1 April 2012.  It will be a full day event, from 10h00 to 16h00, however, guided walks will be starting from 9h30.  The walks cover a distance of 4 miles (stout footwear is required) and will start every 15 minutes until 10h45.

There will also be a living history camp or you can look at – and be tempted to buy from! – craft stalls.  To make the battle come alive there will be combat demonstrations.  And at 13h00 visitors have the opportunity to attend a  memorial service.

This promises to be fun for the whole family.  And we hope for the organisers of this event and everyone who is involved that the weather will not be too evocative of that bloody battle fought 551 years ago!

Below is  copy of the poster for this event.  If you think you might be attending, let me know and I will get the press release for you, which should come out in March.

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The Battle of Towton – in your living room.

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in News

To commemorate the 550th anniversary of the Battle of Towton on 29 March 1461 a fascinating new DVD is available.   It is based on a BBC documentary, but includes so much more which due to time constraints had to be cut out of the documentary.  This is not to be missed.

On a cold and snowy day in 1461 Henry VI’s Lancastrians and Edward IV’s Yorkists met on a field near Towton in Yorkshire. It has been estimated that 100 000 men fought at the 12 hour battle. At the end of the day approx. 28 000 men were dead, an equivalent of 1% of the English population at the time, Britain’s bloodiest battle.

During building work in 1996 the workmen found a mass burial pit from the battle.  This was excavated and analysed by archaeologists of the University of Bradford.  The results from this investigation have helped tremendously in our knowledge of the fighting in the period of the Wars of the Roses, as anyone who has read the book Blood Red Roses will know. Read the rest of this entry »

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Sensational find at the Towton Battlefield

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in News

Sensational find at the Towton Battlefield

Towton Cross

Sensational find at the Towton Battlefield

The Battle of Towton was fought on Palm Sunday 29 March 1461 between Edward IV’s Yorkists and the Lancastrians fighting for Henry VI.  The weather was atrocious, very cold with wind and snow.  The Yorkists won a decisive victory, securing the throne for Edward IV, however at huge cost of lives.  It is estimated that up to 28,000 soldiers were killed on a single day, approx. one per cent of the English population at the time, which makes it one of the bloodiest battles to ever take place on English soil. Read the rest of this entry »

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June 2009 General Meeting

   Posted by: Julia Redlich    in Meetings


The speaker at the general meeting on June 13 was one of the Branch members, Lynne Foley.  She spoke on Architecture and Excavations at Medieval Battlesites.  Much of this reflected the amazing amount of recent work on the site of the Battle of Towton which employed recent forensic techniques that told us so much about the men who fought there – and whose skeletons provided information about the method of their deaths. Illustrations showed the excavation in progress (thanks to the generous owners of Towton Hall who lived with the work for 10 years) and the various weapons and other items that were uncovered. Read the rest of this entry »

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