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.

Recently fragments of hand-held guns were discovered at the battle site, which makes them the earliest ever to be found.  However, the fact that the guns were not found intact probably means an extremely unlucky outcome for the soldiers that held them during the battle – they probably exploded in the hands of the users.  Archaeologist Tim Sutherland explains that the manufacturing of firearms in that period of time was notoriously unreliable, due to metal casting faults.  He also doubts how much guns like these would have influenced the outcome of the battle, saying “The weapons did more damage and scared horses than it did to the opposition”.

Another significant find at the battle site is an example of lead shot, a lead ball with a wrought iron core.  This is the earliest composite lead bullet known in Europe.

It seems likely that the guns were used by the Lancastrians in the conflict.  As Tim Sutherland explains “historical sources tell us that Burgundian gunners, led by Seigneur de la Barde were employed as mercenaries by the Lancastrian forces. The fragments were found on what is believed to be the Lancastrian position suggesting that they form parts of two of those very guns.”

Up to now it had been assumed that in this period guns were only used to attack castles.  These gun fragments, however, were found in the middle of nowhere, where there were no castles to be besieged and must have been used on the battlefield.  This makes the find so incredibly important and it can be concluded that the Battle of Towton was “at the cusp of the use of archery and the introduction of handguns”.


Parts of guns found at Towton War of Roses site”, BBC News, 22 November 2010 (accessed 23 November 2010)

Richard Catton, “‘Unique’ battlefield gun discovery on Towton battlefield”, York Press, 22 November 2010 (accessed 23 November 2010)

Additional information from a post on 18 November 2010 by the Towton Battlefield Archaeology Project on facebook.

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