The Battle of Wakefield Revisited

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis   in

Helen Cox, The Battle of Wakefield Revisited:  A Fresh Perspective on Richard of York’s Final Battle, December 1460.  Herstory Writing & Interpretation/York Publishing Services, 2010.  ISBN 978 0 9565768 0 4

I had heard about this book on the Ricardian grapevine when it was about to be launched on 31 May this year and ordered it immediately.  It arrived last Monday and I could not wait to read it.

Helen Cox wanted with her book to “take a public stand in support of Richard, Duke of York, who usually gets such a rough ride from historians” and she certainly succeeded in this.

The book starts with a thorough analysis of the factors which lead to the Cousins War, or the Wars of the Roses.  Based on a ‘Historical Prelude’, Helen  first introduces the three main protagonists: Henry VI, Margaret of Anjou and Richard, Duke of York, outlining their strengths and weaknesses.

Then she explains the events prior to that fateful December 1460.  She makes it clear that at that time Richard, Duke of  York, was recognised as the heir to the throne by the ‘Act of Accord’ and thus fighting for Henry VI.

Unfortunately we do not have an eye witness account of the Battle of Wakefield itself or how the two armies actually came to meet on 30 December 1460 (and even that date is not certain), nor by which route York arrived at Sandal Castle.  Compared to other battles from the Wars of the Roses, as for instance Towton, we have very little information.  Historians have for centuries been baffled by York’s decision to take on a much larger army and subsequently suggested all sorts of explanations.  The result was that

Richard of York has become a byword for failure:  a man who through ignorance or stupidity led his son and followers on a mad charge from his castle only to be crushed by superior forces … today he is often considered rash, misguided or ill-prepared, while even broadly sympathetic accounts tend to denigrate him as a poor commander largely responsible for his own defeat.

Helen then analyses all the various ‘myths’ surrounding the battle, clearly showing that many of these  theories have no foundation in archaeological or geographical fact and are highly unlikely to be the answer.

She then outlines her own explanation of events which is based on documentary and  archaeological evidence.  Not to give away the plot (after all Helen would like you to buy her book) I won’t go into any details here, but her explanation certainly makes a lot of sense.  Later on she also shows what kind of research would be needed to prove or disprove her or any other theory and to arrive at fact.

The chapter explaining what happened to those who fought in the battle, both those who fell and those who survived to fight at Towton and later battles, was of great interest.  She also asks whether the nursery rhyme of the “the Grand Old Duke of York” is based on this Richard and who the other contenders for that ‘honour’ are.

The book finishes with an analysis of “Exonoration or Blame” and comes to the conclusion that given the circumstances and personalities of the protagonists an outcome such as this was bound to happen.

This book is a well written analysis of all the facets surrounding the Battle of Wakefield, which I found hard to put down – and was very sorry when I had finished it wanting more.  An excellent contribution to our knowledge of the Wars of the Roses, which I can recommend whole-heartedly.

You can order The Battle of Wakefield Revisited directly from YPD Books.