Towton: The Battle of Palm Sunday Field 1461
by John Sadler
The Battle of Towton was the bloodiest battle to take place on English soil. On Palm Sunday, 29th March 1461, approximately 28 000 men died fighting for their Lords and the King of England – be it Edward IV or Henry VI. This is one of the most bitter, devastating battles in English history, and through his book, John Sadler has brought the battle to the forefront once more.
Sadler’s book is brilliantly researched and this is evident in the quality of the writing and the detail included. Sadler starts the book explaining why the battle of Towton took place, outlining the events that led up to the disastrous day. It was interesting to read about the political upheaval of the day and how the decisions of those within the court filtered down to affect the men and women of England. He talks about influential players of the time including Richard, Duke of York, Henry VI, the Earl of Warwick, Richard’s son Edward IV and outlines their relationships and their political and personal beliefs of what they felt right for England. It was interesting to learn how these men maneuvered themselves around one another, forming factions and how their decisions led to a number of battles that saw changes in the Kingship of England at the time.
Several chapters are dedicated to the battle itself and Sadler goes into great detail to explain what happened from the night before the battle, through the changing events within the battle, to the tragic aftermath. What I found most interesting was the information that most other books forget to include, the little details such as the women involved with the battle. Women who carried water to the soldiers, facing accidental harm or misfortune to provide much-needed water to overheating men. There is no glossing over the reality of the battle and Sadler discusses what a battle on this scale was like during the Medieval ages. He talks about the armour the men would have had, or in some cases did not have. He discusses the limited sight men had to struggle with due to helmets worn, the overheating and exhaustion they faced and the strategies that needed to be used to survive. He talked about the length of the battle and how men would have had to have taken breaks, how it would have been impossible to fight for five-plus hours straight without rotating men on the field.
Sadler also discusses the weapons that would have been used and the injuries that men sustained. He talks about the famous finds of the Towton burial trenches and the skeletons of men that were slaughtered during and after the battle. He talks about the wounds upon the skeletons and personally I found this to give a human touch to what these tens of thousands of men would have endured. These were real men who lived and died and not simply figures five hundred years removed. On a side note, I have seen one of these skeletons and the battle injuries were horrific!
After the battle Sadler talks about what happened to the victors and the repercussions that befell the losers. He talked about how the battle affected the monarchy and ruling of England. He also details what the battlefield looks like today and how with such momentous loss and devastation, there is little to remember where the battle took place. He gives some information about how to visit the battlefield and to walk in the footsteps of the men that fought.
The only addition I would have liked to Sadler’s book would be maps. There were two hand-drawn maps but these were quite simple and did not lend to a great deal of detail. An updated map with more detail showing the movements of the participants of the battle would have been a brilliant addition to the book.
I have been enjoying Pen and Sword’s books on English battles and John Sadler’s book on the battle of Towton is quite possibly the best. Sadler details the sheer brutality of the battle giving a human touch to the reality of the day. Well written and with a wealth of information, I would strongly recommend John Sadler’s book on the bloodiest battle to take place on English soil.