Before I launch into this month’s blog on the Angevin Empire, I must take time to remind my readers that yesterday, 29th March 2011, was a major historical landmark. It was the 550th anniversary of the battle of Towton. As I live not too far from Towton, this important armed confrontation is of especial consequence; but of course, Towton’s real historical significance is twofold. To begin with, it is the greatest battle ever fought on British soil. Estimates of the size of the rival Lancastrian and Yorkist armies will always vary; over thirty years ago, the late Professor Ross suggested that perhaps the total number of men involved in the battle may have been as high as 50,000. This is an amazing figure, particularly so when one considers that the total population of England in the mid-fifteenth century could not have been much higher than 2.75 million, if that. Secondly, the glorious victory at Towton helped to consolidate the position of the newly crowned Yorkist king –King Edward IV. Edward IV’s first reign as king of England, between 1461 and 1470, was not without its problems; but at least the national finances recovered, after the depredations of Henry VI’s reign. Edward IV fought in five major battles in the Wars of the Roses: Northampton, July 1460; Mortimer’s Cross, February 1461; Towton, March 1461; Barnet, April 1471; and Tewkesbury, May 1471. All five battles were Yorkist victories. Few kings share Edward IV’s enviable military record. Yet there is more to Edward IV than simply military success, and, as Christine Carpenter has suggested: “He should be acknowledged as one of the greatest of English kings.” (Christine Carpenter: ‘The Wars of the Roses’, Cambridge University Press, (1997), page 205.)
Wreaths of red and white carnations or roses are still regularly placed on the site of the battle at Towton; but the battlefield itself is all used by local farmers for growing a variety of crops. The site of another great civil war battlefield is geographically close to Towton: Marston Moor. Marston Moor, fought in 1644 between royalist supporters of King Charles I and the forces of Parliament, was quite probably the military turning-point in the Civil War of 1642-1646. One feels that, with two great battles in such close proximity, a proper museum should be built within the locality, commemorating both great battles. Such a museum would probably be a prime tourist attraction, as well as having obvious potential for school visits. I suppose that the present financial stringency would make such a scheme unlikely – but, as it says in the Acts of the Apostles: ‘Your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams’ (Chapter 2, Verse 17). I hope I can put myself in the position of having a vision of a museum being built in the near future, to commemorate these two great civil war confrontations.