First Battle of St Albans

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First Battle of St Albans
Part of the Wars of the Roses
Roses-York victory.svg
Date 22 May 1455
Location St Albans in Hertfordshire, England
Result Decisive Yorkist victory[1]
Belligerents
Yorkshire rose.svg House of York Lancashire rose.svg House of Lancaster
Commanders and leaders
Edward of Norwich Arms.svg Richard, Duke of York,
Neville Warwick Arms.svg Richard, Earl of Warwick
Royal Arms of England (1399-1603).svg Henry VI  Surrendered
Stafford Coat of Arms.jpg Humphrey Stafford, Duke of Buckingham
John Beaufort Arms.svg Edmund, Duke of Somerset 
Blason Courtenay.svg Thomas Courtenay, Earl of Devon
Armoiries Studigel de Bitche.svg Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland 
Clifford Coat of Arms.jpg Thomas Clifford, Lord de Clifford 
Strength
3,000[2]-7,000[2] 2,000[3]
Casualties and losses
Total casualties for both sides:60[3]-100[1]

The First Battle of St Albans, fought on 22 May 1455 at St Albans, 22 miles (35 km) north of London, traditionally marks the beginning of the Wars of the Roses.[4] Richard, Duke of York and his ally, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, defeated the Lancastrians under Edmund, Duke of Somerset, who was killed. With King Henry VI captured, the parliament appointed Richard, Duke of York, Lord Protector.[5]

Background[edit]

By Christmas of 1454, King Henry had recovered from his illness, which was quickly followed by the Duke of York's resignation of his protectorate.[6] The Duke of Somerset was restored to his former position and given York's former post as the Captaincy of Calais. With his court reconvened at Westminster by mid April 1455, Henry and a select council of nobles, minus York and Warwick, decided to hold a great council at Leicester. Both York and Warwick, believing this council would question their loyalty, gathered their retinue and marched to stop Henry from reaching Leicester. Their forces met at St Albans.

Fighting[edit]

The Lancastrian army of 2,000 troops arrived at St Albans first, with Buckingham in command,[7] and proceeded to defend it[8] by placing troops along the Tonman Ditch and at the bars in Sopwell Lane and Shropshire Lane. The 7,000-strong Yorkist army arrived and camped in Keyfield to the east. Lengthy negotiations ensued with heralds moving back and forth between the rival commanders.[9] After a few hours, it was believed in the Yorkist camp that King Henry VI knew nothing of the letters of negotiation.[3]

After several hours, Richard, despairing of a peaceful solution, decided to attack. The bulk of Henry's forces were surprised by the speed of Richard's attack; most of the army was expecting a peaceful resolution similar to the one at Blackheath in 1452. However, two Yorkist frontal assaults down the narrow streets against the barricades near St Peter's Church, which were commanded by Lord de Clifford,[10] made no headway and resulted in heavy casualties for the Yorkists.[1]

Warwick took his reserve troops through an unguarded part of the town's defences, through back lanes and gardens. Suddenly the earl appeared in the market square where the main body of Henry's troops were talking and resting. There is evidence they were not yet expecting to be involved in the fighting, as many were not even wearing their helmets. Warwick charged instantly with his force, routing the Lancastrians and killing the Duke of Somerset.[11]

On the earl's orders, his archers then shot at the men surrounding the king, killing several and injuring the king and the Duke of Buckingham.[1] The Lancastrians manning the barricades realised the Yorkists had outflanked them and, fearing an attack from behind, abandoned their positions and fled the town.

Result[edit]

The first battle of St Albans was relatively minor in military terms,[dubious ] but politically was a complete victory for York and Warwick: York had captured the king and restored himself to complete power, while his rivals Somerset and Warwick's arch-enemies Henry Percy, 2nd Earl of Northumberland and Lord de Clifford both fell during the rout.[1] Among the wounded were Buckingham, Thomas, Earl of Devon and Somerset's son Henry Beaufort, the Earl of Dorset.[12]

The next day, York and Warwick escorted King Henry back to London. The Duke of York was restored as Protector of England by the parliament a few months later.[5]

In literature[edit]

Shakespeare's historic play Henry VI, Part 2 ends with the conclusion of this battle.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e Anthony Goodman, The Wars of the Roses:Military Activity and English Society, 1452-97, (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981), 24.
  2. ^ a b Ralph A. Griffiths, The Reign of King Henry VI:The exercise of royal authority, 1422-1461, (University of California Press, 1981), 742.
  3. ^ a b c Ralph A. Griffiths, The Reign of King Henry VI:The exercise of royal authority, 1422-1461, 744.
  4. ^ Government and Politics in England:problems of succession, C.S.L. Davies, The Cambridge Historical Encyclopedia of Great Britain and Ireland, ed. Christopher Haigh, (Cambridge University Press, 2000), 147.
  5. ^ a b Michael Hicks, The Wars of the Roses, (Yale University Press, 2010), 114.
  6. ^ Michael Hicks, The Wars of the Roses, 107.
  7. ^ Michael Hicks, The Wars of the Roses, 108.
  8. ^ Anthony Goodman, The Wars of the Roses:Military Activity and English Society, 1452-97, 22.
  9. ^ Bertram Percy Wolffe, Henry VI, (St. Edmundsbury Press, 2001), 292.
  10. ^ Ralph A. Griffiths, The Reign of King Henry VI:The exercise of royal authority, 1422-1461, 745.
  11. ^ Michael Hicks, The Wars of the Roses: 1455-1485, (Osprey Publishing, 2003), 35.
  12. ^ Michael Hicks, The Wars of the Roses, 110.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  • Anthony Goodman, The Wars of the Roses:Military Activity and English Society, 1452-97, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981.
  • Ralph A. Griffiths, The Reign of King Henry VI:The exercise of royal authority, 1422-1461, University of California Press, 1981.
  • The Cambridge Historical Encyclopedia of Great Britain and Ireland, ed. Christopher Haigh, Cambridge University Press, 2000.
  • Michael Hicks, The Wars of the Roses, Yale University Press, 2010.
  • Michael Hicks, The Wars of the Roses: 1455-1485, Osprey Publishing, 2003.
  • Bertram Percy Wolffe, Henry VI, St. Edmundsbury Press, 2001.

Further Reading[edit]

Burley, Elliott & Watson, The Battles of St Albans, Pen & Sword, 2007, ISBN 978-1-84415-569-9

Coordinates: 51°44′55″N 0°20′20″W / 51.7487°N 0.339°W / 51.7487; -0.339