First Battle of St Albans
|First Battle of St Albans|
|Part of the Wars of the Roses|
|House of York||House of Lancaster|
|Commanders and leaders|
| Richard, Duke of York
Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury
Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick
| Henry VI (POW)
Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset †
Humphrey Stafford, Duke of Buckingham (POW)
Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland †
Thomas Courtenay, Earl of Devon
Thomas, Lord Clifford †
|Casualties and losses|
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. Richard, Duke of York and his allies, the Neville Earls of Salisbury and Warwick, defeated a royal army commanded by Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, who was killed. With King Henry VI captured, a subsequent parliament appointed Richard of York Lord Protector.
The incapacitation of Henry VI by mental illness in 1454 had led to the recall to court of Richard of York, his closest adult relative, who had been banished to his estates after a failed rebellion in 1452, and his appointment to govern England as Lord Protector and First Councillor of the realm while the king remained unfit. He used this position to move against his chief rival, the hitherto dominant Duke of Somerset, who was imprisoned. By Christmas of 1454, King Henry had recovered from his illness, removing the basis for York's authority. Somerset was released and restored to his former position of power. Having reconvened the court at Westminster by mid April 1455, Henry and a select council of nobles decided to hold a great council at Leicester. York and his closest allies, his brother-in-law Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury and Salisbury's son Richard, Earl of Warwick, anticipated that Somerset would bring charges against them at this assembly. They gathered an armed retinue and marched to stop the royal party from reaching Leicester, intercepting them at St Albans.
The Lancastrian army of 2,000 troops arrived at St Albans first, with Humphrey Stafford, Duke of Buckingham in command, and proceeded to defend it 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. After a few hours, it was believed in the Yorkist camp that King Henry VI knew nothing of the letters of negotiation.
After several hours, Richard, despairing of a peaceful solution, decided to attack. Although his army might have been unwilling to attack King Henry, the Royal Standard was not visible and might even have been negligently propped against a wall by the royal standard bearer, the Earl of Wiltshire. The bulk of Henry's forces were surprised by the suddenness 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 Clifford, made no headway and resulted in heavy casualties for the Yorkists.
Warwick led a reserve force 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.
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. The Lancastrians manning the barricades realised the Yorkists had outflanked them and, fearing an attack from behind, abandoned their positions and fled the town.
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 Somerset and the Nevilles' northern rivals Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland and Lord Clifford both fell during the rout. Among the wounded were Buckingham, Thomas, Earl of Devon and Somerset's son Henry Beaufort, Earl of Dorset.
The next day, York escorted King Henry back to London, where he was appointed as Protector of England by the parliament a few months later.
Shakespeare's historic play Henry VI, Part 2 ends with the conclusion of this battle. "Trinity" the second book of the Wars of the Roses series by Conn Iggulden, dramatises this battle as a moment of indecision for Richard of York but a powerful victory for the Neville faction in the Neville-Percy feud.
- Anthony Goodman, The Wars of the Roses:Military Activity and English Society, 1452-97, (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981), 24.
- Ralph A. Griffiths, The Reign of King Henry VI:The exercise of royal authority, 1422-1461, (University of California Press, 1981), 742.
- Ralph A. Griffiths, The Reign of King Henry VI:The exercise of royal authority, 1422-1461, 744.
- 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.
- Michael Hicks, The Wars of the Roses, (Yale University Press, 2010), 114.
- Michael Hicks, The Wars of the Roses, 107.
- Michael Hicks, The Wars of the Roses, 108.
- Anthony Goodman, The Wars of the Roses:Military Activity and English Society, 1452-97, 22.
- Bertram Percy Wolffe, Henry VI, (St. Edmundsbury Press, 2001), 292.
- Sadler (2011), p.7
- Sadler (2011), p.9
- Ralph A. Griffiths, The Reign of King Henry VI:The exercise of royal authority, 1422-1461, 745.
- Michael Hicks, The Wars of the Roses: 1455-1485, (Osprey Publishing, 2003), 35.
- Michael Hicks, The Wars of the Roses, 110.
- 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.
- Sadler, John (2011). Towton: The Battle of Palmsunday Field 1461. Pen & Sword Military. p. 60. ISBN 978-1-84415-965-9.
- Bertram Percy Wolffe, Henry VI, St. Edmundsbury Press, 2001.
Burley, Elliott & Watson, The Battles of St Albans, Pen & Sword, 2007, ISBN 978-1-84415-569-9
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