Today marks the 560th Anniversary of the start of the War of the Roses which saw the country descend into civil war until, the recently reinterred, Richard III lost his life at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. The first battle was fought on this day in 1455 in the town of St. Albans, Hertfordshire. However, as the books from our shelves show this was one of two battles fought there. In William Camden’s Chronicle of Britain published in 1637 (D900/CAM o/s) he describes how St. Albans was
… the very plot of bloudie battaile; For, to let other particulars goe by, when England under the two houses of Lancaster and York bereft, as it were, of vitall breath was ready through Civill Warre to sinke downe and fall in a sound, the chiefe Captaines of both sides joyned battaile twise with reciprocall variety of fortune in the very Towne. First, Richard Duke of Yorke gave the Lancastrians heere a sore overthrow, tooke King Henry the Sixth captive, and slew many honourable personages. Foure yeeres after the Lancastrians under the conduct of Queene Margaret wonne heere the field, put the house of Yorke to flight, and restored the King to his former liberty.
There is also another account of the battle on our shelves in the 6th Volume of The Beauties of England and Wales by Edward Wedlake Blake published in 1808 (914.2/ENG/BEA)
The first battle of St. Alban’s was fought on the twenty-third [actually the 22nd] of May, 1455: the King himself, the meek-spirited Henry the Sixth, being present. This ill-fated Prince, who, from the recesses of his heart, could exclaim, ‘that he had fallen upon evil days,’ had set out from the Metropolis with about 2000 men, apparently with the design of impeding the progress of the Duke of York, who was marching from the north, accompanied by the Earls of Warwick and Salisbury, and a body of about 3000 hardy soldiers. The Duke, who had not yet advanced his claim to the Throne, encamped on the east side of the town, in Key-field; while the King occupied the town itself, and fixed his standard at a spot called Goselow, in St. Peter’s Street. The avowed purpose of the Yorkists, was to seize, and bring to trial, Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, who had been impeached of treason by the House of Commons, and committed to the Tower, but was afterwards released in despite of the impeachment, by the influence of the Queen, Margaret of Anjou.
When the King, as appears from Hollinshed [another item available on our shelves] heard of the Dukes’s approach, he sent the Duke of Buckingham, with some other noblemen, to inquire the reason of his coming in that hostile manner. The Duke answered that, ‘he and his army were the King’s faithful liege subjects, and intended no harm to his Majesty; but only desired that he would deliver up the Duke of Somerset, who had lost Normandy, taken up no care to preserve Gascoigne, and had brought the realm into its present miserable condition: they would then return to their countries, without trouble or breach of peace; otherwise they would rather die in the field, than suffer a continuance of this grievance.’
As the Duke of Somerset was then with the King, and was himself at the head of the Royal councils, this demand was not acceded to; and both parties prepared to try their strength in battle. The barriers of the town were well defended by the Royalists; and the assault made on the side next St.Peter’s Street, by the Duke of York, proved unsuccessful; till the Earl of Warwick, with a chosen band, forced an entrance on the garden side, in Holywell Street; and, by the terror of his name, his soldiers shouting, ‘A Warwick! a Warwick!’ and the vigor of his onset, obliged his opponents to give way. Thus aided, the Duke was enabled to overpower the force opposed to him at the barriers; and, after a short, but sanguinary, conflict in the streets of the town, the Royal army was defeated. The King himself, being entirely deserted, and wounded in the neck with an arrow, took refuge in a small house, or cottage, where he was afterwards discovered by the Duke of York, and by him conducted to the Abbey. The slain on the King’s part amounted to about 800: among them were the Duke of Somerset, the Earls of Stafford and Northumberland…[among others]. About 600 of the Yorkists were killed: not any person of distinction, however, is recorded to have fallen on this side. The bodies of the slain were mostly interred at St. Peter’s; but those of the principal nobles were, at the intercession of Whethampstead[the Abbot of St. Albans Abbey], received into the Abbey Church; and, after their obsequies had been solemnly performed, they were interred in the Chapel of the Virgin.
These items and other gems can be found in our Library Collection for more details about the collections visit the Library Collection page on our website and search our Library Catalogue …Barum Athena