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Wars of the Roses: Second Battle of St. Albans

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Wars of the Roses: Second Battle of St. Albans

Queen Margaret of Anjou

Photograph Source: Public Domain

Second Battle of St. Albans - Conflict & Dates:

The Second Battle of St. Albans was fought February 17, 1461, during the Wars of the Roses (1455-1485).

Armies & Commanders

Lancastrians

  • Queen Margaret
  • approx. 15,000 men

    Yorkists

  • Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick
  • approx. 10,000 men

  • Second Battle of St. Albans - Background:

    Around 1450, King Henry VI of England began incurring bouts of insanity. These proved increasingly crippling and led to the formation of a Council of Regency three years later. This was led by Richard, Duke of York, who was named Lord Protector and who had a strong claim to the throne in his own right. Returning to his senses in late 1454, Henry resumed his throne and efforts commenced to reduce York's power. Believing Henry to be ill-advised, York and Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick mustered a small army the following year and marched on London with the goal of removing the king's councilors. Striking Royalist forces at St. Albans in May 1455, York won a victory and captured the king who soon became mentally detached. Resuming his post as Lord Protector, York again was relieved by a healthy Henry the following year. Dispatched to Ireland, York and Warwick later joined with the latter's father, Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury, in 1459 to renew military action against the king.

    Campaigning that September, Salisbury triumphed over Lancastrian forces loyal to the king at the Battle of Blore Heath. Though a decisive battlefield victory for the Yorkists, the victory was soon undercut by York's defeat at Ludford Bridge on October 12. Beaten by the king's forces, York escaped to Ireland while Salisbury, Warwick, and York's son, Edward, Earl of March, fled to Calais. Returning to England in 1460, Warwick landed with a small army in June and defeated the Lancastrians the following month at the Battle of Northampton. Captured during the fighting, Henry became a Yorkist prisoner. Traveling to London, York announced his claim to the throne. Though Parliament rejected his claim, a compromise was reached in October 1460 through the Act of Accord which stated that the duke would be the king's successor. Unwilling to see her son, Edward of Westminster, disinherited, Queen Margaret retreated to Scotland and began raising an army. That December, Lancastrian forces won a decisive victory at Wakefield which resulted in the deaths of York and Salisbury.

    Second Battle of St. Albans - Edward and Warwick Respond:

    While his father had been campaigning in the north, Edward spent the latter part of 1460 raising men in the Welsh Marches. Though his initial thought upon learning of Wakefield was to retreat towards London, he elected to remain in the area to deal with the threat posed by a newly-raised Lancastrian army led by Sir Owen Tudor and Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke. Meeting this force at the Battle of Mortimer's Cross on February 2, he won a clear victory. Though a success, the battle prevented him from uniting with Warwick who had raised an army from London, Kent, and East Anglia and who was moving north to block the advance of Queen Margaret's forces. Unwilling to leave Henry in London, Warwick brought the king with his army as it moved towards St. Albans.

    Second Battle of St. Albans - Warwick Prepares:

    Reaching St. Albans, Warwick began deploying his army to block the roads north and commenced constructing an elaborate series of defenses. These included fortifications, caltrops, pavises, and part of the ancient Beech Bottom Dyke earthwork. Occupying these lines, Warwick assumed personal command of the center while the Duke of Norfolk and John Neville, Marquess of Montagu led the right and lefts respectively. A contingent of archers was directed to hold the town proper. Lacking specific intelligence regarding enemy movements, Warwick attempted to cover as much ground as possible and his line extended over four miles. Lacking sufficient men for a front this long, he intended for each part of his army to hold back any attack until the other two wings could join the fighting.

    Second Battle of St. Albans - The Lancastrian Plan:

    Pressing south, Queen Margaret, aided by Andrew Trollope, possessed an increasingly clear picture of the Yorkist position. Much of this appears to have been provided by the treacherous Yorkist commander Sir Henry Lovelace. Captured at Wakefield, he was released with the understanding that he would provide intelligence and openly switch allegiance at the appropriate time. Apprised of the Yorkist defenses, the Lancastrians veered west and advanced on Dunstable. Overwhelming a short defense mounted by the townspeople, they occupied the town on February 16. From this position, Trollope advocated for marching southeast that night to capture St. Albans and turn Warwick's position. This plan received Queen Margaret's blessing and the Lancastrians resumed their advance.

    Second Battle of St. Albans - Fighting Begins:

    Completing the night march with minimal confusion, Trollope led the advance units of the Lancastrian army forward against St. Albans the following morning. Pressing up Fishpool Street, they were forced to retreat due to a hail of arrows from the Yorkist archers. After a subsequent attack failed, Trollope, recognizing that the archers were unsupported, led a force around to the northwest and cut them off from the rest of Warwick's army. Through the rest of the morning, the Lancastrians fought house-to-house and ultimately overwhelmed the defenders. As the fighting raged, Montagu received reports of the Lancastrian attacks. He elected not to respond as he believed them to be diversions in support of a main enemy effort from the north. Finally realizing the severity of the situation, he turned his division south and prepared to receive the Lancastrian attack.

    Second Battle of St. Albans - Warwick Defeated:

    Around noon, Trollope and the Duke of Somerset commenced assaults on Montagu's position on Bernards Heath. Hard-pressed, Montagu's men held their position as their commander sent frantic messages to Warwick calling for aid. Unconvinced that the main attack could be coming from the south, he held his position and withheld reinforcements. As the afternoon passed, Warwick finally relented and directed his men to move down the Sandridge Road to assist Montagu. Commencing the march, he was met with resistance from his commanders as some felt that the army had already been defeated and further fighting was meaningless while others, such as Lovelace, were bent on treachery. On the heath, the Lancastrians succeeded in breaking the Yorkist lines causing Montagu's men to flee. Pressing south, Warwick's men engaged the advancing enemy but suffered a blow when Lovelace's command defected. With evening setting in, Warwick realized the fight was lost and ordered a retreat towards Chipping Norton. Exhausted from the night march and a day of fighting, the Lancastrians elected not to pursue.

    Second Battle of St. Albans - Aftermath:

    While casualties for the Second Battle of St. Albans are not known with precision, it is estimated that the Lancastrians suffered around 2,000 while the Yorkists incurred around 4,000. Following the battle, Henry was recovered and his guards, which may have included Lord Bonville and Sir Thomas Kyriell, captured. Having secured the king, Queen Margaret ordered the guards executed and had the young Edward of Westminster decide the method (beheading). Advancing on London, the Lancastrian army was refused admission due to the residents' fears of looting and ultimately withdrew north. Joining with Warwick, Edward moved east and entered London where he was proclaimed king on March 4. Advancing against the Lancastrians he defeated them at the Battle of Towton on the 29th. Though the triumph led to a long lull in the fighting, the Wars of the Roses would continue until Henry Tudor finally won the crown for the Lancastrians at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. Crowned Henry VII, he founded the Tudor Dynasty and married Elizabeth of York the following year, uniting the two warring houses.

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