Second Battle of St Albans

Eyridiki Sellou | Jan 20, 2024

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The second battle of St Albans took place on February 17, 1461 during the War of the Two Roses in the town of St Albans in Hertfordshire; the first battle, on the other hand, was fought in 1455.

The victorious Lancastrian army began to advance south toward London. It was led by relatively young nobles such as the Duke of Somerset, Earl of Northumberland, and Lord Clifford, whose fathers had been killed by York and Warwick at the first battle of St Albans. The army contained substantial contingents from the West Country and Scottish Borders and lived largely on plunder as they marched south.

Richard of York's death left his 18-year-old son Edward, Earl of March, as a pretender to the York throne. So he led an army into the Welsh Marches, while Warwick led another into London and the southeast. They naturally intended to join forces to face Margaret's army, but Edward was delayed by the need to face another Lancastrian army from Wales led by Jasper Tudor and his father Owen Tudor. On February 2, Edward defeated the Tudor army at the Battle of Mortimer's Cross.

Warwick with the captive King Henry in tow, meanwhile moved to block the route of Queen Margaret's army to London. He took up a position north of St Albans straddling the main road from the north (the ancient Roman road known as Watling Street), where he established several fixed defenses, including cannon and obstacles such as tribolos and spike-studded pavements. Part of his defenses used the ancient Belgian embankment known as Beech Bottom Dyke. Warwick's forces were divided into three "Battles" as it was customary to call them at the time. The Duke of Norfolk led one in an advanced position on the right and Warwick's brother John Neville commanded the rear one on the left.

Although strong, Warwick's lines faced only north. Margaret knew of Warwick's dispositions, probably through Sir Henry Lovelace, one of Warwick's family guards. Lovelace had been captured by the Lancastrians at Wakefield but had been spared execution and released, and he believed he had been offered the vacant county of Kent as a reward for betraying Warwick. At the end of February 16, Margaret's army swerved sharply westward and captured the town of Dunstable. About 200 local people under the village butcher tried to resist, but were easily dispersed. Warwick's "scouts" failed to reveal this tactical move.

From Dunstable, Margaret's forces moved southeast at night toward St Albans. The main Lancastrian forces attacked the town shortly after dawn. Storming the hill beyond the Abbey, they were met by Yorkist archers in the center of the town who fired at them from house windows. This first attack was repulsed, as they regrouped at the ford on the Ver River, the Lancaster commanders looked for another way into the town. This was subsequently found and a second attack was launched along the line of Folly Lane and Catherine Street. This second attack met with no opposition and the York archers in the city were bypassed. However they continued to fight house to house and eventually held out for at least several hours.

After capturing the town, the Lancastrians headed north toward John Neville positioned on Bernards Heath. In wet conditions, many of the Yorks' cannons and guns did not fire as their powder was wet. Warwick found it difficult to untangle his other units from their fortifications and turn them around to face the Lancastrians, so that the Yorkist troops went into action one by one instead of in a coordinated manner. The rearguard formation, in an attempt to reinforce the city's defenders, was engaged and dispersed. It was suggested that the Kent contingent in the York army under Lovelace deserted at this point, causing further confusion in the York ranks, although historians suggest that Lovelace's role as "scapegoat" was created by Warwick as a face-saving excuse to mask his "total mismanagement" of the formation. Certainly it is certain that Lovelace was not punished after the Battle of Towton.

By late afternoon, the Lancastrians were attacking northeast from St Albans to engage the Yorkist groups under Warwick and Norfolk. At dusk Warwick realized that his men were outnumbered and increasingly demoralized, and he withdrew with his remaining forces, about 4,000 men to Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire.

One annalist estimated the total number of dead at 2,000 men. An anonymous chronicler gave the exact figure of 1916.

When the Yorks retreated, they left behind the perplexed King Henry, who supposedly spent the battle, sitting under a tree, singing. Two knights (the elderly Lord Bonville and Sir Thomas Kyriell, a veteran leader of the Hundred Years' War) had sworn not to harm him and stayed with him throughout. The next morning Margaret asked her son, seven-year-old Edward of Westminster, how (not if), the two both Knights of the Garter were to die. At this point Edward, influenced by this suggestion had them beheaded. John Neville had been captured but was spared execution because the Duke of Somerset feared that his younger brother who was in the hands of York might be executed in retaliation.

Henry knighted young Prince Edward, who in turn knighted thirty Lancastrian leaders. One was Andrew Trollope, an experienced captain who had deserted York at the Battle of Ludford Bridge in 1459 and who many believed had planned the Lancastrian victories at Wakefield and St Albans. At St Albans he had injured his foot by stepping on one of Warwick's tribesmen, but still claimed to have killed 15 Yorkists. William Tailboys is also mentioned as a knight by Henry VI after the battle.

Although Margaret and her army could now march unopposed on London, they did not. The Lancastrian army's reputation for plunder prompted Londoners to bar their doors. This in turn made Margaret hesitate, as did the news of Edward of March's victory at Mortimer's Cross. The Lancastrians fell back to Dunstable, losing many Scots and frontiersmen who deserted and returned home with the spoils they had already collected. Edward of March and Warwick entered London on March 2, and Edward was quickly proclaimed King Edward IV of England. Within weeks he had confirmed his hold on the throne with a decisive victory at the Battle of Towton.

Perhaps the most significant person to be killed at the Battle of St Albans, in dynastic terms was John Grey of Groby, whose widow Elizabeth Woodville, married Edward IV in 1464.

To commemorate the 550th anniversary of the battle, the Battlefields Trust hosted a conference on the battle Feb. 26-27, 2011, near the battle site. The conference included authentic recreations of the battle by the Medieval Siege Society and a guided tour of the battlefield and culminated in a mass for the fallen in St Saviour's Church led by Father Peter Wadsworth.


  1. Second Battle of St Albans
  2. Seconda Battaglia di St Albans
  3. ^ "Battaglia" in Rome were an ancestor. During the English Civil War, "battalia", or battle lines, led to the formation in British Army as 'battalion'.
  4. ^ Michael Hicks, The Wars of the Roses: 1455-1485. 37, Osprey, 2003.
  5. ^ Anthony Goodman, The Wars of the Roses 127, Dorset Press, 1981.
  6. John Gillingham: A Rózsák Háborúja, 160. oldal ISBN 963-09-2593-1
  7. Royle, p. 272

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