The battle timeline of the major battles of the Wars of the Roses is shown in the table below.
Each battle lasted from a few hours to most of one day. Most battles were fought in countryside rather than in towns or cities even though the battle may be named after the nearest settlement. Estimates of the size of opposing forces vary widely but would amount to several thousand, sometimes more than ten thousand.
The traditional formation consisted of three ‘battles’: the centre and two wings, each led by a very senior noble: at Barnet King Edward IV and his brother George led the centre, their youngest brother Richard, aged 19, led one wing and Lord Hastings the other wing. The reserve might be concealed in a wood or behind the centre, to be brought into action at a critical time.
A battle would often begin with longbow archers for about five minutes during which time more than a quarter of a million arrows could be released. Cannon were sometimes used when these could be brought to the field in time. The Tower of London was the main royal armoury and Edward IV made good use of this as he approached Barnet (1471).
After the initial ‘arrow storm’, fighting was hand to hand and on foot. This meant being up close and personal with someone who was intent on causing grievous bodily harm if not death.
Cavalry charges were rare in the Wars of the Roses: Richard III led the last one at Bosworth. During the Hundred Years War (ending in 1453) French cavalry charges had often been ineffective against English forces on foot so the English continued to fight on foot. Horses were used to reach a battlefield but then usually tethered behind the lines and away from the main action as a means of escape, should that be necessary, or to chase the defeated. At battles such as Barnet, English nobles made a point of dismounting to show that they intended to fight amongst their troops on foot.
Once it was clear which side had won and the losers began a disorderly retreat, this often turned into a rout during which the victors massacred the defeated. Some of these killing fields still retain names such as ‘bloody meadow’ (Towton and Tewkesbury).
In the Hundred Years War common practice was to try to capture nobles alive and then ransom them for huge amounts of money. Some English nobility and the King became very rich after Agincourt, Crecy and Poitiers. By contrast, in the Wars of the Roses, prisoners were generally not taken, other than the King, and death was the more likely outcome for the losing side. Senior nobles captured alive were likely to be summarily executed. The Wars of the Roses, by 1487, had caused the extermination of most of the high nobility of England.
Burial of the dead in mass graves was usual. A grave pit has been excavated at Towton which has revealed the horrific wounds inflicted in medieval pitched battles. A moral responsibility placed on the victor was to build a chantry and provide for Masses to be said for those killed in battle.
Re-enactments of medieval battles, using authentic armour, hand-held weapons, longbows and cannon can be seen first hand at Bosworth, Barnet, Tewkesbury and other festivals.
If you’d like to find out more about each conflict, see our interactive map here.
|1455||May 22nd||St. Albans||York|
|1459||September 23rd||Blore Heath||York|
|1459||October 12/13th||Ludford Bridge||Lancaster|
|1461||February 2nd||Mortimers Cross||York|
|1461||February 17th||St. Albans||Lancaster|
|1464||April 25th||Hedgeley Moor||York|
|1470||March 12th||Losecoat Field||York|
|1485||August 22nd||Bosworth||Henry VII|
|1487||June 16th||Stoke||Henry VII|
Here are some audio podcasts of the most important battles during the wars of the roses:
Bosworth Part I
Bosworth Part II
You can also find out more details on the Richard III Society website.