I knew the first of these was in fact the first battle in the War of the Roses and that shortly afterwards there was something, rather predictably, called the second battle of St Albans. I also knew that a lot of the fighting took place on Bernards Heath which is a large, grassy play area in Sandridge Road, close to where we live. Other than that, my knowledge was pretty poor and therefore, when I saw these big yellow signs going up around the town last week, I thought I should find out a bit more about it, hence my blog.
I have no intention of researching or explaining what happened in the shenanigans which followed over the next six years, suffice to say that on Shrove Tuesday in February 1461, the Yorkists, led by the Duke of Warwick, were expecting an attack from Queen Margaret and her Lancastrian army from the north (as they had camped in Dunstable) and had split his army by putting a front line division of soldiers in Sandridge, another division on Bernards Heath and some archers to defend the town centre.
Lacking specific intelligence regarding enemy movements, Warwick attempted to cover as much ground as possible and his line extended over four miles. Without sufficient men for a front this long, he intended for each part of his army to hold any attack back until the other wing could join the fighting. This is when the second battle of St Albans kicked off !
As they regrouped at the ford across the River Ver, the Lancastrian commanders tried to find another route into the town. Their second attack was launched along Folly Lane and Catherine Street. This attack met with no opposition and the Yorkist archers in the town were now outflanked. In bitter hand-to-hand fighting, the Yorkist soldiers fought valiantly house to house, and hurled back attack after attack, hoping that support would come from Warwick's division in Sandridge. However, Warwick had no intention of committing his division, as he was still convinced that the attack from the south was a diversion and that the main attack would shortly come from the north.
After taking the town around midday, the Lancastrians marched north up the Sandridge Road towards the Yorkists Bernards Heath position. In the damp conditions, many of the Yorkists' cannon and handguns failed to fire due to damp gun powder. The Yorkists were engaged and eventually fled, although fighting was said to have been fierce.
When Warwick realised that the main Lancastrian army was behind him rather than coming from the front, he gave orders to march south but he found insubordination, and even treachery, from his captains who pointed out that you should not reinforce failure. In their eyes this had already come about with the turning of their position. He was forced to retreat with what remained of his army and those fleeing from Bernards Heath.
It is estimated that the Yorkists lost 4,000 of the 8,000 troops they started with and the Lancastrians lost 2,000 out of their larger force of 12,000. It was a big battle for those days.