I found an ancestor today who had been killed during the Battle of Towton Field...never heard of this particular battle before, so I looked for more information and it was astounding...

It has been described as the bloodiest battle ever held on English soil with an estimated 28,000 men dying during the few hours it took place...the population of England at the time was just under three million so you get an idea of the scale of the slaughter...not only was it the bloodiest and most brutal battle, but it marked the end of chivalry as such. The people who fought in the Middle Ages had set codes about fighting which they adhered to stringently...foot soldiers were rarely killed for example...it was only the leaders of the different sides and their right hand men who bore the brunt of the fighting and they never went in for what we would now term 'overkill'...inflicting savage wounds simply for the sake of it nor did they ever wantonly despoil the dead...

But on that day 29th of March 1461, when the armies of Edward 1V met with Henry V1 on a snowswept moor in Yorkshire to decide who was to become the King of England there were no holds barred in the ensuing battle...I do find the whys and the wherefores of who should have been the King difficult to follow no matter what the era, so if you would like to know more about the background the internet has plenty of information...

The weapons themselves inflicted awful damage to a human body...broadswords and pole-axes as well as the famous long-bow. Most soldiers also carried small sharp knives on their person which they used for cutting their food as well as for a weapon. What makes Towton Battle stand out is the scale of the casulaties and the appalling wounds found on the skeletons which have been removed from the mass burial sites and examined. Some skulls showed post mortem wounds...deep cuts which removed jawbones or cleaved a skull virtually in half...totally un-neccessary when the person was already dead and something which has never been found at previous excavations of battle field burials in the Middle Ages...

Eventually...when the remmants of Henry's army were trying desperately to escape...the soldiers were attempting to cross the icy river Cock...some drowned in the freezing water and others were cut down as they waded across...it was said in a contemporary report that there were so many bodies in the water they acted as a bridge for the stragglers coming behind them who crossed the river...clambering over the corpses of their fellows.

The Battle of Towton field also served as a changing point in warfare in that it is thought to have been the first time guns were used...far more likely to have blown the person operating them sky high than have killed their target but it's thought the enormous explosion caused by the gunpowder when it was lit, frightened the horses into a panic which unseated their riders and so caused more deaths...

One of the original burial grounds for the dead soldiers was unearthed when some builders were digging the foundations for an extension on a house not far from the field of battle...since then more excavations have taken place, with more knowledge gained each time.

Towton Field was the first time there was a total lack of chivalry and respect shown to the enemy...the first time as far as is known...that deliberate dismemberment and wounds were inflicted post mortem and the first time the gun was used.

I don't normally much think about battles...so many of my ancestors have died fighting for their King or while they were Templars, that I just add the information to my tree and don't always give it another thought...but this battle was worth investigating further though sometimes ignorance really can be a blessing. Part of my reluctance to look for more information is simply because as I wrote earlier...I find it difficult to make sense of why they were fighting in the first place. There was so much intrigue and double standards and huge numbers of people involved...all the back-stabbing and false rumours and the Queens were quite definitely the very worst at stirring up trouble in Court...!

It's more interesting for me to find out that the long-bow archers had malformed front teeth because they used their teeth to replace the string on their bows and many had a thickening of the elbow joints caused from endless practising...but I don't much care who had the right to the throne.