TOWTON, in the parish of Saxton, wapentake of Barkston-Ash, liberty of Pontefract; (Towton Hall, the seat of the Hon. Martin Bladen Hawke,) 2 miles S. of Tadcaster, 10 from Ferrybridge, 12 from Pontefract. Pop. 94.
This place must ever remain famous in our history for the greatest engagement of nobility and gentry, and the strongest army that was ever seen in England, under daring and furious leaders, and which Camden calls the English Pharsalia. This battle was fought on Palm Sunday, 1461, between the York party and the Lancastrians. The right wing of Edward's army, was commanded by the Earl of Warwick, the left by Lord Fauconberg, the main body by Edward himself; the Lancastrians by the Duke of Somerset, the Earl of Northumberland and the Lord Clifford, but the latter was shot in the throat before the action commenced, a fate too good for such a monster, who in cold blood, some time before, murdered an innocent child 12 years old, the Earl of Rutland, Edward's youngest brother, whose moving intercession for mercy might have softened the most obdurate heart.
The number of the Yorkists was 40,660 men, the other full 60,000. Before the action commenced, Edward issued a proclamation that no quarter should be given. The conflict lasted ten hours, and victory fluctuated from side to side, till at length it settled in the house of York. The Lancastrians gave way and fled to York, but seeking to gain the bridge at Tadcaster, so many fell into the small river Cock, which runs into the Wharf, as quite filled it up, and the Yorkists went over their backs to pursue their brethren. The number of the slain was estimated at 36,776, among them the Earls of Northumberland and Westmorland, and a great many others of the nobility; and the wounds they died of being made by battle axes, arrows and swords, caused an immense effusion of blood, which lay caked with the snow, which at that time covered the ground, and afterwards dissolving with it, ran down, in the most horrible manner, the furrows and ditches of the fields for two or three miles.
The Dukes of Somerset and Exeter fled the field, and carried the fatal news to Henry and His Queen and the Prince of Wales, at York, who soon fled into Scotland. After the battle, the Duke of Exeter and the Earl of Devonshire were beheaded; and the heads of the Duke of York, and the Earl of Salisbury, which had been set upon the Gates at York, were taken down, and theirs set up in their place. Most of the bodies of the slain were thrown into five large pits, one of which Drake says he saw opened in 1734. The quarrel between the two Roses, extinguished most of the ancient families in the kingdom: more than 100,000 men lost their lives, either by the sword or the executioner.
At Towton, King Richard III. begun a Chapel, as Leyland says, over the bodies of the Yorkists slain in this battle, who were buried here, but did not live to see it finished. --Rapin --Stow --Camden --Drake.
[Description(s) edited from various 19th century sources by Colin Hinson © 2013]