Of all the battle sites I have visited, Towton is the most evocative. It is open farmland, with the topography little changed from the 15th century, so it’s easy to see where the two opposing armies fought.
The battle took place on March 29th, 1460. Earlier in the year, the Lancastrians had defeated the Yorkists at St. Albans, but failed to follow up their victory, and made a strategic retreat to the north of England.
The Yorkists followed, and the two armies met about 12 miles south of York, on Palm Sunday.
From early morning, the two armies adjusted their ranks. It is said that they could hear the bells from York Minster (about 12 miles away). They were drawn up facing each other, separated only by a shallow valley – and it started to snow. The wind was blowing the snow into the faces of the Lancastrians, so at about 9 am the Yorkist archers moved forward and the wind added range to their arrows. The Lancastrians arrows fell short, but the Yorkists retrieved the fallen arrows, and fired them back at the enemy!
Both armies then moved forward and the real fighting began, with massive slaughter. It’s said that 28,000 men died at Towton, the single largest loss of life ever to occur on English soil.
It was a decisive victory for the Yorkists. The Lancastrian royal family escaped to Scotland, and Edward, Duke of York, who had already been accepted as king, returned to London for his coronation as Edward IV.
And this is the pub, a short distance south of the battlefield, which is said to occupy the site of an earlier inn, where Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick stayed the night before the battle. The pub sign shows the Neville coat of arms, and the name ‘Crooked Billet’ derives from the Yorkshire words ‘Greukt Billets’, and may be a link to Warwick's badge i.e. a ragged or crooked staff. It's famous for its 'Yorky Porky' - roast pork and gravy in the largest portion of 'Yorkshire Pudding' I've ever had!