Commemorating 560 years since the Second Battle of St Albans

Second Battle of St Albans re-enactment on Bernard's Heath

A re-enactment of the Second Battle of St Albans on Bernard's Heath in 2014 - Credit: Archant

On this day in 1461, the Second Battle of St Albans was fought in our city. 

The clash, which took place during the Wars of the Roses (1455-1487), brought about consequences that impact heavily on the course of national history.

The First Battle of St Albans, where the House of York found victory, was fought six years earlier in 1455, and is recognised as the start of the War of the Roses, which ravaged England for more than 30 years.

Historian Julian Humphrys, trustee of the Battlefields Trust, spoke with the Herts Ad about the significance of the second battle, which took place 560 years ago today.

"I would argue that it's quite an overlooked battle - it's not as well-known as something like Bosworth, but it actually had quite a number of interesting consequences.

"I would say it was the nearest that the Lancastrians got to winning the Wars of the Roses, until Henry Tudor won Bosworth. The reason for this is because it left the road to London open. Their victory meant that they had a clear route to London, but the trouble was that the Londoners were terrified of the Lancastrians."

Julian then explained that the Londoners' fears of the Lancastrians - believing them to be savages - forced them to retreat back up to Yorkshire, where they were eventually defeated.

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The second aspect of the battle with retrospective importance, Julian added, falls with the the capture of Henry VI.

"Up to that period, the Yorkists were not necessarily trying to replace Henry VI, they wanted to rule through him. He was a very tragic figure, and they had him as a sort of puppet.

"At the Battle of St Albans, the Lancastrians recaptured Henry VI, so the Yorkists no longer had a puppet. They declared Richard of March Edward IV. Therefore, for a short period, we had two kings."

Six weeks after The Second Battle of St Albans, The Battle of Towton was fought, just outside York. It was from around this point that Edward of March became Edward IV of England.

"The final thing that I think was particularly interesting about St Albans, is that one of the Lancastrian knights that was killed at St Albans was Sir John Grey," Julian said. 

Sir John Grey's widow, Elizabeth Woodville, then married Edward IV in 1464. She is commonly referred to as 'The White Queen'.

Their only sons, Edward V and Richard of Shrewsbury, were the Princes in the Tower; assumed murdered by Richard III. Their daughter, Elizabeth of York, became the wife of Henry VII, starting the Tudor dynasty.

"That all happened, really, because Sir John Grey was killed at the Battle of St Albans.

"Nobody knew at the time that it would be such a significant thing, but, because this beautiful widow was free to marry again, you've got the Princes in the Tower, and Elizabeth of York marrying Henry VII. All that you can trace back to this fight in St Albans.

"It was one of those unexpected consequences."

The Battlefields Trust has worked hard to enable local communities such as St Albans to find out more about their battles, and have previously held church services, laid wreaths and led walks to mark battles on the soil.

One of the Battlefields Trust's projects in St Albans was the information board at The Boot Inn, which was of significance at the time of the first battle. In 2013, the Market Place inn was the first pub to be adopted by the Battlefields Trust as a “Battlefields Pub” – a public house that is on or near the site of a British battlefield.

The Battlefields Trust has presented the Boot Inn with an information panel commemorating the location of the pub during...

In 2013, The Battlefields Trust presented the Boot Inn with an information panel commemorating the location of the pub during the First Battle of St Albans. - Credit: Photo supplied

Cllr Anthony Rowlands, portfolio holder for leisure, heritage and public realm for St Albans council, said: “We are fortunate to live in a city with such a rich and fascinating history.

“It is well known that we were once a highly important Roman town, but we should also promote the fact the city was the scene of two pivotal battles in the Wars of the Roses between different contenders for the crown. Both battles have been the subject of outstanding research by local historians.

“Those conflicts of the Middle Ages helped shape the development of our country and the 560th anniversary of the second battle comes at a time when we are engaged in another struggle – the fight against COVID-19.”

To find out more information about the Battlefields Trust, visit their website.