Battles and Sieges

Second Battle of St. Albans

The Second Battle of St. Albans was fought on 17th February 1461. The Battle saw Yorkist forces under the command of the Earl of Warwick attempting, unsuccessfully, to halt the advance south of the Lancastrian army raised by Queen Margaret and commanded by the Duke of Somerset, aided by Sir Andrew Trollope.

The Lancastrian army was full of confidence following the seemingly decisive victory at Wakefield on 30th December 1460. With additional forces in the form of Scots added to their ranks, the march on London was one which they would have believed to be almost unstoppable. Two armies potentially stood in the way of Queen Margaret’s force. In London, the Earl of Warwick, Duke of Norfolk, and Lord Montagu had command of the forces who had not travelled north with the Duke of York and Earl of Salisbury in December. It was added to by recruiting in Warwick’s estates and the south east. The second army was that being raised by Edward Earl of March. He had been dispatched to estates held by his father to raise an army, which by mid February had already won a victory in the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross and was making its way to merge with the Yorkist army in and around London.

The Earl of Warwick had established defences aimed at slowing the Lancastrian advance down Ermine Street. However, the Lancastrians deviated from this route on 10th February, resulting in a redeployment being required by the Yorkists. They opted to defend the route around/ through St. Albans. Here they could make use of longstanding defensive earthworks to deploy in three sections which would cover the main routes around, or through, the town. The defensive qualities were good, and it was possible for the three sections of defence to work in unison against the Lancastrians if lines of communication were kept open.

Map of the Second Battle of St. Albans
Ramsay, James Henry (1892) “Second Battle of St. Alban’s” in Lancaster and York: A Century of English History (A.D. 1399–1485), Volume II, Oxford, United Kingdom: Clarendon Press, pp. p. 245

The defensive benefits of the position were not utilised particularly effectively. The separate battles did not work together very effectively. Poor weather hampered the Yorkist use of cannon and handguns – the earliest recorded usage of such weapons in England – ineffective. Archers who had been deployed in the centre of the town were unable to hold back the Lancastrian advance without the concentrated support from the three forces that had been deployed around the defensive perimeter. In part, this was due to inadequate command on the day from the Yorkist leaders. It was also due to the leadership of Sir Andrew Trollope on behalf of the Lancastrians. He led an attack, said to be resultant from a squire named Henry Lovelace betraying the Yorkists positions, that split the Yorkist lines and made their working together impossible.

Trollope’s attack, whether it was aided by betrayal or not, led to a scenario where the Yorkist lords felt that a withdrawal and accepting defeat here at St. Albans was perhaps a better option than enduring a rout in which many more of their men, and leaders, may perish.

Source Material on the Second Battle of St. Albans

Abbot John Whethamstede (of St. Albans Abbey) wrote:

The Northern men coming to the town of the said protomaryr and hearing that the King with a great army and some of his lords was lying near immediately entered the said town, desiring to pass through the middle of it and direct their army against the Kings army. However, they were compelled to turn back by a few archers who met them near the great cross, and to flee with disgrace to the west end of the town, where by entering by a lane which leads from that end northwards as far as St Peter’s street, they had there a great fight with a certain small band of the people of the kings army. Then after not a few had been killed on both sides, going out to the heath called Barnet [Bernards] Heath, lying near the North end of the town, they had a great battle with certain large forces, perhaps four or five thousand of the vanguard of the kings army.

The Croyland Chronicle notes the Second Battle of St. Albans rather briefly:

Upon this ensued the incursion of the said northmen into the southern parts of England, until they reached Saint Alban’s, where they put to flight the earl of Warwick, who had brought king Henry thither, as though for the purpose of fighting against the queen, his wife, and his son. After obtaining the victory there, they did not pursue their advantages any further, but back the king and queen with them into the north.

Hearne’s Fragment notes the aftermath of the Second Battle of St. Albans:

{and after) the battle done at St. Albans the Ash Wednesday, and won by the Queen Margaret, and her ‘complices the said Edward, then being Earl of the Marche, hearing of this adventure, came down with a great number of Welshmen, and met with Richard, Earl of Warwick, upon Cotswold, and so they two joining their hosts came towards London, in the which season Queen Margaret being at Barnet with King Henry sent for victuals, and Lenten stuff to London, the which was prepared by the Mayor and Sheriffs to send unto her, and her host ; and when they with the victuals came to Cripplegate, the commons arose and stopped the carts, and would suffer none to depart out of the City, alledging divers reasons for the same. Whereof when the Queen was certified, and also thereupon assured of the coming of the two Earls of Marche and Warwick, she had no great confidence to those of London, Wherefore she withdrew herself, and turned {changed) her purpose, and with the King, her husband, and such men of war as she had, fled northward, as fast as she might, towards York, where at she thought herself more assured {secure).

Events in England were of significance further afield. Civil War and any associated unrest had a potential impact upon English international trade, and could have an impact upon diplomatic arrangements in place with other states. It is therefore not particularly surprising that diplomatic correspondence relating to the Second Battle of St. Albans was being written and dispatched as news arrived in London. The Calendar of State Papers: Milan, contains a number of entries that were penned in the days following the battle.

These letters illustrate the impact of the Lancastrian victory on the City of London in particular. There is clearly confusion amongst the citizens of London, naturally inclined towards the Yorkists but now faced with the possibility of the Queen’s supporters descending ‘in full fury with their troops‘.

Calendar of State Papers: Milan, 19th February 1461.

By a letter of the 19th.
In order that you may learn how we fare, I advise you that on the 17th, which was Carnival day, not far from Saint Albans, the king took the field with the party from here; those of the queen encountered them in order to have him. About an hour after midday a skirmish was begun with the king’s foreguard. They say that it lasted until six, and in the end the party from here was routed and the queen’s side recovered the king, and he is with the queen and prince. They say that many were slain. The strength of the men of Kent with nobles, said to be under the leadership of the Earl of Arundel and also of the Duke of Norfolk, was incorrect, so there is less harm done (il forte di qua di Chenti di Signori si disse da principio del conte da Rondello e ancho del duca di Norfolcho, non e stato vero, che tanto e mancho danno).
The Earl of Warwick and the councillors and Messer J. Nevill, now known as Lord Montagu, when they saw the victory incline to the other side, took to flight, it is not known whither; but it is thought that they are in this district in secret. Thus it is not known where my Lord de Busser, the Treasurer, has taken refuge. When the news was known here, the mayor (il maestro di qua) sent to the king and queen, it is supposed to offer obedience, provided they were assured that they would not be plundered or suffer violence.
In the meantime they keep a good guard at the gates, which they keep practically closed, and so through all the district they maintain a good guard, and those who are here, thank God, feel no harm or lack of governance. Yet the shops keep closed, and nothing is done either by the tradespeople or by the merchants, and men do not stand in the streets or go far away from home. We are all hoping that, as the queen and prince have not descended in fury with their troops, the gates may be opened to them upon a good composition, and they may be allowed to enter peacefully. God grant this may happen! otherwise … favour, and thus we are not without great fear, as … the least lack of control would ruin everything. God be our protector, and may He not consider our sins! (Infratanto fanno buona guardia alle porte, le quali tengono come fermate e cosi per tutta la terra, si sta a buona guardia, che sono a qui per la Dio grazia, non ci si sente alcuno male ne disgoverno. Le botteghe pero stanno fermate e nulla ci si fa ne per genti di mestieri ne per mercanti e non si sta in strada ne ci dilunghiamo da casa. Tutti stiamo a speranza che, poiche la reina e prinze e loro gente non si sono calati qui a furia, che con buona compositione sie loro aperte le porti e lassati drento venire pacificie: che cosi piacci a Dio o altramente … ti … grascia e cosi non siamo pero senza grande paura pero che non pot … venire si minimo disgovherno che non guastasse tutto. Dio sia nostro protectore e non guardi ai nostri peccati).
I will say nothing of the numbers of the slain, but will wait until I can state the truth. The Earl of March was not at this battle, and it is not known exactly where he may be; most people agree that he is in the Cotswolds (in Cotisgualdo).

Just days later the same source, Milanese diplomats, notes how negotiations had been carried out between the City of London and the Queen and her party. It may seem odd that a Queen, with the King in her party and a large number of serving Councillors, would need to negotiate the entry into their own capital city. However, this reflects the fact that cities and large towns had a degree of autonomy, had officials charged with representing the citizens of that place, and that in the case of London, along with several other key towns, had considerable influence over who would be accepted as a ruler. In the following letter from the Milan State Papers it is clear that measures had been taken to preserve the peace, that negotiations took place to ensure a peaceful transition from Yorkist dominance, but that news of Edward Earl of March approaching with a large army altered the views of many.

Calendar of State Papers: Milan, 22nd February 1461.

Also by a letter of the 22nd February, received on the morning of the 23rd.
I wrote of the victory obtained by the forces of the queen and prince at Saint Albans on the 17th of this month, and how they recovered the king and have him, and how this town sent to them at Saint Albans to offer the place, provided they were guaranteed against pillage. With them went my Lady of Buckingham, the widow, and my Lady the Regent that was. (fn. 9) They returned on the 20th, and reported that the king and queen had no mind to pillage the chief city and chamber of their realm, and so they promised; but at the same time they did not mean that they would not punish the evildoers. On the receipt of this reply by the magistrates a proclamation was issued that every one should keep fast to his house and should live at peace, in order that the king and his forces might enter and behave peacefully. But less than an hour later all the people ran to arms and reports circulated that York with 60,000 Irish and March with 40,000 Welsh had hastened to the neighbourhood and would guard their place for them; and they said that the mayor must give them the keys of the gates. They called for a brewer as their leader, and that day this place was in an uproar, so that I was never more afraid than then that everything would be at hazard. But, by the grace of God and the excellent arrangements of the mayor and aldermen and of the notables who were at the counsel, they decided last Saturday to send to the king and queen four aldermen with some others, including the same ladies, and they were to fetch four cavaliers in whom the king and queen had perfect confidence, and treat here with the magistrates in the presence of the people, and come to an arrangement that they might enter, that is the king, queen, prince and all the nobles with their leaders without the body of the army. They have started once more this morning to fetch these four, and so the people have quieted down, and one sees no arms except with the mayor and sheriffs, who keep guard with a great company throughout the place as well as at the gates, where they keep good guard, and no one takes arms except those who are ordered, and they behave prudently, as I believe, by the grace of God, by whom great affairs in particular are ruled, and who by His mercy, allows everything to proceed peacefully and in order, as we all pray.

Links and References

Croyland Chronicle: Battles of Wakefield, Mortimer’s Cross and St. Albans

Hearne’s Fragment: Full Text of Hearne’s Fragment is available on this page.

‘Milan: 1461’, in Calendar of State Papers and Manuscripts in the Archives and Collections of Milan 1385-1618, ed. Allen B Hinds (London, 1912), pp. 37-106. British History Online

Second Battle of St. Albans: Summary of the Battle from another of my websites.

History of Parliament Blog: An empty victory: Queen Margaret and the second battle of St. Albans 17 Feb. 1461

St. Albans History Society: Article about the Second Battle of St. Albans from Battlefield Magazine, the Journal of the Battlefields Trust.

Leave a Reply