This is quite a sketchy post, more a commemoration than anything particularly useful, as I have yet to undertake the required deep research into this battle.

The battle of Wakefield, 30 December 1460, like the first battle of St Albans some five years earlier, both helped to change the nature of the conduct of the Wars of the Roses and escalated the violence, both in and post-battle. One of the overriding images, for a lot of people, is that of the row of heads on Micklegate Bar in York, the duke of York’s wearing a paper crown.

No-one knows why York engaged the larger Lancastrian force that day and it seems sometimes that individual interpretations of events are based on partisanship and – in one case at least – on perceptions of York coloured by perceptions of his son, Richard duke of Gloucester, later Richard III.

In his video presentation of Sandal Castle, John Fox suggests that York would never have made such a fundamental mistake as riding out to rescue stranded foragers because he was a seasoned soldier who didn’t make fundamental mistakes.  As Fox is a strong advocate for the rehabilitation of Richard III, and as it would seem he is of the school of thought that identifies the young Richard strongly with his father, his reluctance to allow York to be fallible may be based in this. Fox prefers the hypothesis that York was betrayed by one of his men.

Others, who are not particularly fond of the duke of York, subscribe to the idea that he was lured out of the castle by taunting Lancastrians.

In the only detailed exploration of this battle that I currently have (Dockray and Knowles articles in the Richard III Society offprint The Battle of Wakefield) each scenario is discussed but no firm conclusion is reached.

For me, the story of the stranded foraging party makes by far the most sense.

However it happened, York, his son Edmund, earl of Rutland, sir Thomas Nevill, the young lord Harrington, William Bonville, (husband of Thomas’s sister Katheryn) and his father, also William Bonville, amongst many others, fell in battle. The earl of Salisbury survived the day and was taken to Pontefract castle where he was, the following day, beheaded.

York’s widow, Cecily Nevill, never remarried, dying in 1495. The countess of Salisbury, Alice Montacute, died in 1462. Maud, lady Willoughby, widow of Thomas Nevill, married sir Gervase Clifton the following year, only to lose him to a violent death in 1471. He was executed after the battle of Tewkesbury. Lady Harrington, Katheryn Nevill, mother of Bonville’s only child, married William lord Hastings in 1462. He was beheaded by Richard duke of Gloucester in 1483.

  1. Caroline says:

    Thank you for another great post, Karen. York was a successful general in the French wars, but as history has shown repeatedly (Napoleon and Robert E Lee come to mind) even the most tactically gifted military commanders are capable of making egregious errors in judgment.
    It’s really funny how some Ricardians extend their near-canonization of their deeply misunderstood, tortured Dickon to certain members of his family and friends. After all, if RIII was staunchly principled, courageous, and pure of heart than his parents, lifelong comrades, and one true and only love must be staunchly principled, courageous, and pure of heart as well. Of course, his womanizing and ‘alcoholic’ older brothers don’t fare as well, but that only serves to highlight their unselfish hero’s sterling qualities.
    Oh and by the way, hope you have a Happy Birthday and New Years Day!

    • anevillfeast says:

      Thanks Caroline! I agree with you wholeheartedly! I really wish people would allow the Yorks to be as flawed and wrong and unkind and stubborn as the rest of us, as well as possessing what gifts, talents and stirling qualities they may have had! I get so tired of the divide between the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’. York made a serious error of judgement that cost a lot of people their lives, just as others commanders have in history, as you mention. I find the flipside of the “York couldn’t possibly have made a mistake, it must have been treachery!” coin is the urge many people seem to have to take Warwick’s victories from him and either (as in Northampton and Towton) hand them solely over to someone else, or suggest they were flukes!

      Having made the criticism that I did, I really enjoyed the reconstructions of both Sandal Castle and Middleham in the Fox’s dvds! They are most certainly going to be very useful for me.

      Thank for the birthday and New Year wishes! I hope your New Year is a great one as well! 😀

  2. Great post, and Happy New Year! I meant to comment earlier. I think you and Caroline are so right about Richard III’s halo effect being extended to his family members–except, of course, for Clarence and Edward IV, and sometimes the Duchess of Exeter, who committed the unforgivable sin of taking a second husband who would rebel against Richard after her death.

    • anevillfeast says:

      Thank Susan – and Happy New Year to you too!

      I wonder if this is at all conscious? Or have these characters (the AW Clarence, dissolute Ned, bitchy Anne et al) become so stock that people just assume that – somewhere in the dim distant past – someone did the research?

      • That would be interesting to know. I’ve noticed the same thing to some extent with characters from the Tudor era.

        Over on Facebook, I’ve noticed several people commenting how Edmund would have been a much better brother to Edward than George–when we know next to nothing about Edmund’s personality. Their comments seem to be based entirely on The Sunne in Splendour, which is a good novel but which I get rather tired of seeing cited as a historical source by people who have evidently read little nonfiction.

  3. anevillfeast says:

    Absolutely, Susan! One of the great what-ifs, I’ve always said… Speculation about Edmund is very interesting, but we have next to no idea about who he was or who he might have turned out to be! All we can say is that, had he not been killed, the family dynamics would probably have been different. “How” different, we have no idea!

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