The Battle of Wakefield, December 30, 1460

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The battle of Wakefield, December 30, 1460. Richard, Duke of York, can be seen wearing Italian armor with a tabard over it, and was killed during the battle. Fought as part of the English Wars of the Roses, the brutal killing and subsequent executions marked the beginning of a less chivalrous form of warfare that lasted until the end of the wars. The knight to the left of center is wielding a longsword with both hands. – Graham Turner

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This drawing depicts Sandal Castle, from which Richard Plantagenet, duke of York, rode to his death at the Battle of Wakefield in December 1460.

Defeat and death of Richard duke of York after claiming the throne. He left London for Sandal Castle, south of Wakefield. His way was blocked by Lancastrians under Somerset. Part of the Lancastrian army was hidden from view and York miscalculated its size and made a charge. He was surrounded and defeated. York was killed, his head placed on Micklegate Bar in York. His son Edmund was killed. The Earl of Salisbury was captured and beheaded in Pontefract. The Yorkist claim to the throne seemed to be destroyed but Warwick and Edward of York proved otherwise.

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The chief consequence of the Lancastrian victory at the Battle of Wakefield on 30 December 1460 was the death in battle of Richard PLANTAGENET, duke of York, and the transferal thereby of the duke’s claim to the throne to his son Edward, earl of March, the future EDWARD IV. The battle revived Lancastrian fortunes, which had seemed so bleak after HENRY VI’s defeat and capture at the Battle of NORTHAMPTON the previous July, and also led to the deaths of York’s ally Richard NEVILLE, earl of Salisbury, and York’s second son Edmund PLANTAGENET, earl of Rutland.

In September 1460, two months after the Battle of Northampton, York returned to England from exile in IRELAND. In October, York laid his claim to the throne before PARLIAMENT. The assembled lords forced the duke to accept the Act of ACCORD, which allowed Henry to remain king but settled the succession on York and his heirs. In WALES, Queen MARGARET OF ANJOU refused to accept the disinheritance of her son EDWARD OF LANCASTER, Prince of Wales, and Lancastrian nobles throughout England took up arms against the Yorkist regime. In the north, Henry BEAUFORT, duke of Somerset, joined forces with John CLIFFORD, Lord Clifford, Henry PERCY, earl of Northumberland, and other lords to create a sizable Lancastrian army.

Forced to respond to this threat, York and Salisbury left LONDON on 9 December with a force of about 6,000. They hoped to rendezvous with John NEVILLE, Lord Neville, Salisbury’s kinsman, and bring the Lancastrians to battle. Although attacked en route by Somerset’s men, York safely reached Sandal Castle south of Wakefield in Yorkshire on 21 December 1460. York found the castle poorly prepared to receive his army, and the presence in the vicinity of Lancastrian forces prevented collection of sufficient provisions for the duke’s men. Assuming various positions around the castle, the Lancastrian lords, who had no siege ARTILLERY, sought to draw York outside by sending insulting messages and cutting off his foraging parties.

On 30 December, Yorkist foragers came under attack north of the castle within sight of the walls. For reasons that are now unclear, York chose to leave the safety of the castle and sallied forth with the bulk of his force. Surrounded by enemies and unable to flee, York was slain in the field. Rutland was killed by Clifford as the earl attempted to flee after the battle, and Salisbury was captured and executed the next day. All three had their heads stuck on Micklegate Bar in York, the duke’s topped with a mocking paper crown.

Further Reading: Haigh, Philip A., The Battle of Wakefield 1460 (Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Sutton Publishing, 1996); Johnson, P. A., Duke Richard of York (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988).

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