Towton is a small village that lies to the North East of Leeds. On Palm Sunday, 29 March 1461, Towton Moor was the setting of the bloodiest battle ever to be fought on English soil.
It was a decisive battle that would dictate who sat on the throne of England. The Lancastrian King, Henry VI, was the present monarch, but he suffered frequent bouts of insanity and he’d lost support due to heavy losses in France. Many believed that Henry’s Lords, who favoured lining their pockets over the people’s best interests, were leading the country.
The Yorkist regime had parliament on their side and an act had been signed that recognised Richard Duke of York as the successor to the throne. Richard was killed at the battle of Wakefield, so his eldest son, Edward (to become Edward IV following the battle of Towton) led the Yorkist campaign.
The numerous battles between the two sides would later be coined ‘The War of the Roses’ – this is the point where historians observe the death of honor and chivalry in domestic warfare. At Towton, there was an understanding between both sides that ‘no quarter (mercy) would be given’, the result of which was an absolute bloodbath – unrivalled by any battle, past or present, to be fought on this isle.
When the Yorkist army arrived at Towton, they were met by a larger, more experienced Lancastrian army who had also claimed the high ground of the battlefield. As the Yorkist men took their lines, a fierce storm whipped in. Unusual for late March, a blizzard tore through Towton. What was an advantageous position for the Lancastrians soon proved fatal as the blizzard raged towards them. The Lancastrian archers, blinded by snow, fired wave after wave of arrows at the Yorkist line, but due to the strong wind pushing against them, all arrows fell short of their target.
With the wind at their heels, the Yorkist archers took advantage and their arrows tore through the Lancastrian lines. They even moved into the field to gather the Lancastrian arrows that had fallen short and fired them back at their owners. The Lancastrians, suffering heavy losses, knew that they needed to change tactic, so sent their men-at-arms to engage in hand-to-hand combat. This lasted for hours, with neither side gaining a significant advantage. Then, Yorkist reinforces arrived on horseback and flanked the Lancastrians. As a result, their lines broke and they were forced sideways and downhill to the marshland around the Cock Beck stream.
Weighed down with freezing cold water, the Lancastrians were sitting ducks. Such was the carnage, the stream ran red with blood as thousands were butchered. A bridge of bodies formed over the stream, which helped the remaining Lancastrians to retreat. As they fled, many shed their armour, opting for speed rather than protection. ‘Bloody Meadow’, the name of the field where they were cut down, is a testament to their fate.
It is estimated that on that Palm Sunday, 30,000 men were killed in the fields of Towton. With such a loss, there’s little wonder that shadows linger from the appalling bloodshed that befell this quiet corner of North Yorkshire. Visit Towton Moor at any time of the year and you will feel its oppressive atmosphere. You will see the low mist that unnaturally clings to the woods around Bloody Meadow. It truly is a moving and haunting place.
The most reliable account of supernatural activity in the area happened in December 1997 where a car with three occupants was travelling along the B1217 near Towton Moor at approximately 5pm. They saw the vehicle in front slow down and drive around a group of five people, one of them on horseback.
Not wanting to startle the horse, the driver slowed and started to move the car into the middle of the road to safely pass. As they drew nearer, they notice that the group were dressed in period attire. Thinking them part of a battle re-enactment, the car passengers didn’t think it too strange – until they drew level with the group. At this point, all five roadside travellers, including the horse, melted into thin air.
Where the Yorkist army camped on the eve of the battle now sits the Crooked Billet pub, and just over the road from it, Lead church. There are numerous reports of a spirit, nicknamed Nancy that moves items in the pub’s kitchen and arranges beer mats into patterns in the bar. There have also been a number of accounts of soft light flickering from within Lead church between 3 and 4am.
The picture below shows Bloody Meadow, leading down to Cock Beck.