The Forgotten Battle
Think back to your high school education. Think about the wars you learned about and how they shaped the modern world. Now imagine what would happen if people forgot that war. How would the modern world be effected? Would we be at risk of repeating the events that started that war? What if we forgot the people who fought? Would our forgetfulness make their sacrifices meaningless? These questions challenge the impact of history on the modern world. History is essential to modern day life because of how we interpret and adapt according to it. Most of the time teachers would agree that history is one of the most important subjects for students to learn and understand. This is especially true for wars because understanding how they started can help us prevent them from happening again. But there is an exception in English history that for some reason does not receive the same attention as other historical events. That exception is the Battle of Towton. It is the bloodiest battle in English history and the focal point for a few major archaeological discoveries. An article from the Dailymail supports this claim with its information about weapon fragments from early firearms that archeologists found in Towton, proving that the Battle of Towton is Britain’s first gunfight. In Lauren McIntyre’s Excavating All Saints for the magazine Current Archaeology she recounts the mass graves that were discovered in and around the stone foundation of a church in Towton. By examining the bodies that were found McIntyre concluded that there were a mix of people with trauma from combat and people with light trauma who most likely died from disease. The final death toll for the battle was recorded at around 28,000 men, who were all essentially from the same place. Considering the fact that the Battle of Towton is the bloodiest battle in English history and it took place during a civil war, it would be safe to assume that it is well-known. Unfortunately, this is not the case because somehow the Battle of Towton has been forgotten. The reason behind the battle’s low level of recognition could be the English curriculum, the unfamiliar memorial for the battle, or simply the battle’s age. I can attest to this phenomenon because during a European history class that I took, we reviewed the War of the Roses and I don’t recall anything about Towton. Regardless of the reason for the Battle of Towton becoming the forgotten battle, it is important to remember it vividly because understanding how a previous civil war started can help us prevent a future one.
In American history classes the American Civil War is reviewed extensively for the most part. The American Civil War was essentially a fight between the North (Union) and the South (Confederacy) over Slavery. The North was anti-slavery and the South was pro-slavery. The reason it is important to remember the American Civil War is because some of its issues are still present today. Racism and government interference, for example, can still be considered problems of modern day America. To contrast this with the Battle of Towton, the battle was also a Civil War but mostly a fight between two monarchs and their respective followers. This kind of politics is not really present in modern England, but it does have parliament and a constitutional monarch so there are dynamics to its politics. Additionally, a recent pro and con argument is whether or not brexit is a smart decision. So even though the situation is not exactly the same, the general sense of two sides having different opinions is consistent. Remembering the American Civil War can keep Americans from jumping to armed conflict over situations where the country is divided such as the election of President Donald J. Trump. Therefore, it is only logical to conclude that remembering the Battle of Towton, England’s bloodiest battle, would help prevent the country from turning to violence. The relationship between division and violence that caused the Battle of Towton should be studied to prevent it from ever happening again.
The Battle of Towton ultimately decided who would sit on the English throne. The encyclopedia Britannica sums up the battle of Towton well. Essentially, Edward IV and the Yorkist army defeated Henry VI and the Lancastrian army resulting in Edward’s ascension to the throne. Later, Henry was able to retake the throne, but Edward won it again in the end. Later down the line Edward the IV died and Henry VII ended up taking the throne by gaining support and marrying the daughter of Edward IV, Elizabeth of York, who just so happened to be Edward’s next heir to the throne. Henry’s marriage to Elizabeth is detailed in the Tudor Enthusiast blog, run by Stephanie Tracy, who states that the marriage “united the two conflicting families.” There were constant changes between the Tudor family and the Yorkist family. I would theorize that back when Henry VI and Edward IV fought for the throne, during one or two changes of political power, the embarrassment that the Lancastrian army endured was lost in translation. Because he was a monarch, Henry VI most likely needed to preserve his reputation, especially with Edward IV’s constant interest in the throne. Kennedy Hickman from ThoughCo.com provides an analysis of the events of the battle in his article. The defeat at Towton would make Henry VI look like a terrible leader because the Lancastrians outnumbered the Yorkist army. Edward’s strategy used the wind and flanking to outsmart the Lancastrian army, which Hickman mentions in his article. From history expert C N Trueman’s article on historylearningsite.co.uk, Henry VI basically had complete control of government because parliament was too weak during his reign. This means that he could have the official documentation for the battle of Towton destroyed or edited in any way that he wanted. This explains the lack of primary sources about the Battle of Towton.
Earlier I mentioned that I took an AP European history course. I don’t remember anything about Towton because we had to rush through a substantial amount of material in order to be prepared for the AP exam. This kind of teaching is a surefire way to cover a general history, but it also ensures that some important events are generalized. Since the Battle of Towton was one part of the War of the roses, we were simply taught that the outcome of the war was that Edward IV took the throne. In reality, it was the Battle of Towton that resulted in Edward winning the throne, but in order to save time the entire war was generalized. Streamlining the entire war meant undermining the importance of the Battle of Towton itself. In an article for The Guardian, Richard Adams (education section editor) talks about the changes to the British curriculum. The changes focus on technology and language but don’t mention history. Reform in the curriculum is important but one of the most important parts of early education is history. As Penelope J Corfield, a professor in history at Royal Holloway, stated in her article for history.ac.uk, it “encourages students to take a long view of such connections”. The connections that she is referring to are the ones between similar events like the past and present political division of a nation. Although European history is not American history, remembering the fact that the nation’s bloodiest battle occurred during a civil war helps us realize the dangers of armed conflict, especially within the confines of one’s homeland. I will use an example from the American Civil War. The Battle of Gettysburg has multiple memorials, whereas the Battle of Towton has informational panels, and a small reenactment. The problem is that not many people are knowledgeable of Towton. It is no longer known as Towton, now it has become a generalized part of Yorkshire and it is also very seclude. Its seclusion means that there is not a lot of traffic to the battle’s memorial. This is problematic because without the British curriculum, it is difficult to teach the population about the Battle of Towton.
The Battle of Towton is an important part of English history by itself, but its situation plays a larger role in showing how forgetful we can become. The dangers of forgetting the past are great. History teaches us valuable lessons that can be utilized in the modern world, and it lets us correct the wrongs of the past; therefore, the Battle of Towton should be remembered not only for its significance, but as a vivid reminder of the result of conflict.