In September 1459 Richard of York fled to Ireland. He returned a year later and attempted to claim the throne from Henry VI. This was not a sensible manoeuvre and it certainly didn’t have popular acclaim. He did manage to wangle the agreement that he would be king after Henry VI, effectively disinheriting Prince Edward and seriously irritating Edward’s mother and Henry VI’s wife – Margaret of Anjou.
Things didn’t get better. In November 1460 the Lords Dacre, Clifford and Neville attacked the tenants of Richard of York and the Earl of Salisbury (the Kingmaker’s father). Meanwhile Margaret of Anjou was chivvying the north to her and her disinherited son’s aid. It is worth pointing out that despite his title and landholdings at Conisborough and Wakefield the majority of the Duke of York’s land and support was elsewhere than the north.
Richard of York underestimated the degree of antipathy towards him and the extent to which northerners were prepared to take up arms. He rode north to Wakefield on 9th December 1460 together with the Earl of Salisbury in order to sort out his landholding there and to knock the Lancastrians into order. He held the necessary legal documents but very few men. He was dogged, it appears, by bad roads, worse weather and several broken bridges as well as the Duke of Somerset’s men launching a surprise attack. He must have been in a pretty grim frame of mind by the time he arrived at Sandal Castle pictured at the start of this post on the 21 December 1460.
Once at Sandal he was joined by knights loyal to York including Sir Thomas Parr who’d been an MP for Westmorland on five occasions. Many of the ordinary soldiers would have had to have camped outside the castle (lucky them!). Soon York found himself hemmed in by Lancastrians and he also discovered that he hadn’t got enough supplies. It must have been a jolly Christmas season.
For whatever reason York’s men left the castle on the 30th December. One version of the story says he sent men out for supplies and they failed to recognise the size of the Lancastrian force that they encountered. Another version suggests that a certain Anthony Trollope and his men had changed from York to Lancaster and that he came up with a plan to disguise four hundred or so of the Duke of Somerset’s men as retainers of the Earl of Warwick and simply march into Sandal. Stage two of the plan was for Trollope to arrive the following morning lure York’s men out into the open and then Somerset’s men were to show their true colours which seems rather a lively not to mention hard to swallow story. Presumably the Earl of Salisbury might have asked some questions of the men who arrived claiming to be sent by his son?
In any event on the 30 December 1460 Richard set out to meet a force of Lancastrians on Wakefield Green. He thought that there was only a small force of men. He was rather badly wrong. The Yorkists charged the Lancastrians and were surprised by arrows and more Lancastrians who came from the woods that lay to both sides of the Yorkist force. It must have seemed to Richard that for every Lancastrian he killed another two sprouted in their place.
Bridge Street near the River Calder is still sometimes called Fall Ings describing the number of fleeing Yorkists killed there but Richard chose to stand and fight, legend says with his back to a willow tree. One of the reasons he may have made this decision was because his eldest son Edmund, the Earl of Rutland was amongst the Yorkists fleeing the battle field.
If this was the case it did Richard little good. Not only did he die on the spot marked by a Victorian memorial replacing the one destroyed during the English Civil War but his son was killed near the bridge by Lord Clifford in revenge for the death of his father at the first Battle of St Albans in 1455. The news rapidly circulated that Edmund had been unarmed and pleaded for his life at the time that Clifford killed him. The Wars of the Roses turned to another shade of nastiness as a consequence.
The chantry chapel on the bridge at Wakefield looks a little lost next to the ring road. It was enriched by Edward IV in memory of his father and brother whose heads together with the Earl of Salisbury had adorned York’s Micklegate Bar in the aftermath of the battle.
As for Sir Thomas Parr, one of several northern knights loyal to the house of York he died the following year. He was also the grandfather of Katherine Parr, Henry VIII’s sixth queen – or if you followed Henry’s logic second queen on account of the fact that only Jane Seymour had been his true wife!
Clark David, (2003) Battlefield Walks in Yorkshire. Wilmslow: Sigma Press