The Battle of St Albans 1455
York and his army began the march south from Yorkshire towards London, possibly hoping to intercept
the King as he left for the council in Leicester. York's main objectives were the removal of
Somerset and the court party which was acting against him, and his own restoration to the Council,
which would grant him influence over the King. En route to London, York linked up with his allies,
including Salisbury and Warwick, who had
assembled their own armies. By the time they reached Ermine Street, the old Roman road into London,
the force numbered around 7,000 armed men.
The site of the Castle Inn is now a building society, on the corner of St Peter's street and Victoria Street. A
blue plaque marks the spot where the Duke of Somerset was slain.|
Guided tours of the battle site are regularly held in St Albans.
The King received intelligence that York's army was approaching, and was persuaded that York's
intention was to forcefully seize the throne. The King responded by raising an army through his
supporters, most notably the Duke of Somerset, and left London for the march north to meet with
York's army. On the morning of May 22nd 1455 the two armies met at St Albans in Hertfordshire.
Estimates suggest that the combined Yorkist alliance of the armies of Warwick, Salisbury and York
numbered around 5-7,000; whilst the King's forces were in the region of 2-3,000.
York initially sought to 'parley' or converse with the King, and explain that he meant no harm to
the King, and only wished those in the Royal court who had wronged him to be brought to justice.
The King was also keen to have a peaceful resolution, as he was heavily outnumbered, however when he
heard York's demands he became angry and refused. York returned to his men and arrayed them for
battle. So, at some time between 10 and 12 on the morning of May 22nd, battle commenced with a
violent clash in the market place of St Albans.
Site of the first battle of St Albans today (click to enlarge)
A furious battle ensued, as the market place and surrounding streets quickly became crowded with the
soldiers of the opposing armies. It seems however that the swift onset of the battle took many of
the King's soldiers by surprise, who were not fully armoured. The Yorkists swept mercilessly
through the Lancastrian ranks, who clumsily withdrew. The king had remained in relative safety
to the rear of the fighting, and stood firm as his forces disintegrated. He received a minor wound
to the neck when struck by a Yorkist arrow, and was led away to safety.
The first battle of St Albans had lasted no more than half an hour, and despite the bloodshed, only
around 60-100 men were slain. Many nobles on the Lancastrian side were killed or wounded. Somerset
himself was among those killed, possibly by Warwick himself, outside an inn called The Castle.
Legend has it that Somerset took fright when he realised that he was next to this inn, as a
soothsayer had warned him years earlier to beware of castles.
York was now able to approach the King and once more put his case that he was acting in
self-defence. In the months that followed York was restored to his former influential role as
Protector of the Realm, now that his main rivals were out of the picture. The events at St Albans
were the culmination of many years of unease between the powerful factions at the head of society.
Far from there being any kind of lasting resolution, the seeds were planted for a far more serious
conflict at Blore Heath.
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