TOWTON, a village of Yorkshire, England, 2^ m. S. of Tadcaster, the scene of a battle fought on Palm Sunday, the 2gth of March 1461, between the armies of York and Lancaster. The party of Lancaster had lately won the battle of St Albans, but, unable to gain admission into London, and threatened by the approach of Edward the young duke of York from the west of England, was compelled to fall back northward. York, having been proclaimed as Edward IV. on the 2nd, 3rd and 4th of March 1460/1461, followed them up into Yorkshire, and on the 27th his leading troops surprised the passage of the Aire at Ferrybridge. The Lancastrians were encamped at Towton, some miles away, covering Tadcaster and York; but a force under Lord Clifford was promptly sent out, recaptured Ferrybridge by surprise, and cut to pieces the Yorkist garrison. About the same time, however, Edward's van, under Lord Fauconberg, an experienced soldier, crossed the Aire higher up, and Clifford was compelled to retire. He was closely pressed, and at Dintingdale, within a few furlongs of his own camps, was cut off and killed with nearly all his men. Edward's main body was now close at hand, and the Lancastrians drew up on their chosen battlefield early on the agth. This field was an elevated plateau, with steep slopes, between the present Great North Road and the river Cock, cut in two by a depression called Towton Dale. On opposite sides of this depression stood the two armies, that of York facing north, their opponents southward. Both lines of battle were very dense. On a front of little more than a thousand yards the Lancastrian party had nearly 60,000 men. Edward's force (less than 50,000) was not all present, the rear " battle " under Norfolk being still distant. Snow and sleet blew in the faces of the Lancastrians and covered the field of battle. The skilful Fauconberg used this advantage to the utmost. Aided by the wind, his archers discharged flights of arrows against the enemy, who replied blindly and feebly, hampered by snow and wind. The Yorkists withdrew until the enemy had exhausted their quivers, and then advanced afresh. Their arrows soon stung the Lancastrians into a wild and disorderly charge. Suffering severe losses the latter closed with Edward's line of battle. No quarter was given by either party, and on the narrow front the numerical superiority of the Lancastrians counted for little. The long, doubtful and sanguinary struggle was only decided by the arrival of Norfolk's corps, which charged the enemy in flank. Driven backwards and inwards, the Lancastrians were in a desperate position, for their only way of escape to Tadcaster crossed the swollen waters of the Cock by a single narrow and difficult ford, and when, after a stubborn struggle, they finally broke and fled, they were slaughtered in thousands as they tried to cross. At the close of the day the defeated army had. ceased to exist. Twentyfive thousand Lancastrian and eight thousand Yorkist dead were buried in and about Towton. The neighbourhood of the battlefield contains many relics and memorials of this, the greatest battle hitherto fought on English soil. Particularly well preserved is the tomb of Lord Dacre, a prominent Lancastrian, in Saxton churchyard.
See R. Brooke, Visits to English Battlefields (London, 1857); C. R. B. Barrett, Battles and Battlefields of England (London, 1896) ; H. B. George, Battles of English History (London, 1895).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)