Fatal Colours: Towton 1461 - England's Most Brutal Battle


The tumultuous reign of Henry VI and its climax in the carnage of Towton—the bloodiest battle fought on English soil.

The battle of Towton in 1461 was unique in its ferocity and brutality, as the armies of two kings of England engaged with murderous weaponry and in appalling conditions to conclude the first War of the Roses.

Variously described as the largest, longest, and bloodiest battle on English soil, Towton was fought with little chance ...

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Fatal Colours: Towton 1461--England's Most Brutal Battle

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The tumultuous reign of Henry VI and its climax in the carnage of Towton—the bloodiest battle fought on English soil.

The battle of Towton in 1461 was unique in its ferocity and brutality, as the armies of two kings of England engaged with murderous weaponry and in appalling conditions to conclude the first War of the Roses.

Variously described as the largest, longest, and bloodiest battle on English soil, Towton was fought with little chance of escape and none of surrender. Yet, as if too ghastly to contemplate, the battle itself and the turbulent reign of Henry VI were neglected for centuries.

Combining medieval sources and modern scholarship, George Goodwin colorfully re-creates the atmosphere of fifteenth-century England. From the death of the great Henry V and his baby son’s inheritance first of England and then of France, Goodwin chronicles the vicious infighting at home in response to the vicissitudes of the Hundred Years War abroad. He vividly describes the pivotal year of 1450 and a decade of breakdown for both king and kingdom, as increasingly embittered factions struggle for a supremacy that could be secured only after the carnage of Towton.

Fatal Colours includes a cast of strong and compelling characters: a warrior queen, a ruthless king-making earl, even a papal legate who excommunicates an entire army. And at its center is the first full explanation for the crippling incapacity of the enduringly childlike Henry VI—founder of Eton and King’s College, Cambridge.

With a substantive and sparkling introduction by David Starkey, Fatal Colours brings to life a vibrant and violent age.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
The Wars of the Roses pitted England's royal Houses of York and Lancaster against one another in a contest for the throne. Goodwin's (fellow, Royal Society of Arts) account is not simply a description of the Battle of Towton but a narrative of the earlier phases of the civil war as well, beginning with the First Battle of St. Albans in 1455. He does an admirable job of explaining family trees that often intersect, tenuous claims to the throne, and the various factors that led people to support particular claimants. When battle arrives, Goodwin provides vivid details of weapons, armor, tactics, and combat. Too often, these battles became massacres; Towton is considered the bloodiest ever on English soil. Few prisoners were taken, and bodies of enemy lords were often mutilated. With ten percent of England's military-aged population present, Towton was a seminal event in English history and resulted in the ascent of Edward IV to the throne upon the defeat of Henry VI's Lancastrians. VERDICT With a lively narrative supported by notes, this should appeal to all readers interested in British military history, especially during the premodern era.—Matthew J. Wayman, Pennsylvania State Univ. Lib, Schuylkill
Kirkus Reviews
The history of a bloody battle and its context in mid-15th-century England. The war between York and Lancaster heralded the end of the era of chivalry. In earlier battles, noblemen were taken for ransom; however, in the War of the Roses, no prisoners were taken. Henry VI was not only ineffective but also incompetent; he "did not exhibit the personality of a king." Crowned as a child, he was indifferent to his task of ruling. When he fell into catatonic schizophrenia for the first time, Richard, Duke of York, was named to "protect" the king's person and duties. Subsequent bouts of madness finally drove the Yorks into a war of usurpation, and Henry's queen raised an army to save the throne, proposing herself as regent. Civil war is always devastating, and this was no exception. It was especially horrific as no quarter was given to any combatant. Nobles were slain in revenge and as insurance against further uprisings. Goodwin, a member of the Towton Battlefield Society, provides detailed background, hoping to clarify the jumble of English nobility. It is always a challenge to sort out the players, and thankfully the author provides family trees and two Dramatis Personae, which list the salient members of each side. Goodwin's descriptions of the battles leading up to Towton, as well as his attention to detail, are impressive, and he lays out each side and the movements that affected the outcome simply and comprehensively. Well-told stories of historical events that should lead readers to further study of the period.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393080841
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 3/29/2012
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 811,982
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

George Goodwin is a history graduate of Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he was awarded a Foundation Exhibition. He is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing and the Royal Society of Arts and is a member of the Battlefields Trust. He lives near Kew Gardens. His first book, Fatal Colours: Towton 1461, was published to wide critical acclaim in 2011.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix

Introduction David Starkey xi

Dramatis Personae:

England, 1422-1450 xxv

England, Spring 1460 xxvii

Prologue 1

1 A Step Too Far 5

2 A Great Man's Legacy-Minority 11

3 An Absence of Kingship-Majority 26

4 An Absent-Minded King 44

5 A Question of Honour 58

6 A Queen Transformed 77

7 'A Warwick' 94

8 The Sun in Splendour 109

9 A Country at War-North vs South 130

10 Towton-Palm Sunday 1461 151

In Memoriam 180

Dramatis Personae: After Towton 185

The Wound Man 189

Family Trees 190

Notes 195

Select Bibliography 215

Selected Places to Visit and Related Organisations 223

Acknowledgements 229

Index 233

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