10 London ‘battlefields’ – 5. Battle of Barnet…

November 25, 2015

Hadley-HighstoneAn important battle during the late medieval Wars of the Roses, the Battle of Barnet was fought on 14th April, 1471, between the Yorkists, led by the deposed King Edward IV and Lancastrian forces loyal to the King Henry VI.

While we have looked briefly at the battle before as part of our A Moment in London’s History series (see here), we thought we’d take a more in-depth look.

Edward had been driven from the throne in October, 1470, after his alliance with the powerful Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, the “Kingmaker”, fell apart. With King Henry VI restored to the throne, Edward was exiled over the Channel.

By early 1471, Edward was ready to make his push for the throne again and in March he landed in Yorkshire in England’s north along with his brother-in-law, the Duke of Burgundy.

Heading south, Edward gathered more troops as he went, briefly pausing at Coventry where the Earl of Warwick refused to offer battle before pressing on to London, arriving unopposed on 12th April. There he was reunited with his wife Elizabeth Woodville and young son Edward (later Edward V) and the hapless King Henry VI was once again  taken into Yorkist custody.

The Earl of Warwick, who had been raising troops in the Midlands, moved with a 15,000-strong force to confront him and took up a position about a mile north of the village of Barnet, just north of the City, on 13th April.

Edward – who brought 10,000 to 12,000 troops to the fight and had his brothers, the erstwhile traitor George, Duke of Clarence, and the young Richard, Duke of Gloucester, by his side – arrived that same evening and took up a position just to the south of the Lancastrians. Unaware of the close proximity of the Yorkists (it’s not known whether this was by accident of design but Edward had instructed his men not to light fires and to keep silent), the Lancastrian artillery flew over their heads.

The battle was joined in earnest the following day – Easter Sunday – at around dawn. The Lancastrians were initially successful in driving back Edward’s forces on the right flank under the command of John de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, but thick fog is said to have been responsible for sowing confusion in the Lancastrian ranks, leading to allies attacking each other and the Lancastrian army eventually fell apart amid cries of treachery.

Warwick was killed in the battle as he attempted to reach his horse. His body was allowed to be displayed at St Paul’s before being buried in the family vault.

The exact site of the battle remains something of an unknown although it is thought to be located in Monken Hadley just to the north of Barnet itself (that is the area marked on the official English Heritage Register of Historic Battlefields).

A stone monument to the battle, the Hadley Highstone, was erected in the 18th century and in the 1800s was moved to its current location at the junction of Kitts End Road with the Great North Road in Monken Hadley and was originally thought to have marked the spot on which Warwick died. The Battlefields Trust is currently developing a project to pin down the location further.

The battle was a resounding victory of King Edward IV for while some suggest the numbers killed were said to be about the same on both sides – somewhere between 1,000 and 4,000, Warwick was removed, depriving the Lancastrians of a key ally and giving the Yorkists a significant edge in the ongoing conflict which saw Edward IV back on the throne for the next 14 years.

PICTURE: Nigel Cox/Wikipedia

For more on the Wars of the Roses, see Alison’s Weir’s book Lancaster And York: The Wars of the Roses.

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