19 January 2011

The Battle of Towton

Excerpts from a very interesting article in The Economist:
[The soldier now known as] Towton 25 suffered eight wounds to his head that day... The first five blows were delivered by a bladed weapon to the left-hand side of his head, presumably by a right-handed opponent standing in front of him. None is likely to have been lethal.

The next one almost certainly was... The blow opened a huge horizontal gash into the back of his head... Fractures raced down to the base of his skull and around the sides of his head...

His enemies were not done yet. Another small blow to the right and back of the head may have been enough to turn him over onto his back. Finally another blade arced towards him. This one bisected his face, opening a crevice that ran from his left eye to his right jaw (see picture). It cut deep: the edge of the blade reached to the back of his throat...

In a letter sent nine days after the battle George Neville, the then chancellor of England, wrote that 28,000 men died that day, a figure in accord with a letter sent by Edward to his mother. England’s total population at the time is thought not to have exceeded 3m people. George Goodwin, who has written a book on Towton to coincide with the battle’s 550th anniversary in 2011, reckons as many as 75,000 men, perhaps 10% of the country’s fighting-age population, took the field that day...

...as a group the Towton men are a reminder that images of the medieval male as a homunculus with rotten teeth are well wide of the mark. The average medieval man stood 1.71 metres tall—just four centimetres shorter than a modern Englishman. “It is only in the Victorian era that people started to get very stunted,” says Mr Knüsel. Their health was generally good. Dietary isotopes from their knee-bones show that they ate pretty healthily. Sugar was not widely available at that time, so their teeth were strong, too...

Arrows were not the only things flying through the air that day. Some of the first bullets were, too. The Towton battlefield has yielded up the earliest lead-composite shot found in England...
Much more at the link.


  1. well, at least he's still smiling - that's the main thing . .

  2. So much for the romantic view some fools have of old-fashioned hand-to-hand combat (you know - "back when men were men" and all that idiocy). Warfare was just as ugly, brutish and evidently sadistic back then as it is now.

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  4. Worth taking a trip to Towton more, very erie place, makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. There's a small chapel at the bottom of the moor, by where the river crooks through the flood meadows and a nice pub across the road for eats. Chapel is nice to go in, a bit broken down though, it's built on the site where the House of Lancaster was slaughtered. And if you happen to go on Palm Sunday and find the stone marker atop the moor, you'll find the locals still put posies of wild flowers and poppies at the base of the marker to remember the dead. Which when you consider the battle was 550 years ago just goes to show what an impact it had on the location.


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