The Battle of Wakefield took place on 30th December 1460. Taking place outside the Duke of York’s Sandal Castle, it was a resounding Lancastrian victory. The Battle saw the death of Richard Duke of York in the fighting. Edmund, Earl of Rutland and the Earl of Salisbury were captured after the battle and executed. The victorious Lancastrians displayed the heads of the dead Yorkist lords on spikes at York. Evidence about why York chose to take the field of battle outside his Castle is conflicting.
Context: What had happened before the Battle of Wakefield?
After the Battle of Northampton the Lancastrian faction regrouped. They had bases of power in the South West, the Midlands and in Yorkshire. To combat this, the Yorkists split their forces. The Duke of York, having Castles in Yorkshire, made for the north where he intended to link up with forces from the Neville estates to fend off Lancastrian raids. Neville remained in London to guard the King. The Earl of March went to Yorkist lands in Wales to raise new armies and to ensure control of the principality.
The Duke of York had roughly 6000 men based at Sandal Castle, just outside Wakefield. A larger Lancastrian army was stationed at Pontefract, just a few miles away. The Yorkists needed reinforcements to tackle the Lancastrian threat. The Lancastrians would struggle to take a Castle defended by so many men. An assault would most likely result in substantial losses.
Wars of the Roses: How Wakefield fits in with other parts of the campaigns.
It is known that messages were sent by York to his son, the Earl of March, asking for extra troops to be sent to Sandal. Richard was clearly intending to build up forces. However, he didn’t wait for them to arrive. Instead, he took to the field of battle outside the safety of his Castles defences. Nobody is entirely sure why. Sources suggest that he may have been tricked. There are some chronicles that suggest that Lancastrians pretended to be part of the reinforcements that Richard had called for, then simply switched sides once he had committed to battle. Another source suggests that he saw it as right and proper to fight a female commander, the queen, on traditional battlefield. Another source suggests that his men left the castle to try and protect a foraging party that had come under attack.
The Battle of Wakefield
The Battle itself was one of the first of the Wars of the Roses to see high casualty figures. York led a column of men to assault the Lancastrian army that was visible to him. As he attacked, other Lancastrian forces emerged and assaulted the Yorkist army from the flanks. Surrounded by a larger Lancastrian army, the Yorkists stood little chance of victory. Richard was killed on the battlefield. Yorkist troops died in large numbers, estimated to a fatality rate of just under 50%.
The battle of Wakefield left the Yorkists virtually powerless in the North. They still had the large forces commanded by Warwick and the Earl of March. These armies were separated and both threatened by Lancastrian forces that were increasing in numbers and confidence.
There is a wonderful cartoon strip of the Battle of Wakefield on the website of artist John Welding.
Battles in the Wars of the Roses
First Battle of St. Albans – Battle of Blore Heath – Battle of Ludford Bridge – Battle of Northampton – Battle of Wakefield – Battle of Mortimer’s Cross – Second Battle of St. Albans Battle of Ferrybridge – Battle of Towton – Battle of Hedgeley Moor – Battle of Hexham – Battle of Edgecote Moor – Battle of Losecote Field – Battle of Barnet – Battle of Tewkesbury – Battle of Bosworth – Battle of Stoke Field
Documents, Maps and Evidence
People and periods
British History – The Wars of the Roses – The Plantagenets – The Tudors – King Henry IV – King Henry V – King Henry VI – King Edward IV – King Edward V – King Richard III – King Henry VII – Margaret of Anjou