Arch. Myriam B. Mahiques Curriculum Vitae

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Landscape After The Battle: the story of the war of the roses

This cross commemorates the Battle of Towton in 1461 during the 'War of the Roses.' Said to be the bloodiest battle ever fought on English soil. The main site of the battle is in the adjacent gridsquare to the south. From

There is a recorded case of flowers planted after a battle by fellow countrymen in memory of the slain and which are growing still after four hundred years. The battle of Towton in the West Riding of Yorkshire was fought between the Yorkists and Lancastrians on 29 March 1461.
A paper written in July 1846, by Reverend G F Townsend, explained that it was reported that the soldiers were buried in one large mound on the field of battle, and that the Yorkists either in affection or in triumph planted some rose trees on the tombs of their countrymen. The rose is white, and now and then the appearance of a pink spot on the flower traces the blood of Lancaster. (Adapted from Blood. P. 102 of Green Magic. By Lesley Gordon).
The custom of planting roses on graves was observed in Surrey, specially in cases where the deceased was a young man or woman whose lover had preceded him or her to the tomb.
I came across with this old article below, that describes the battle and the legend of these roses. As a plus, the author, in a poetic tone, describes the changes on the landscape, not only for the snow, the rivers are said to be dyed with blood.
Notes and Queries. A medium of intercommunication. For literary men, general readers, etc. Fourth Series. Volume Sixth. July-december 1870. London
Some words could be mistaken, as the print was scanned and I copied it. The author is not mentioned here.

Picture from
Towton - The Rout by Graham Turner

A few days ago I set off on foot in order to pay a visit to this place, where the greatest battle in the terrible conflict between the rival houses of York and Lancaster was fought, on Palm Sunday,
March 29, 1461: —
" Palm Sumlay chimes were chiming,
All gladsome thro' the air,
And village men and maidens
Knelt in the church at prayer,
When the Red Rose and the "White Rose
In furious battle rcel'd,
And yeomen fought like barons,'
And barons died ere yield."
Various names have been assigned to the battle, as " Saxton," " Palm Sunday Field," " Sherburn," " Saxtonfeld," and "Tawtoiifeld"; but it is most generally known as the Battle of Towton. Be it observed, that Towton is a hamlet in the parish
of Saxton, and no great distance from the markettown of Tadcaster, which does not seem to have altered very much since those times.
The afternoon was lovely, and the more appreciatedafter the protracted winter and cold spring •which have marked this year: the apple-trees richly laden with blossom; the wild flowers beginning to show themselves; the cuckoo and the thrush singing; the sun shining, without which nothing can be beautiful; and the insect world on the wing: that kind of a day, in the linppy spring-time of the year, when one calls to
mind everything that has been read of the praises of the country in both ancient and modern poets.
Theocritus, Virgil, and happy Horace all loved the country, and found much to interest in the commonest objects of nature; and let me notomit to mention, amongst our own poets, Thomson and Bloomfield, Tennyson and Wordsworth, who have all sung its praises.
The battle-field is easily found, lying about half a mile from the little village of Towton;
and the battle was fought in a large meadow,through which the little river Cock winds. Grass grows in rich luxuriance there; and at this day groups of wild dwarf rose-bushes are seen, traditionally said to have been planted on the mounds
under which the slain were buried: —
" There still wild roses growing—
Frail tokens of the tray ;
And the hedgerow green bears witness
Of Towton Field that day."
The people in the neighbourhood firmly believe that these rose-bushes will alone grow in the "Bloody Meadow," and that attempts to plant them elsewhere have always been unsuccessful.
The Lancastrians drew up their forces southward of the village of Towton, and numbered sixty thousand; whilst the forces of the Yorkists, drawn up opposite, were about forty-eight thousand; and the battle commenced at nine o'clock
in the morning, the cloth-yard arrows flying like hail. A storm of snow and sleet falling, and driven by the wind in the faces of the Lancastrians, hindered their shooting with accuracy. The combat lasted, according to some authors, ten hours; but, according to others, towards three o'clock in the afternoon the Lancastrians began
to give way. They were pursued by their foes,who gave no quarter, and driven through the little river Cock; and such numbers were slain there as to afford a bridge for the survivors to pass over. For several days afterwards the Cock
and the Wharfe, into which it flows, are said to have run with blood. The number of the slain is given at 36,776; but this most likely includes those who fell on both'sides, and not only in the battle but in the pursuit, and in the skirmish at Ferrybridge on the previous day.
The Cock is an insignificant stream, over which one can stride; but those who know how becks, as they are called, can rise in Yorkshire, in winter and spring, may very easily imagine its swelling to a great size from the melting snow. The meadow through which it flows must have been a fine place for the esquire to fly his hawks, as
mentioned by Macaulay. A very singular fact is that, comparatively speaking, very few remains of bodies or implements of -warfare have been discovered, either in the bed of the river or on the battle-field; though there cannot be any doubt concerning a large quantity of both being hidden there; nor, as far as I have been able to ascertain, has any very diligent search ever at any time been made. Perhaps the day may arrive, as Virgil says —
" Scilicet et tempus vcniet, quum fmibus illis
Agricola, incurvo terram molitus arntro,
Exesa inveniet scabra rubiginc pila,
Aut gravibus rnstris galeaj pulsabit inancs,
Grandiaque cffossis mirabitur ossa scpulchris."
Georg. i. 493 et tcq.
No obelisk or memorial stone has been erected to mark the place of the battle, as is the case at Mortimer's Cross and Blore Heath—the scenes of two conflicts in the Wars of the Roses, but neither of them equalling, in importance or in sanguinary
nature, Towton. It may be worth notice, that in 1766, the gallant Admiral Hawke was raised to the peerage by the title of Barou Hawko of Towton.

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