Stephen takes us through the return match of the Wars of the Roses that was the second battle of St Albans.
The Second St Albans has always struck me as one of those battles that no one’s heart was really in.
It’s more of a surprise battle that happened by accident.
Coming quickly on the heels of the battle of Mortimer’s Cross it had the Yorkists, led by Warwick, looking north expecting an attack.
Meanwhile, the Lancastrians, led by Somerset, were actually approaching from the south. The Yorkists had deployed in depth – most of the army looking north around the area of Normansland Common, with Warwick encamped at the village of Sandridge, and the artillery park (with King Henry) a mile or so south, just north of St Albans.
Scouts had reported to Warwick that Lancastrians had been seen approaching from the south at St Albans. Warwick had none of it. The Lancastrian vanguard marched into St Albans, sweeping aside the York pickets. Warwick still wouldn’t accept it.
On they marched, north, out of St Albans on the road heading for Sandridge. The Yorkist artillery had been dug in, but facing north! Urgent reports went back to Warwick – the Lancastrians are advancing from the south.
This time Warwick listened and sent out his own scouts to see how true it was. Meanwhile, the artillery was over-run and King Henry was given the chance to join the Lancastrian cause – unsurprisingly, he agreed.
It was only now that Warwick started funnelling troops south to face the approaching enemy army. The outcome was inevitable – the Yorkist army was routed.
Like all the other battles in this series it was gamed using Basic Impetus on a 3×2 foot board. The important aspect of this battle is that both sides had to continually feed troops in to the battlefield. The Lancastrians start with most present. The Yorkists have just their artillery, some handgunners, and Henry VI’s camp.
To represent troops entering the battlefield I decided that from Turn 3 onwards whichever side won the initiative could roll a second die – on a 4, 5, or 6 no more troops entered. On a 1, 2, or 3 that many units of their own troops could enter the table from their edge within 1 base-width of the road.
Here’s the initial deployment. North is to the right, south/St Albans is to the left.
Initiative went to the Lancastrians for the first couple of turns, which allowed them to move up with speed and also meant that on Turn 3 they brought more troops on. This was as it should be, since the rest of the army was just 500m to the south coming through St Albans town, whereas the York army was a good couple of kilometres further north.
The artillery stayed still, waiting for the Lancastrian archers to come into range. The handgunners moved forward so they could start scoring hits sooner than later. However, neither side was rolling that well and what exchanges there were proved desultory. Nevertheless, the inevitable happened – the handgunners fell under the weight of the archers.
More Lancastrian troops arrived and I was starting to wonder if the Yorkists would ever arrive and maybe they’d just march right across the battlefield unopposed.
The artillery opened up but it was more noise than effect. The archers concentrated their fire and that was that.
At this stage there were no Yorkist forces in the table!
Without much resistance the Lancastrians rolled into King Henry’s camp and they captured the King.
At this point it had all gone pretty much according to history.
Then the Yorkists stole initiative and they could bring on some troops – just the one unit this time, so I opted for the fully armoured men at arms. There they stood, that one unit looking toward St Albans, all alone, facing the entire Lancastrian army.
The men at arms moved forward, optimistically expecting more troops to arrive and wanting to make room for them.
This wasn’t misplaced optimism, and close on their heels came a couple of units of Yorkist longbowmen.
The Lancastrian army started to get a lick on and advanced quickly to hedge in the newly arrived York troops and make it difficult for them to manoeuvre into position.
The Yorkists knew there was nothing to be gained by staying still and so they pushed the men at arms forward – they had to get stuck in as quickly as possible to halt the Lancastrian advance and to strike a blow. The archers protected the flanks of the advancing men at arms and an arrow exchange between the two sides ensued.
Fortunately, more Yorkist troops now started to arrive – Warwick had clearly come to his senses!
Up until now the Lancastrian army had been unscathed, but now they started taking casualties and wouldn’t be having it all their own way. Nevertheless they were also dishing it out. Those Yorkist men at arms became an arrow magnet and arrows fell heavily on them, but eventually they made their way forward and charged the Lancastrian bow line.
For what good it did them, though. Drained by the shower of arrows they were soon finished off by the archers but gave a good account of themselves in return.
Meanwhile, the Yorkist troops had moved forward to get the Lancastrian army in close range – there was nothing to lose and they had to hope that God (the dice) would be on their side and they could blast the Lancastrians.
This tactic wasn’t lost on the Lancastrians though. Recognising that each side had a 50/50 chance of success in a bow exchange they decided to swing the odds in their favour and advanced their men at arms and billmen through their lines and charge into the York archers.
And it was a tactic that paid off.
The weight of the fresh Lancastrian melee troops fell upon the Yorkist archers and the combat was brief but decisive – the day would go to Lancaster!
Previous entries in Stephen’s War of the Roses battles: