The Second Battle of St Albans – 17 February 1461

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.

The order of battle

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.

Deployment

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.

Handgunners light their fuses

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.

The artillery lets rip!

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.

King Henry about to be captured

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.

York Men at Arms come to see what all the fuss is

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!

Warwick’s Troops Finally Get On Table (on the right)

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.

York Men At Arms Finally Get Stuck In

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.

Lancastrian Infantry Charge Through The 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:

 

The Battle of Mortimer’s Cross – 3rd Feb 1461

Stephen has fought another battle in the War of the Roses campaign…

So this is the next one in my Wars of the Roses battles.

Like all the others, the intent is that anyone should be able to game it. This was played on a 3’x2’ table using Basic Impetus.

This battle was the famous one where the atmospheric phenomenon known as a parhelion was witnessed and was interpreted by Edward of York as the Holy Trinity and was, therefore, an omen for victory. In recognition of this he took the Sun In Splendour as his personal emblem.

But a victory for who?

Order of Battle

From a gaming point of view there is one important thing to take into account – the Yorkists deployed some of their archers and cavalry hidden in the woods on the Lancastrian left. I decided that the Lancastrians could not move against these hidden troops unless they either moved or shot their arrows to revel their presence.

The battlefield itself is a rather simple affair. The river Lugg on the east border, and a ridge and woodland on the west. Other than that, it’s all open – these two terrain features dictated the deployment of troops.

Deployment

How did it go then?

Historically, the Yorkist ambush opened the battle. This had the desired effect on the Lancastrian line. Although the Lancastrians had a slight numerical superiority the Yorkist ambush did the trick and Edward of York sealed the victory.

This is how my re-fight went.

The key was obviously going to be when to spring the ambush. Since both sides were up for a fight there was no postponement of initiative rolls like in previous games – initiative was rolled for from the start. This can frequently mean that one side gets a double go – last to move in one turn and then first to move in the next turn. Would this affect the ambush?

Yes, it would.

Edward leads his knights

The Yorkist plan was to let the Lancastrian knights advance past the hidden cavalry and then be peppered by the archers and Edward of York leading his knights in a charge on the weakened cavalry. Meanwhile, the hidden cavalry would rush out and slam into the Lancastrian infantry line. At least, that was the plan.

The ambush is finally sprung

Sure enough, forward went the Lancastrian knights. This put them in range of a bow attack from the archers and a follow up charge by the cavalry. This was tempting and would probably rout them. But if things went the Yorkist way (i.e. they won initiative next turn) they could then have their cake and eat it and their plan would go the way they wanted. Had Edward of York’s omen of the parhelion been true – was it a blessing from the Holy Trinity?

Well, if it was, it wasn’t just yet. The Lancastrians took the initiative which meant the Lancastrian knights not only galloped past the archers but they also managed to take the charge into the Yorkist knights (who were being led by Edward).

The knights clash

Meanwhile the rest of the Lancastrian line trudged forward. The Yorkists, kicking their heels at missing out, nevertheless managed to spring part of their ambush and the cavalry charged into the Lancastrian billmen.

Over on the Lancastrian right flank, where they had their currours and hobilars, they decided to spur their cavalry and take the charge to the Yorkist longbows. Otherwise they’d just find themselves turning into pin cushions.

The currours advance

Although the Lancastrian knights had cleared the ambush they were still far from safe. Their charge had taken them past the York battle line, and into the Yorkist knights. They needed to pull this off or they would be in a dire situation. And pull it off they did – they pushed Edward and his knights back and followed up with a pursuit.

The two infantry lines had started sending arrows over at each other, but these long shots had little effect. However, as they closed, casualties started mounting, particularly amongst the Lancastrians. Despite the less than auspicious ambush, it could be the day would still go the Yorkist way.

The centre battleline

The Lancastrian levies took firm hold of their spears and went for the Yorkist archers who had despatched the currours. They dropped their bows and took up hatchets and swords and, supported by billmen, gave melee. The result was indecisive – all units suffered hits and stayed locked in combat.

Over in the ambush area things were starting to get dirty. The Lancastrian billmen had stood firm against the cavalry and routed them! But that wasn’t all. The struggle between the Yorkist and Lancastrian knights also came to a conclusion – the Lancastrian knights had won the fight and not only routed the Yorkist knights but had also killed Edward as well!

So much for the Holy Trinity!

Edward is gone

This still wasn’t the end for York, far from it. On the eastern flank, by the banks of the Lugg, the Yorkist infantry had routed the Lancastrian levies. In the middle it was still a mix – the two lines had yet to come to blows, preferring to exchange bowfire. This had affected both sides with no absolute winner.

In go the levies

In the west, by the woods, the ambush had come to nothing. The cavalry had been beaten, the Lancastrian knights had slipped through and killed Edward of York, and it just left the archers, feeling all alone and surrounded.

It wouldn’t go on for much longer. The Yorkist archers inevitably fell. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Enough was enough, and the army of York had reached its break point. Victory would go to Lancaster!

Not looking good for the archers

It had been a slight victory. Had the Lancastrians lost one more unit it would have been a York victory.

The undoing had been the poorly executed ambush. It had been a gamble on whether to wait for ideal conditions, and a gamble that didn’t pay off. It didn’t help that dice rolls had been poor all game, poor for both sides, meaning that fights drew on. Any winners in combat had generally taken such a pummelling that though they may have won they had also been left spent.

Next up is a return to St Albans…

The Battle of Northampton – 10th July 1460

Stephen continues his refight of the War of the Roses…

This one was never going to go well for the Lancastrians.

This is the third battle in my plan to re-fight all major encounters of the War of the Roses. Like previous games I am using the Basic Impetus rules. There were a couple of important aspects to this battle that had to be reflected if it were to be a faithful re-fight.

Firstly, due to the rain (typical British summer) the Lancastrian artillery could not fire due to wet powder. They were in the line but totally ineffective. That was easily dealt with.

The Lancastrian Battle Line

The second, and most important thing, was Lord Grey’s betrayal of King Henry. As Warwick and the Yorkist army marched north they entered into secret talks with Grey and promised they would not harm him in return for his help. What happened in the actual battle was that the Earl of March (on the Yorkist left flank) advanced against Grey (on the Lancastrian right). As March’s retinue crossed the ditch and bank Grey’s men gave way and allowed them to roll up the Lancastrian line and capture King Henry.

This would have to be reflected. I was in two minds about how to deal with this. It didn’t help that this would be a solo game so I could hardly spring a surprise on myself. In the end, I decided that if March’s troops neither fired nor attacked Grey’s troops then Grey would give way when contacted (effectively counting as loses against the Lancastrian army). This, of course, would have a major impact on the Lancastrian army, but then that’s exactly what it had in reality!

Order of Battle

OK, so let’s get on with the battle.

The Lancastrian army had ensconced themselves in a bend in the river Nene on the opposite bank from Northampton. They had put a ditch and defences in front of their position. King Henry VI was with them but the army was led by the Duke of Buckingham.

The Yorkist forces were led by the Earl of Warwick with Lord Fauconberg on the right and the Earl of March on the left. With Warwick’s skullduggery and plotting with Grey, the advance of the Yorkist forces was led by March.

Armies Deployed

Like the previous two battles, this was little more than an attack on a prepared position. Therefore, I gave the Yorkists the initiative until things got within bow range.

The last thing the Lancastrians wanted was poor dice rolling. Being in a stationary position meant their fire should be more effective. But no. The God of Battles (the dice) were against them. Warwick’s troops in the centre got within bow range of the artillery and they soon sent the gunners packing.

Warwick Urges His Men Forward

March’s men started moving up. Now, it may seem like it would be a done deal – why would I engage the Lancastrian line with March’s men? However, I did decide that if the Lancastrians gave a good account and their bowfire proved effective, and the Yorkist looked like they would take a beating, that this would prove enough motivation for Grey to reconsider and then engage March’s troops. However, the poor rolls by the Lancastrians made that look unlikely.

Fauconberg also started exchanging bowfire with the Earl of Shrewsbury.

A couple more turns, and it still wasn’t looking good for Buckingham and his men. In truth, neither side was rolling that well for their archers, but the Yorkists had the edge. March’s men carried on with their advance, still holding back from loosing their arrows.

The First Casualties

Buckingham moved up his plate armoured men at arms and his billmen, hoping the Yorkists would have the decency to engage in melee rather then sit back and keep shooting.

March’s Troops Contact Grey’s

Finally, March’s men started clambering over the Lancastrian defences. No casualties had been caused to Grey’s men and so Grey dutifully pulled back and allowed March into the Lancastrian defences!

Across The Line They Go

It was now only a matter of time. It wasn’t a case of if the Lancastrians would lose but how much damage they could cause the Yorkists before they did.

March Engages Buckingham

Buckingham swung his billmen around to try and put something in the way of March’s assault. However, the levy spearmen in March’s retinue got stuck in and charged the Lancastrian archers. After a brief melee the archers fell to the spearmen.

And that was that!

The Battle Is Over

A Yorkist win. It had been a convincing win at that – Warwick’s troops hadn’t taken a single casualty. Exactly how it happened historically. The real battle lasted less than an hour and my re-fight took only a bit longer.

Next up then, is the battle of Wakefield. Unfortunately I will have to bypass that one – Wakefield was a large cavalry engagement and I don’t have anywhere near enough cavalry bases. Shame, because the castle would make a great backdrop to the battle. This one would make a good club game when we can get back together.

Therefore, I’ll move on to Mortimer’s Cross…

Wars of the Roses: First Battle of St Albans – May 1455

Stephen embarks on a modest endeavour to refight the War of the Roses…

I decided that I would re-fight all the major battles of the Wars of the Roses (well, those listed on www.britishbattles.com) in order.

So first up is the First Battle of St Albans.

For rules I am using Basic Impetus, because these will be solo games and Basic Impetus provides a nice and simple game that lasts just about as long as you want it to. For anyone who might also be interested in having a go then here’s the order of battle I cobbled together for the game:

I went with a historical deployment, and after that the battle was mine.

So, the Yorkists had Salisbury on the left flank, Warwick in the middle, and York on the right. The Lancastrians had Somerset on the left, King Henry in the middle, and Clifford on the right. Although it’s clear the battle ended in the town, it’s unclear where it started. I went with the Lancastrians positioned on the edge of town and the Yorkists crossing the fields. The Lancastrians had barricades protecting the lanes, and I decided these would negate the Impetus bonus for any charge across them (in either direction).

There was no reason for the Lancastrians to move out from a defensive position (in fact, a lot of the battles during the war were assaults against prepared positions), so I let the Yorkists take initiative for the first couple of turns until they got within bow range. At that point it became important who had initiative each turn so then started dicing for it.

York led his nobles down Shropshire Lane toward the Lancastrian defences whilst Salisbury led his men down Sopwell Lane.

This left Warwick, who had the largest contingent, across the fields. The early rounds looked bad for the Yorkists. In fact, I was wondering how on earth they could win – the Lancastrian bow fire took out two Yorkist units before units met in combat.

The battlefield formed a natural funnel – the fenced lanes gave little room for manoeuvre, which meant any jockeying for position was down to Warwick. In fact, it would turn out this is where most of the action would take place.

Just a few turns in, and I thought I had been careless with York’s deployment. His archers went down, leaving the plate-armed nobles to push forward as quick as they could, all the while taking fire from the ensconced archers under Somerset. If they went down, then York would go with them and that would be that!

The same could be said for Salisbury, who got locked in an archery duel against Clifford. Warwick, in the middle, was also looking weak since he had lost units going in.

Yes, things were looking good for King Henry!

The Yorkists were not gaining anything by exchanging bowfire. This was partly because I forgot I had classified some of the Lancastrian archers as levy and was rolling for them as retinue quality. Oops.

Warwick needed support, because it was becoming clear that this was where the main battle would be – to punch through and nab the king. So levy spearmen were funnelled into the middle to support Warwick against any losses.

Down in Sopwell Lane things had stalled. Eventually, Salisbury decided to bring it to a head – he urged his billmen forward who swapped lines with the archers and forward they went. Clifford realised his archers would fair poorly against the bills, and he did likewise – pushing his billmen forward.

Meanwhile, along Shropshire Lane, the Duke of York’s dismounted nobles surged forward and smashed into Somerset’s line. If it went badly, then that would be the end of the battle. But York prevailed!

Although the Lancastrian archers had given good account of themselves, once Warwick’s billmen got stuck in things soon started to change. The archers soon fell under their blows, and so the King ordered forward his nobles.

But as the Lancastrian archers had rolled well in the initial turns, it was now the turn of Warwick’s troops to be blessed with good dice rolls.

The battle had really been fought in the middle, and when the Lancastrian nobles were cut down, then King Henry went with them!

It would be a Yorkist victory!

So that was my re-fight of First St Albans finished. I really didn’t see how the Yorkists could win. But once they got stuck in, then things started to turn around. In hindsight, the levy spearmen should have been deployed with Warwick in the first place, instead they lost several moves and had to manoeuvre into position where they could support Warwick’s assault.

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