The First Battle of St Albans is considered to be the first conflict in the Wars of the Roses. It was fought on 22 May 1455 between Richard, Duke of York and Henry’s royal army led by Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset.
York was supported in his campaign by Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury and Richard, Earl of Warwick.
Henry was supported by Humphrey Stafford, Duke of Buckingham and Henry Percy, Duke of Northumberland.
In 1453 King Henry VI was suffering from mental illness and somebody had to rule. Although Henry’s wife Margaret of Anjou, believed she should be in charge with the support of her favourite Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, it was Margaret’s bitter enemy Richard, Duke of York that was named Lord Protector of England.
One of York’s first decisions was to imprison the Duke of Somerset.
In 1454, Henry recovered from his illness and York was removed as Protector. Henry, being a weak man, meant that the queen finally had the power back in her hands. Edmund Beaufort was released and restored to his former position of power.
York, believing that Somerset would bring charges against him, gathered an army and marched south; Henry’s army led by Somerset marched to meet them.
The two factions met at the First Battle of St Albans.
The Lancastrian army, 2,000 strong were the first to arrive. Although the Duke of Somerset was in attendance, the army was now led by Humphrey Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, a last-minute decision by Henry.
The Yorkist army of 7,000 arrived and camped to the east of the town.
The two armies spent many hours in negotiation as neither were eager to fight. The Duke of York demanded that the king arrest and try the Duke of Somerset for treason.
These negotiations failed and York attacked, taking Henry by surprise, but Henry’s army had barricaded the two main routes into the town well and York was unable to break through these barricades and his army sustained heavy losses.
The Earl of Warwick led a reserve through an unguarded part of the town, entering through lanes, gardens and houses. His forces suddenly appeared in the market square and took the Lancastrians by surprise. The main bulk of Henry’s army were being held in the square as reserve, and many were relaxing, and being unarmed were not prepared for battle. The Yorkist army routed the Lancastrian forces.
The Duke of Somerset knowing that York would not let him live, took refuge, but the building was surrounded by Yorkist forces and when trying to fight his way out, Somerset was struck down and killed.
The Earl of Warwick ordered his longbowmen to fire at Henry’s bodyguard, killing many nobles including the Earl of Northumberland and the king himself was injured.
The Lancastrian army now beaten, started to flee the town; Richard, Duke of York had defeated the king, and both he and Warwick escorted the king back to London.
Following this, Richard, Duke of York gained control of the country and was appointed Lord Protector of England by parliament a few months later.