«English Heritage Battlefield Report: Barnet 1471 Barnet (14 April 1471) Parish: Barnet, Hertsmere District: Barnet, Hertsmere County: Greater London, ...»
When the fight began, the two opposing armies lay practically north and south, the Yorkists attacking uphill. The Yorkist right, outflanking the Lancastrian left, drove it back on the centre... The Lancastrian right chased the Yorkist left off the ground. When the two centres were closely engaged, [the Lancastrian centre] being worsted slightly, bent round so as to face more towards the north, while Edward faced more to the south, the position of the Yorkist right and the Lancastrian left having also similarly changed. Thus when Oxford returned from Barnet, whither he had gone in pursuit of the fugitive wing of the Yorkists, he would naturally come up in the rear... of the then Lancastrian centre14.
In support of his contention regarding the alignment of the two armies and how this subsequently changed Ramsay quotes from an account of the battle written by Edward's sister, Margaret of York, to her mother-in-law, the Duchess of Burgundy. In her letter she stated how 'mon dit seigneur et frere se porta si honnestement que, là où il avoit le visage vers le vilage où Warwicque estoit parti, qui est à dix mil de Londres, nommet Vernet [Barnet], il se © English Heritage 1995 English Heritage Battlefield Report: Barnet 1471 trouva le dos en la fin contre icelui village'15. But whilst the reference, it is true, supports Ramsay's belief that the battle lines swivelled during the course of the fighting (although probably not as much as 180 degrees), it does nothing for his argument that the two sides were originally ranged from north to south rather than east to west.
Instead, Margaret of York's version of the battle has her brother facing south at the outset and Warwick facing north, which is inconceivable.
Ramsay's belief that the Lancastrian line faced east rather than south exasperated Lt-Colonel A H Burne when he wrote the chapter on the Battle of Barnet in his The Battlefields of England (London 1950)16. Burne, it should be remembered, lived in Barnet for 30 years and walked his dog across the battlefield every day. He characterized the identification as 'preposterous'. Nor was he impressed with the notion that Oxford's men would have returned to the battlefield in the Lancastrian rear. Rather than attempt to refute Ramsay's interpretation he preferred to proceed by means of what he termed 'inherent military probability' which, in his view, is that Warwick would have occupied the cross-ridge that runs astride the old St Albans to Barnet road at Monken Hadley. In an effort to define the Lancastrian position more exactly he searched the battlefield for any sign of the hedge mentioned by the Arrivall and discovered one along the crest of the ridge on Barnet golf course. Accompanied, as it is even today, by evidence of a bank and ditch, Burne considers the hedge to be of sufficient antiquity to have served as the 'hedge-syde' behind which the Earl of Oxford's division would have sheltered before the battle.
If Burne had wished to refute Ramsay's arguments he could have done so simply by drawing attention to what the Arrivall stated about the two sides' lines of battle17. It referred not to the northern and southern extremities of the Yorkist and Lancastrian lines - as would have been the case if the Ramsay thesis held good - but to 'the west ende' and 'the est end'. This bears out the contention of Burne and, before him, Cass. The two armies faced each other across the old St Albans to Barnet road, not along it.
However, all is not quite so clear cut. It has to be admitted that the more recently published testimony of Gerhard von Wesel does tend to support the Ramsay thesis. It will be recalled that von Wesel wrote how 'King Edward's followers, not knowing exactly in the darkness where their opponents were, rode on to that same place in the night and pitched their camp on the other side of the aforementioned [St Albans] high road in a hollow, on marshy ground, right opposite Warwick'. This description would answer exactly Ramsay's placing of the Lancastrians behind a hedge west of the St Albans road with the Yorkists down in the marshy valley of Monken Mead Brook to the east. However, only the most recent historian of the Battle of Barnet has been able to acknowledge, in passing, that von Wesel poses a problem. Peter Hammond, in his The Battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury (Gloucester 1990), attempted to reconstruct the course of the Duke of Gloucester's advance on the Yorkist right against the division of the Duke of Exeter.
On Edward's wing Gloucester was so far to the right [i.e. the east] that he was almost off the high ground [of the plain], and on advancing into the mist found not only that he was unopposed but that he was going downhill. He must have realized from the noise what had happened and swung his men to the left, up the slope, and made a flank attack on Exeter. The hollow out of which Gloucester made his attack may have been marshy, which would account for von Wesel's remark that Edward's line was on marshy ground: it cannot have been so in general because of the nature of the area18.
Thus Hammond hazards an explanation for von Wesel's comment even though, in doing so, he does not relate it to the Ramsay thesis. Hammond prefers not to acknowledge that doubt might exist about the alignment of the armies fighting the battle - whether they were arrayed from north to south or east to west. Hence his assumption that von Wesel's reference could not pertain to Edward's line as a whole because it was drawn up on the same plain as Warwick's army facing north.
Hammond's reluctance to reopen the debate is understandable. His book was not intended to investigate
interpretations but rather to set out what appeared to him 'the simplest and most likely course of events'. Since ultimately this report has to do likewise an account of the probable course of the Battle of Barnet is given below. It will be noticed that the verdict, after due weighing of the conflicting evidence, favours the interpretation of Burne over that of Ramsay. This is primarily because the belief of Ramsay that Warwick, in order to defeat the Yorkists as they issued out of the narrow street of Barnet, would deploy his men in column along the Old St Albans road, appears too inept tactically to warrant consideration.
The Course of the Battle
After Edward's withdrawal from Coventry the Earl of Warwick had followed the Yorkist army southwards to London, probably in the hope that he would find an advantageous moment to attack while the King's troops were establishing themselves in the capital. But the speed with which Edward had consolidated his hold on the city confounded Warwick's plans. As night fell on 13 April 1471 the Earl's outposts around High Barnet were driven in by Edward's vanguard and the King made camp in line of battle across the road leading into the north of the town.
The Yorkist army was 10,000-12,000 strong while Warwick, who had deployed his army on the plateau running southwards from Hadley Green to Barnet, commanded in the region of 15,000 men. The two armies spent the night within earshot of each other, so close that when Warwick ordered a night bombardment of Edward's position his guns overshot their target.
On 14 April Edward's army advanced to the attack between 4am and 5am, while the ground was still obscured by a heavy mist. Edward's deployment on the previous evening had left his troops slightly out of alignment with the enemy, and the Yorkist right flank in the east overlapped Warwick's left flank, and vice versa in the west. Each army was deployed in three 'battles' or units. The Yorkist 'battles' comprised that of Richard Duke of Gloucester on the right, Edward with the Duke of Clarence in the centre, and Lord Hastings on the left. The Lancastrian 'battles' were under the command of the Earl of Oxford on the right, the Marquess of Montagu in the centre and the Duke of Exeter on the left.
When battle was joined, the morning mist and the speed with which Edward advanced gave little opportunity for the misalignment to be corrected, and though the King's right effectively took Warwick's left in flank, Edward's own left under Hastings was driven back through the town by Oxford's attack. This was Oxford's undoing, for while a proportion of his men disappeared in pursuit of the beaten Yorkists, the rest fell to looting Barnet. When Oxford had gathered together the remnants of his force he retraced his steps northwards and, since he was approaching from the direction of the Yorkist position, was promptly fired upon by Montagu's men. This was too much for Oxford's troops and many of them, putting up a cry of treason, fled from the field.
In the centre, where the battle was being conducted at close quarters by a mass of struggling men, their vision of events on the battlefield still obscured by the mist, the cry of treason was quickly taken up. The uneasy alliance of former Yorkists and Lancastrians that constituted Warwick's army broke down. As his opponents' battle line degenerated into chaos Edward, seizing his moment, launched his reserve into the attack. After a brief but hectic melée the Lancastrians broke and fled. Warwick, struggling to regain his charger at the rear of his army, was caught and killed, possibly near the site of the present-day Hadley High Stone. Casualties on both sides were comparatively heavy, the Lancastrians alone losing over one thousand men, and although the total Yorkist loss was probably only half that many of Edward's most constant supporters were numbered amongst the casualties.
Indication of Importance
There is no disputing that Barnet is one of the most important battles of the Wars of the Roses. Even if it had not been one of the two battles fought in quick succession in 1471 (the other being Tewkesbury) which finally established King Edward IV firmly on the throne of England, it would be memorable for marking the end of the career of the Earl of Warwick who, known by his sobriquet 'Warwick the Kingmaker', is one of the few personalities of the fifteenth century that the popular imagination today can recall to mind.
© English Heritage 1995 English Heritage Battlefield Report: Barnet 1471 Compared with many other mediaeval battles the contemporary sources provide us with a good idea of what actually happened once battle was joined. This increases its significance. The contention that the hedge which crosses the golf course to the west of the battlefield is the same one mentioned by the Arrivall over 500 years ago would make it an important survival.
Although much of the battlefield is today built over, which prevents the visitor gaining an impression of the battlefield as a whole, there remain sufficient open spaces to make a visit to Barnet rewarding. For instance, the golf course to the west of Monken Hadley is crossed by a public footpath which, at one point, runs alongside the ancient hedge behind which the Earl of Oxford's division was possibly drawn up. Hadley Green, over which King Edward's division would have advanced to the attack, and the western edge of Monken Hadley Common, which the Duke of Gloucester's division would have crossed as it brought pressure to bear, can be freely traversed by the public. A path runs away from Hadley to the south-east across some small enclosures; from this direction the steepness of the ascent to the plateau upon which the battle was fought can be appreciated. A similar view of the climb to the top of the plateau is available to the north from the track that runs behind the housing to the right of the Hatfield Road.
Battlefield Area Description
The battlefield area boundary defines the outer reasonable limit of the battle, taking into account the positions of the combatants at the outset of fighting and the focal area of the battle itself. It does not include areas over which fighting took place subsequent to the main battle. Wherever possible, the boundary has been drawn so that it is easily appreciated on the ground.
To the west of the battlefield the boundary line is drawn along the New St Albans road, the A1081. This affords just about sufficient room for Oxford's wing to sweep down and drive the Yorkist left under Lord Hastings back toward Barnet. For illustrative purposes, the full extent of the battlefield is represented by a dashed line stretching to the junction of the road with the A1000 in the south before heading eastward to open ground again. The Registered battlefield area, however, skirts the built-up area on its southern side.
From point TQ238979 in the north-west the boundary line cuts across the golf course, using existing boundaries for convenience. The ground enclosed by the line allows enough room for the Earl of Oxford's men to be deployed behind 'the hedge' identified by Burne. The battlefield area then cuts across to the Barnet Road, between the last houses on the northern edge of Monken Hadley before heading east downhill to Monken Mead Brook and rejoining the county boundary. As well as allowing for the deployment of Warwick's left wing, by tracing this line the monument to the battle at Hadley High Stone is included in the battlefield area.
The line of the battlefield area now turns southwards past Monken Hadley church and on to King George's Field.
Including this space in the battlefield area enables part of the terrain over which the Duke of Gloucester's division launched its improvised flanking attack against the Duke of Exeter to be represented.
Notes 1. A half mile: Historie of the Arrivall of King Edward IV, A.
D. 1471 ed. J Bruce (Camden Society 1838)
p18; Paston Letters and Papers of the Fifteenth Century ed. N Davis (Oxford 1971) vol. 1 p438. A mile:
The Great Chronicle of London, eds. A H Thomas and I D Thornley (London 1938) p216; 'The Newsletter of Gerhard von Wesel, 17 April 1471' by John Adair Journal of the Society of Army Historical Research xlvi (1968) p68.
8. Cass, Frederick Charles 'The Battle of Barnet' Trans. of the London and Middlesex Arch. Soc. vi (Jan.
9. Ramsay, Sir J H Lancaster and York (London 1893) p370.
10. Ibid.; Barrett, C R B Battles and Battlefields in England p196.
12. Great Chronicle pp216-7.
13. Warkworth, John A Chronicle of the First Thirteen Years of the Reign of King Edward the Fourth, ed. J O Halliwell (Camden Society 1839) p16.
15. Anchiennes Croniques d'Engleterre par Jehan de Waurin ed. Dupont (Societe de l'histoire de France,
1858) iii 212-13.
16. Burne, Lt-Colonel A H The Battlefields of England (London 1950) pp 108-116.
17. As C L Scofield does in The Life and Reign of Edward the Fourth (London 1923) i p578.
18. Hammond, P W The Battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury (Gloucester 1990) p76.