Battle of Ferrybridge, 27-28 March 1461

The battle of Ferrybridge (27-28 March 1461) took place on the day before the battle of Towton and saw the Yorkists force their way across the River Aire at Ferrybridge, defeating a Lancastrian attempt to hold the line of the river.

After the dramas of 1460 and February 1461 the Yorkists and Lancastrians prepared for a decisive battle. Despite killing Richard, duke of York at Wakefield and defeating the earl of Warwick at the Second Battle of St. Albans, the Lancastrians had been unable to gain entry into London. Instead the Londoners had welcomed York's young son, Edward, earl of March. Henry VI and the Lancastrian army retreated north, eventually reaching York. Back in London March claimed the throne as Edward IV, and prepared to lead his army north.

Battles of the Wars of the Roses
Battles of the
Wars of the Roses

Edward left London on 13 March, and reached Pontefract on 27 March. At this date the main Lancastrian army was probably at York and the two sides were separated by two rivers - the Aire in the south and the Wharf in the north. Key to the passage of the Aire was the bridge at Ferrybridge, and both sides appear to have made some effort to secure control of the bridge.

We have two different accounts of the first part of the battle, one from Hall's Chronicle and one from Waurin's Chronicle. George Neville's letters provide a third point of view, nearer in time to the battle but vague enough to support either story.

According to Waurin the duke of Somerset (the main Lancastrian commander) had posted scouts south of the bridge. Edward sent scouts under John de la Pole, earl of Suffolk, towards the bridge. They ran into Somerset's men and heavy fighting began. Edward fed in reinforcements, but the Lancastrians retreated to a position near the bridge and held their ground.

According to Hall Edward sent John Radcliffe, Lord FitzWalter, to seize the bridge. FitzWalter secured the bridge and his men then went to sleep on the northern bank of the river. The Lancastrians decided to take back the bridge and on the morning of 28 March a force commanded by John, Lord Clifford, caught the Yorkists by surprise. FitzWalter was killed, as was Warwick's half-brother the Bastard of Salisbury. Someone escaped to carry the news to Warwick, who took it to Edward. Edward sent in reinforcements, but the defenders held the narrow passage of the bridge.

George Neville's account has the Lancastrians destroy the bridge during their retreat north. The Yorkists manage to create a 'narrow way' across the gap in the bridge and fight their way across.

The main accounts now largely agree with each other. Faced with a standoff at the bridge Edward decided to outflank the Lancastrian position. Lord Fauconberg, Lord Blount and Lord Horne were sent to the ford at Castleford, three miles upstream. They crossed the river then attacked the right flank of the Lancastrians. Clifford's men retreated north, but they were caught at Dinting Dale, to the north-east of the village of Saxton and not far from the main Lancastrian army. Clifford was killed, possibly after removing the throat protection of his armour (his 'gorget) because he was too hot.

After taking possession of the bridge at Ferrybridge Edward moved his army across the river and on the night of 28-29 March they camped somewhere near Sherburn in Elmet. On the following day the two armies met in one of the biggest battles on English soil. The battle of Towton (29 March 1461) ended with a major Yorkist victory, and helped secure Edward IV on the throne.

Books on the Middle Ages - Subject Index: War of the Roses

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (2 December 2013), Battle of Ferrybridge, 27-28 March 1461 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_ferrybridge.html

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