The Human Story Of The Battle Of Towton
One of the fun things about writing historical fiction is using real places, creating a character and putting them into the flow of actual events.
And it’s a great excuse to travel.
During our trips to Great Britain, Deborah does the driving – she’s able to flip some kind of switch in her brain that lets her drive on the left-hand side without crashing. I like maps, but even when I’m armed with atlases, digital apps, and the color-coded placemats made for tourists, I get lost in the parking lot.
On our trip to Towton, in Yorkshire, we crowded into a van with a posse of laughing girlfriends. The second hardest thing about traveling, besides the driving, is smooshing everyone’s luggage into the back. Every morning, fortified by a lovely English breakfast, I completed the suitcase jigsaw puzzle, usually with one piece left over that had to go on someone’s lap.
Sometimes it took so long that locals wandered over and took photos. Perhaps they showed these pictures to their children with accompanying warnings about the hazards of over-eating and over-packing.
When the van was loaded more heavily than a warhorse bearing a medieval knight in full plate armour, we were off.
Deb and Lisa at Towton memorial
Towton Battlefield is one of the places where we researched The Chamber And The Cross. This particular fight to determine the king of England took place on Palm Sunday in 1461, and many historians have called it England’s bloodiest battle. It was snowing that day when soldiers loyal to the House of York faced off against those defending the House of Lancaster. Fifty thousand men clashed on what came to be known as The Bloody Meadow. By the time it was over, more than half of them were dead.
We got lost along the way and found the meadow just as the sun was setting. I wanted to see the river, and the footbridge over which the retreating army had fled, but the land is private, so we surveyed it from a distance. It’s peaceful, planted with potatoes, lined with trees, a single cross marker the only indication that something so historic, so momentous took place on that high ground above the village.
The sinking sun turned the surrounding fields golden, and as I stood watching the light illuminate the meadow, time became suspended. I tried to imagine troops lined up on either ridge, horses stamping the frosty ground, armies in chainmail and leather bearing bows, swords and shields. Overhead flew the standard of Lancaster with its red rose, and the white rose of York. I breathed in the soft, mild air of late summer, and imagined the damp, wet chill of England’s spring.
Many of those killed that day were buried in a mass grave that was discovered in 1996. One of the characters in our book is a forensic anthropologist who helped recover the skeletons found at Towton. Another of our characters fought in the battle. Before we set out to tell our story, the stories of those who lived and died in the Battle of Towton had already been woven into the red and white tapestry of the Wars of the Roses.
That day as the sun was going down on the battlefield, as I stood there absorbing the last of the warmth and the beauty of the meadow, I found myself crying. All those lives, all that slaughter, some bodies swept away by the river, some buried beneath the earth and perhaps forgotten.
It took a few more years to finish the book. Now that’s it done, I hope people will read it and learn about Towton. That meadow, soaked in blood on Palm Sunday, is more than the setting of a scene. It’s a piece of history, and part of the human story of life, death, suffering, healing, replanting, and peace.
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Site photography by Deborah K. Reed.
Poetry by Lisa K. Shapiro
© 2014 by Deborah K. Reed and Lisa K. Shapiro. All Rights Reseverved.