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The Battle of Towton was fought during the English Wars of the Roses on 29 March 1461, near the village of Towton in Yorkshire. It brought about a change of monarchs in England, with the victor, the Yorkist Edward, 4th Duke of York (who became King Edward IV (1461-1483)) having displaced the Lancastrian King Henry VI (1422-1461) as king, and thus drove the head of the Lancastrians and his key supporters out of the country.
It was "probably the largest and bloodiest battle ever fought on English soil". According to chroniclers, more than 50,000 soldiers from the Houses of York and Lancaster fought for hours amidst a snowstorm on that day, which was Palm Sunday. A newsletter circulated a week after the battle reported that 28,000 died on the battlefield.
Contemporary accounts described Henry VI as peaceful and pious, not suited for the violent dynastic civil wars, such as the War of the Roses. He suffered from periods of insanity while his inherent benevolence eventually required his wife, Margaret of Anjou, to assume control of his kingdom, which contributed to his own downfall. His ineffectual rule had encouraged the nobles' schemes to establish control over him, and the situation deteriorated into a civil war between the supporters of his house and those of Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York. After the Yorkists captured Henry in 1460, the English parliament passed an Act of Accord to let York and his line succeed Henry as king. Henry's consort, Margaret of Anjou, refused to accept the dispossession of her son's right to the throne and, along with fellow Lancastrian malcontents, raised an army. Richard of York was killed at the Battle of Wakefield and his titles, including the claim to the throne, passed to his eldest son Edward. Nobles who were previously hesitant to support Richard's claim to the throne considered the Lancastrians to have reneged on the Act — a legal agreement — and Edward found enough backing to denounce Henry and declare himself king. The Battle of Towton was to affirm the victor's right to rule over England through force of arms.
On reaching the battlefield, the Yorkists found themselves heavily outnumbered. Part of their force under John de Mowbray, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, had yet to arrive. The Yorkist leader Lord Fauconberg turned the tables by ordering his archers to take advantage of the strong wind to