Towton: The Battle of Palm Sunday Field, 1461
South Yorkshire: Pen and Sword Books, 2011. 186 pp. £19.99/$39.95 USD. ISBN 978- 1844159659.
John Sadler’s latest work departs once more from his customary focus on the battles and wars between England and Scotland, turning to an episode of the Wars of the Roses that has been his long-term personal interest, the battle of Towton. Attempting to present a military study, rather than a broader social or political history, that reassesses the path to battle and the immediate causes and implications, Sadler demonstrates his keen attention to and understanding of topography and other details of combat realities.
Though largely chronological in organization, Sadler has incorporated introductory chapters that are more thematic in nature and provide broad contextual material about both military realities of the fifteenth century and the political tensions that led ultimately to open warfare between the houses of York and Lancaster. It is in these first chapters that Sadler ably illustrates a synopsis of some important historiography and shows himself partial to certain interpretations, most notably those of Christine Carpenter.  The central chapters of the book comprise the extended discussion about the battle of Towton itself, in which Sadler closely unfolds the sequence of events. It is in this part of the book that Sadler applies his careful scrutiny of topography and military tactics most effectively. Although here Sadler relies quite heavily on the work of only a few other historians, including the concept of inherent military probability as proffered by classic military historian Alfred Burne, he firmly indicates what he considers to be the fallacies or shortcomings of their conclusions. He similarly applies a critical eye toward the descriptions in chronicle sources, teasing out the most credible explanations. The last three short chapters address the immediate and long-term ramifications of the battle, treating both the political situation following the Yorkist victory at Towton, and the much more recent archaeological aspects of the battlefield today, including the Towton Mass Grave Project whose work over the last fifteen years has shed light on the human factor of the battle. In some ways, material incorporated into both the Introduction and the last two of the four appendices might have been better served by being placed in the body of Sadler’s text. A topographical survey of the battlefield, the first component of Sadler’s Introduction and a helpful reference for understanding the lay of the battlefield land, might as easily be combined with the material in Chapter 10, “The Battlefield Today.” Similarly, one wonders why the war in the north from 1461 to 1464 and the subsequent battles of Hedgeley Moor and Hexham, were not subjects of additional chapters, where the narrative flow following Towton could continue uninterrupted, but instead were relegated respectively to the two final appendixes. Their coverage there feels disjointed, as if this extended discussion of political and military events after Towton was merely an afterthought or not believed relevant enough to warrant earlier inclusion.
Sadler’s work is readable, engaging, and, although perhaps somewhat light on the scholarly aspect, is nonetheless undeniably scholarly. Sadler does provide proper citations and notes as well as a fairly extensive bibliography containing a substantial section of primary sources, and both current and classic scholarship. The author is clearly comfortable working with chronicle sources, as he both provides an exhaustive list of them in the bibliography, and, as intimated above, refers to them often in his text.
Like in his previous works, Sadler has incorporated helpful elements into especially the beginning of the book. Just after the table of contents, the author has included a seven-page-long list of people important to this conflict, including biographic information, family connections, and their affinity to either Yorkist or Lancastrian faction. Following this list is a detailed timeline of the events of English royal history from 1399, with the death of Richard II and accession of the Lancastrians, to 1487, the battle of Stoke and the end to the Wars of the Roses with the final defeat of Yorkist adherents. Two maps of Towton, one illustrating its larger topographical context, are placed immediately after the Preface. Although helpful in exhibiting the lay of the land and the general battle lines and formations of the two armies, the maps lack other useful details, such as the routes taken by both armies to the site of the battle, including the crossing at Ferrybridge, and the course of the battle itself. Additional maps of other battles would have been helpful, especially for the discussion of the war in the north following Towton. Eight glossy pages of black and white photographs, largely of the site and monuments of Towton today, are incorporated into chapter 6 (between pages 106 and 107), which traces the chronology of battle of Towton itself. The first two appendixes comprise a short glossary of common medieval military terms that Sadler has used throughout his book, as well as a list of the battle combatants, grouped according to Lancastrian or Yorkist affinity. Both resources are useful.
Overall, Sadler’s book is solid and well written. Sadler’s passion for letting the topography influence his interpretation of the unfolding of events as well as of the tactical decisions made by commanders helps him in his goal to provide a fresh reassessment of the battle of Towton. In his additional goal of creating a narrative capable of reaching a wider readership than has previously been achieved, Sadler is similarly successful. As such, his work provides a useful complement to other, perhaps more scholarly, works devoted to the battle of Towton specifically or the Wars of the Roses more generally.
 Christine Carpenter, The Wars of the Roses (Cambridge, 1997)
York College of Pennsylvania <firstname.lastname@example.org>