Jonathan Salem Baskin

Bloody Thorns

Today, bloody thorns foretold modern warfare.

War is about as civilized as a car wreck, perhaps less so, yet aristocrats fought it within limited set of rules through much of history. When possible, nobles were supposed to be captured and offered for ransom. Battles were pre-announced, and troops situated in open fields so leaders could approach and engage their armies claiming some sense of honor (before the hacking melee began). All of this changed on this day in 1455, when the two sides of what would be known as the Wars of the Roses met at St. Albans, just north of London.

The opposing armies had arrayed themselves on two sides of a ditch, and begun lengthy negotiations to avoid a conflict. Richard, Duke of York and a white rose relation of the royal House of Plantagenet vying for the throne of England, tired of the wait, and sent his ally the Earl of Warwick and some troops through back lanes and gardens to sneak up on the red rose Lancastrians, who were resting behind their front lines, many of them not even wearing their armor. A rout ensued. Lancastrian nobles were killed, and the king captured. Then, the successors of the dead aristocrats set about evening the score, and the two sides murdered one another over the next 30 years. The conflict ended at Battle of Townton in 1461, at which it was announced that “no quarter would be given” prior to the fight. At least 28,000 people died in a single day (the largest loss of life on English soil). The Yorkists won, killing many of the Lancastrian nobles as they fled, and executing those who were captured.

It was only a hint of what was to follow.

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