By Keith Dockray
The Ricardian, Vol.9, no.117 (1992)
Introduction: The Battle of Wakefield, fought on 30 December 1460 (almost certainly, and unusually, during the afternoon), was the fifth of about fifteen set-piece military confrontations that punctuated the so-called Wars of the Roses between 1455 and 1487. The most serious and protracted civil wars England had experienced since the Norman Conquest, their origins can be found mainly in the political turmoil occasioned by the disastrous rule of the third Lancastrian King Henry VI (1422-1461). In particular, the King’s simplicity of mind and pathetically trusting nature left him fatally vulnerable to grasping favourites and unscrupulous ministers: even in the 1440s and early 1450s, when he remained more or less compos mentis, it was bad enough; once he had suffered a complete mental breakdown in 1453, from which he probably never completely recovered, his shortcomings became ever more evident and he was certainly incapable of containing the mounting baronial rivalries that eventually culminated in out-and-out civil war.
Ever since he had attained his majority in 1437, Henry VI’s failure to control royal patronage judiciously had encouraged baronial jealousy and resentment. In particular, since the late 1440s, there had developed an increasingly bitter personal rivalry between Richard Plantagenet Duke of York, the most powerful magnate in the land (who also happened to have a strong claim to the throne), and Edmund Beaufort Duke of Somerset who, despite bearing a good deal of responsibility for the loss of virtually all England’s possessions in France by the autumn of 1453, enjoyed more than his fair share of the fruits of royal favour in the early 1450s. Richard of York certainly resented his own treatment by the crown: indeed, he even mounted an unsuccessful coup d’etat in 1452. When, in the winter of 1453/4, York forged an alliance with the Nevilles of Middleham (who very much dominated the North of England), and their great rivals, the Percy Earls of Northumberland, threw in their lot with the corrupt Lancastrian regime, the possibility of civil war soon became a subject of conversation in London, especially since Henry VI’s formidable Queen, Margaret of Anjou, was now beginning to emerge as a political force as well.