Battlefields are treated as different landscapes. They are places that we revere. In medieval times, masses would be said before the battle, and crosses and holy banners would be planted in the midst of each host as a rallying point. This sanctity still resonates with us down the centuries.
If we look to the words spoken by Union Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, at the dedication of the Gettysburg monument at another momentous Civil War conflict, we get some idea of the sanctity of the battlefield.
“In great deeds something abides. On great fields something stays.
Forms change and pass; bodies disappear, but spirits linger, to
consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls. And reverent men and
women from afar, and generations that know us not and that we know not
of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and
done for them, shall come to this deathless field to ponder and dream;
And lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom,
and the power of the vision pass into their souls.”
Many of the battlefields we see today share common features. There is usually a hedge that delineates some sacred ground where a hero has fallen. A stone cross is customarily erected within this spot and the building of a chantry or a chapel is not uncommon so that prayers could be said for the souls of those slain on the day. The life histories of the battlefield are of as much importance and interest to us. It is not unusual for legends to spring up after the battle to anchor the event in our memories. A common theme is that a nearby river ran with blood, and Towton is no exception to this with the strong probability that Cock Beck was stained red during the massacre of the routed Lancastrians. Indeed, there are some that say you can hear the groans of the dead and wounded if you visit the Bridge of Bodies late at night. Towton has engendered more than its fair share of mysteries and legends. Here are just some of them:
The Towton Rose
Over the centuries a legend was born. It is said that wild roses that naturally grew on the battlefield, suddenly grew white petals, tinged with red. Folklore says that this red pigment was fed with blood from the mass graves of the slain. Legend has it that these roses, if transplanted elsewhere, would not survive. These papers give an insight into the myth.
The Shepherd Lord
No-one swaggered across the late medieval scene like John Clifford whose name comes down to us from Shakespeare as Blackface or Bloody Clifford. When Lord John was killed on the eve of the Battle of Towton he left his young son, Henry, to face the wrath of the vengeful Yorkists. According to tradition, however, young Henry was sheltered by local common people. For many years, so the story goes, Henry lived incognito as a humble shepherd, earning himself a new title – the Shepherd Lord. Read on to learn more about his extraordinary life.
Richard III’s Chantry Chapel
Much loved by the people of the north, Richard III was not the deformed monster that Shakespeare would have us believe. To show respect for his northern subjects, Richard had the mass graves of Towton exhumed and buried in consecrated ground. He also granted a large sum of money for the chantry chapel to be enhanced to a status that was fitting to commemorate such an event. It is has been said that the work was never finished and the parsimonious Tudors quashed the project. Is this true? Read on to discover what we know for sure.