Ferrybridge, Battle of

Ferrybridge, Battle of
   Occurring on 27 and 28 March 1461, the encounters at the Ferrybridge crossing of the River Aire in Yorkshire were the final moves in the campaign that culminated in the Battle of TOWTON, the largest and bloodiest battle of the WARS OF THE ROSES.
   On 27 March, while still south of the Aire, EDWARD IV learned that a large Lancastrian army commanded by Henry BEAUFORT, duke of Somerset, had deployed on a plateau north of the river between the villages of Towton and Saxton. Later in the day, Richard NEVILLE, earl of Warwick, commanding the Yorkist vanguard, reached the river at Ferrybridge only to find the bridge destroyed and a small Lancastrian force on the other side ready to dispute any crossing. By bridging the gaps in the damaged span with planks, Warwick’s troops crossed the river, drove off the Lancastrians, and secured a bridgehead on the north bank, although not without losing many men on the bridge to enemy ARCHERS. By evening,Warwick had repaired the bridge and positioned a small force across the river to hold the crossing until the rest of the army could arrive next day.
   At dawn, an enemy force under John CLIFFORD, Lord Clifford, and John NEVILLE, Lord Neville, one of Warwick’s Lancastrian cousins from the Westmorland branch of the NEVILLE FAMILY, surprised the Yorkist camp on the north bank and drove its occupants across the river in confusion. When the survivors of Warwick’s force reached the main Yorkist army, their panic caused Edward’s men to fear that a Lancastrian horde was upon them. To restore morale, Warwick, who had been wounded in the leg by an arrow during the morning’s fight at the bridge, cried out, “Flee if you want but I will tarry with he who will tarry with me” (Haigh, pp. 58–59), and then dramatized his resolve by killing his own horse. Although Warwick did not know it at the time, Clifford and Neville were content to hold the crossing and never came south of the river.
   By noon, the Yorkist army reached Ferrybridge to find the bridge again destroyed and a Lancastrian force again holding the north bank. To avoid the casualties of the previous day, Warwick sent his uncle, William NEVILLE, Lord Fauconberg, to ford the river three miles upstream with a band of mounted archers. This force fell upon the Lancastrians as they were retreating toward Somerset’s position. The Yorkist archers killed both Clifford and Neville, and Edward IV brought his army safely across the river by nightfall. Encamped less than a mile from each other, the two armies waited in the cold for morning, when the Battle of Towton began.
   Further Reading: Boardman, Andrew W., The Battle of Towton (Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Sutton Publishing, 1996); Haigh, Philip A., The Military Campaigns of the Wars of the Roses (Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Sutton Publishing, 1995).

Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. . 2001.

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