Northampton 1460 – Casualties?

Northampton 1460

Casualties?

The number of casualties after Northampton varies wildly between the chroniclers. At one end of the scale, Bale puts the total at fifty-eight, whilst at the other, Waurin gives a figure of 12,000. Both Virgil and Hall say 10,000. Considering it is so precise about everything else, the number of deaths are conspicuously absent from the English Chronicle. Leyland’s Itinerary also states that many Welshmen were drowned in the river trying to escape after the battle.

To get some idea of the scale of slaughter, we must look at the Yorkist assault on the defences. Firstly, it is unlikely that the Lancastrians were doing nothing whilst the Yorkists attacked, even if their guns were not working. They may have had up to 5,000 archers inside the camp and they would have been throwing everything they had at them! If a typical archer could fire 22 un-aimed arrows a minute, and it took around three minutes for the Yorkists to move through arrow range, then even if we only consider 3,000 archers, we are looking at a toe curling arrow storm of 198,000 arrows! And, then if only one percent caused debilitating injury or death, then you are looking at around 2,000 casualties. Even at thirteen arrows a minute, it still means 117,000 arrows and over a thousand casualties. We must also remember that whilst full-plate armour would be impervious to most arrows, this would have only been worn by a small number of men. The majority, the ordinary soldier, would have worn little more than padded jacks, so the death toll would have probably been higher. For the attackers, the last seventy yards would have been the worse, for it is at this range that archers are most lethal. Now they could fire in a flat trajectory, individuals could be picked out, even weak points in armour could be selected. And at that range, an arrow could penetrate up to the feathers!

The true figure then, was quite probably suppressed by the Yorkists in an attempt to show that they did not wish to harm anyone, but we must count the dead in thousands rather than hundreds. Bishop Francesco Coppini, the Papal legate was reported to have excommunicated the Lancastrians and forbade their christian burial before the battle. So only the Yorkist’s were interred near the churches. The unfortunate Lancastrian’s would have been thrown into mass grave pits all over the battlefield and along the line of the rout (most likely north-east, towards the present day Rushmills) . Leyland, although he does not give a number, says some were buried near St. John’s church with the majority being buried close to the Abbey’s church. The church itself was pulled down during the destruction of the monasteries under Henry VIII and may be the mysterious cross shaped structure which was last identified in aerial photographs taken in the 1940’s. The remains of the cross shaped structure is now lying under the ground about to be developed along the modern Ransome Road! Stains on the ground around the structure may also indicate grave pits.

During September 1820, it was reported that 400 young and middle aged bodies were found ten to twelve feet down whilst rebuilding the ‘Three Cups’ (later called the Three Crowns) Public House in Bridge Street, Northampton.1 It had originally been built over ground owned by St John’s, so no doubt, these were the remains of some of those who fought at the battle. The Delapre grave pits have yet to be found. But we must also remember what Coppini may have done, forbidding burial of the Lancastrian dead? If true, the nun’s would not have wanted rotting corpses close the Abbey, so they would have buried them soon after on unconsecrated ground across the battlefield and line of retreat. Whilst, the ordinary soldier was buried in grave pits, the lords were given burials befitting their station. Although most were taken back to their homes, Buckingham was buried at Greyfriars in the north of Northampton. The site of the Priory has long since disappeared and in the 1970’s the whole area was demolished to make way for a shopping complex and bus station that now bears its name (and again a site that is about to be developed).

1 The New Monthly Magazine Part 2, 1820.

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