At Barnet in the early hours of 14 April 1471, King Edward IV led his army through a thick mist to attack the Earl of Warwick’s Lancastrians to reclaim the throne of England. Forming up in the dark Edward misaligned his army with both side’s right wings outflanking their opponents.
In our re-fight the alignment was determined by rolling a scatter die which gave us the historical outcome. This could have just as easily resulted in correct alignment or outflanking on the opposite wings. The mist reduced visibility to 6” at the start of the game. Another die roll determined that the mist would begin to clear on the 4th turn.
Before knowing the enemy dispositions both sides had to give orders to each of their battles to either attack or hold. The Yorkists decided on an all out attack. The Lancastrians decided to hold with Montague in the centre and Oxford on the right but to attack with Exeter on the left, reinforced by Warwick’s reserve and Sir Thomas de Vere’s cavalry wing. The Yorkists placed Sir Thomas Howard’s cavalry wing and an artillery battery on their left.
The thick mist gave little opportunity for shooting. Firing blind, the artillery on both sides misjudged the range. Oxford and Montague managed to loose off a fairly ineffective volley of arrows as the Yorkists emerged from the mist. Hastings on the Yorkist left was disconcerted to find that Oxford’s men were protected by a hedgerow which was only revealed when he advanced. The ensuing combat on that wing ground to a standstill as both sides hacked at each other across the hedge.
Leading the Yorkist centre, King Edward shattered Montague’s battle, sending the Lancastrians fleeing in terror and killing Montague in the process.
The Yorkists had similar success on their right. Exeter’s Lancastrians were forced to retire in disarray. Gloucester pursued but failed to catch them. Both sides then did their best to reform their men in some semblance of a battle line as Warwick and de Vere began to move around Gloucester’s right flank.
In the centre King Edward managed to rein in his retainers from pursuit and rallied them to threaten Exeter.
He was unable to stop Gilbert Debenham and Henry Wingfield’s Suffolk men from continuing their pursuit to overrun and loot the Lancastrian camp.
Meanwhile on the Lancastrian right, Oxford pushed his Men at Arms and billmen forward to drive off Hastings’ battle. Hasting’s men fled the field when their Lord was killed.
The timely intervention of Thomas Howard’s mounted wing on the Yorkist left, drove off John Scrope’s contingent and brought Oxford to a standstill.
On the other wing, Thomas de Vere’s mounted men at arms worked their way around the Yorkist right to encounter a unit of Flemish hand gunners. Earning their pay the gunners inflicted casualties on the advancing Lancastrians before retiring. Then the Lancastrian cavalry reformed to threaten Gloucester’s rear.
The denouement came when Warwick’s fresh reserve moved in on Gloucester’s right flank, wiping out Lord Cromwell’s contingent. Richard of Gloucester pushed forward to lead his retainers in a valiant charge to counter this as King Edward’s men attacked Exeter’s flank. The Yorkists, however, were worn down from previous combat. Although Exeter’s battle was decimated, Warwick’s fresh troops prevailed and Richard of Gloucester was captured.
It was an exciting game which flowed back and forth with the Yorkists initially in ascendancy until the intervention of Warwick’s reserve changed fortunes. Mostly fought hand to hand there were very high casualties on both sides. Montague and Hastings lay dead on the field, Gloucester had been captured and the Lancastrian camp looted. Both sides were exhausted but most of Oxford’s men on the Lancastrian right and Warwick’s on the left were still in relatively good order. King Edward had no option other than to gather his remaining followers and make for the coast. Warwick was in no position to pursue but he still held London and King Henry VI. It was a Lancastrian victory albeit a bloody one.