Battle of Barnet

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The Battle of Barnet was a decisive engagement in the Wars of the Roses, a dynastic conflict of 15th-century England. The military action, along with the subsequent Battle of Tewkesbury, secured the throne for Edward IV. On 14 April 1471 near Barnet, then a small town north of London, Edward led the House of York in a fight against the House of Lancaster, which backed Henry VI for the throne. Leading the Lancastrian army was Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, who played a crucial role in the fate of each king. Historians regard the battle as one of the most important clashes in the Wars of the Roses, since it brought about a decisive turn in the fortunes of the two houses. Edward's victory was followed by fourteen years of Yorkist rule over England.

Formerly a key figure in the Yorkist cause, Warwick defected to the Lancastrians over disagreements about Edward's nepotism, secret marriage, and foreign policy. Leading a Lancastrian army, the earl defeated his former allies, forcing Edward to flee to Burgundy. The Yorkist king persuaded his host, Charles the Bold, to help him regain the English throne. Leading an army raised with Burgundian money, Edward launched his invasion of England, which culminated at the fields north of Barnet. Under cover of darkness, the Yorkists moved close to the Lancastrians, and clashed in a thick fog at dawn. While the main forces struggled in battle, John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford, and his Lancastrian troops routed the Yorkists under Lord William Hastings, chasing them up to Barnet. On their return to the battlefield, Oxford's men were erroneously shot at by his allies commanded by John Neville, 1st Marquess of Montagu. The Lancastrians lost the battle as cries of treason spread through their line, disrupting morale and causing many to abandon the fight. While retreating, Warwick was killed by Yorkist soldiers.

Warwick had been such an influential figure in 15th-century English politics that, on his death, no one matched him in terms of power and popularity. Deprived of Warwick's support, the Lancastrians suffered their final defeat at the Battle of Tewkesbury on 4 May 1471, which marked the downfall of the House of Lancaster and the ascendancy of the House of York. Three centuries after the Battle of Barnet, a stone obelisk was raised on the spot where Warwick purportedly died.


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