Bet that ruined his day.
The Battle of Towton in 1461 may well have been the largest battle ever fought in the British Isles. Without a doubt, it was a crucial encounter in the War of the Roses. Now archeological excavations of the battlefield are showing just how vicious the fight was, and how much damage a medieval weapon could do:
The soldier now known as Towton 25 had survived battle before. A healed skull fracture points to previous engagements. He was old enough—somewhere between 36 and 45 when he died—to have gained plenty of experience of fighting. But on March 29th 1461, his luck ran out.
Towton 25 suffered eight wounds to his head that day. The precise order can be worked out from the direction of fractures on his skull: when bone breaks, the cracks veer towards existing areas of weakness. The first five blows were delivered by a bladed weapon to the left-hand side of his head, presumably by a right-handed opponent standing in front of him. None is likely to have been lethal.
The next one almost certainly was. From behind him someone swung a blade towards his skull, carving a down-to-up trajectory through the air. The blow opened a huge horizontal gash into the back of his head—picture a slit you could post an envelope through. Fractures raced down to the base of his skull and around the sides of his head. Fragments of bone were forced in to Towton 25’s brain, felling him.
His enemies were not done yet. Another small blow to the right and back of the head may have been enough to turn him over onto his back. Finally another blade arced towards him. This one bisected his face, opening a crevice that ran from his left eye to his right jaw (see picture). It cut deep: the edge of the blade reached to the back of his throat.
None of this movie-like “one thrust and you fall down” stuff. Nope. Not only were they going to kill this poor schmuck*, but they were going to hack him into bits, too. And, from the evidence, this occurred all over the killing field.
It reminds me of what I once read about the death of King Harold at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The sanitized account is that he was killed when an arrow struck him in the eye. Bad enough. But the truth is that he was only sorely wounded by the arrow; while (probably) screaming in agony and trying to get the shaft out of his eye, he was surrounded by mounted Norman knights who hacked at him with sword and axe until he finally died. Talk about an undignified end** for a man who, by most accounts, was a decent king.
Back to Towton and archeology, be sure to read the article. It’s quite fascinating.
*Who, I’m sure, was trying to do the same thing to the other guys.
**Though not as undignified as the death of King George II: on the toilet of an aortic dissection while straining against constipation.
h/t Greyhawk Grognard
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