The Battle of Barnet and “The Wars of the Roses”

April 14th – On this day in 1471 took place, in “The Wars of the Roses”, the Battle of Barnet, between Yorkists under Edward IV and Lancastrians under Henry VI, with the Yorkists winning.

During “The Wars of the Roses”, between 1455-85, London was an important centre of political machination, and the Tower, at least according to legend, the scene of a series of chilling politically motivated murders, in forgotten dreadful cubicles behind great locked doors. There was some actual action in the City as well: in 1460, when the Lancastrian garrison under Lord Scales used a primitive – and unreliable – type of chemical weapon called “wildfire” in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent the Yorkist army from entering; and again in 1471, when the by then Yorkist garrison was bombarded by the Lancastrian navy and army under the Bastard Fauconberg. And there were pitched battles on the outskirts, at St Alban’s in 1455 and 1461, as well as at Barnet in 1471.

Many of the barons killed in the Battle of Barnet were buried in Austin Friars Priory, which was originally built in around 1253. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1538, most of the priory precinct came into the possession of Sir William Paulet, the First Marquess of Winchester, who built himself a substantial town-house there, which survived the Great Fire of 1666, but was demolished in 1839.  (Thomas Cromwell’s former house on the site came into the possession of the Drapers’ Company, and was burned down in the Great Fire of 1666). In 1550, under Edward VI, part of the priory church was given over to the local Dutch Protestant community to serve as their church, “notwithstanding that they do not conform with the rites and ceremonies used in our Kingdom” (and the remaining part reverted to being the parish church of St Peter-le-Poer). The Dutch Church survived the Great Fire, but was destroyed in another fire in 1862, rebuilt in 1863, destroyed again in an air raid in 1940, and rebuilt again in 1950-56.

Dutch Church, Austin Friars

Dutch Church, Austin Friars

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