Use of a chemical weapon  in Medieval London (1460)

Wildfire being let loose from a flame-thrower

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 (see also February 18th posting).

There was also some actual action in the City (see also May 14th posting); and indeed there were pitched battles on its outskirts, at St Alban’s in 1455 and 1461, and  at Barnet in 1471 (see also April 14th posting).

On this day in 1460, a Yorkist army arrived at the gates of London, and was admitted by Aldermen sympathetic to their cause.  At this, the Lancastrian garrison in the Tower, under Thomas, the Seventh Baron Scales, indiscriminately opened fire on the City in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to prevent its  occupation, using both  conventional and  chemical weapons from the Royal Armoury, causing both combatant and civilian  casualties,  and occasioning extreme public outrage, ultimately resulting in Scales’s  summary execution (*).  The chemical weapon, let loose from a  primitive and unreliable flame-thrower, was  “Greek fire” or “wildfire”, which may be  thought of as a form of napalm, that stuck and set fire to  everything – and everyone –  it came into contact with, and flared  up even more fiercely if water was cast onto it (*).

The Tower of London  is visited, although not entered, on our “London Wall” and “Tower to Temple” standard walks, and on our “Medieval London”, “Medieval City Highlights”, “Tudor and Stuart London”, “Tudor and Stuart City Highlights” and “Rebellious London”  themed specials.

Further details of all our walks are available in the Our Guided Walks section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, or by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com).

(*) As a contemporary chronicler put it: “They that were within the Tower cast wildfire into the City, and shot in small guns, and burned and hurt men and women and children in the streets”.

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