York and his army began the march south from Yorkshire towards London, possibly hoping to intercept the King as he left for the council in Leicester. York's main objectives were the removal of Somerset and the court party which was acting against him, and his own restoration to the Council, which would grant him influence over the King. En route to London, York linked up with his allies, including Salisbury and Warwick, who had assembled their own armies. By the time they reached Ermine Street, the old Roman road into London, the force numbered around 7,000 armed men.
|The site of the Castle Inn is now a building society, on the corner of St Peter's street and Victoria Street. A blue plaque marks the spot where the Duke of Somerset was slain.|
Guided tours of the battle site are regularly held in St Albans.
The King received intelligence that York's army was approaching, and was persuaded that York's intention was to forcefully seize the throne. The King responded by raising an army through his supporters, most notably the Duke of Somerset, and left London for the march north to meet with York's army. On the morning of May 22nd 1455 the two armies met at St Albans in Hertfordshire.Estimates suggest that the combined Yorkist alliance of the armies of Warwick, Salisbury and York numbered around 5-7,000; whilst the King's forces were in the region of 2-3,000.
York initially sought to 'parley' or converse with the King, and explain that he meant no harm to the King, and only wished those in the Royal court who had wronged him to be brought to justice. The King was also keen to have a peaceful resolution, as he was heavily outnumbered, however when he heard York's demands he became angry and refused. York returned to his men and arrayed them for battle. So, at some time between 10 and 12 on the morning of May 22nd, battle commenced with a violent clash in the market place of St Albans.
|Site of the first battle of St Albans today (click to enlarge)|
A furious battle ensued, as the market place and surrounding streets quickly became crowded with the soldiers of the opposing armies. It seems however that the swift onset of the battle took many of the King's soldiers by surprise, who were not fully armoured. The Yorkists swept mercilessly through the Lancastrian ranks, who clumsily withdrew. The king had remained in relative safety to the rear of the fighting, and stood firm as his forces disintegrated. He received a minor wound to the neck when struck by a Yorkist arrow, and was led away to safety.
The first battle of St Albans had lasted no more than half an hour, and despite the bloodshed, only around 60-100 men were slain. Many nobles on the Lancastrian side were killed or wounded. Somerset himself was among those killed, possibly by Warwick himself, outside an inn called The Castle. Legend has it that Somerset took fright when he realised that he was next to this inn, as a soothsayer had warned him years earlier to beware of castles.
York was now able to approach the King and once more put his case that he was acting in self-defence. In the months that followed York was restored to his former influential role as Protector of the Realm, now that his main rivals were out of the picture. The events at St Albans were the culmination of many years of unease between the powerful factions at the head of society. Far from there being any kind of lasting resolution, the seeds were planted for a far more serious conflict at Blore Heath.