Fatal Colours - Towton 1461: England’s Most Brutal Battle

Gripping account of Wars of the Roses Battle from debut author, George Goodwin

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Fatal Colours: Towton 1461: England’s Most Brutal Battle is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson at £20.00 - in anticipation of the 550th calendar anniversary on 29 March 2011 and the 550th traditional Palm Sunday anniversary on 17 April 2011.


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A gripping account of the Wars of the Roses Battle of Towton - arguably the biggest, longest, bloodiest day on English soil - published to mark the 550th Anniversary on 29 March 2011, from local debut author, George Goodwin.

The vast battle at Towton, which settled the first War of the Roses, was arguably England’s biggest and longest. It was certainly the most brutal battle, a civil war between North and South, fought with little chance of escape and none of surrender. It is estimated that 10% of available 16 to 60 year old men were at the battle and nearly 1% of the population died. It was the appalling climax of the disastrous 40-year reign of England’s youngest ever king, Henry VI, which ended in an outcome that would change England, the kingship and kingdom, for ever.

Combining medieval sources and modern scholarship, George Goodwin recreates the atmosphere of fifteenth-century England for the general history reader. From the death of the great Henry V and his baby son’s inheritance, first of England, then of France, he chronicles the vicious in-fighting at home in response to the vicissitudes of the 100 Years War abroad. He vividly describes the pivotal year of 1450 and a decade of breakdown for both king and kingdom, as increasingly embittered factions struggle for a supremacy that could only be secured after the carnage of Towton.

He colourfully brings to life the tumultuous reign of Henry VI and the beginning of the end of the medieval age. In particular, his exploration of the psychology of Henry VI is ground-breaking and informed by expert advice.

Fatal Colours includes a cast of strong and compelling characters: a warrior Queen, a ruthless king-making Earl, even a Papal Legate who excommunicates an entire army. At its centre is the first full explanation for the crippling incapacity of Henry VI - founder of Eton and King's College, Cambridge - but forever child-like.

The book includes a substantive introduction by David Starkey who writes: "Fatal Colours is more than a book about one battle, vivid, humane and superbly researched though it is. It is an account of a moment of profound crisis in English politics."

George Goodwin is a history graduate of Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he was awarded a Foundation Exhibition. He is a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing and of the Royal Society of Arts: and a member of the Towton Battlefield Society and of the Battlefields Trust. This is his first book.

“I’m passionate about English history and believe the late Middle Ages should be far better known. Traditionally they have been viewed as alien and shadowy and in complete contrast to the brilliance of the Tudor reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.

But that’s nonsense.

The 15th century is a vibrant and colourful period in its own right; the Wars of the Roses contain the most dramatic turns of fortune in all English history. This is a period of rich ceremonial and of base treachery, of priestly kings and warrior queens. It cries out to be taught more widely in schools. And justifiably, for many aspects of the 15th century should resonate for being strikingly familiar: with two factions within the government of the country producing separate power bases and two kings; a real Papal conspiracy; a North-South Divide which exists to this day; a celebrity hero with a genius for propaganda; and the first coherent popular protest movement.

It is also worthy of continued research as, even now, exciting new evidence is coming to light about the uniquely brutal battle at Towton, due to the pioneering work of a dedicated team of battlefield archaeologists and of a lively and caring Battlefield Society. Modern expertise of a different nature has helped me to give an explanation for the central problem of the traumatic and turbulent 40-year reign of Henry VI: the ‘personality’ of a tragically inadequate and ill-fated king.

Fatal Colours is, as a general history, greatly indebted to the work of many academic historians. These may, in the manner of historians, hotly disagree in their interpretations of the period: but I believe they have in common their hope that, in time, the 15th century will join the 16th in being popularly seen as a crucial part of our nation’s history, an essential stepping stone between a medieval and a modern Britain.”

In researching Fatal Colours, George Goodwin has consulted members of the Towton Battlefield Society, the Battlefields Trust, the Towton Battlefield Archaeological Survey Project and the Royal Armouries. Specifically in relations to Henry VI’s schizophrenia, he has interviewed leading psychiatrists from the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

Praise for Fatal Colours:

"For a nation that is so fond of a bellicose past, it is astonishing that so little is known about this most bloody day in English history. George Goodwin's emotive account of this half-time mark in the Wars of the Roses is an essential addition to our gory story."
A.A. Gill, Hon Patron of Towton Battlefield Society

"Brilliantly researched and superbly written, Fatal Colours vividly brings to life one of the most dramatic periods of our history."
Tracy Borman, author of Elizabeth's Women

"Written with clarity of style, accessible and engaging. A significant addition to the literature on the period."
Professor Anthony Goodman, author of The Wars of the Roses, Professor Emeritus of Medieval History at the University of Edinburgh

“A cracking job. A very enjoyable read." David Cooke, Yorkshire Battlefields Trust

March 25, 2011