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Understanding the Pattern of Events 1455-1461


Three brief activities explore the pattern of events between 1455 and 1461 – a physical timeline, a brief role-play and a decision-making activity.

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Activity 1. Timeline to show the pattern of events

A quick activity to help students get a sense of the duration of the peace after the first battle of St. Albans in 1455 – done by comparing the length of this period with their own secondary school experience.

a) position 7 students in a line – one for each school year Y7 to Y13. Ideally give each one a sticky badge with the number on it or wear a tabard so numbers immediately apparent.

b) give out cards with the names of battles on them – so first St. Albans happened in May of Y7, Blore Heath in September Y11, Northampton in July Y12, Wakefield December Y12, Mortimer’s Cross and St. Albans in February Y12 and Towton at end of March Y12. [You could also add other events such as the flight from Ludford.]

c) Now – discuss!! How would students describe the pattern? What questions do they have? Has seeing the pattern in terms of their own school lives helped them understand the pattern – if so, how?

d) Once questions asked maybe add the 1459 Coventry Parliament and the 1460 Act of Accord if you wish as a second explanatory layer.


Activity 2. Why did peace last so long 1455-1459?

It’s easy to make assumptions that once the first battle took place in 1455 then further battles came rapidly but Activity 1 shows they didn’t – why? This brief role-play cum demonstration helps explain that.

a) put 80% of your class in one bloc in the middle of the room – they are the ‘neutral’ nobles – between 50 and 60 of them in the late 1450s. They want peace, not warfare – peace and stability means greater prosperity, no chance of losing their lands. Explain this to them – and for emphasis a little chanting ‘we want peace’ might be fun!

b) select and place other students as individuals as shown below – think about whether you want the chatty ones in these roles or you want to give quieter students a chance to offer answers in role. Put them in a line facing the neutral bloc.

York – position on outside left.

The Nevilles – Salisbury and Warwick – position on inside left but a clear gap between them and York.

Somerset and Northumberland – position on inside left close to Henry and Margaret

Henry and Margaret– position on outside right

c) Explain to all or, preferably, draw on students’ knowledge of events so far, the attitudes of these individuals i.e.

York and Henry/Margaret widely apart because of mutual fears of being attacked by the other

Somerset/Northumberland – young lords whose fathers killed in 1455 and so hostile to York

Nevilles – also fearing attack but also considering wisdom of continuing as allies to York. This continuous yoking together of York and Nevilles is easily assumed because of later events but after 1455 they may well have seen the dangers of being seen as potential traitors as York’s allies.

d) Ask individuals/groups questions to create discussion of why there was four years of peace.

• Neutral nobles – what do you want? How will you react to anyone breaking peace?

[key point here – neutrals might turn against anyone who initiates fighting – a considerable deterrent to starting more warfare]

• York – why didn’t you attack Margaret and others? [focus on lack of support/concern about neutrals’ attitudes]

• Margaret – why not raise forces against York? [focus on neutrals’ attitude plus will nobles follow Queen – chance to mention decline in Henry’s health]

• Somerset/Northumberland – why not attack York? [enough support/neutrals’ attitude]

• Nevilles – why worried about being too close to York? [being seen as traitors]

e) Summary – which group is most influential at this time? How important were neutral nobles in the 4 years of peace? Ended because of gradual growth in support for Henry/Margaret’s position.


Activity 3. Reacting to events – making choices 1459-1461

This short activity contrasts events of 1459-61 with the earlier period – this should show the lack of choice, the need to react to events or lose everything.

a) Divide the class into two groups – a third as Yorkist leaders, two-thirds as Lancastrian leaders.

Tell them they’ll need to take decisions, responding to events and the other group’s actions.


briefly tell them all the story of autumn 1459 – Blore Heath, Yorkists flee to exile (move them to edge of room), attainder at Coventry Parliament.

ASK Yorkists – what will you do? Stay in exile or return?

If they return will it be for existing lands and titles or to win crown?

How would they rate the difficulty of the exile or return choice – 0 = easy, 4 = hard.


briefly tell them the story of 1460 – Yorkists return, Northampton, Act of Accord disinheriting Edward of Lancaster.

ASK Lancastrians – will you accept Accord or fight to overturn it?

How would they rate the difficulty of the exile or return choice – 0 = easy, 4 = hard.


briefly tell them the story of late 1460/early 1461 – death of York at Wakefield, defeat of Warwick at St. Albans but Edward’s win at Mortimer’s Cross.

ASK Yorkists – will you accept Henry as king after these defeats or keep fighting to win crown for Edward?

How would they rate the difficulty of the exile or return choice – 0 = easy, 4 = hard.

e) Summary – look at the difficulty of decisions. Hopefully students will appreciate that individuals had little choice in their decisions if they were to retain their family lands or crown i.e. that once the dominoes began to fall at Blore Heath and Coventry parliament in 1459 events gathered momentum and wouldn’t stop until one side had won decisively.

You may wish to add a coda – asking Margaret and Lancastrians if she’ll keep fighting from exile.


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Constructive feedback is always welcome, particularly anything that will help other teachers.

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Activity 1

Activity 2

Activity 3