Saturday, 24 July 2021

Battle of St Albans 1455 - 'Never Mind the Billhooks'

Following the disastrous defeat at the battle of Castillon, Henry VI of England suffered a mental breakdown. The Dukes of York & Somerset vied to rule "on behalf of" the king and York got the support he needed to take power. Quick sticks he imprisoned Somerset.

Unfortunately for York, Henry VI recovered his wits enough to continue his reign and he released Somerset and convened a Great Council to meet at Leicester. York was no fool and could see the writing on the wall (charges and a quick trip to the headsman) and so he raised a force to block the King & Somerset, on the road from London to Leicester.

Deployment on Yorkist right

The King beat York to St Albans and occupied the town with about 2000 men. The Yorkist army of over 4000 arrived outside St Albans and demanded Somerset be handed over. The King refused and the stage was set for the first battle of the Wars of the Roses.

Our refight was played in 28mm, to "Never Mind the Billhooks", using a variety of figures ranging from Perry's to Foundry and plenty in between.

For the Lancastrians, there was Chris as king, Jason as Clifford and Steve M as Buckingham.

The Yorkists were led by Chas as Richard Duke of York, Andy as the Earl of Salisbury and myself as Warwick the kingmaker. The OBs and set up were borrowed from the excellent work done at:

The battle started with the Lancastrians surprised, as the Yorkists abandoned the parley and moved on the town in battle order.

House of Lancaster stands firm

Warwick's men approached directly on two roads, with part of York's forces taking the third road into town, whilst the rest of his men swung right to outflank the defences. Meanwhile Salisbury's force went wide of the town on the left.

The Lancastrians reacted to the threat. The king was in the central town square, with Northumberland there to keep an eye on him and use his forces to defend the roads into town. Buckingham moved to defend the left of the line and Clifford took the right.

House of York attacks

My men under Warwick now came under bow fire from the prepared defences blocking the roads into St Albans and one unit of bill fell back "daunted". The rest of my force deployed skirmishers and archers and exchanged arrows, with only Warwick's men-at-arms having the armour to press on.

On our right, Chas got into some fighting near the church, but was forced back, whilst the bulk of his men continued to turn the flank.

Andy's force on our left, met with Jason's men, who had struck out of town to line the hedges. A lively battle ensued. 

Warwick breaks into the town

In the centre I tried to storm the barricades, but was getting the worst of it and all but my men-at-arms fell back.

Chas's flanking force on our right, was getting on better against Steve, but could not force him from the hedges.

Andy was still getting all medieval with Jason, but Jason's men held firm.

Yorkist left breaks through

Suddenly Warwick's men-at-arms broke the bill facing them and were into the town, followed by my and Chas's skirmishers, who made mischief from the buildings.

Seeing their men break, another unit of bill ran from the Lancastrian centre and the king's men-at-arms were forced to take their place in line facing Warwick.

Warwick's men-at-arms were not exactly fresh, so I played the "concealed ditch" card, which gave them a defensive ditch to their front, should they be charged.

Things then suddenly collapsed on the King's side. Andy broke through on their right and Northumberland's men in the centre broke and ran.

Yorkists are pushed back

At this point the Lancastrians threw in the towel and Warwick took the king under his and the white rose of York's protection.

A good game, but I have to say I found some parts of the rules confusing. I could have sworn we were losing and suddenly the opposition morale collapsed and they ran for the hills. Maybe I did not know what was going on ! Not an uncommon occurrence for a medieval commander I guess.

Nice to see so many pretty figures on the table. I was particularly impressed with Jason's "Contrast" painted Perry figures in the centre. So impressed, that I invested in some contrast paints the next day. Anything that speeds up my painting has to be good.

As always, many thanks to all who made it a fun game.



  1. It is unlikely that the Yorkists had more than 3000 men at 1st St Albans. And what happened to the Abbey and the Tonman Ditch?

    1. Mike,

      We didn't have an Abbey building and anyway by 1455 the Abbey was in ruins, having received the attentions of Henry VIII's Commissioners. The Abbey church still existed, but we lumped this in with the rest of the town buildings to give a built up area, rather than trying to model the town building by building.

      As to the Tonman ditch, opinions differ as to where the battle started, Some accounts have the Lancastrians lining the inside of the ditch, others have them barricading the streets at the edge of the town. We took the view that the king lacked the men to defend a kilometre of ditch (and that is just the south side) and his commanders wouldn't have wanted to put their men in the open to face the Yorkists archers.
      At the end of the day it is a case of whose account you believe and we stuck with the one that looked to give the best game and ditched the ditch.

      Concerning the size of the Yorkist force, this is also uncertain. Like most battles of the period we have no definitive head count and historians differ as to the numbers involved. I have read the available conclusions and saw that they varied between 3000 and 7000 for Richard of York's force. Consequently I quoted 5000, although as we were not deploying 5000 figures, we went with a 50% points advantage to the white rose. Frankly it would have been difficult to get many more in the space available in the town. I tend to take most accounts of numbers involved with a pinch of salt and don't see how anyone can say a precise figure.


    2. My mistake, mixing my dates. Obviously the Abbey was not dissolved by the date of the battle of St Albans !

      Nevertheless, we grouped it with other town buildings, as a built up area. It being an Abbey having no effect on its function as a defence.
      It doesn't seem to have played any part in the battle and didn't in our
      attempt at a recreation.


  2. Thank you for the plug - looks like you had a great game.

    1. Its us who should thank you for your excellent scenario, keep up the good work. Chas

  3. Looks a fantastic game, great table and miniatures guys. I’ve found some bits of the rules to be vague, even after reading both faqs. I hope the second edition of the rules clears some bits up. All the best 😁👍

  4. A cracking game. Great figures and scenery.

  5. What a fantastic looking table and interesting AAR, thanks for posting. I would be interested to hear of your experiences with contrast paint for WotR.

    1. Hi Norm, I am the chap who painted his WOTR figures with contrast paints. First up, a couple of points. I only started using contrast paints because my eyesight has gone to pot, I am waiting for cataract surgery and probably will use them a lot less after I have had the ops.

      Contrast paints give a reasonable base paint job, they are not a replacement for normal painting techniques. They do simplify a lot of the basic work though, I use them as a shade and base coat, then add highlights where needed. Some of the colours are great for historical figures, especially the browns, greens and greys. Some less so, but that is personal taste.
      Two things to note. I would recommend you use the contrast medium to thin the paint sometimes, it gives a different shade to the same colour. Also use the official contrast undercoat spray paints, they do make a difference in how the paint works. Oh, and paint light to dark, the darker colours will cover the lighter colours, it doesn't work the other way though.
      Hope that helps, let me know if I can help in any other way.