Unique War of the Roses cannonball rediscovered

This War of the Roses cannonball is the only surviving artefact from the Second Battle of St Albans in 1461. Believed to the second oldest known cannonball, it was found by a detectorist in 2015. Having disappeared from view, it has now been rediscovered and will hopefully be put on public display.

Detecting find

A metal detectorist found the cannonball on 14th February 2015 near St Albans. He recorded it at the PAS as BH-E474B0.

Second Battle of St Albans

St Albans has the unique distinction of being the only town where two War of the Roses’ battles were fought. The first was on 22 May 1455. You can read the historical background to these battles in my article Henry VI – Part Two.

Drawing by James Henry Ramsay, 1892

The Second Battle of St Albans was fought on 17 February 1461. The Earl of Warwick deployed his forces to the north of the town at Bernards Heath. The Battlefields Trust authenticated the find spot as being likely to be on the battlefield.

The find confirms the interpretation of the battlefield that Warwick placed his artillery in a position to counter the attack he expected the Lancastrians to make from the due north.  However, in the damp conditions many of the Yorkists’ cannon failed to fire. They also found it difficult to manoeuvre when the Lancastrian army outflanked them.

Type of cannonball

Professor Glenn Foard confirmed that it was a War of the Roses cannonball. Glen is an archaeologist from the University of Huddersfield and is best known for discovering the location of the final phases of the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485.

Battle of Barnet Cannonball. Photo: PAS CC By SA2.0

Two similar cannonballs (recorded at the PAS as BH-04C327 and BH-3C0750) were found near Barnet and have been linked to the battle that took place there in 1471 by Glenn. These are now on display in Barnet museum.

The St Albans and Barnet cannonballs are cast lead alloy spheres.

Rediscovery

In early 2016 the cannonball was briefly put on display in St Albans Museum. It then disappeared from public view. Dr John Morewood, a member of the Battlefields Trust and president of St Albans and Hertfordshire Architectural and Archaeological Society (SAHAAS) started searching for it. He eventually tracked it down to The Lanes Armoury in Brighton. John and the Trust secured its purchase and John told me “the Battlefields Trust and SAHAAS are in discussions with St Albans Museum and Gallery to ensure the item is put on permanent display to the public

Museums manager Farhana Begum said: “As a museum we know the power a single object has in bringing a story to life and so we’re very grateful to members of the two organisations for their efforts to bring this cannonball back to St Albans. We look forward to working with SAHAAS on a future exhibition which will showcase this and many other wonderful objects.

Previous St Albans cannonball find

SAHAAS vice president, Dr Peter Burley, confirmed that the cannonball is the only authenticated artefact from the 1461 battle. However, he added that another one had been found previously. That cannonball was found by a pupil playing truant from St Albans School in around 1530. He later became mayor and told the story in his memoirs. Unfortunately, that cannonball disappeared a good while since.

Oldest War of the Roses cannonball

If this is the second oldest cannonball then what is the oldest.

Photo: NORTHAMPTON BATTLEFIELDS SOCIETY

The oldest known cannonball is also a War of the Roses cannonball. It is from the Battle of Northampton on 10 July 1460. It was found by Stuart Allwork, the late owner of the farm where it was discovered. It too was thought to have been lost but was found in Stuart’s house after his death in 2013.

Acknowledgement

Many thanks to Mark Hawkins of The Lanes Armoury www.thelanesarmoury.co.uk which is “Frequently Described As The Best Militaria Collectables & Specialist Vintage Military Bookshop, Gallery and Website in the World!

Also thanks to Dr John Morewood for his assistance.

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