Battle numbers

Which were the biggest battles fought on British soil in terms of numbers of participants and lives lost?

In terms of participants, the largest Civil War battle was Marston Moor in July 1644 when around 28,000 Parliamentarians defeated 18,000 royalists.

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The tendency of chroniclers to exaggerate makes it difficult to assess numbers and casualties in earlier battles with any degree of certainty. The Yorkist victory at Towton in March 1461 is often described as the largest and bloodiest battle on British soil although claims of up to 100,000 participants are considered by modern-day historians to be a gross exaggeration.

So too is the figure of 28,000 dead given in some contemporary accounts although this didn’t prevent some members of the media from quoting it as fact in recent reports of the 550th anniversary of the battle. In fact Flodden in September 1513 may well have been bigger, and bloodier. As many as 40,000 Scots crossed the Tweed in August and the Earl of Surrey mustered 26,000 men to face them. Even allowing for desertions it seems likely that over 50,000 men were still around to do battle on 9 September.

English accounts claim that 10,000 Scots and 1,500 English died. English losses were probably higher than that; a measure of the ferocity of the fighting is the fact that of the 500 men of Surrey’s personal retinue, only 293 remained to claim their wages after the battle.

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Answered by: Julian Humphrys, development officer for the Battlefields Trust