The First Recorded Incident Of Friendly Fire Happened In Barnet

Harry Rosehill
By Harry Rosehill Last edited 12 months ago
The First Recorded Incident Of Friendly Fire Happened In Barnet
The quaint village of Monken Hadley. Photo: Matt Brown

London's fringe villages aren't always the liveliest places. Take Monken Hadley and Hadley Green at the top of Barnet. The area's not brimming with tourist attractions, but maybe people should take more notice of it. There's very little to suggest it once hosted a battle of massive importance in the War of the Roses. However, on 14 April 1471, it did just that.

The Battle of Barnet is of historic significance for a couple of reasons. Most famously, it was a pivotal moment in a protracted war that helped secure Edward IV the throne. Secondly, it's the first recorded instance of friendly fire in history. For the uninitiated in the tactics of war, friendly fire is when weapons from one's own side accidentally causes injuries to that same side's forces.

So let's set the scene. It's a foggy morning. The Barnet — or, more specifically, Hadley — of today might look suburban and green, but it's nothing in comparison with the rolling fields that blanketed it in the 15th century. The battle sounds like something out of a Hollywood film, a former protege battling his disillusioned master.

Someone is really going for it with his spear. Lithograph of the battle from Wikimedia Commons

Richard Neville was the Earl of Warwick and had earned himself the name 'the Kingmaker', when he helped Edward win the throne ten years earlier. Since then, he'd grown discontent with his ally — particularly his choice of wife — and switched to the Lancastrian side, helping Henry VI back to the throne temporarily.

So it all came down to this battle for Edward. At the start, the Lancastrians were enjoying some success, before they defeated themselves. Warwick's men confused the star emblem worn by the followers of their ally the Earl of Oxford, with the sun badge representing the Yorkists.

Contemporary picture of the battle. Wikimedia Commons

So they did what any savvy medieval soldier would do. Shot arrows at them. Oxford and his men cried treachery, fighting back and sending the Lancastrian ranks into a disarray of anger and panic. Edward saw the chaos in the enemy ranks and did what any good commander would; he went in for the kill.

And kill he did. The battle was the death of Warwick and afterwards, Edward is reported to have ridden all the way to St Paul's, melodramatically interrupting a service to lay the dead Earl's banner on the altar.

So maybe take a stroll up to Hadley Green one misty morning and visit a place that saw a milestone in military history. Whatever you do, be sure not to mistake the sun for the stars.

If you're interested in the Battle of Barnet you can find out more at Barnet Museum.

Last Updated 28 April 2017