Following the capture of Henry VI, Queen Margaret raised an army in Yorkshire numbering some 15,000 men. The Duke of York and the Earl of Salisbury, with an army of about 6,000 men, marched out of London in early December and headed north. At Worksop they brushed aside a Lancastrian advance guard commanded by the captain Andrew Trollope and arrived at Sandal castle in Yorkshire.   Unbeknown to York, the Lancastrians had concentrated their forces at nearby Pontefract castle.

On 29th December a Yorkist foraging party blundered into the main body of the Lancastrian army and was pursued back to Wakefield. The following morning a force of about 6,000 men commanded by the Duke of Somerset and Lord Clifford deployed for battle in full view of the Yorkist army in and around Sandal castle. On seeing this, the Duke of York and the Earl of Salisbury marched their army down from the castle onto level ground near the River Calder. They did not realise that the Lancastrians had laid a trap. As soon as York and Somerset became embroiled in a melee, two large forces of the Lancastrian army, commanded by the Earl of Wiltshire and Lord Roos, emerged from nearby woods surrounding the Yorkist army. Around 3,000 Yorkists were killed including the Duke of York. His son the Earl of Rutland was killed escaping from the battlefield and the Earl of Salisbury was captured that evening and executed the next day