Wars of the Roses
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Wars of the Roses

Wars of the Roses
Plucking the Red and White Roses, by Henry Payne.jpg
Framed print after 1908 painting by Henry Payne of the scene in the Temple Garden from Shakespeare's play Henry VI, Part 1, where supporters of the rival factions pick either red or white roses
Date22 May 1455 - 16 June 1487
(32 years, 3 weeks and 4 days)
Result Victory for the House of Tudor and their allies
Full results

Red Rose Badge of Lancaster.svg House of Lancaster
Tudor Rose.svg House of Tudor

Supported by:
Royal Arms of the Kingdom of Scotland.svg Kingdom of Scotland
Arms of France (France Moderne).svg Kingdom of France

White Rose Badge of York.svg Yorkist rebels

White Rose Badge of York.svg House of York

Supported by:
Arms of the Duke of Burgundy since 1430.svg Burgundian State
Commanders and leaders

House of Lancaster:
Royal Arms of England (1470-1471).svg Henry VI Surrendered #
Arms of the Prince of Wales (Modern).svg Prince of Wales 
Arms of Margaret of Anjou.svg Margaret of Anjou Surrendered #
Neville Warwick Arms.svg Earl of Warwick 
Coat of Arms of John Neville, 1st Marquess of Montagu.svg Marquess of Montagu 
Coat of Arms of John Neville, Baron Neville.svg Baron Neville 
Coat of Arms of William Neville, 1st Earl of Kent.svg Thomas Neville Executed
Stafford arms.svg Duke of Buckingham 
Coat of Arms of John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury.svg Earl of Shrewsbury 
COA Tuchet.svg Baron Audley 
Beaufort Arms (France modern).svg Duke of Somerset Executed
Arms of John Holland, 2nd Duke of Exeter.svg Duke of Exeter #
Arms of Northumberland (ancient).svg Earl of Northumberland 
Arms of Clifford.svg Baron Clifford 
SIr Andrew Trollope's coat of arms.svg Andrew Trollope 
Coat of Arms of James Butler, 1st Earl of Wiltshire.svg Earl of Wiltshire Executed
De Ros arms.svg Baron Ros Executed
Beaufort Arms (France modern).svg Edmund Beaufort Executed
Courtenay of Devon.svg Earl of Devon 

House of Tudor:
Arms of Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond.svg Henry VII
Arms of Owen Tudor.svg Owen Tudor Executed
Arms of Jasper Tudor, Duke of Bedford.svg Earl of Pembroke
Coat of Arms of John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford.svg Earl of Oxford
Coat of Arms of Thomas Stanley, 1rst Earl of Derby, King of Mann.svg Baron Stanley
Coat of Arms of William Stanley.svg Sir William Stanley

Yorkist rebels:
Coat of Arms of John Conyers.svg Robin of Redesdale 

Coat of Arms of Robert Willoughby, 6th Baron Willoughby de Eresby.svg Baron Willoughby Executed

House of York:
Royal Arms of England (1399-1603).svg Edward IV #
Royal Arms of England (1399-1603).svg Richard III 
Arms of Richard of York, 3rd Duke of York.svg Duke of York 
Neville Warwick Arms.svg Earl of Warwick[4]
Coat of Arms of Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury.svg Earl of Salisbury Executed
Coat of Arms of William Neville, 1st Earl of Kent.svg Earl of Kent #
Coat of Arms of Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury.svg Thomas Neville 
Coat of Arms of John Neville, 1st Marquess of Montagu.svg Marquess of Montagu[4]
Arms of Edmund, Earl of Rutland.svg Earl of Rutland 
Arms of Thomas of Brotherton, 1st Earl of Norfolk.svg Duke of Norfolk #
Blason fam uk Hastings (selon Gelre).svg Baron Hastings Executed
Arms of George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence.svg Duke of Clarence Executed
Howard arms (John, duke of Norfolk).svg Duke of Norfolk 
CoA of John de la Pole, 1st Earl of Lincoln.svg Earl of Lincoln 

Coat of Arms of Francis Lovell, 1st Viscount Lovell.svg Viscount Lovell

The Wars of the Roses were a series of civil wars fought over control of the English throne in the mid-to-late fifteenth century. The wars were fought between supporters of two rival cadet branches of the royal House of Plantagenet; the House of Lancaster, and the House of York. The wars extinguished the male lines of the two rival dynasties, leading to the Tudor family inheriting the Lancastrian claim. Following the war, the Houses of Tudor and York were united, creating a new royal dynasty, thereby resolving the issue of rival claims to the throne.

The conflict had its roots in the wake of the Hundred Years' War and its emergent socio-economic troubles which weakened the prestige of the English monarchy,[5] unfolding structural problems of bastard feudalism and the powerful duchies created by Edward III,[6] and the mental infirmity and weak rule of Henry VI, which revived interest in the Yorkist claim to the throne by Richard of York. Disagreement remains among historians over which of these factors were the main catalyst for the wars.[7]

The wars began in 1455 when Richard of York captured Henry VI in battle and was subsequently appointed Lord Protector by Parliament, leading to an uneasy peace.[8] Tensions remained between the two rivals, and fighting broke out four years later, with Henry's wife Margaret of Anjou primarily coordinating Lancastrian efforts. Although Yorkists led by Warwick the Kingmaker recaptured Henry, Richard was killed in 1460, leading to the inheritance of his claim by his heir, Edward. Although the Yorkists lost custody of Henry the following year, Edward destroyed the Lancastrian's army at Towton, and was crowned as Edward IV three months later in June 1461.[9][10] Minor resistance to Edward's rule continued but was defeated in 1464, leading to a period of relative peace.

In 1469, Warwick withdrew his support for Edward due to opposition against the king's foreign policy and choice of bride, and threw it behind the Lancastrian claim, leading to a renewal in fighting. Edward was briefly deposed and fled to Flanders the following year, and Henry was reinstalled as king. Henry's renewal in reign was short-lived however, as the Lancastrians suffered decisive defeats at Barnet at which Warwick was killed, and Tewkesbury, which led to the death of Henry's heir and Henry's reimprisonment in the Tower of London. Much of the Lancastrian nobility were either killed, executed, or went into exile as a result of the battle. Shortly afterwards, Edward reassumed the throne, after which Henry either died or was assassinated on Edward's order.[11] Edward ruled unopposed and England enjoyed a period of relative peace until his death twelve years later in 1483.

Edward's twelve-year-old son reigned for 78 days as Edward V until he was deposed by his uncle Richard, who was crowned Richard III. Richard assumed the throne under a cloud of controversy, particularly the disappearence of Edward IV's two sons, sparking a short-lived but major revolt and triggering a wave of desertions of prominent Yorkists to the Lancastrian cause.[12] In the midst of the chaos, Henry Tudor, son of Henry VI's half-brother the Earl of Richmond, returned to England from exile in Brittany at the head of an army of English, French, and Breton troops. Henry defeated and killed Richard at Bosworth Field in 1485, assumed the throne as Henry VII, and married Elizabeth of York, the eldest daughter and sole heir of Edward IV, thereby uniting the rival claims.

Shortly after Henry took the throne, the Earl of Lincoln put forward Lambert Simnel as an impostor Edward Plantagenet, a potential claimant to the throne. Lincoln's army was defeated and Lincoln himself killed at Stoke Field in 1487, ending the wars. Henry never faced any further military threats to his reign from within. In 1490, Perkin Warbeck put himself forth claiming to be Richard of Shrewsbury, Edward IV's second son and rival claimant to the throne, but was soon captured and executed before any rebellion could be launched.[13]

The House of Tudor ruled England until 1603 with the death of Elizabeth I, granddaughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. The reign of the Tudor dynasty saw the strengthening of the prestige and power of the English monarchy, particularly under Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, and the end of the medieval period in England which subsequently saw the dawn of the English Renaissance.[1][2][3] Historian John Guy argued that "England was economically healthier, more expansive, and more optimistic under the Tudors" than at any time since the Roman occupation.[14]

Nomenclature and symbolism

The name "Wars of the Roses" refers to the heraldic badges associated with the two rival branches of the royal House of Plantagenet fighting for control of the English throne; the White Rose of York and the Red Rose of Lancaster. Embryonic forms of this term were used in 1727 by Bevil Higgons, who described the quarrel between the two roses.[15] and by David Hume in The History of England (1754-61):

The people, divided in their affections, took different symbols of party: the partisans of the house of Lancaster chose the red rose as their mark of distinction; those of York were denominated from the white; and these civil wars were thus known over Europe by the name of the quarrel between the two roses.[16]

The modern term Wars of the Roses came into common use in the early 19th century following publication of the 1829 novel Anne of Geierstein by Sir Walter Scott.[17] Scott based the name on a scene in William Shakespeare's play Henry VI, Part 1 (Act 2, Scene 4), set in the gardens of the Temple Church, where a number of noblemen and a lawyer pick red or white roses to symbolically display their loyalty to the Lancastrian or Yorkist faction respectively. During Shakespeare's time, the conflict was simply referred to as the "civil wars".[18]

The Yorkist faction used the symbol of the white rose from early in the conflict, but the red rose of Lancaster was introduced only after the victory of Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. After Henry's victory and marriage to Elizabeth of York, the sole surviving heir of Edward IV, the two roses were combined to form the Tudor rose, to symbolise the union of the two claims.[19] The use of the rose itself as a cognizance stemmed from Edward I's use of "a golden rose stalked proper".[20] Often, owing to nobles holding multiple titles, more than one badge was used: Edward IV, for example, used both his sun in splendour as Earl of March, but also his father's falcon and fetterlock as Duke of York. Badges were not always distinct; at the Battle of Barnet, Edward's 'sun' was very similar to the Earl of Oxford's Vere star, which caused fatal confusion in the fighting.[21]

Many participants wore livery badges associated with their immediate liege lords or patrons. The wearing of livery was confined to those in "continuous employ of a lord", thus excluding, for example, mercenary companies.[22] For example, Henry Tudor's forces at Bosworth fought under the banner of a red dragon,[23] while the Yorkist army used Richard III's personal device of a white boar.[24]

While the names of the rival houses derive from the cities of York and Lancaster, the corresponding duchy and dukedom had little to do with these cities. The lands and offices attached to the Duchy of Lancaster were primarily located in Gloucestershire, North Wales, Cheshire, and, ironically, in Yorkshire, while the estates of the Duke of York were spread throughout England and Wales, with many in the Welsh Marches.[25]

Summary of events

Important locations in the Wars of the Roses

Tensions within England during the 1450s centred on the mental state of Henry VI and on his inability to produce an heir with his wife, Margaret of Anjou. In the absence of a direct heir, there were two rival branches with claims to the throne should Henry die without issue, those being the Beaufort family, led by Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset, and the House of York, headed by Richard of York. By 1453, issues had come to a head: though Margaret of Anjou was pregnant, Henry VI was descending into increasing mental instability, by August becoming completely non-responsive and unable to govern. A Great Council of nobles was called, and through shrewd political machinations, Richard had himself declared Lord Protector and chief regent during the mental incapacity of Henry. In the interlude, Margaret gave birth to a healthy son and heir, Edward of Westminster.

By 1455, Henry had regained his faculties, and open warfare came at the First Battle of St Albans. Several prominent Lancastrians died at the hands of the Yorkists. Henry was again imprisoned, and Richard of York resumed his role as Lord Protector. Although peace was temporarily restored, the Lancastrians were inspired by Margaret of Anjou to contest York's influence.

Fighting resumed more violently in 1459. York and his supporters were forced to flee the country, and Henry was once again restored to direct rule, but one of York's most prominent supporters, the Earl of Warwick, invaded England from Calais in October 1460 and captured Henry VI yet again at the Battle of Northampton. York returned to the country and for the third time became Protector of England, but was dissuaded from claiming the throne, though it was agreed that he would become heir to the throne (thus displacing Henry and Margaret's son, Edward of Westminster, from the line of succession). Margaret and the remaining Lancastrian nobles gathered their army in the north of England.

When York moved north to engage them, he and his second son Edmund were killed at the Battle of Wakefield in December 1460. The Lancastrian army advanced south and released Henry at the Second Battle of St Albans but failed to occupy London and subsequently retreated to the north. York's eldest son Edward, Earl of March, was proclaimed King Edward IV. He gathered the Yorkist armies and won a crushing victory at the Battle of Towton in March 1461.

After Lancastrian revolts in the north were suppressed in 1464, Henry was captured once again and placed in the Tower of London. Edward fell out with his chief supporter and adviser, the Earl of Warwick (known as the "Kingmaker"), after Edward's unpopular and secretly-conducted marriage with the widow of a Lancastrian supporter, Elizabeth Woodville. Within a few years, it became clear that Edward was favouring his wife's family and alienating several friends closely aligned with Warwick as well.

A near-contemporary Flemish picture of the Battle of Barnet in 1471

Furious, Warwick tried first to supplant Edward with his younger brother George, Duke of Clarence, establishing the alliance by marriage to his daughter, Isabel Neville. When that plan failed, due to lack of support from Parliament, Warwick sailed to France with his family and allied with the former Lancastrian Queen, Margaret of Anjou, to restore Henry VI to the throne.

This resulted in two years of rapid changes of fortune before Edward IV once again won complete victories at Barnet (14 April 1471), where Warwick was killed, and Tewkesbury (4 May 1471), where the Lancastrian heir, Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales was killed or perhaps executed after the battle. Queen Margaret was escorted to London as a prisoner, and Henry was murdered in the Tower of London several days later, ending the direct Lancastrian line of succession.

A period of comparative peace followed, ending with the unexpected death of King Edward in 1483. His surviving brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, first moved to prevent the unpopular Woodville family of Edward's widow from participating in the government during the minority of Edward's son, Edward V, and then seized the throne for himself, using the suspect legitimacy of Edward IV's marriage as pretext.

Henry Tudor, a distant relative of the Lancastrian kings who had inherited their claim, defeated Richard III at Bosworth in 1485. He was crowned Henry VII and married Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV, to unite and reconcile the two houses. Yorkist revolts, directed by John de la Pole, 1st Earl of Lincoln and others, flared up in 1487 under the banner of the pretender Lambert Simnel--who claimed he was Edward, Earl of Warwick (son of George of Clarence), resulting in the last pitched battles.

Though most surviving descendants of Richard of York were imprisoned, sporadic rebellions continued until 1497, when Perkin Warbeck, who claimed he was the younger brother of Edward V, one of the two disappeared Princes in the Tower, was imprisoned and later executed.


Bastard feudalism

Edward III, who ruled England from 1327 to 1377, had five sons who survived into adulthood; Edward the Black Prince, Lionel of Antwerp, John of Gaunt, Edmund of Langley, and Thomas of Woodstock. Throughout his reign, he created duchies for his sons; Cornwall in 1337 for Edward,[26] and Clarence and Lancaster in 1362 for Lionel[27] and John[28] respectively. Edmund and Thomas became the dukes of York[29] and Gloucester[30] respectively in 1385, during the reign of Richard II. Dukedoms had hitherto never been conferred by any English monarch upon a subject until the creation of the Duchy of Cornwall in 1337,[31] and their genesis spawned a powerful new class of English nobility with claims to the throne and, theoretically, enough power to vie for it, since the new duchies provided Edward's sons and their heirs presumptive with an income independent of the sovereign or the state,[32] thereby allowing them to establish and maintain their own private military retinues.[33]

Over time, these duchies began to exacerbate the structural defects inherent in so-called "bastard feudalism", a somewhat controversial term coined in 1885 by historian Charles Plummer but largely defined by Plummer's contemporary, William Stubbs. During the reign of Edward's grandfather, Edward I, Stubbs describes a substantive shift in social dynamics in which the conscription-based feudal levy came to be replaced by a system of royal payment in return for military service by the magnates who served the monarch. Thus, instead of vassals rendering military service when called, they paid a portion of their income into their lord's treasury, who would supplement the owed service with hired retainers.[34] These retinues were known as affinities; essentially a collection of all the individuals to whom a lord had gathered for service, and came to be one of the most fundamentally defining aspects of bastard feudalism.[35] These affinities also had the means of tying the more powerful magnates to the lower nobility, although these relationships were now largely defined by personal, rather than tenurial or feudal, connections that exhibited reciprocal benefit.[36][37] Consequently, lords could now raise retinues they could implicitly trust, since the men of the affinity owed their positions to their patron.[38][39] These affinities were often much larger than the number of men the lord actually knew, since the members of the affinity also knew and supported each other.[40]

Under the reign of Richard II, this created a power struggle with the magnates, as Richard sought to increase the size of his own affinities as a counterweight to the growing retinues of his nobles.[41] The retinues of the magnates became powerful enough to defend the interests of their lord against even the authority of the monarch, as John of Gaunt, and later his son, Henry Bolingbroke, did against Richard.[33][35] During the wars, disaffected magnates such as Richard of York and Warwick the Kingmaker were able to rely upon their complex network of servants and retainers to successfully defy the authority of Henry VI.[42]

Succession crisis

The question of succession following the death of Edward III in 1377 is said by Mortimer to be the root cause of the Wars of the Roses.[43] Although Edward's succession seemed secure, there was a "sudden narrowing in the direct line of descent" near the end of his reign;[44] Edward's two eldest sons, Edward, Duke of Cornwall (also known as Edward the Black Prince) and heir presumptive, and Lionel, Duke of Clarence, had predeceased their father in 1376 and 1368 respectively. Edward III was survived by three sons with claims to the throne: John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster; Edmund of Langley; and Thomas of Woodstock. The Black Prince had a son, Richard, who had a claim to the throne based upon the principle that the son of an elder brother (Edward, in this case) had priority in the line of succession over his uncles. However, as Richard was a minor, had no siblings (on his father's side), and had three living uncles at the time of Edward III's death, there was considerable uncertainty within the realm over who should inherit the throne.[45] Ultimately, Edward was succeeded by his grandson who was crowned Richard II at just 10 years old.[46]

Under the laws of primogeniture, if Richard died without a legitimate heir, his successors would be the descendants of Lionel of Antwerp the Duke of Clarence, Edward III's second eldest son. Clarence's only child, his daughter Philippa, married into the Mortimer family and had a son, Roger Mortimer, who technically would have the best legal claim of succession. However, a legal decree issued by Edward III in 1376 introduced complexity into the question of succession, since the letters patent he issued limited the right of succession to his male line, which placed his third son, John of Gaunt, ahead of Clarence's descendants, since the latter were descended through the female line.[44]

Richard's reign was tumultuous, marked by increasing dissension between the monarch and several of the most powerful nobles.[47] Richard ruled without a regency council despite his young age in order to exclude his uncle, John of Gaunt the Duke of Lancaster, from wielding legitimate power.[48] Unpopular taxes which funded unsuccessful military expeditions in Europe triggered the Peasant's Revolt in 1381,[49] and Parliament's refusal to cooperate with the king's unpopular Lord Chancellor, Michael de la Pole, created a political crisis that seriously threatened to dethrone Richard.[50] Richard had repeatedly switched his choice of heir throughout his reign to keep his political enemies at bay.[51] In France, much of the territory conquered by Edward III had been lost,[52] leading Richard to negotiate a peace with Charles VI. The peace proposal, which effectively made England a client kingdom of France, was deeply unpopular with Parliament, which was predominately controlled by the knights fighting the war, and was rejected.[53] Richard decided to negotiate a de facto peace directly with Charles without seeking Parliament's approval and agreed to marry his six-year-old daughter, Isabella of Valois. Richard used the interim peace to punish his political rivals; when John of Gaunt died in 1399, he exiled his son Henry Bolingbroke to France, and confiscated his lands and titles.[54] In May 1399, Richard left England for a military expedition in Ireland,[55] giving Bolingbroke the opportunity to return to England.[56] With the support of much of the disaffected nobility, Richard was deposed and Bolingbroke crowned as Henry IV, the first Lancastrian monarch.[57]

Lancastrian claim

The House of Lancaster descended from John of Gaunt, the third surviving son of Edward III. The name derives from Gaunt's primary title as Duke of Lancaster, which he held by right of his spouse, Blanche of Lancaster. The Lancastrian claim on the throne had received preference from Edward III which explicitly emphasised the male line of descent.[44] Henry IV based his right to depose Richard II and subsequent assumption of the throne upon this claim,[58] since it could be argued that the heir presumptive was in fact Edmund Mortimer, the great-grandson of Edward III's second surviving son, Lionel, Duke of Clarence.[59] However, Mortimer was descended through the female line, inheriting the claim from his grandmother, Philippa.[44] An important branch of the House of Lancaster was the House of Beaufort, whose members were descended from Gaunt by his mistress, Katherine Swynford. Originally illegitimate, they were legitimised by an Act of Parliament when Gaunt and Katherine later married. However, Henry IV excluded them from the line of succession to the throne.[60]

Yorkist claim

The House of York descended from Edmund of Langley, the fourth surviving son of Edward III and younger brother of John of Gaunt. The name derives from Langley's primary title as Duke of York, which he acquired in 1385 during the reign of his nephew, Richard II.[61] The Yorkist claim on the throne, unlike the Lancastrian claim, was based upon the female line of descent, as descendants of Lionel, the Duke of Clarence. Langley's second son, Richard of Conisburgh, had married Anne de Mortimer, daughter of Roger Mortimer and sister of Edmund Mortimer. Anne's grandmother, Philippa of Clarence, was the daughter of Lionel of Antwerp. During the fourteenth century, the Mortimers were the most powerful marcher family in the kingdom.[62] G.M. Trevelyan wrote that "the Wars of the Roses were to a large extent a quarrel between Welsh Marcher Lords, who were also great English nobles, closely related to the English throne."[63]

Lancastrian dynasty

Almost immediately after assuming the throne, Henry IV faced an attempted deposition in 1400 by the Earl of Salisbury, the Duke of Exeter, the Duke of Surrey, and the Baron Despenser to re-install the imprisoned Richard as king. The attempt failed, all four conspirators were executed, and Richard died shortly thereafter "by means unknown" in Pontefract Castle.[64] Further west in Wales, the Welsh had generally supported Richard's rule, and, welded to a myriad of other socio-economic problems, the accession of Henry triggered a major rebellion in Wales led by Owain Glynd?r, a member of the Welsh nobility.[65] Glynd?r's rebellion would outlast Henry's reign, and would not end until 1415.[65] During the revolt, Glynd?r received aid from members of the Tudurs, a prominent Anglesey family and maternal cousins of Glynd?r himself, who would come to play a defining role in the coming Wars of the Roses.[66] Disputes over promises of land, money, and royal favour in exchange for their continued support drove the House of Percy, led by the Earl of Northumberland and the Earl of Worcester, to rebel multiple times against Henry. The first challenge was defeated at Shrewsbury in 1403 and Worcester was executed,[67] while a second attempt failed at Bramham Moor in 1408, at which Northumberland was killed.[68] Henry himself died in 1413, and was succeeded by his son, Henry of Monmouth, who was crowned Henry V.[69]

While not plagued by constant rebellions as his father's reign was, Henry V faced a major challenge to his authority in the form of the Southampton Plot, led by Sir Thomas Grey, Henry, Baron Scrope, and Richard of Conisburgh, the latter of whom was the second son of Edmund of Langley the 1st Duke of York, in favour of the young Edmund Mortimer, who at one time was the heir presumptive to Richard II, and a great-great-grandson of Edward III.[70] Mortimer remained loyal and informed Henry of the plot, who had all three ringleaders executed.[71]

To cement his position as king both domestically and abroad, Henry revived old dynastic claims to the French throne, and, using commercial disputes and the support France loaned to Owain Glynd?r as a casus belli, invaded France in 1415.[72] Henry captured Harfleur on 22 September[73] and inflicted a decisive defeat on the French at Agincourt on 25 October which wiped out a significant part of the French nobility.[74] The English dead included the Duke of York, the elder brother of Richard of Conisburgh, who had attempted to usurp Henry.[75] Agincourt and Henry's subsequent campaigns firmly entrenched the legitimacy of the Lancastrian monarchy and Henry's pursuit of his claims on the French throne.[76] In 1420, Henry and Charles VI of France signed the Treaty of Troyes. The treaty disinherited the French Dauphin Charles from the line of succession, married Charles' daughter Catherine of Valois to Henry, and acknowledged their future sons as legitimate successors to the French throne.[77] York had died at Agincourt with no issue, so Henry permitted Richard of York to inherit the title and lands of his uncle through his father, Richard of Conisburgh, York's younger brother. Henry, who himself had three younger brothers and had recently married Catherine, likely did not doubt that the Lancastrian claim on the crown was secure.[62] On 6 December 1421, Catherine gave birth to a son, Henry. The following year on 31 August, Henry V died of dysentery at the age of 36, and his son ascended to the throne at just nine months old.[78] Henry V's younger brothers produced no surviving legitimate heirs, leaving only the Beaufort family as alternative Lancastrian successors. As Richard of York grew into maturity and Henry VI's rule deteriorated, York's claim to the throne became more attractive. The revenue from his estates also made him the wealthiest magnate in the kingdom.[25]

Reign of Henry VI

From early childhood, Henry VI was surrounded by quarrelsome councillors and advisors. His younger surviving paternal uncle, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, sought to be named Lord Protector until Henry came of age, and deliberately courted the popularity of the common people for his own ends,[79] but was opposed by his half-uncle, Henry Beaufort. On several occasions, Beaufort called on John, Duke of Bedford, Gloucester's older brother and nominal regent to Henry, to return from his post as the king's commander in France, either to mediate or defend him against Gloucester's accusations of treason.[80] Overseas, the French had rallied around Joan of Arc and had inflicted major defeats on the English at Orléans,[81] and Patay,[82] reversing many of the gains made by Henry V and leading to the coronation of the Dauphin as Charles VII in Reims on 17 July 1429.[83] Henry was formally crowned as Henry VI, aged 7, shortly thereafter on 6 November in response to the coronation of Charles.[84] Around this time, Henry's mother Catherine of Valois had remarried to Owen Tudor[85] and bore two surviving sons; Edmund Tudor and Jasper Tudor, both of whom would play key roles in the concluding stages of the coming wars.[86]

Henry came of age in 1437 at age sixteen.[87] However, Bedford had died two years earlier in 1435, and Beaufort largely withdrew himself from public affairs sometime thereafter, in part because of the rise to prominence of his ally William de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk as the dominant personality in the royal court.[88] Like Beaufort, Suffolk favoured a diplomatic rather than a military solution to the deteriorating situation in France, a position which resonated with Henry, who was by nature averse to violence and bloodshed.[89][90] Suffolk was opposed by Gloucester and the rising Richard of York, both of whom favoured a continued prosecution of a military solution against France. Suffolk and the Beaufort family frequently received large grants of money, land, and important government and military positions from the king, who preferred their less hawkish inclinations, redirecting much-needed resources away from Richard and Gloucester's campaigns in France, leading to Richard developing a bitter resentment for the Beauforts.[91]

Suffolk continued to increase his influence at court as the principal architect of the Treaty of Tours in 1444 to broker peace between England and France. Suffolk successfully negotiated the marriage to Henry of Margaret of Anjou, only a distant relation of Charles VII through marriage rather than blood, in exchange for the strategically important lands of Maine and Anjou.[89][92] Though Suffolk earned a promotion from Earl to Marquess (and would be made a Duke in 1448) for his efforts, the clauses of the treaty that required cession of lands to France were kept secret from the English public due to fears of a significant backlash, but Henry insisted on the treaty.[92] Two years later in 1447, Suffolk succeeded in having Gloucester arrested for treason. Gloucester died while awaiting trial, with some at the time suspecting that Suffolk had him poisoned.[93][94] Richard of York was stripped of his prestigious command in France and sent to govern the relatively distant Lordship of Ireland with a ten-year term of office, where he could not interfere with affairs at court.[95]

During this time, England continued to suffer reversals in France. Suffolk, who was now the principal power behind the throne, could not avoid taking the blame for these losses. Additionally, the blame of the unfavourable request to cede Maine and Anjou to the French was laid at Suffolk's feet, though he continued to insist he made no promises during negotiations to such a demand.[96] In 1450, Suffolk was arrested, imprisoned in the Tower of London, and impeached in the Commons. Henry intervened and instead exiled Suffolk for five years, but en route to Calais, Suffolk was captured and executed on 2 May 1450.[97][98] Suffolk was succeeded by Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, nephew of Henry Beaufort, as the leader of the faction pursuing peace with France, who had been appointed as Richard's replacement as commander in France in 1448. Somerset's political position was somewhat fragile, as English military failures in 1449 following a resumption of hostilities left him vulnerable to criticism from Richard's allies at court.[98] Somerset had by this time become a close ally of Henry's wife, Margaret of Anjou.[99] Margaret herself wielded almost complete control over the pliable king Henry,[100] and her close friendship with Somerset led many to suspect the two were having an affair; indeed, upon the birth of Henry and Margaret's son, Edward of Westminster in 1453, there were widespread rumours that Somerset was the father.[101]

On 15 April 1450, the English suffered a major reversal in France at Formigny, which paved the way for the French reconquest of Normandy.[102][103] That same year, there was a violent popular uprising in Kent, which is often seen as a precursor to the Wars of the Roses.[104] The rebel manifesto, The Complaint of the Poor Commons of Kent, written under the stewardship of rebel leader Jack Cade, accused the crown of extortion, perversion of justice, and election fraud. The rebels occupied parts of London, and executed James Fiennes, the unpopular Lord High Treasurer.[105] They dispersed after they were supposedly pardoned but several ringleaders, including Cade, were later executed.[106] After the rebellion, the grievances of Cade and his followers formed the basis of Richard of York's opposition to a royal government from which he felt unduly excluded.[104] Richard used the opportunity to return from Ireland and went to London. Angling himself as a reformer to demand better government, he was eventually imprisoned for much of 1452 and 1453.[107] By the summer of the latter year, Richard seemed to have lost the power struggle.[108]

Throughout these quarrels, Henry himself had taken little part in proceedings. He displayed several symptoms of mental illness, possibly inherited from his maternal grandfather, Charles VI of France.[109] His near-total lack of leadership in military matters had left the English forces in France scattered and weak, which left them ripe for defeat at Formigny in 1450.[110] Henry was described as more interested in matters of religion and learning, which, coupled with his timid and passive nature and, if not well-intentioned, aversion to warfare, made him an ineffectual king for the time.[111] On 17 July 1453, the English forces in southern France suffered a catastrophic defeat at Castillon, and England lost all her possessions in France except for the Pale of Calais, shifting the balance of power in Europe, and ending the Hundred Years' War.[112] Perhaps in reaction to the news, Henry suffered a complete mental breakdown, during which he failed to recognise his newborn son, Edward.[113] On 22 March 1454, Cardinal John Kemp, the Lord Chancellor, died, and Henry could not be induced to nominate a successor, thus making government in the king's name constitutionally impossible.[114]

The lack of central authority led to a continued deterioration of the unstable political situation, which polarised around long-standing feuds between the more powerful noble families, in particular the Percy-Neville feud, and the Bonville-Courtenay feud, creating a volatile political climate ripe for civil war.[115] To ensure the country could be governed, a Regency Council was established and, despite the protests of Margaret, was led by Richard of York, who was appointed Lord Protector and Chief Councillor on 27 March 1454. Richard appointed his brother-in-law, Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury to the post of Chancellor, backing the Nevilles against their chief adversary, Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland. In backing the Nevilles, Richard gained a key ally, Salisbury's son the Earl of Warwick, one of the wealthiest and most powerful magnates in the kingdom. Richard removed Somerset from his position and imprisoned him in the Tower of London.[116]

In 1455, Henry made a surprise recovery from his mental instability, and reversed much of Richard's progress. Somerset was released and resorted to favour, and Richard was forced out of court into exile.[117] However, disaffected nobles, chiefly the Earl of Warwick and his father the Earl of Salisbury, backed the claims of the rival House of York to control of the government.[118] Henry, Somerset, and a select council of nobles elected to hold a Great Council at Leicester on 22 May, away from Somerset's enemies in London. Fearing that charges of treason would be brought against them, Richard and his allies gathered an army to intercept the royal party at St Albans, before they could reach the Council.[119]

Early stages

Start of the war

Richard, Duke of York, led a small force toward London and was met by Henry's forces at St Albans, north of London, on 22 May 1455. The relatively small First Battle of St Albans was the first open conflict of the civil war. Richard's aim was ostensibly to remove "poor advisors" from King Henry's side. The result was a Lancastrian defeat. Several prominent Lancastrian leaders, including Somerset and Northumberland, were killed. After the battle, the Yorkists found Henry hiding in a local tanner's shop, abandoned by his advisers and servants, apparently having suffered another bout of mental illness. (He had also been slightly wounded in the neck by an arrow.)[120] York and his allies regained their position of influence. With the king indisposed, York was again appointed Protector, and Margaret was shunted aside, charged with the king's care.

For a while, both sides seemed shocked that an actual battle had been fought and did their best to reconcile their differences, but the problems that caused conflict soon re-emerged, particularly the issue of whether the Duke of York or Henry and Margaret's infant son, Edward, would succeed to the throne. Margaret refused to accept any solution that would disinherit her only son, and it became clear that she would only tolerate the situation for as long as the Duke of York and his allies retained the military ascendancy.

Henry recovered and in February 1456 he relieved York of his office of Protector.[121] In the autumn of that year, Henry went on royal progress in the Midlands, where the king and queen were popular. Margaret did not allow him to return to London, where the merchants were angry at the decline in trade and the widespread disorder. The king's court was set up at Coventry. By then, the new Duke of Somerset was emerging as a favourite of the royal court. Margaret persuaded Henry to revoke the appointments York had made as Protector, replacing them with men she believed to be loyal to the King, Queen, and their son and heir, while York was made to return to his post as Lieutenant in Ireland.

Disorder in the capital and the north of England (where fighting between the Nevilles and Percys had resumed [122]) and piracy by French fleets on the south coast were growing, but the king and queen remained intent on protecting their positions, with the queen introducing conscription for the first time in England. Meanwhile, York's ally, Warwick (later dubbed "The Kingmaker"), was growing in popularity in London as the champion of the merchants. As Captain of Calais he had fought piracy in the English Channel.[123]

In the spring of 1458, Thomas Bourchier, the Archbishop of Canterbury, attempted to arrange a reconciliation. The lords had gathered in London for a Grand Council and the city was full of armed retainers. The Archbishop negotiated complex settlements to resolve the blood-feuds that had persisted since the Battle of St. Albans. Then, on Lady Day (25 March), the King led a "love day" procession to St. Paul's Cathedral, with Lancastrian and Yorkist nobles following him, hand in hand, Margaret of Anjou walking together with the Duke of York during the procession being most prominent.[122] No sooner had the procession and the Council dispersed than plotting resumed.

Act of Accord

Ludlow Castle, South Shropshire

The next outbreak of fighting was prompted by Warwick's high-handed actions as Captain of Calais. He led his ships in attacks on neutral Hanseatic League and Spanish ships in the Channel on flimsy grounds of sovereignty. He was summoned to London to face inquiries, but he claimed that attempts had been made on his life, and returned to Calais. York, Salisbury, and Warwick were summoned to a royal council at Coventry, but they refused, fearing arrest when they were isolated from their supporters.[124][125]

York summoned the Nevilles to join him at his stronghold at Ludlow Castle in the Welsh Marches. On 23 September 1459, at the Battle of Blore Heath in Staffordshire, a Lancastrian army failed to prevent Salisbury from marching from Middleham Castle in Yorkshire to Ludlow. Shortly afterward the combined Yorkist armies confronted the much larger Lancastrian force at the Battle of Ludford Bridge. Warwick's contingent from the garrison of Calais under Andrew Trollope defected to the Lancastrians, and the Yorkist leaders fled. York returned to Ireland, and his eldest son, Edward, Earl of March, Salisbury and Warwick fled to Calais.

The Lancastrians were back in total control. York and his supporters were attainted at the Parliament of Devils as traitors. Somerset was appointed Governor of Calais and was dispatched to take over the vital fortress on the French coast, but his attempts to evict Warwick were easily repulsed. Warwick and his supporters even began to launch raids on the English coast from Calais, adding to the sense of chaos and disorder. Being attainted, the Yorkists could recover their lands and titles only by successful invasion. Warwick travelled to Ireland under the protection of Gaillard IV de Durfort, Lord of Duras,[126] to concert plans with York, evading the royal ships commanded by the Duke of Exeter.[127]

In late June 1460, Warwick, Salisbury, and Edward of March crossed the Channel and rapidly established themselves in Kent and London, where they enjoyed wide support. Backed by a papal emissary who had taken their side, they marched north. King Henry led an army south to meet them while Margaret remained in the north with Prince Edward. At the Battle of Northampton on 10 July, the Yorkist army under Warwick defeated the Lancastrians, aided by treachery in the king's ranks. For the second time in the war, King Henry was found by the Yorkists in a tent, abandoned by his retinue, having suffered another breakdown. With the king in their possession, the Yorkists returned to London, where they were able to claim that the Bill of Attainder against them was unlawful because the King was forced to agree to it.

In the light of this military success, Richard of York moved to press his claim to the throne based on the illegitimacy of the Lancastrian line. Landing in the north Wales, he and his wife Cecily entered London with all the ceremony usually reserved for a monarch. Parliament was assembled, and when York entered he made straight for the throne, which he may have been expecting the Lords to encourage him to take for himself as they had acclaimed Henry IV in 1399. Instead, there was stunned silence. York announced his claim to the throne, but the Lords, even Warwick and Salisbury, were shocked by his presumption; they had no desire at this stage to overthrow King Henry. Their ambition was still limited to the removal of his councillors.

The next day, York produced detailed genealogies to support his claim based on his descent from Lionel of Antwerp, Duke of Clarence. York's claim was through the daughter of a second son, Henry's through the son of a third son. The judges felt that Common law principles could not determine who had priority in the royal succession, and declared the matter "above the law and passed their learning."[128] Parliament agreed to consider the matter and accepted that York's claim was better, but by a majority of five, they voted that Henry VI should remain as king. A compromise was struck in October 1460 with the Act of Accord, which recognised York as Henry's successor, disinheriting Henry's six-year-old son, Edward. York accepted this compromise as the best offer. It gave him much of what he wanted, particularly since he was also made Protector of the Realm and was able to govern in Henry's name.

Death of Richard, Duke of York

Ruins of Sandal Castle, near Wakefield, West Yorkshire

Queen Margaret and her son had fled to the north of Wales, parts of which were still in Lancastrian hands. They later travelled by sea to Scotland to negotiate for Scottish assistance. Mary of Gueldres, Queen Consort to James II of Scotland, agreed to give Margaret an army on condition that she cede the town of Berwick to Scotland and Mary's daughter be betrothed to Prince Edward. Margaret agreed, although she had no funds to pay her army and could only promise booty from the riches of southern England, as long as no looting took place north of the River Trent. Margaret quickly sent letters to fervent Lancastrians to march north and assemble armies for King Henry, and claimed the Acts of Accord were unlawful since Henry agreed to them under duresse.

The Duke of York left London later that year with the Earl of Salisbury to consolidate his position in the north against the Lancastrians who were massing near the city of York. He took up a defensive position at Sandal Castle near Wakefield over Christmas 1460. Then on 30 December, he left the castle and attacked the Lancastrians in the open, although he was outnumbered. The ensuing Battle of Wakefield was a complete Lancastrian victory. Richard of York was slain in the battle, and both Salisbury and York's 17-year-old second son, Edmund, Earl of Rutland, were captured and executed. Their heads were placed on Micklegate Bar in York before Margaret marched south from Scotland to join her supporters.

Middle stages

Edward's claim to the throne

Parhelion at sunset

The Act of Accord and the events of Wakefield left the 18-year-old Edward, Earl of March, York's eldest son, as Duke of York and heir to his claim to the throne. With an army from the pro-Yorkist Marches (the border area between England and Wales), he met Jasper Tudor's Lancastrian army arriving from Wales, and he defeated them soundly at the Battle of Mortimer's Cross in Herefordshire. He inspired his men with a "vision" of three suns at dawn (a phenomenon known as "parhelion"), telling them that it was a portent of victory and represented the three surviving York sons; himself, George and Richard. This led to Edward's later adoption of the sign of the sunne in splendour as his personal device.

Margaret's army was moving south, supporting itself by looting as it passed through the prosperous south of England, mainly due to the winter conditions forcing them to forage. In London, Warwick used this as propaganda to reinforce Yorkist support throughout the south - the town of Coventry switched allegiance to the Yorkists. Warwick's army established fortified positions north of the town of St Albans to block the main road from the north but was outmanoeuvred by Margaret's army, which swerved to the west and then attacked Warwick's positions from behind. At the Second Battle of St Albans, the Lancastrians won another big victory. As the Yorkist forces fled they left behind King Henry, who was found unharmed, sitting quietly beneath a tree.

Henry knighted thirty Lancastrian soldiers immediately after the battle. Also after the battle. Queen Margaret instructed her seven-year-old son Edward of Westminster to determine the manner of execution of the Yorkist knights, Sir Thomas Kyriell who turned his coat to York during the war, and William Bonville, the enemy of the Earl of Devon, a loyal Lancastrain. Both knights had been charged with keeping Henry safe and had stayed at his side throughout the battle. It was decided they were to be beheaded. Warwick's brother, John Neville, was also captured during the battle, and was made prisoner of war.

As the Lancastrian army advanced southwards, a wave of dread swept London, where rumours were rife about savage northerners intent on plundering the city. The people of London shut the city gates and refused to supply food to the queen's army, which was looting the surrounding counties of Hertfordshire and Middlesex. The Mayor of London sent three women, Jacquetta of Luxembourg, Anne Neville, Duchess of Buckingham and Lady Scales to negotiate with Queen Margaret. Upon seeing the city's defiance to the Lancastrian cause, Margaret of Anjou ordered a retreat.

Yorkist triumph

Edward of March, having joined with Warwick's surviving forces, advanced towards London from the west at the same time that the queen retreated northwards to Dunstable; as a result, Edward and Warwick were able to enter London with their army. They found considerable support there, as the city was largely Yorkist-supporting. It was clear that Edward was no longer simply trying to free the king from bad councillors, but that his goal was to take the crown. Thomas Kempe, the Bishop of London, asked the people of London their opinion and they replied with shouts of "King Edward". The request was quickly approved by Parliament, and Edward was unofficially appointed king in an impromptu ceremony at Westminster Abbey; Edward vowed that he would not have a formal coronation until Henry VI and his wife were removed from the scene. Edward claimed Henry had forfeited his right to the crown by allowing his queen to take up arms against his rightful heirs under the Act of Accord, ignoring that it was claimed the Acts of Attainder done against them were moot because the Yorks claimed it was done under duress. Parliament had already accepted that Edward's victory was simply a restoration of the rightful heir to the throne.

Edward and Warwick marched north, gathering a large army as they went, pillaging as they marched, and met an equally impressive Lancastrian army at Towton. The Battle of Towton, near York, was the biggest battle of the Wars of the Roses. Both sides agreed beforehand that the issue would be settled that day, with no quarter asked or given. An estimated 40,000-80,000 men took part, with over 20,000 men being killed during (and after) the battle, an enormous number for the time and the greatest recorded single day's loss of life on English soil. Edward and his army won a decisive victory, and the Lancastrians were routed, with most of their leaders slain. Henry and Margaret, who were waiting in York with their son Edward, fled north when they heard the outcome. Many of the surviving Lancastrian nobles switched allegiance to King Edward, and those who did not were driven back to the northern border areas and a few castles in Wales. Edward advanced to take York, where he replaced the rotting heads of his father, his brother, and Salisbury with those of defeated Lancastrian lords such as the notorious John Clifford, 9th Baron de Clifford of Skipton-Craven, who was blamed for the execution of Edward's brother Edmund, Earl of Rutland, after the Battle of Wakefield.

Edward IV

Harlech Castle, Gwynedd, Wales

The official coronation of Edward IV took place on June 1461 in London, where he received a rapturous welcome from his supporters.

After the Battle of Towton, Henry VI and Margaret had fled to Scotland, where they stayed with the court of James III and followed through on their promise to cede Berwick to Scotland. Later in the year, they mounted an attack on Carlisle, but, lacking money, they were easily repulsed by Edward's men, who were rooting out the remaining Lancastrian forces in the northern counties. Several castles under Lancastrian commanders held out for years: Dunstanburgh, Alnwick (the Percy family seat), and Bamburgh were some of the last to fall.

There was also some fighting in Ireland. At the Battle of Piltown in 1462, the Yorkish supporter Thomas FitzGerald, 7th Earl of Desmond, defeated the Lancastrian Butlers of Kilkenny. The Butlers suffered more than 400 casualties. Local folklore claims that the battle was so violent that the local river ran red with blood, hence the names Pill River and Piltown (Baile an Phuill, meaning "Town of the blood").

There were Lancastrian revolts in the north of England in 1464. Several Lancastrian nobles, including the third Duke of Somerset, who had been reconciled to Edward, readily led the rebellion. The revolt was put down by Warwick's brother, John Neville. A small Lancastrian army was destroyed at the Battle of Hedgeley Moor on 25 April, but because Neville was escorting Scottish commissioners for a treaty to York, he could not immediately follow up this victory. Then on 15 May, he routed Somerset's army at the Battle of Hexham. Somerset was captured and executed.

The deposed King Henry was later captured for the third time at Clitheroe in Lancashire in 1465. He was taken to London and held prisoner at the Tower of London, where, for the time being, he was reasonably well treated. About the same time, once England under Edward IV and Scotland had come to terms, Margaret and her son were forced to leave Scotland and sail to France, where they maintained an impoverished court in exile for several years.[129] The last remaining Lancastrian stronghold was Harlech Castle in Wales, which surrendered in 1468 after a seven-year-long siege.

Warwick's rebellion and the death of Henry VI

The powerful Earl of Warwick ("the Kingmaker") had meanwhile become the greatest landowner in England. Already a great magnate through his wife's property, he had also inherited his father's estates and had been granted much forfeited Lancastrian property. He also held many of the offices of state. He was convinced of the need for an alliance with France and had been negotiating a match between Edward and a French bride. However, Edward had married Elizabeth Woodville, the widow of a Lancastrian knight, in secret in 1464. He later announced the news of his marriage as fait accompli, to Warwick's considerable embarrassment.

This embarrassment turned to bitterness when the Woodvilles came to be favoured over the Nevilles at court. Many of Queen Elizabeth's relatives were married into noble families and others were granted peerages or royal offices. Other factors compounded Warwick's disillusionment: Edward's preference for an alliance with Burgundy rather than France and reluctance to allow his brothers George, Duke of Clarence and Richard, Duke of Gloucester, to marry Warwick's daughters Isabel and Anne. Furthermore, Edward's general popularity was on the wane in this period with higher taxes and persistent disruptions of law and order.

By 1469, Warwick had allied with Edward's jealous and treacherous brother George, who married Isabel Neville in defiance of Edward's wishes in Calais. They raised an army that defeated the king's forces at the Battle of Edgcote. Edward was captured at Olney, Buckinghamshire, and imprisoned at Middleham Castle in Yorkshire. (Warwick briefly had two Kings of England in his custody.) Warwick had the queen's father, Richard Woodville, 1st Earl Rivers, and her brother John executed. However, he made no immediate move to have Edward declared illegitimate and place George on the throne.[130] The country was in turmoil, with nobles once again settling scores with private armies (in episodes such as the Battle of Nibley Green), and Lancastrians being encouraged to rebel.[131] Few of the nobles were prepared to support Warwick's seizure of power. Edward was escorted to London by Warwick's brother George Neville, the Archbishop of York, where he and Warwick were reconciled, to outward appearances.

When further rebellions broke out in Lincolnshire, Edward easily suppressed them at the Battle of Losecoat Field. From the testimony of the captured leaders, he declared that Warwick and George, Duke of Clarence, had instigated them. They were declared traitors and forced to flee to France, where Margaret of Anjou was already in exile. Louis XI of France, who wished to forestall a hostile alliance between Edward and Edward's brother-in-law Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, suggested the idea of an alliance between Warwick and Margaret. Neither of those two formerly mortal enemies entertained the notion at first, but eventually, they were brought round to realise the potential benefits. However, both were undoubtedly hoping for different outcomes: Warwick for a puppet king in the form of Henry VI or his young son; Margaret to be able to reclaim her family's realm. In any case, a marriage was arranged between Warwick's daughter Anne and Margaret's son Edward of Westminster, and Warwick invaded England in the autumn of 1470.

Edward IV had already marched north to suppress another uprising in Yorkshire. Warwick, with help from a fleet under his nephew, the Bastard of Fauconberg, landed at Dartmouth and rapidly secured support from the southern counties and ports. He occupied London in October and paraded Henry VI through the streets as the restored king. Warwick's brother John Neville, who had recently received the empty title Marquess of Montagu and who led large armies in the Scottish marches, suddenly defected to Warwick. Edward was unprepared for this event and had to order his army to scatter. He and Richard, Duke of Gloucester, fled from Doncaster to the coast and thence to Holland and exile in Burgundy. They were proclaimed traitors, and many exiled Lancastrians returned to reclaim their estates.

The Lancastrian siege of London in 1471 is attacked by a Yorkist sally.

Warwick's success was short-lived, however. He over-reached himself with his plan to invade Burgundy in alliance with the King of France, tempted by King Louis' promise of territory in the Netherlands as a reward. This led Edward's brother-in-law, Charles of Burgundy, to provide funds and troops to Edward to enable him to launch an invasion of England in 1471. Edward landed with a small force at Ravenspur on the Yorkshire coast. Initially claiming to support Henry and to be seeking only to have his title of Duke of York restored, he soon gained the city of York and rallied several supporters. His brother George turned traitor again, abandoning Warwick. Having outmaneuvered Warwick and Montagu, Edward captured London. His army then met Warwick's at the Battle of Barnet. The battle was fought in thick fog, and some of Warwick's men attacked each other by mistake. It was believed by all that they had been betrayed, and Warwick's army fled. Warwick was cut down trying to reach his horse. Montagu was also killed in the battle.

Margaret and her son Edward had landed in the West Country on the same day as the Battle of Barnet. Rather than return to France, Margaret sought to join the Lancastrian supporters in Wales and marched to cross the Severn but was thwarted when the city of Gloucester refused her passage across the river. Her army, commanded by the fourth successive Duke of Somerset, was brought to battle and destroyed at the Battle of Tewkesbury. Her son Prince Edward, the Lancastrian heir to the throne, was killed. Shortly after the battle, Margaret of Anjou was captured and brought to Edward at Coventry. Edward returned triumphantly to London on May 24, with Margaret of Anjou beside him on a chariot. With no heirs to succeed him, Henry VI was murdered shortly afterward, on 21 May 1471, to strengthen the Yorkist hold on the throne. Eventually, Margaret was ransomed back to France in 1475, where she lived out the rest of her days, dying in 1482.

Later stages

Richard III

The restoration of Edward IV in 1471 is sometimes seen as marking the end of the Wars of the Roses proper. Peace was restored for the remainder of Edward's reign. His youngest brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, and Edward's lifelong companion and supporter, William Hastings, were generously rewarded for their loyalty, becoming effectively governors of the north and midlands respectively.[132] George of Clarence became increasingly estranged from Edward and was executed in 1478 for association with convicted traitors.

When Edward died suddenly in 1483, political and dynastic turmoil erupted again. Many of the nobles still resented the influence of the queen's Woodville relatives (her brother, Anthony Woodville, 2nd Earl Rivers and her son by her first marriage, Thomas Grey, 1st Marquess of Dorset), and regarded them as power-hungry upstarts ('parvenus'). At the time of Edward's premature death, his heir, Edward V, was only 12 years old and had been brought up under the stewardship of Earl Rivers at Ludlow Castle.

On his deathbed, Edward had named his surviving brother Richard of Gloucester as Protector of England. Richard had been in the north when Edward died. Hastings, who also held the office of Lord Chamberlain, sent word to him to bring a strong force to London to counter any force the Woodvilles might muster.[133] The Duke of Buckingham also declared his support for Richard.

Richard and Buckingham overtook Earl Rivers, who was escorting the young Edward V to London, at Stony Stratford in Buckinghamshire on 29 April. Although they dined with Rivers amicably, they took him prisoner the next day and declared to Edward that they had done so to forestall a conspiracy by the Woodvilles against his life. Rivers and his nephew Richard Grey were sent to Pontefract Castle in Yorkshire and executed there at the end of June.

Edward entered London in the custody of Richard on 4 May and was lodged in the Tower of London. Elizabeth Woodville had already gone hastily into the sanctuary at Westminster with her remaining children, although preparations were being made for Edward V to be crowned on 22 June, at which point Richard's authority as Protector would end. On 13 June, Richard held a full meeting of the Council, at which he accused Hastings and others of conspiracy against him. Hastings was executed without trial later in the day.

Thomas Bourchier, the Archbishop of Canterbury, then persuaded Elizabeth Woodville to allow her younger son, the 9-year-old Richard, Duke of York, to join Edward in the Tower. Having secured the boys, Robert Stillington, Bishop of Bath and Wells then alleged that Edward IV's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville had been illegal and that the two boys were therefore illegitimate. Richard then claimed the crown as King Richard III. The two imprisoned boys, known as the "Princes in the Tower", disappeared and are assumed to have been murdered. There was never a trial or judicial inquest on the matter. Perkin Warbeck claimed he was the younger of the Princes from 1490 and was recognised as such by Richard's sister, the Duchess of Burgundy.

Having been crowned in a lavish ceremony on 6 July, Richard then proceeded on a tour of the Midlands and the north of England, dispensing generous bounties and charters and naming his son as the Prince of Wales.

Buckingham's revolt

Opposition to Richard's rule had already begun in the south when, on 18 October, the Duke of Buckingham (who had been instrumental in placing Richard on the throne and who himself had a distant claim to the crown) led a revolt aimed at installing the Lancastrian Henry Tudor. It has been argued that his supporting Tudor, rather than either Edward V or his younger brother, showed Buckingham was aware that both were already dead.[134]

The Lancastrian claim to the throne had descended to Henry Tudor on the death of Henry VI and his son in 1471. Henry's father, Edmund Tudor, 1st Earl of Richmond, had been a half-brother of Henry VI, but Henry's claim to royalty was through his mother, Margaret Beaufort. She was descended from John Beaufort, who was a son of John of Gaunt and thus a grandson of Edward III. John Beaufort had been illegitimate at birth, though later legitimised by the marriage of his parents. It had supposedly been a condition of the legitimation that the Beaufort descendants forfeited their rights to the crown. Henry had spent much of his childhood under siege in Harlech Castle or exile in Brittany. After 1471, Edward IV had preferred to belittle Henry's pretensions to the crown and made only sporadic attempts to secure him. However, his mother, Margaret Beaufort, had been twice remarried, first to Buckingham's uncle, and then to Thomas, Lord Stanley, one of Edward's principal officers, and continually promoted her son's rights.

Buckingham's rebellion failed. Some of his supporters in the south rose up prematurely, thus allowing Richard's Lieutenant in the South, the Duke of Norfolk, to prevent many rebels from joining forces. Buckingham himself raised a force at Brecon in mid-Wales. He was prevented from crossing the River Severn to join other rebels in the south of England by storms and floods, which also prevented Henry Tudor landing in the West Country. Buckingham's starving forces deserted and he was betrayed and executed.

The failure of Buckingham's revolt was clearly not the end of the plots against Richard, who could never again feel secure, and who also suffered the loss of his wife and eleven-year-old son, putting the future of the Yorkist dynasty in doubt.

Henry VII

Many of Buckingham's defeated supporters and other disaffected nobles fled to join Henry Tudor in exile. Richard made an attempt to bribe the Duke of Brittany's chief Minister Pierre Landais to betray Henry, but Henry was warned and escaped to France, where he was again given sanctuary and aid.[135]

Confident that many magnates and even many of Richard's officers would join him, Henry set sail from Harfleur on 1 August 1485, with a force of exiles and French mercenaries. With fair winds, he landed in Pembrokeshire six days later and the officers Richard had appointed in Wales either joined Henry or stood aside. Henry gathered supporters on his march through Wales and the Welsh Marches and defeated Richard at the Battle of Bosworth Field. Richard was slain during the battle, supposedly by the major Welsh landowner Rhys ap Thomas with a blow to the head from his poleaxe. Rhys was knighted three days later by Henry VII.

Henry, having been acclaimed King Henry VII, strengthened his position by marrying Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV and the second best surviving Yorkist claimant after George of Clarence's son the new duke of Warwick, reuniting the two royal houses. Henry merged the rival symbols of the red rose of Lancaster and the white rose of York into the new emblem of the red and white Tudor Rose. Henry later shored up his position by executing several other claimants, a policy his son Henry VIII continued.

Many historians consider the accession of Henry VII to mark the end of the Wars of the Roses. Others argue that they continued to the end of the fifteenth century, as there were several plots to overthrow Henry and restore Yorkist claimants. Only two years after the Battle of Bosworth, Yorkists rebelled, led by John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, who had been named by Richard III as his heir but had been reconciled with Henry after Bosworth. The conspirators produced a pretender, a boy named Lambert Simnel, who resembled the young Edward, Earl of Warwick (son of George of Clarence), the best surviving male claimant of the House of York. The imposture was shaky because the young earl was still alive and in King Henry's custody and was paraded through London to expose the impersonation. At the Battle of Stoke Field, Henry defeated Lincoln's army. Lincoln died in the battle. Simnel was pardoned for his part in the rebellion and was sent to work in the royal kitchens.

Henry's throne was challenged again in 1491, with the appearance of the pretender Perkin Warbeck, who claimed he was Richard, Duke of York (the younger of the two Princes in the Tower). Warbeck made several attempts to incite revolts, with support at various times from the court of Burgundy and James IV of Scotland. He was captured after the failed Second Cornish uprising of 1497 and killed in 1499, after attempting to escape from prison. Warwick was also executed, rendering the male-line of the House of York (and by extension the whole Plantagenet dynasty excluding the legitimized Beauforts who were later renamed to the House of Somerset) extinct.

During the reign of Henry VII's son Henry VIII, the possibility of a Yorkist challenge to the throne remained until as late as 1525, in the persons of Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham, Edmund de la Pole, 3rd Duke of Suffolk and his brother Richard de la Pole, all of whom had blood ties to the Yorkist dynasty but were excluded by the pro-Woodville Tudor settlement. To an extent, England's break with Rome was prompted by Henry's fears of a disputed succession, should he leave only a female heir to the throne or an infant who would be as vulnerable as Henry VI had been to antagonistic or rapacious regents.


Historians debate the extent of impact the wars had on medieval English life. The classical view is that the many casualties among the nobility continued the changes in feudal English society caused by the effects of the Black Death. These included a weakening of the feudal power of the nobles and an increase in the power of the merchant classes and the growth of a centralised monarchy under the Tudors. The wars heralded the end of the medieval period in England and the movement towards the Renaissance. After the wars, the large standing baronial armies that had helped fuel the conflict were suppressed. Henry VII, wary of any further fighting, kept the barons on a very tight leash, removing their right to raise, arm and supply armies of retainers so that they could not make war on each other or the king. The military power of individual barons declined, and the Tudor court became a place where baronial squabbles were decided with the influence of the monarch.

Revisionists, such as the Oxford historian K. B. McFarlane, suggest that the effects of the conflicts have been greatly exaggerated and that there were no wars of the roses.[136] Many places were unaffected by the wars, particularly in the eastern part of England, such as East Anglia.[137] It has also been suggested that the traumatic impact of the wars was exaggerated by Henry VII, to magnify his achievement in quelling them and bringing peace. The effect of the wars on the merchant and labouring classes was far less than in the long-drawn-out wars of siege and pillage in Europe, which were carried out by mercenaries who profited from long wars. Although there were some lengthy sieges, such as those of Harlech Castle and Bamburgh Castle, these were in comparatively remote and less populous regions. In the populated areas, both factions had much to lose by the ruin of the country and sought a quick resolution of the conflict by pitched battle.[138] Philippe de Commines observed in 1470:

The realm of England enjoys one favour above all other realms, that neither the countryside nor the people are destroyed, nor are buildings burnt or demolished. Misfortune falls on soldiers and nobles in particular...[139]

Exceptions to this claimed general rule were the Lancastrian looting of Ludlow after the largely bloodless Yorkist defeat at Ludford Bridge in 1459, and the widespread pillaging carried out by Queen Margaret's unpaid army as it advanced south in early 1461. Both events inspired widespread opposition to the Queen, and support for the Yorkists.

Many areas did little or nothing to change their city defences, perhaps an indication that they were left untouched by the wars. City walls were either left in their ruinous state or only partially rebuilt. In the case of London, the city was able to avoid being devastated by persuading the York and Lancaster armies to stay out after the inability to recreate the defensive city walls.[140]

Few noble houses were extinguished during the wars; in the period from 1425 to 1449, before the outbreak of the wars, there were as many extinctions of noble lines from natural causes (25) as occurred during the fighting (24) from 1450 to 1474.[141] The most ambitious nobles died and by the later period of the wars, fewer nobles were prepared to risk their lives and titles in an uncertain struggle.[]

The kings of France and Scotland and the dukes of Burgundy played the two factions off against each other, pledging military and financial aid and offering asylum to defeated nobles and pretenders, to prevent a strong and unified England from being able to make war on them.

In literature

Chronicles written during the Wars of the Roses include:

  • Benet's Chronicle
  • Gregory's Chronicle (1189-1469)
  • Short English Chronicle (before 1465)
  • Hardyng's Chronicle: first version for Henry VI (1457)
  • Hardyng's Chronicle: second version for Richard, duke of York and Edward IV (1460 and c. 1464)
  • Hardyng's Chronicle: second "Yorkist" version revised for Lancastrians during Henry VI's Readeption (see Peverley's article).
  • Capgrave (1464)
  • Commynes (1464-98)
  • Chronicle of the Lincolnshire Rebellion (1470)
  • Historie of the arrival of Edward IV in England (1471)
  • Waurin (before 1471)
  • An English Chronicle: AKA Davies' Chronicle (1461)
  • Brief Latin Chronicle (1422-71)
  • Fabyan (before 1485)
  • Rous (1480/86)
  • Croyland Chronicle (1449-1486)
  • Warkworth's Chronicle (1500?)

Key figures

Family tree from the 1548 Descriptio Britanniae, Scotiea, Hyberniae, et Orchadvm.

Family tree

The above-listed individuals with well-defined sides are coloured with red borders for Lancastrians and blue for Yorkists (The Kingmaker, his relatives and George Plantagenet changed sides, so they are represented with a purple border)

  1. ^ Fourth son. Thomas of Woodstock being the youngest
  2. ^ Firstborn son
  3. ^ Second son
  4. ^ Third son


The hinge point in the succession dispute is the forced abdication of Richard II and whether it was lawful or not. Following that event, Richard's legitimate successor would be Henry Bolingbroke if strict Salic inheritance were adhered to, or Anne Mortimer if male-preference primogeniture, which eventually became the standard form of succession (until the Succession to the Crown Act 2013), were adhered to.

Armies and warfare

Following defeat in the Hundred Years' War, English landowners complained vociferously about the financial losses resulting from the loss of their continental holdings; this is often considered a contributory cause of the Wars of the Roses.[145] The wars were fought largely by the landed aristocracy and armies of feudal retainers, with some mercenaries.

At the end of the Hundred Years' War, large numbers of unemployed soldiery returned to England seeking employment in the growing armies of the local nobility. England drifted toward misrule and violence under the weak governance as local noble families like the Nevilles and Percys increasingly relied on their feudal retainers to settle disputes. It became common practice for landowners to bind their mesnie knights to their service with annual payments.[146]

Half of an indenture contract, the randomly cut (or indented) edge proves a match to the counterpart document

Edward III had developed the contract system where the monarch entered into formal written contracts called indenture with experienced captains who were contractually obliged to provide an agreed-upon number of men, at established rates for a given period. Frequently the landed nobility acted the principal or main contractor. Knights, men at arms and archers were often sub-contracted.[146] A lord could find men amongst his tenantry who included landless men and others who would crave the security of maintenance and livery. Skilled archers could command as high a wage as knights.[147] As baronial armies grew in size, the rule of law was weakened.

Support for each house largely depended upon dynastic factors, such as blood relationships, marriages within the nobility and the grants or confiscations of feudal titles and lands. Given the conflicting loyalties of blood, marriage, and ambition, it was not uncommon for nobles to switch sides; several battles (such as Northampton and Bosworth) were decided by treachery.[]. The armies consisted of nobles' contingents of men-at-arms, with companies of archers and foot-soldiers (such as billmen). There were sometimes contingents of foreign mercenaries, armed with cannon or handguns. The horsemen were generally restricted to "prickers" and "scourers"; i.e. scouting and foraging parties.

Much like their campaigns in France, it was customary for the English gentry to fight entirely on foot.[148] In several cases, noblemen dismounted and fought amongst the common foot-soldiers to both inspire them and due to the fact that, as proven by the experiences of battles on the continent, heavy cavalry is of limited tactical value when both sides possess large numbers of skilled Longbowmen.

It was often claimed that the nobles faced greater risks than the ordinary soldiers as there was little incentive for anyone to take prisoner any high-ranking noble during or immediately after a battle. During the Hundred Years' War against France, a captured noble would be able to ransom himself for a large sum but in the Wars of the Roses, a captured noble who belonged to a defeated faction had a high chance of being executed as a traitor. Forty-two captured knights were executed after the Battle of Towton.[149] The Burgundian observer Philippe de Commines, who met Edward IV in 1470, reported,

King Edward told me in all the battles which he had won, as soon as he had gained a victory, he mounted his horse and shouted to his men that they must spare the common soldiers and kill the lords, of whom none or few escaped.[139]

Even those who escaped execution might be declared attainted therefore possess no property and be of no value to a captor.[150]

Chronological list of battles

See also


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Further reading

External links

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