The Wars of the Roses reference article from the English Wikipedia on 24-Apr-2004
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Wars of the Roses

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The Wars of the Roses, 1455 to 1487, is the name given to an intermitent civil war fought over the throne of England between adherents of the House of Lancaster and the House of York. Both houses were branches of the Plantagenet royal house, tracing their descent from King Edward III. The badges of the two houses: a red rose for Lancaster and a white rose for York, account for the name of the struggle (which was not given to this particular war until many years later).

In Shakespeare, the wars began with the plucking of two roses in the Temple Church gardens in LondonEnlarge

In Shakespeare, the wars began with the plucking of two roses in the Temple Church gardens in London

The Wars were largely fought by armies of mounted knights and their feudal retainers. The House of Lancaster found most of its support in the north and west of the country, while support for the House of York came mainly from the south and east. The Wars of the Roses, with their heavy casualties among the nobility, were a major factor in the weakening of the feudal power of the nobles, leading to the growth of a strong, centralised monarchy under the Tudors.


Table of contents
1 Causes
2 The Disputed Succession
3 The First Phase
4 Yorkist triumph
5 Richard III
6 The Final Phase
7 Genealogy
8 External links
9 Books
10 See also


The House of York, headed by Edward Plantagenet, Duke of York, challenged the legitimacy of King Henry VI, of the House of Lancaster. This challenge became a threat to the stability of the nation due to the fact of Henry VI's evident weakness. King Henry V's military triumphs in France had been largely reversed, and an unsatisfactory peace had been agreed which entailed the loss of most of the English possessions there. There were consequently many idle and disgruntled nobles in England, unrestrained by any strong control from central government. By the 1450s many considered Henry VI incapable of rule.

When, in 1453 King Henry suffered the first of several bouts of mental illness, a Council of Regency was set up, headed by the powerful Duke of York, in the role of Lord Protector. York soon began to press his claim to the throne with greater and greater boldness. Henry's recovery led to the start of the armed conflict in 1455. The first battle of the civil war was that of St Alban's on May 22, 1455. The Duke of York regained his position as Protector, and was promised the succession by Henry, in place of his own son, much to the disgust of Henry's queen, Margaret of Anjou. From this point on, Queen Margaret became a major proponent in the conflict.

The Disputed Succession

Opinions may vary as to when the Wars of the Roses began and ended, but the armed conflict was concentrated in the period 1455-1485. The antagonism between the two houses, however, originated with the overthrow of King Richard II of England by his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Lancaster, in 1399. Bolingbroke, crowned as Henry IV, had a poor claim to the throne and was tolerated as king only because Richard had been unpopular. Henry's heir, Henry V of England, was a great soldier and gained a firm hold on the reins of power but did not lack enemies. One of these was Richard, Earl of Cambridge, a son of Edmund of Langley and thus grandson of King Edward III of England. Cambridge was executed (1415) for treason at the start of the campaign leading up to the Battle of Agincourt.

Cambridge's wife, Anne Mortimer, also had a claim to the throne, being descended from Lionel of Antwerp, an older son of Edward III. Their son, Richard, Duke of York, grew up to challenge the feeble King Henry VI of England for the crown. At first appointed "Protector", he grew more ambitious and was at loggerheads with Henry's queen, Margaret of Anjou, especially after the birth of her son, Edward of Westminster.

The First Phase

After St Alban's attempts were made by both sides to reconcile the deep-seated grievances which had given rise to violence, and this enjoyed a temporary success. However, the problems which had caused conflict soon re-emerged, particularly the issue of whether the Duke of York, or Henry and Margaret's son, Edward would succeed to the throne. Queen Margaret refused to accept any solution that would disinherit her son. In the years up to 1459 both sides continued to raise armed support, with the Queen introducing conscription for the first time in England.

Hostilities resumed on September 23 1459 at the Battle of Blore Heath in Staffordshire, when a large Lancastrian army failed to prevent a Yorkist force under Lord Salisbury marching from Middleham Castle in Yorkshire and linking up with York at Ludlow Castle. The Battle of Northampton on July 10 1460 proved even more disastrous for the Lancastrian cause. A Yorkist army under Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick - "the Kingmaker", aided by treachery in the Lancastrian ranks, captured King Henry.

Queen Margaret, however, managed to escape, and immediately began raising a new army in Wales and the north of England, moving her headquarters to York. She gained a major success at the Battle of Wakefield on December 301460, when the army of the Duke of York and the Earl of Salisbury was destroyed. Margaret ordered the beheading of the Duke of York and the Earl of Salisbury and the placing of their heads on the gates of York. Margaret followed up with a victory at St Albans on 22 February 1461, at which she defeated the Yorkist forces of the Earl of Warwick and recaptured her husband.

Yorkist triumph

Lancastrian success was short lived, however, since the Duke of York's claim to the throne was immediately taken forward by his eldest son, Edward, an outstanding warrior who prevailed over the Lancastrians at the Battle of Towton in 1461 to become King Edward IV of England. With Margaret fleeing the country, Edward was able to rule in relative peace for ten years.

There were two Lancastrian revolts in 1464 and twice the houses of York and Lancaster clashed; once at the Battle of Hedgeley Moor on the 25 April and once at the Battle of Hexham, soon after on 10 May 1464. Both revolts were put down byLord Montagu.

However, Edward's mentor, the powerful Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick - "the Kingmaker" - changed sides after being slighted by the young king, and transferred his allegiance to Henry VI's queen, Margaret of Anjou, triumphing over Edward at the Battle of Edgecote Moor on July 26, 1469, and restoring Henry briefly to the throne in 1470.

Warwick's success was short-lived. With assistance from Burgundy, Edward returned and defeated Warwick at the Battle of Barnet in 1471. The remaining Lancastrian forces were destroyed at the Battle of Tewkesbury and Edward of Lancaster, the Lancastrian heir to the throne was killed. Henry VI was murdered shortly afterwards (14 May 1471), to strengthen the Yorkist hold on the throne.

Richard III

Peace was restored for the remainder of Edward's reign, but he died suddenly, in 1483, when his heir was a mere 12-year-old boy, Edward V. Edward IV's brother, Richard III took charge of both the boy king and his younger brother, keeping them "protected" in the Tower of London. It was then alleged that Edward IV's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville had been illegal. The two Princes in the Tower soon "disappeared", (believed murdered), and Parliament gave the throne to Richard III.

Richard was the finest general on the Yorkist side at the time and so better able to keep the Yorkists in power than a boy who would have to rule through a committee of regents. Lancastrian hopes now centered on Henry Tudor, whose father, Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond, had been an illegitimate half-brother of Henry VI. It was through his mother, Margaret Beaufort, a descendant of Edward III, that Henry's claim to the throne rested, however, and it was derived from a grandson of Edward III's who was illegitimate.

The Final Phase

Henry Tudor's forces defeated Richard's at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 and Henry Tudor became King Henry VII of England. Henry then strengthened his position by marrying Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV, who was the best surviving Yorkist claimant (thus uniting the two houses), and then executing the rest of the possible claimants whenever he could lay hands on them, a policy his son Henry VIII continued.

Some would argue that the Wars of the Roses concluded only with the Battle of Stoke in 1487, which arose from the appearance of a pretender to the throne, a boy named Lambert Simnel who had been selected for his close physical resemblance to the young Earl of Warwick, York's best surviving male claimant. (The plan was doomed from the start, because the young earl was still alive and in King Henry's custody, so no one could seriously doubt Simnel was an imposter.) It was at this Battle of Stoke that Henry defeated forces 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 - thus effectively removing the remaining Yorkist opposition. Simnel was pardoned for his part in the rebellion and sent to work in the royal kitchens.


The following is a simplified family tree including members of the English royal family. To facilitate the reading and to respect the conventions of the War, the Lancastrians are showned in red and the yorkists in white.


External links


See also