War of the Roses

The War of the Roses was a war for the English throne. At the end of the war, one dynasty had been destroyed and another had been crowned. The war occurred between the years 1455 and 1487, and most of the battles were small and often years apart.

The war was between two rival, but closely related, families—the House of Lancaster and the House of York. Both families descended from the sons of Edward III. The Lancaster forces were distinguished by a white rose and the Yorkists were identified by a red rose—hence the name The War of the Roses.

War of the Roses

The Beginning

The roots behind the War of the Roses started to grow in 1399 when the English king Richard II was overthrown by the Duke of Lancaster, Henry Bolinbroke (who happened to be the king’s cousin). Henry then took the throne and became Henry IV.

When Henry IV died, he was succeeded by Henry V. Unfortunately, Henry V died unexpectedly, and his young son Henry VI became the new king. Henry VI was only nine months old at the time and as a result, the actual ruling of the country was done through councils where various factions fought for supremacy.

Henry began to actually rule when he reached the age of sixteen but did not do a very good job, since he let his favourites claim power within his council. In an effort to have peaceful relations with France, Henry VI agreed to marry the French king’s niece Margaret of Anjou. Margaret exerted a lot of influence in the English court and would use her power to deal with any threats she saw.

Henry VI became more and more unpopular with both the nobles and the common people as a result of the way the country was being governed and the country’s losses in the war with France. The country began to break into opposing groups and the Duke of York, when he returned to England in 1452, formed an army in an attempt to get the king to deal with a number of demands and grievances. One of the demands included the arrest of one of the queen’s favourites, the 2nd Duke of Somerset, Edmund Beaufort. The king initially agreed to the arrest but the queen intervened and stopped it.

In 1453, Henry VI had a nervous breakdown upon hearing about a major defeat in France. He was unable to respond to anything around him for over a year and during this time, the House of York was able to gain considerable influence in the King’s Council. Parliament made Richard, the Duke of York, the protector of the realm. Margaret, the king’s wife was cut off from power and Edmund Beaufort was locked in the Tower of London.

First Blood

Henry finally regained his senses a year later, in 1454. He immediately got rid of the noblemen who had gained power while he had been sick. In response, Richard of York gathered 3000 men and marched toward London. Henry marched his own force of 2000 men out in response and the two sides met at St. Albans on May 22, 1455. This was the first battle in the War of the Roses and it was a disaster for the Lancastrian forces.

The battle did not even last an hour but it resulted in Beaufort being killed and Henry VI being captured. As a result of the battle, Richard was once again made protector of the realm and Margaret was relegated to taking care of the king. Both sides tried to make peace but the question of succession remained a problem. Margaret wanted her son to be the heir but Richard wanted himself named heir.

Aggression Continues

The next battle did not take place for another four years and it occurred at Blore Heath. Richard of York, facing pressure from Margaret in regards to the succession, decided to force a battle. Richard of York called for his supporters to meet him at Ludlow castle. The Lancaster forces tried to stop the Yorkists from reaching Ludlow castle to meet the Duke of York, but were unsuccessful. The Yorkists were able to combine their forces but the Lancaster army gathered their forces at Ludford Bridge, forcing another battle. The Yorkists were defeated and the leaders fled, leaving the Lancasters in control of the government. Richard of York fled to Ireland and Richard’s son, Edward along with the Earl of Warwick, Richard Neville, and the Earl of Salisbury (Neville’s father) fled to Calais.

Once again in control of the government, the Lancastrians condemned York (and his supporters) as traitors. Unwilling to give up thoughts of the crown, the York forces sailed from Calais in June 1460 and landed at Sandwich. The York forces marched to London and another battle took place at Northhampton. During this battle, one of the Lancastrian commanders, Lord Grey, switched sides which allowed the Yorkist forces to win the battle and capture the king. The Earl of Warwick also captured London and presented the city to the Yorkists.

Richard of York Dies

By November, with the York faction in control of London, King Henry VI agreed that the Yorkists were the rightful heirs. The queen was not prepared to accept this and continued the fight. The two sides fought again in 1460 at Wakefield. During this battle, Richard of York is killed. Richard’s son as well as the Earl of Salisbury were executed after the battle.

Richard of York’s other son, Edward, upon hearing of his father’s death, decided to gather his forces and march them to London to join forces with Warwick (who still had control of London). After one battle at Mortimor’s Cross where Edward was victorious, he continued the march to London.

The Earl of Warwick marched his forces out to St. Albans to wait for Edward to join him. Before Edward could reach Warwick, the Lancastrians attacked, defeating Warwick’s forces. Warwick was forced to flee, leaving the captured King Henry VI behind. Henry VI was then rescued by the Lancastrians.

Edward continued marching towards London and met up with Warwick. The queen, who had just beat Warwick at St. Albans, did not push the advantage and let Warwick and Edward enter London unopposed.

King Edward IV

The combined Yorkist forces marched from London to Towton on March 29, 1461 where they once again met the Lancastrian forces and routed them. Henry VI, his queen Margaret, and their son were forced to flee for Scotland where they stayed for nine years. On June 28, 1461, Edward was officially crowned as King Edward IV.
The next major battle occurred in 1464 at Hexton. The Lancastrian forces were routed once again and this time, a number of the leaders were captured and executed. This ended most of the resistance the House of York was facing from the House of Lancaster.

Discord Among the Yorkists

Warwick had a falling out with Edward IV and in 1469, Warwick along with Edward IV’s brother, George, Duke of Clarence, raised an army and marched on Edward’s forces. At the same time, another rebellion was occurring in Yorkshire. Edward marched out and put down the rebellion but was defeated at Edgecote Moor. Shortly after this defeat, Edward was captured but he was either released or escaped (people aren’t exactly sure). Further battles occurred and Warwick and Clarence were forced to flee to France.

While in France, they reached out to Margaret and made an alliance. They sailed back to England where they forced Edward into exile in 1470. Henry VI was then restored to the throne but it didn’t last for long. Edward fled to the Netherlands, but in 1471, he returned and engaged Warwick at the Battle of Barnet. Edward won the battle and Warwick was killed. Henry VI was captured and locked up in the Tower of London.

Another victory for Edward took place at Tewkesbury on May 4 and resulted in the capture of Queen Margaret and the death of her son (and Henry VI’s heir) Edward of Lancaster. Henry VI was murdered in the Tower of London shortly after.

Richard III

Edward IV ruled until his death 1483. After his death, his son, Edward V was made king. Edward V did not stay king for long because Edward IV’s brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, overthrew Edward V. Edward V and his brother were imprisoned in the Tower of London and the Duke of Gloucester was crowned Richard III. Both Edward V and his brother disappeared from the Tower and it is suspected that they were murdered.

Henry Tudor, with the support of the Lancastrian forces, met Richard III in battle at Bosworth Field. Henry won the battle and Richard III was killed. Henry then took the crown and was named Henry VII. Henry VII married Edward IV’s daughter and united both the Yorkists and the Lancastrians, establishing the Tudor dynasty.