Wars of the Roses
The Wars of the Roses (1455 - 1487)
The battles of the Wars of the Roses took place between 1455 and 1487. The war was fought between supporters of several descendants of Edward III, the King of England from 1327 to 1377. The war was not a constant fight that affected the whole country and its population, but a series of battles spread out over the years between sets of supporters known as the Lancastrians and the Yorkists. Some of the battles were fought by thousands of men. The Battle of Towton being the largest and the bloodiest.
Background to the War
It is not truely known why the Lancastrians and Yorkists went to War. There may have been more than one reason. Was the conflict just a struggle between two factions of supporters eager to improve their positions of power in the country?
A popular suggestion is that the two factions disagreed who was the rightful heir to the English throne. In 1399, some fifty years before the wars began, Richard II the King of England was overthrown by Henry Bolingbroke who claimed the English throne as Henry IV. Bolingbroke's claim to the English throne was through his father, John of Gaunt, the fourth son of Edward III. At the time there was a stronger claim to the throne and that was by Edmund Mortimer who was descended from Edward III's third son. Edmund was not old enough to rule the country and it was agreed that Henry Bolingbroke should become king. It would be more than half a century later that this unsafe claim to the English throne would become important.
|EDWARD (III, King of England 1327-1377)|
|Philippa (of Hainault)|
|Edward (The Black Prince)|
|Joan (of Kent)|
|Lionel (of Antwerp, Duke of Clarence)|
|Elizabeth (de Burgh)|
|John (of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster)|
|Blanche (of Lancaster)|
|RICHARD (II, King of England 1377-1399)|
|Philippa (daughter of Lionel Duke of Clarence)||Mortimer, Edmund (3rd Earl of March)|
|HENRY (IV, King of England 1399-1413)|
|Mortimer, Roger (4th Earl of March)|
|Holland, Eleanor (Wife of Roger, Earl of March)||Henry (V, King of England 1413-1422)|
|Catherine (of France)|
|Mortimer, Edmund (5th Earl of March)|
|Mortimer, Anne (daughter of Roger, Earl of March)||Richard (Earl of Cambridge)|
|Henry (VI, King of England 1422-1461, 1470-1471)|
|Margaret (of Anjou)|
|Richard (Duke of York)|
|Neville, Cecily (Duchess of York)|
|Edward (of Lancaster, Prince of Wales)|
|Edward (IV, Earl of March and King of England 1461-1470, 1471-1483)|
|Richard (III, King of England 1483-1485)|
The Red and White Roses
The red and white roses were probably not used at the time of the war. It may have been William Shakespeare who invented the symbols when he used them in a scene from Henry VI, part 1. The scene takes place in the Temple garden between Richard, Duke of York, and Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset, in the presence of other important barons. Each choose a different coloured rose and ask those who support them to choose a rose of the same colour.
A War in Three Phases
The Wars of the Roses was not a constant fight but a series of battles that can the divided into three distinct phases.
The start of the war
During the late 1440's the country was being ruled poorly by King Henry VI. His wife Queen Margaret and her followers had a great influence over the weak king and in northern France many English held towns were falling to the French King Charles VII. Henry began to be openly criticised and these critisisms were being led by Richard, Duke of York. Richard himself had a good claim to the English throne being descended from Lionel of Antwerp Duke of Clarence the second son of Edward III through the female line. The Duke had the support of two strong figures of the time and both members of the Neville family. One was the Duke's brother-in-law, Richard Neville the Earl of Salisbury, and the other was the Earl's son Richard Neville Earl of Warwick.
The first battle of the Wars of the Roses took place at St. Alban's on May 22nd 1455 when the Yorkists tried to confront the King. The King had by his side the Dukes of Somerset and Buckingham, Lords Pembroke, Northumberland and Devon and around 2,000 Lancastrian men. They tried to hold the town against the Yorkists led by the Earls of Salisbury and Warwick but Warwick was able to enter the town through an unguarded spot and attack the flanks of the Lancastrian barricades. Although this battle was small it left the Duke of Somerset dead along with Lord Northumberland and Clifford. As a result of this victory power swung to the Yorkists although support from the Barons was not total. Ricard, Duke of York, became Protector of the Realm and the powerful position of Captain of Calais was given to the Earl of Warwick.
Return of the Lancastrians
Led by Richard Earl of Salisbury the Yorkists in the north mobilised an army and headed south to meet the Duke of York at Ludlow. Salisbury was intercepted by a Lancastrian army led by Lord Audley on September 23rd 1459 at Blore Heath in Shropshire. The Lancastrians were the first to attack but their first and second cavalry charges were repulsed and when the Lancastrian foot soldiers were also repulsed they turned and fled. In the battle Audley was killed and although two of Salisbury's sons were captured they were quickly released. The Yorkists had won this battle.
But the Yorkist control was soon to come crashing down. The Earl of Warwick with a force from Calais reached Ludlow and the combined army of the Yorkists attacked the King's army at Ludford Bridge near Ludlow on October 12th 1459. The men from Calais refused to fight their king and a weakened Yorkist army was defeated. Richard Duke of York and his younger son escaped and fled to Ireland while Salisbury, Warwick and Edward of March (later Edward IV) fled to Calais.
The King is captured
The Yorkists' banishment did not last long and an army led by the Earls of Salisbury and Warwick landed on the south coast in June of 1460 at Sandwich. With them was the young Earl of March who would become the future king of England Edward IV. After securing Kent the Yorkists marched on London where the gates were opened and they were welcomed.
The Lancastrians's Court was in Coventry at the time of the Yorkist rebels entering London. When news reached them the Lancastrians moved south to Northampton to meet the rebels. The Yorkists led by the Earl of Warwick wanted to talk but the Lancastrians led by the Duke of Buckingham wanted to fight. Although the Lancastrians had less men than the Yorkists, they did have control of a stronger position. The Yorkists managed to defeat the Lancastrians due to a section of the Lancastrian army led by Lord Grey of Ruthin moving away allowing the Yorkists through. Orders were given that the King and ordinary men should be spared, while the knights and lords should be killed. When the fighting was over the casualties were light, but the Lancastrian leaders, Buckingham, Shrewsbury and Egremont were dead and the King was captured.
Queen Margaret escaped capture and fled to Wales where she plotted her revenge.
The Duke of York claims the throne
In October 1460 Richard, Duke of York, returned from Ireland and claimed the English throne. But the nobles refused to accept his claim while King Henry was still alive. It was decided to allow Henry to remain king but after his death the Duke of York or one of his heirs would take the English throne.
Attack from the North
Queen Margaret had not wasted much time and had regrouped her forces with support from men in the north of England. Her army began attacking Yorkist controlled lands. The Duke of York took an army north to stop the Queen's progress but underestimated how much support she had. At the battle of Wakefield on December 30th 1460 the Lancastrian army defeated the Yorkists and the Duke of York along with his second son, Edmund the Earl of Rutland, were killed.
Queen Margaret continued her progress south and at the Second Battle of St. Albans on February 17 1461 the Yorkist army, led by the Earl of Warwick, was split in two and sections of the Yorkists defected to the Queen's side. The Yorkists were defeated and Warwick escaped. The King, who had been travelling with the Yorkists, was freed and he was reunited with his wife and son.
Edward, Earl of March, proclaimed King
Although King Henry was free the inhabitants of London refused the Lancastrians entrance to the city. They were concerned by reports they had heard that the Lancastrian army had pillaged St. Albans after the battle and did not want that to happen to London. Instead, on February 27th, the Londoners opened the gates to the Yorkists. In early March Edward Earl of March and Richard Earl of Warwick entered London. Edward, being the son of the late Duke of York and having a claim to the throne, was proclaimed King of England as Edward IV.
The end of the first phase of the Wars of the Roses began at the Battle of Towton on March 29 1461. Edward took an army north to deal with the Lancastrians and they met at Towton in Yorkshire. The battle is supposed to be the bloodiest battle fourght on English soil and was a major victory for the Yorkists. After the battle King Henry and the Queen retreated further north captuting some Northumbrian castles. But after a series of smaller battles over the next three years the Yorkists forced the remaining Lancastrians into exile.
The Earl of Warwick rebels
The second phase of the Wars of the Roses centres around the rebellion of Richard Earl of Warwick (the 'Kingmaker') starting in 1469.
Earlier, in 1464, Edward IV secretly married Elizabeth Woodville. For the Earl of Warwick there were two problems with this. The first was that the Woodville familly were Lancastrian supporters and second was that Warwick had contacted King Louis XI of France and had attempted to negotiate a marriage for Edward to a French princess. Warwick was losing control and his power over Edward. His plan involved Edward's brother George, the Duke of Clarence. If George was to marry Warwick's daughter Isabel and become king, Warwick would be back in a position of power. The marriage was arranged and took place in July 1469 in France.
The rebellion against King Edward started in early 1469 with the mysterious Robin of Redesdale in the north of England. King Edward took an army to deal with the rebels but the rebels proved too strong and defeated Edward's men at the Battle of Edgecote Moor on July 26th 1469. Shortly afterwards Edward was captured and several of the Woodville family were executed including Earl Rivers, Queen Elizabeth's father and also one of her brothers. This rebellion, orchestrated by Warwick, soon failed as Warwick did not have the support of Parliament and had to accept Edward as King. But Warwick tried again in 1470 with another revolt against the King using Sir Robert Welles. Sir Robert was captured and confessed that Warwick was behind the plot against the King. With their treachery uncovered, Warwick and the Duke of Clarence fled to France.
Warwick joins the Lancastrians - Henry VI is King again
In France Queen Margaret and the Earl of Warwick were persuaded by the Louis XI, the French King, to put their previous differences aside and combine their resources to remove Edward IV from the English throne. They met at Anger Cathedral in July 22, 1470. Warwick promised to restore King Henry VI as the English King and as a act of faith both sides agreed that Warwick's youngest daughter Anne Neville would marry Queen Margaret's son Edward, the Prince of Wales. Equipped with over fifty ships and an army provided by King Louis, Warwick invaded England in September of 1470. King Edward was in the north at the time of the invasion and an act of treachery by John Neville, Warwick's brother, led to him fleeing the country. John Neville (Lord Montagu) had accepted Edward as King but when his title had been given to the Percies he turned against the King. Montagu had a larger army than Edward and Edward was given little option other than escaping with his life. Edward sailed with his brother Richard to the court of the Duke of Burgundy. King Henry was freed from the Tower of London and restored to the throne of England.
Birth on an heir
When King Edward fled the country he did so quickly that he left Queen Elizabeth who was pregnant and his children behind. Elizabeth was in fear of her life and managed to reach the safety of Westminster Abbey and sanctuary from the Lancastrians enemies. It was here at the Abbey that she gave birth to a son. The boy was called Edward after his father. Meanwhile the marriage of Anne Neville and Queen Margaret's son, Edward, took place.
Edward returns from exile and the Battle of Barnet
King Louis declared war on the Duke Burgundy when he learnt that he was harbouring King Edward. In response, the Duke agreed to give Edward ships and men to return to England and take back the English throne. Edward landed back in England in March 1471. Because of bad weather his ships landed several miles apart on the north east of England but within days his army had regrouped and began to gain support. Edward's army was given a boost in numbers when his brother George, Duke of Clarence, abandoned Warwick's side and gave his support to Edward. By April Edward reached London where the citizens opened the gates to his army. King Henry was arrested and places back in the Tower of London.
The Earl of Warwick had left Coventry to confront Edward. The armies met at Barnet just north of London in thick fog. The two battle lines overlapped and Warwick's Lancastrian men commanded by the Earl of Oxford were able to get around the Yorkists commanded by Lord Hastings. Hastings' men fled back to London with Oxford's men in hot pursuit. On the other side of the battle the Yorkists, led by Richard, were outflanking the Lancastrians and took the advantage pushing their enemy back. When Oxford's men returned to the battle they were mistakenly fired upon by their fellow Lancastrians and fled. By early evening Lord Montagu and the Earl of Warwick were dead. The Lancastrians were defeated.
Queen Margaret, the wife of Henry VI, and her son Edward the prince of Wales landed at Weymouth on the very same day as the Battle of Barnet. Their intention was to assist the Earl of Warwick, but she arrived too late. Determined to avenge the Barnet defeat, the Queen and her army marched north towards Wales and men she could count on to join her army. Edward had thought of this and to cut the Queen off from Wales, had taken control of the bridges across the River Severn.
The Battle of Tewkesbury - Death of Henry VI
The Yorkists led by Edward and Richard met the Lancastrians at Tewkesbury. Richard was able to outflank the Lancastrians led by Edmund Beaufort, the self-proclaimed Duke of Somerset. Once Somerset's men had been dealt with, Richard attacked the rear of the Lancastrian line which broke apart and fled. Many of the Lancastrian leaders were caught and killed including Edward the Prince of Wales. Margaret of Anjou was also captured.
King Edward returned to London and that night Henry VI was murdered in the Tower of London.
A period of calm
With the deaths of the Earl of Warwick, King Henry VI and his son Edward Prince of Wales the Lancastrian fight was over. Anne Neville, the widow of Prince Edward, married Richard, Duke of Gloucester, King Edward's brother. King Edward turned his attention to France and a plan to remove King Louis.
To be continued...
Battles of the War of the Roses
Event Participants and Loctions
Early Middle Ages
High Middle Ages
Last Middle Ages
Early Modern Period
Event Participants and Loctions