War of the Roses:
The Wars of the Roses were a series of dynastic civil
wars for the throne of England fought between supporters of two rival
branches of the royal House of Plantagenet; the houses of Lancaster
and York, whose heraldic symbols were the "Red" and the
"White" rose, respectively.
Henry of Bolingbroke had established the House of Lancaster on the throne in 1399 when he deposed his cousin Richard II and was crowned as Henry IV; Bolingbroke's son Henry V maintained the family's hold on the crown, but when Henry V died, his heir was the infant Henry VI.
The Lancastrian claim to the throne descended from John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster, the fourth son of Edward III; Henry VI's right to the crown was challenged by Richard, Duke of York, who could claim descent from Edward's third and fifth sons, Lionel of Antwerp and Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York.
Richard of York, who had held several important offices of state, quarrelled with prominent Lancastrians at court and with Henry VI's queen, Margaret of Anjou.
Although armed clashes had occurred previously between supporters of York and Lancaster, the first open fighting broke out in 1455 at the first Battle of St Albans; several prominent Lancastrians died, but their heirs continued a deadly feud with Richard.
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, but one of his most prominent supporters, the Earl of Warwick, invaded England from Calais and captured Henry at the Battle of Northampton; York returned to the country and became Protector of England, but was dissuaded from claiming the throne.
Margaret and the irreconcilable Lancastrian nobles gathered their forces in the north of England and when York moved north to suppress them, he and his second son Edmund were killed at the Battle of Wakefield in December 1460; the Lancastrian army advanced south and recaptured 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 and Henry was captured once again, Edward fell out with his chief supporter and advisor, the Earl of Warwick, known as the "Kingmaker", and also alienated many friends and even family members by favouring the upstart family of his queen, Elizabeth Woodville, whom he had married in secret.
Warwick tried first to supplant Edward with his younger brother George, Duke of Clarence, and then 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 (April 1471), where Warwick was killed, and Tewkesbury (May 1471) where the Lancastrian heir, Edward, Prince of Wales, was executed after the battle; Henry was murdered in the Tower of London several days later, ending the direct Lancastrian line of succession.
A period of comparative peace followed, but King Edward died unexpectedly in 1483; his surviving brother, Richard 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 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 et al. flared up in 1487 under the banner of the pretender Lambert Simnel, who claimed to be Edward Earl of Warwick, resulting in the last pitched battles; although most of the surviving descendants of Richard of York were imprisoned, sporadic rebellions continued until 1497 when Perkin Warbeck, who claimed to be the younger brother of Edward V, one of the two disappeared Princes in the Tower, was imprisoned and later executed.
The name "Wars of the Roses" refers to the Heraldic badges associated with the two royal houses, the White Rose of York and the Red Rose of Lancaster; it is not thought to have been used during the time of the wars, but it came into common use in the nineteenth century after the publication of Anne of Geierstein by Sir Walter Scott.
Scott based the name on a scene in William Shakespeare's play Henry VI Part 1, set in the gardens of the Temple Church, where a number of noblemen and a lawyer pick red or white roses to show their loyalty to the Lancastrian or Yorkist faction respectively; although the roses were occasionally used as symbols during the wars, most of the participants wore livery badges associated with their immediate lords or patrons under the prevailing system of so called "bastard feudalism".
For example, Henry Tudor's forces at Bosworth fought under the banner of a red dragon, while the Yorkist army used Richard III's personal device of a white boar; it is not even certain whether the Red Rose was used; however, after the wars ended and his Yorkist marriage, King Henry VII adopted the badge of the single red and white Tudor Rose to symbolise the reunion of the houses of York and Lancaster.
Though the names of the rival houses derive from the cities of York and Lancaster, the corresponding duchies had little to do with these cities; the lands and offices attached to the Duchy of Lancaster were mainly in Gloucestershire, North Wales and Cheshire, while the estates and castles which were part of the Duchy of York and the Earldom of March, which Richard of York also inherited, were widespread throughout England, with many in the Welsh Marches.
Lancaster, York and Richmond (Tudor) are all represented by their own rose and all three are named for districts in the North of England, not a traditional power base for the English monarchy, which had hitherto usually been drawn from dynasties originating further south, in Normandy and Anjou, Mercia and Wessex; the Tudor fief of Richmondshire lay squarely between the duchies of Lancaster and York and on the forefront of the Anglo-Scottish border country.
England in the fifteenth century was ruled by kings who claimed divine right and were believed by the people to be the "Lord's anointed", directed and guided by the hand of God; the king's chief functions were to protect his people by defending them against their enemies, to govern justly and to preserve and enforce the law of the land.
The character of the sovereign, in such a society, was all important because on it depended the security and well being of his subjects; although the king wielded vast power by ruling as well as reigning, the complexity of government in a nation of some 3 million people had led to increasing delegation of power through a growing number of state departments.
The law of succession to the throne was ill-defined but, generally, the rule of primogeniture applied with the succession of the eldest son and his heirs; from the brief rule of Empress Matilda in the twelfth century to the fall of Richard II in 1399, primogeniture had not been seriously tested because of the sufficiency of male heirs produced by the House of Plantagenet.
But from 1399 to the end of the fifteenth century, the crown became the object of feuds because of the rise of what Sir John Fortescue, writing in the 1460s, called "the over-mighty subject"; there were too many powerful magnates who had a claim to the throne or who aspired to be the power behind it; as a result, a new and disturbing element was added to the determination of the royal succession: the prevalence of might over right.
Defence of the realm was especially important and most English people are believed to have placed great value on success in arms: hence, the king had to be seen as a competent warrior; a crucial point about the series of conflicts that came to be known as The Wars of the Roses was that the king did not maintain a standing army; rather, he relied upon his nobility to furnish him with troops when necessary and so it was vital that he maintained good relations with aristocracy and gentry who, if provoked, might use their armed strength against him; it follows that the king was duty bound to prevent power struggles between the magnates, especially if these could impact the stability of the realm.
The Wars of the Roses were fought primarily by the great magnates of the landed aristocracy; these were the royal dukes, marquesses and earls who were relatively few in number and a greater number of barons, knights and landed gentry.
Besides the huge estates that they controlled, many enhanced their wealth by investment in trade and expanded their influence through political marriage alliances; they were supported by armies of feudal retainers and tenants, sometimes with the aid of foreign mercenaries; this practice of controlling large numbers of paid men-at-arms was known as "maintenance".
Besides the size of his private army, a nobleman's prestige was measured by his "affinity", those bound by contract to serve him; the retainer who became a member of an affinity wore the nobleman's "livery", a uniform and badge, and accompany him on military campaigns; in return, the nobleman would pay him a pension, provide protection and grant rewards such as land or a lucrative office.
This unofficial system of "livery and maintenance" largely came about through the decline of feudalism in the wake of the Hundred Years War to be replaced by what some historians call "bastard feudalism" whereby the retainer did not serve the nobleman as a feudal vassal but as a liveried retainer under contract or indenture.
Most armies fought entirely on foot; in several cases, the magnates dismounted and fought among the common foot soldiers, to inspire them and to dispel the notion that in the case of defeat they might be ransomed while the common soldiers, being of little value, faced death.
It was often claimed, however, that the nobles faced greater risks than the ordinary soldiers; Philippe de Commines reported that Edward IV, once he had seen that victory was certain on the battlefield, would call out that the fleeing common soldiers were to be spared but no mercy was to be shown to the lords; furthermore, while the capture of a high ranking noble would have promised a wealthy ransom in the wars against France, an attainted traitor was of no value to his captor.
The fifteenth century was an age of escalating change in society with a middle class grown more prosperous and influential through its mercantile interests and a lower class, fuelled by the teachings of the Lollards, that increasingly questioned the established order; among the consequences were a degree of social anarchy and a lessening of respect for authority and the law; the issues escalated from the beginning of Henry VI's reign in 1422 with widespread complaints about corruption, public disorder, riots and the maladministration of justice.
By the 1450s, the situation had become urgent with law and order in a state of collapse and crime on the increase; the biggest problem was that soldiers returning from the wars in France found little to welcome them at home and found themselves destitute; already inured to violence but now freed from military discipline, many took to a life of brigandage and law-breaking.
Some of these took the affinity option and became employed by noblemen as armed thugs whose job was to intimidate, assault and even murder their employer's enemies; enforcement of law and order was the responsibility of the King's Council, which effectively governed the country in the name of the king; but throughout the reign of Henry VI, the Council did nothing to promote order and failed to control the magnates.
The chronicler John Hardyng wrote: "In every shire, with jacks and sallets clean, misrule doth rise and maketh neighbours war"; most criminals appear to have got away with their crimes; of those who were caught, many were acquitted while others were granted pardons issued in the name of Henry VI.
But the prevailing disorder of the period did not stem the creation of wealth by the merchant class; the wool trade slowly declined after 1450 but this was offset by increased demand from abroad for woollen cloth, tin, lead, leather and other products; Calais, which remained in English hands after the rest of England's French territories were lost in 1453, was the chief wool market, attracting merchants from all over Europe; the stability of Calais was therefore crucial to the merchant classes, but it was undermined during the Wars of the Roses when feuding magnates regarded it as a refuge in exile or, more alarmingly, as a springboard for invasion of England.
The antagonism between the two houses started with the overthrow of King Richard II by his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Lancaster, in 1399. Richard II's government had been highly unpopular and Bolingbroke returned from exile, initially to reclaim his rights as Duke of Lancaster; with the support of most of the nobles, Bolingbroke then deposed Richard and was crowned as Henry IV.
As an issue of Edward III's third son John of Gaunt, Bolingbroke had a comparatively poor claim to the throne; according to precedent, the crown should have passed to the male descendants of Lionel of Antwerp, Duke of Clarence, Edward III's second son and in fact the childless Richard II had named Lionel's grandson, Roger Mortimer, 4th Earl of March as heir presumptive.
Roger Mortimer had died the previous year however and no nobles immediately championed his young son Edmund's claim to the crown; within a few years of taking the throne, Henry faced several rebellions in Wales, Cheshire and Northumberland, which used the Mortimer claim to the throne both as pretext and rallying point; all of these revolts were suppressed, although with difficulty.
Henry IV died in 1413; his son and successor, Henry V, inherited a temporarily pacified nation; Henry was a great soldier and his military success against France in the Hundred Years' War bolstered his enormous popularity, enabling him to strengthen the Lancastrian hold on the throne.
There was one conspiracy against Henry during his nine-year reign: the Southampton Plot led by Richard, Earl of Cambridge, a son of Edmund of Langley, the fourth son of Edward III; Cambridge was executed in 1415 for treason at the start of the campaign which led to the Battle of Agincourt; Cambridge's wife, Anne Mortimer, who had died in 1411, also had a claim to the throne, being the daughter of Roger Mortimer and thus a descendant of Lionel of Antwerp; her brother Edmund, Earl of March, who loyally supported Henry, died childless in 1425 and his claim and titles therefore passed to Anne's descendants.
Richard, the son of Cambridge and Anne Mortimer, was four years old at the time of his father's execution; the title of Duke of York descended to him from Cambridge's elder brother, Edward of Norwich, 2nd Duke of York, who died fighting alongside Henry at Agincourt.
Although Cambridge was attainted, Henry later allowed Richard to inherit the title and lands of his late uncle, who died without issue; Henry, who had three younger brothers and was himself in his prime and recently married, had no doubt that the Lancastrian right to the crown was secure.
After Henry's death, when his only son proved incapable of rule and his brothers produced no surviving legitimate issue, leaving only distant cousins, the Beauforts, as alternate Lancaster heirs, Richard of York's claims to the throne became important; they were eventually held by supporters of the House of York to be stronger than those of the Lancastrian kings.
Henry V died unexpectedly in 1422 and his son, King Henry VI of England, ascended the throne as an infant only nine months old; after the death of his uncle, John, Duke of Bedford in 1435, he was surrounded by mostly unpopular regents and advisors; in addition to Henry's surviving paternal uncle, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, who deliberately courted the popularity of the common people for his own ends, the most notable of these were Cardinal Beaufort and William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk, who were blamed for mismanaging the government and poorly executing the continuing Hundred Years' War with France.
Under Henry VI, virtually all English holdings in France, including the land won by Henry V, were lost; Suffolk eventually succeeded in having Humphrey of Gloucester arrested for treason; Humphrey died while awaiting trial in prison at Bury St Edmunds in 1447; some authorities date the start of the War of the Roses from the death of Humphrey; however, with severe reverses in France, Suffolk was stripped of office and was murdered on his way to exile.
Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset succeeded him as leader of the party seeking peace with France; the Duke of York, who had succeeded Bedford as Lieutenant in France, meanwhile represented those who wished to prosecute the war more vigorously and criticised the court and Somerset in particular, for starving him of funds and men during his campaigns in France; in all these quarrels, Henry VI had taken little part; he was seen as a weak, ineffectual king; in addition, he suffered from episodes of mental illness that he may have inherited from his grandfather Charles VI of France; by 1450 many considered Henry incapable of carrying out the duties and responsibilities of a king.
In 1450, there was a violent popular revolt in Kent, Jack Cade's rebellion; the grievances were extortion by some of the king's officials and the failure of the courts to protect the local property owners of all classes; the rebels occupied parts of London, but were driven out by the citizens after some of them fell to looting; the rebels dispersed after they were supposedly pardoned but several, including Cade, were later executed.
Two years later, Richard of York returned to England from his new post as Lieutenant of Ireland and marched on London, demanding Somerset's removal and reform of the government; at this stage, few of the nobles supported such drastic action, and York was forced to submit to a superior force at Blackheath; he was imprisoned for much of 1452 and 1453, but was released after swearing not to take arms against the court.
The increasing discord at court was mirrored in the country as a whole, where noble families engaged in private feuds and showed increasing disrespect for the royal authority and for the courts of law; the Percy Neville feud was the best known of these private wars, but others were being conducted freely.
In many cases they were fought between old established families and formerly minor nobility raised in power and influence by Henry IV in the aftermath of the rebellions against him; the quarrel between the Percys, for long the Earls of Northumberland, and the comparatively upstart Nevilles was one which followed this pattern; another was the feud between the Courtenays and Bonvilles in Cornwall and Devon.
A factor in these feuds was the presence of large numbers of soldiers discharged from the English armies that had been defeated in France; nobles engaged many of these to mount raids, or to pack courts of justice with their supporters, intimidating suitors, witnesses and judges.
This growing civil discontent, the abundance of feuding nobles with private armies and corruption in Henry VI's court formed a political climate ripe for civil war; with the king so easily manipulated, power rested with those closest to him at court, in other words Somerset and the Lancastrian faction.
Richard and the Yorkist faction, who tended to be physically placed further away from the seat of power, found their power slowly being stripped away; royal power also started to slip, as Henry was persuaded to grant many royal lands and estates to the Lancastrians.
In 1453, Henry suffered the first of several bouts of complete mental collapse, during which he failed even to recognise his new-born son, Edward of Westminster; a Council of Regency was set up, headed by the Duke of York, who still remained popular with the people, as Lord Protector.
York soon asserted his power with ever-greater boldness; he imprisoned Somerset and backed his Neville allies, his brother-in-law, the Earl of Salisbury and Salisbury's son, the Earl of Warwick, in their continuing feud with the Earl of Northumberland, a powerful supporter of Henry.
Henry recovered in 1455 and once again fell under the influence of those closest to him at court; directed by Henry's queen, the powerful and aggressive Margaret of Anjou, who emerged as the de facto leader of the Lancastrians, Richard was forced out of court; Margaret built up an alliance against Richard and conspired with other nobles to reduce his influence; an increasingly thwarted Richard, who feared arrest for treason, finally resorted to armed hostilities in 1455.
Richard the Duke of York led a small force toward London and was met by Henry's forces at St Albans, north of London, on the 22nd 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 sitting quietly in his tent, abandoned by his advisors and servants, apparently having suffered another bout of mental illness; he had also been slightly wounded in the neck by an arrow; 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 which had caused conflict soon re-emerged, particularly the issue of whether Richard 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 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 and he relieved York of his office of Protector; 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, while York was made to return to his post as lieutenant in Ireland.
Fighting between the Nevilles and Percys had resumed and piracy by French fleets on the south coast were growing, but the king and queen remained intent on protecting their own 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.
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 which had persisted since the Battle of St. Albans; then, on Lady Day 25th March, the King led a "Love Day" procession to St. Paul's Cathedral, with Lancastrian and Yorkist nobles following him, hand in hand; no sooner had the procession and the Council dispersed than plotting resumed.
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 enquiries, 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 own supporters.
York summoned the Nevilles to join him at his stronghold at Ludlow Castle in the Welsh Marches; and on the 23rd 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 afterwards 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 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, only a successful invasion would restore the Yorkists' lands and titles; Warwick travelled to Ireland to concert plans with York, evading the royal ships commanded by the Duke of Exeter; 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 10th 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 apparently suffered another breakdown; with the king in their possession, the Yorkists returned to London.
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 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 and was met with more understanding; 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.
Queen Margaret and her son had fled to north 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.
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 reported to be massing near the city of York; he took up a defensive position at Sandal Castle near Wakefield over Christmas 1460; then on the 30th December, even though his forces were outnumbered, he left the castle and attacked the Lancastrians in the open; 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; Margaret ordered the heads of all three placed on the gates of York.
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; in London, Warwick used this as propaganda to reinforce Yorkist support throughout the south and 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 decisive 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.
In an illustration of the increasing bitterness of the war, Queen Margaret instructed her seven year old son Edward of Westminster to determine the manner of execution of the Yorkist knights who had been charged with keeping Henry safe and had stayed at his side throughout the battle.
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.
Meanwhile, Edward of March advanced towards London from the west where he had joined forces with Warwick's surviving forces; his coincided with the northward retreat by the queen to Dunstable, allowing Edward and Warwick to enter London with their army; they were welcomed with enthusiasm, money and supplies by the largely Yorkist-supporting city.
Edward could no longer claim simply to be trying to free the king from bad councillors; it had become a battle for the crown; Edward needed authority and this seemed forthcoming when Thomas Kempe, the Bishop of London, asked the people of London their opinion and they replied with shouts of "King Edward".
This was quickly confirmed by Parliament, and Edward was unofficially crowned in a hastily arranged ceremony at Westminster Abbey amidst much jubilation, although Edward vowed he would not have a formal coronation until Henry and Margaret were executed or exiled.
He also announced that 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, though it was being widely argued that Edward's victory was simply a restoration of the rightful heir to the throne, which neither Henry nor his Lancastrian predecessors had been; it was this argument which Parliament had accepted the year before.
Edward and Warwick marched north, gathering a large army as they went, 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 was to be settled that day, with no quarter asked or given.
An estimated 40,000 to 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's official coronation took place in June 1461 in London where he received a rapturous welcome from his supporters; Edward was able to rule in relative peace for ten years; though he could never really claim to have complete control until 1465.
After the Battle of Towton, Henry 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.
Several Lancastrian nobles, including the third Duke of Somerset, who had apparently 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 the 25th April, but because Neville was escorting Scottish commissioners for a treaty to York, he could not immediately follow up on this victory; then on the 15th 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.
The last remaining Lancastrian stronghold was Harlech Castle in Wales, which surrendered in 1468 after a seven-year-long siege.
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 formed an alliance with Edward's jealous and treacherous brother George, who married Isabel Neville in defiance of Edward's wishes in Calais; they raised an army which defeated the king's forces at the Battle of Edgecote Moor; 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.
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; few of the nobles were prepared to support Warwick's seizure of power; Edward was escorted to London by Warwick's brother George, 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 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 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 or his young son and 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 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 of London 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, changed loyalties to support his brother; Edward was unprepared for this event and had to order his army to scatter; he and 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.
Warwick's success was short-lived, however; he overreached 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 Clarence turned traitor again, abandoning Warwick.
Having outmanoeuvred 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 only a few days before 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; Prince Edward, the Lancastrian heir to the throne, was killed; with no heirs to succeed him, Henry VI was murdered shortly afterwards, on the 14th May 1471, to strengthen the Yorkist hold on the throne.
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; 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 and 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 in Ludlow.
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; 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 the 28th April; although they dined with him 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 the 4th May and was lodged in the Tower of London; Elizabeth Woodville had already gone hastily into sanctuary at Westminster with her remaining children, although preparations were being made for Edward V to be crowned on the 22nd June, at which point Richard's authority as Protector would end; on the 13th 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 that 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, Richard then alleged that Edward IV's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville had been illegal and that the two boys were therefore illegitimate.
Parliament agreed, and enacted the Titulus Regius, which officially named Gloucester as King Richard III; the two imprisoned boys, known as the "Princes in the Tower", disappeared and were possibly murdered; by whom and under whose orders remains controversial; there was never a trial or judicial inquest on the matter.
Having been crowned in a lavish ceremony on the 6th July, Richard then proceeded on a tour of the Midlands and the north of England, dispensing generous bounties and charters and naming his own son as the Prince of Wales.
Opposition to Richard's rule had already begun in the south when, on the 18th 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 by supporting Tudor rather than either Edward V or his younger brother, Buckingham was aware that both were already dead.
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 in 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.
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 Minister to betray Henry, but Henry was warned and escaped to France, where he was again given sanctuary and aid.
Confident that many magnates and even many
of Richard's officers would join him, Henry set sail from Harfleur on
the 1st August 1485 with a force of exiles and French mercenaries; with
fair winds, he landed in Pembrokeshire six days later; 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 Welsh man-at-arms 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, then strengthened his position by marrying Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV and the best surviving Yorkist claimant; he thus reunited the two royal houses, merging the rival symbols of the red and white roses into the new emblem of the red and white Tudor Rose; Henry shored up his position by executing all other possible claimants whenever any excuse was offered, 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.
This plan was on very shaky ground, 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, Henry defeated Lincoln's army; Simnel was pardoned for his part in the rebellion and was sent to work in the royal kitchens.
Henry's throne was again challenged in 1491 with the appearance of the pretender Perkin Warbeck, who claimed to be Richard, Duke of York, the younger of the two Princes in the Tower; Warbeck made repeated 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 executed in 1499 after attempting to escape imprisonment.
During the reign of Henry VII's son Henry VIII, the possibility of Yorkist challenges 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.
With their heavy casualties among the nobility, the wars are thought to have continued the changes in feudal English society caused by the effects of the Black Death, including a weakening of the feudal power of the nobles and a corresponding strengthening of the merchant classes and the growth of a strong, centralised monarchy under the Tudors; it heralded the end of the medieval period in England and the movement towards the Renaissance.
The kings of France and Scotland as well as 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 making war on them.
The post-war period was also the death knell for the large standing baronial armies, which had helped fuel the conflict; 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.
As a result 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; few noble houses were actually exterminated during the wars; however, many of the most openly ambitious nobles did die and by the later period of the wars, fewer nobles were prepared to risk their lives and titles in an uncertain struggle.