The War of the Roses

The war of the Roses (also called the war of the two Roses) is a very important period for the British culture and history. It has been a turning point in the history of the United Kingdom : a very large part of the aristocracy was killed (some noble families even disappeared) and the royal dynasty changed. It has also been a vast source of inspiration for English authors, such as Shakespeare.

To describe this period, it is very important to firstly take into account the characters and their personality, which played an important role in the way they fought. I will distinguish the family of Lancaster and its supporters, then the family of York, and finally the Lords, who took side with both parties, depending on their interest of the moment. In a second part, I will tell the history of the war of the Roses, splitting it into six periods.

I. The main Characters

Two parties :

  • the party of Lancaster (red rose)
  • the party of York (white rose)

The Lancaster

  • Henry VI (1421-1471). Reign : 1422-1461 and 1470-1471
  • His wife : Marguerite d'Anjou
  • His son : Edward, prince of Wale

Lancaster-Tudor :

  • Henry, Earl of Richmond (1455-1509).
    He becomes Henry VII Tudor. Reign : 1489-1509

The York

  • Edward IV (1442-1483). Reign : 1461-1470 and 1471-1483.
  • His father, Edward Duke of York (+1461)
  • His sons :
    Edward V (1470-1483)
    Richard of York
  • His brothers :
    Duke of Clarence (1478)
    Richard of Gloucester (1452-1485), becomes Richard III.
    Reign :1483-1485.

The Lords

  • Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick(+1471)
    called "the King maker"
  • His brothers:
    George, archbishop of York.
    John, Lord Montagu (1471)
  • The Duke of Buckingham (+1483)
  • William, Lord Hastings(+1483)

II. The history

A first period of troubles

Henry VI is weak; Sommerset and Suffolk plunder the state funds.
The Lancastrians are unpopular.
English lose Normandy
Defeated soldiers walk on the roads of Englands.
There are numerous agitators (Jack Cade ...) anarchy.
French corsairs plunder the coats of England insecurity.
Suffolk dies.
The 100 year war ends.
Henry VI becomes mad.
His son is born The Duke of York is no more the heir.
The Duke of York becomes protector of the Kingdom.
Christmas 1454
Henry VI recovers his mind.
Queen Marguerite and Sommerset are at power.

A period of struggle for the power

Battle of St Albans
The Duke of York and Warwick capture the King.
Queen Marguerite gets back her husband.
Each party raises troops.
Civil riots.
Marguerite attacks.
Several battles Yorkist leaders leave the country.
Yorkist leaders come back.
The King is captured at the battle of Northampton.
The Duke of York becomes Heir of the Crown.
Marguerite still fights.
The Duke of York and his oldest son, Edmond, are killed at the Battle of Wakefield.
Marguerite gets back her husband (battle of St Albans)
Warwick and Edward take London and Edward becomes King (4th March).

The third period : the reign of Edward IV (1461-1470)

The biggest battle of the war takes place in Towton
A guerilla warfare takes place in Wales and the extreme north.
Marguerite flies in France.
The last Lancastrians leaders die at the battles of Hedgeley Moor and Hexham.
The King Henry VI is captured.
The power of the Neville family rises :
George becomes Archbishop of York and chancellor.
John, Marquis of Montagu, reigns over the north.
Warwick rules the army and the foreign office.
Edward tries to resist.
Edward is captured by the Nevilles and his brother George of Clarence.

A new period of anarchy

Riots take place London and in the whole country.
There is a Lancastrian uprising at the Scottisch border.
The help of Edward necessary he gets more power.
Clarence and Warwick conspire :

It fails (battle of Lose-Coat Field)
Clarence and Warwick flee in France

Clarence, Warwick and Marguerite ally.
The alliance takes the power Henry VI is the King.
Edward comes back with a small army.
Edward takes York.
There are several battles in favour of Edward.
George Neville betrays the Lancastrians and gives up London and Henry VI to Edward.
Warwick and John are killed at the battle of Barnet.
The final battle of Tewkesbury

Marguerite is captured
Her son is killed

Fifth period : Reign of Edward IV (1471-1483)

It is a happy period of peace and reconstruction.
The King governs with the help of his faithful and clever brother Richard.
He dies unexpectedly of illness.

Sixth period : Reign of Richard III

Richard of Gloucester becomes king with the help of the Duke of Buckingham in place of his nephew and despite the opposition of Hastings.
He kills his nephews.
He crashes Buckingham uprising.
He is killed by Henry, Earl of Richmond, at the battle of Bosworth.
Henry becomes Henry VII.
He founds the Tudor dynasty

So, the history of the war of the two Roses is really propitious to literary narration : you have a Queen with a strong personality (Marguerite), a mad King, traitors, multiple reversal of situation, ... But the myth is different from the reality : what is disappointing is that the version of Shakespeare is a bit far from the reality whereas it needed not to be thrilling. For instance, Richard III was not the ‘‘nice’’ King of Shakespeare’s play. However we must not forget that he could not question the foundation of the Tudor dynasty ands its legitimity !

This period will remain one of the most epic in the English history, even if it concerned principally the aristocracy (the armies were small and one implicit rule was to kill the nobles, not the simple peasants).