WARS OF THE ROSES
The name ‘Wars of the Roses’ was invented by Sir Walter Scott in his 19th century novel Geierstein. The Wars of the Roses lasted from 1455 to roughly 1485. There is some debate as to when exactly these wars ended.
In the 14th century Edward III reigned. He had five sons. Four of them had descendants. The descendants of these four fought against each other. That is what the Wars of the Roses is about. Different factions of the English Royal Family fighting against each other.
There were four sons but only two sides. How so? This is because sometimes cousins married each other. That does not mean first cousins but it could be second cousins or third cousins. First cousins share the same grandparents. Second cousins share the same great-grandparents, third cousins share the same great-great-grandparents and so forth.
Henry VI became king in 1422. He was 9 months old. His father Henry V has been known as a great warrior king. Henry VI’s mother was Catherine de Valois who was a French princess. Henry VI was proclaimed King of England and King of France. Henry VI also had another title : the Duke of Lancaster.
Henry VI is the only man whose writ ever ran in both the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of France. As he was a child authority exercise had to be exercised on his behalf by his paternal uncles.
Charles VII was the paternal uncle of Henry VI. Charles VII claimed to be the rightful King of France. His father Charles VI had been King of France. Charles VII organised a fightback against the English in France and began to take back much of the country.
Henry VI was crowned King of France in Notre Dame Cathedral Paris. However, kings of France are not crowned at Paris. They are crowned at Rheims. But Rheims had fallen into the hands of Charles VII therefore Henry VI was unable to go there. Some held that Henry VI’s coronation in France was invalid. He married a French noblewoman named Margaret of Anjou. She was a domineering woman and brought many courtiers from France who made themselves unpopular. She was obliged to take up the reins of government as it became obvious that her husband was suffering from a psychiatric disorder. After several years of marriage she and her husband had no children. Questions were asked.
By the 1450s it was clear that Henry’s was mentally infirm. His grandfather Charles VI of France had also been afflicted with insanity. Henry VI suffered transient attacks of mental illness. His psychotic episodes started to become longer and more severe. His episodes of lucidity grew briefer and less pronounced.
In 1453 Margaret of Anjou was delivered of a bonny baby boy. The royal imp was known as Edward of Westminster.
Richard Duke of York was Henry VI’s distant cousin. They shared a common ancestor – Edward III. The Duke of York owned very extensive landed estates in South Wales and the English Midlands. The Richard Duke of York thought that Henry VI was incapable of discharging his kingly functions. Therefore he wished to exercises governmental functions on behalf of the monarch. Richard of York had himself declared Lord Protector. He was empowered to carry out executive functions on behalf of the king since the king was unable to do so. When the monarch died he, the Duke of York, should reign. Edward of Westminster – the son of Henry VI – ought to be excluded from the succession.
Those who supported the Duke of York were called Yorkists. Those who backed Henry VI were called Lancastrians.
The Duke of York’s proposal excited much controversy. In 1455 the king returned to sanity. He realised what had happened and swore to depose Richard of York from his office as Lord Protector. Fighting broke out. At the First Battle of St Albans Henry VI was bested. The king was taken prisoner and a number of important Lancastrians were slain.
The Duke of York therefore continued to rule as Lord Protector. Margaret of Anjou remained at liberty. She wished to fight on. In 1459 she made at attempt to oust the duke. The Duke of York fled to France.
The Earl of Warwick was a very prominent nobleman. He was known as kingmaker Warwick. Whoever he backed became king. Lord Warwick gathered soldiers at Calais – the nearest town in France to England. He used Calais as his springboard to invade England. Warwick defeated the Lancastrians at the Battle of Northampton. Henry VI was captured once again.
The Duke of York felt it safe to return to the Realm of England. He was proclaimed Lord Protector of the Realm again. Margaret of Anjou had still not given up hope. She marshalled forces in northern England.
In 1460 fighting broke out afresh. Richard of York marched north to engage the Lancastrians. In December 1460 they fought the Battle of Wakefield. Richard of York was killed and so was one of his sons Edmund. The Lancastrians were buoyed up by this tremendous success. They moved south. They won the Second Battle of St Albans and freed Henry VI. Despite this they did not manage to take London. The Lancastrians then retreated north.
Richard of York’s son was Edward IV. Upon the death of Richard of York his son automatically became Duke of York. He had himself proclaimed King Edward IV. As Edward IV controlled London he was able to do this. There were now two men who both claimed to be king. Edward IV did not follow his father’s old policy of controlling the country as Lord Protector and waiting for Henry VI to die.
Edward IV struck north determined to finish off the Lancastrians. In March 1461 the Yorkists and Lancastrians fought the Battle of Towton on a very snowy Palm Sunday. Up to 28 000 men were killed in one day! It was the bloodiest battle ever fought on English soil. 28 000 people represented 1% of the population of England. It was 2% of the male population. Of military age males it was 4%. However, the death toll is probably exaggerated even if not by much. Even if the death toll was considerably less it was a huge blow even to the victors.
The victory at Towton secured Edward IV position. In 1464 some Lancastrians rebelled but were put down by the Yorkists quite easily. Henry VI was a captive held in the Tower of London.
The Earl of Warwick had been crucial to Edward IV’s success. However, after 1464 relations between the two men became strained.
Edward IV married Elizabeth Woodville in secret. When the marriage was announced many people disapproved. The king began to appoint his wife’s relatives to high office. Lord Warwick felt he was denied the recognition that he deserved.
Warwick negotiated with George the Duke of Clarence. Warwick’s plan was to get the Duke of Clarence to marry Warwick’s daughter Isbael Neville. Lord Warwick would overthrow Edward IV and replaced Edward IV with his younger brother the Duke of Clarence. However, the plot was discovered. The duke was executed on the orders of his brother. Lord Warwick’s plan had minimal support. He fled for his life. He sailed to France and offered his services to Margaret of ANjou. This was a coup. The doughty warrior had gone over the Lancastrian side.
In 1471 Lord Warwick led a Lancastrian army back to England. However, he lost the Battle of Barnet where Warwick was killed. In May 1471 there was another major Yorkist victory at Tewkesbury.