The Wars of the Roses is the traditional name given to the series of intermittent struggles between the years 1455 and 1485 for control of the throne of England, although the name itself is not contemporary but was rather an invention of the Victorian novelist Walter Scott (in his novel Anne of Geierstein), drawing on the symbolism of the main parties in the conflict, the House of York, whose badge was a white rose and the House of Lancaster who had picked the red rose as their emblem.
The contemporary name for the conflict was the 'Cousins' war', but Walter Scott was not entirely being original, various writers from the sixteenth century onwards had referred to the wars in a similar vein, culminating in David Hume's reference in 1761 to the 'Wars of the Two Roses'. And generally speaking it is more common to refer to the Wars of the Roses in the plural, rather than the singular, as it is now generally considered as a series of separate conflicts.
It is often described as a civil war, which technically it was, but it wasn't a civil war in the sense of the English Civil War where the whole country was divided within itself. The actual fighting was somewhat sporadic; calculations of the actual amount of fighting that took place during the thirty years that the 'Wars' lasted, range from between some thirty to sixty weeks of actual conflict. And although the wars did involve a certain amount of ferocity and brutality that had not previously been seen, this ferocity and brutality was mainly directed against a small number of people.
The origins of the Wars
1. The Lancastrian usurpation
The origins of the conflict lie back in the reign of Richard II, grandson and successor of Edward III, whose reign was troubled by a series of disputes over the nature and competency of his administration. With the death of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster in February 1399, Richard made the decision to seize the estates of Lancaster and prevent John's son Henry Bolingbroke, the Duke of Hereford from inheriting. Henry, who was already serving a sentence of exile, promptly returned to England intent on recovering his birthright, deposed Richard II and later had him quietly killed.
Thus Henry Bolingbroke became Henry IV the first Lancastrian ruler of England. Both he and his son also named Henry were generally speaking popular rulers, if only due to their success in the business of killing the French. His son Henry V, who quite possibly might have succeeded in becoming king of both France and England, died at the early age of 35 leaving as his heir his nine year old son, yet another Henry to succeed.
2. Henry VI's minority and the loss of Normandy
During Henry's minority the government was administered by his uncles the John, Duke of Bedford and the Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, until he reached his majority in 1429. Unfortunately Henry VI turned out to be rather unstable and weak-minded, and after the death of John, Duke of Bedford in 1435, his government became increasingly divided by factionalism, with his uncle Humphrey leading of the war party, who favoured the continued prosecution of the Hundred Years war, contending against the Beauforts who believed that war in France was an expensive folly.
It was however the peace or 'court party' headed first by Henry Beaufort known as the Cardinal Beaufort and later by William de la Pole, the 4th Earl of Suffolk and later Duke of Suffolk, who exercised the most influence over king Henry VI. In 1444 William de la Pole negotiated the Treaty of Tours with the French, and arranged Henry's marriage to Margaret of Anjou, the niece of the French king Charles XII. He also acquiesced in the surrender of Maine to France.
But notwithstanding the above in July 1449 Charles XII launched his offensive against Normandy; Rouen soon fell and defeat at the battle of Formigny on the 15th April 1450 left most of Normandy in French hands. In August the final remaining English outpost of Cherbourg fell to Charles XII.
William de la Pole was blamed for the loss of Normandy and charged with treason by his opponents and sentenced to exile for five years. He left England on the 1st May but was intercepted before he got to France and executed mid channel. No one minded to much about the fate of the former Duke of Suffolk; popular opinion regarded him as a traitor and Cade's rebellion later called for the dismissal of "all the false progeny and affinity of the Duke of Suffolk" and their replacement with "the high and mighty prince the Duke of York".
3. The high and mighty prince the Duke of York
Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, was the grandson of Edmund of Langley, fifth son of Edward III and through his mother Anne Mortimer, descended also from Lionel of Antwerp, third son of Edward III. Arguably therefore, he had a better claim to the throne than the incumbent Henry IV, who was descended from John of Gaunt fourth son of Edward III.
The Duke of York was also the wealthiest man in England, having inherited the accumulated wealth of both the House of York and his Mortimer uncle. He was married to Cecily Neville, whose father was the Earl of Westmoreland, her brother the Earl of Salisbury and her nephew Richard Neville the Earl of Warwick (and the second richest man in England).
The Duke of York was therefore wealthy, well connected, and heir presumptive to the throne, given that king Henry VI was still childless, but not particularly happy. The Duke of York was annoyed that he was not included in the king's inner circle of advisors, annoyed that the conduct of the war in France had been left as he saw it, in the hands of incompetents.
He was therefore a supporter of the 'war party' and as such had been fobbed off with the office of Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1547 in order to distance him from the king. With death of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester in 1449 became the leading exponent for the vigorous continuation of war with France, but in 1450 he returned from Ireland and demanded changes in the government but with little success.
Once William de la Pole out of the way, York might have expected that the king would now see the error of his ways, but Henry VI simply turned to another member of the 'court party' Edmund Beaufort, the Duke of Somerset.
The Duke of York disliked Somerset, whom he regarded as equally responsible with Suffolk for the loss of Normandy (having been appointed Lieutenant of France in 1447 Somerset earlier personally surrendered Rouen to the French forces) as well as being guilty of enriching himself at the expense of the crown. Somerset equally hated the Duke of York who was obviously now the major threat to his position.
4. The fall of Aquitaine
Flushed with their success in Normandy in 1451 the French turned their attention to Aquitaine. Their initial success prompted the Duke of York to appear before king Henry with an armed deputation in February 1452 demanding changes in the government and blaming its failures on "the envy, malice and untruth of the Duke of Somerset". Henry promised to investigate the matter, but once York had sent his men home Henry changed his mind and forced York to apologise to Somerset.
In any case the York's accusations of incompetence looked a little premature as in October 1452 the John Talbot, the Earl of Shrewsbury succeeded in chasing the French out of Aquitaine. The French however returned in the following year and at the battle of Castillon on the 17th July 1453 the Earl of Shrewsbury was defeated and killed. Worse was to come when Bordeux fell on the 19th October 1453, leaving Calais as the sole remnant of Henry V's once extensive French possessions.
With the disastrous news from Aquitaine, Henry VI collapsed into a catatonic stupor. With the king thus incapacitated the Duke of York took charge, accused Somerset of treason and had him arrested and imprisoned. On the 27th March 1454 the Duke of York was named as Protector and Defender of the Realm and appointed his relation, the Earl of Salisbury in turn as the Lord Chancellor.
The first War of the Roses
On Christmas Day in the year 1454 king Henry recovered his senses and in January a rather reluctant Duke of York was forced to step down as protector. The Duke of Somerset was released, re-instated as the king's chief councillor and replaced York as Captain of Calais; the Earl of Salisbury was dismissed as Lord Chancellor and replaced by Thomas Bourchier the Archbishop of Canterbury. What was worse, from York's point of view, was that in the meantime Margaret of Anjou had given birth to a son, named Edward, which now meant that York was no longer heir apparent.
In April 1459 Richard together with the two Nevilles, the Earls of Salisbury and Warwick were summoned to attend a council meeting at Leicester. Concerned that this was simply a pretext for their arrest (they were quite right as it happens), they gathered together a force of some 3,000 armed retainers and marched on London, intending to confront the king and demand reform.
Acting under Somerset's direction Henry VI, gathered his own force of around 2,000 and marched out of London to meet the Duke of York and occupied the town of St Albans whilst they waited for York and the Nevilles to arrive. There York set out his demands which were flatly rejected by the king. So the Duke attacked the royalist forces, storming the town of St Albans and captured the king.
This was the first battle of St Albans, which lasted about an hour, and resulted in the deaths of between 60 and 200 combatants. Not much of a battle really but those killed included the Duke of Somerset and other prominent supporters of the king such as the Earl of Northumberland.
So ended the first War of the Roses, with the Duke of York firmly in charge of the government.
A relatively peaceful interlude
After the battle of St Albans, sometime in the ensuing months Henry VI suffered another bout of mental illness, so that in November 1455 the Duke of York was reappointed as Protector and took charge of the government. But by February 1456 Henry had recovered his senses and released York from his office of protector but retained him as 'his chief and principal councilor'.
Now Henry's wife Margaret of Anjou had always liked her Beaufourt cousins by marriage, and actively disliked the Duke of York, and she now began organising her own anti-Yorkist alliance. Margaret went on tour of the Duchy of Lancaster and the county of Chester, quietly organising her own army, creating her own shadow government and installed the king at Kenilworth Castle where he was safely away from the influence of the Duke of York in London.
In case the Duke of York didn't appreciate there were those that opposed him, in September 1456 York discovered the severed heads of 5 dogs impaled on stakes outside his London residence, with suitably abusive verses stuffed into their jaws.
It seemed as if the country was heading for war once again. This was of concern to the Duke of Buckingham, who was the third richest man in the country after the Duke of York and the Earl of Warwick and he now threw his weight behind an attempt at conciliation and called the two sides to a parley in January 1458.
More than once the two sides almost came to blows but by the 24th March 1458 a compromise of sorts was patched together and on the following day, the so-called 'Loveday', king Henry VI and the queen, Somerset, York, Warwick et al paraded through London in an outward display of unity and friendship. But it was all superficial, and the real differences between the parties remained.
Warwick, appointed as captain of Calais after St Albans retained his post, but the flow of funds from England dried up, so that he turned to piracy to raise the necessary funds to fund the garrison. This led to a flood of complaints to the English crown from the assorted Geonese, Spanish, Hanseatic, Portugese and French merchants who had suffered from Warwick's activities.
So in November 1458 Warwick was recalled to London to explain himself, but ended up fighting with one of the king's servants, fled back to Calais and ignored demands that he resign his post and return to England to face charges.
The second War of the Roses
Warwick's little rebellion proved the signal for both sides to begin actively recruiting. The Duke of York decided to call a meeting of his supporters at Ludlow. Warwick was asked to come from Calais, whilst the Earl of Salisbury made his way from the north.
Margaret knew what was going on, and persuaded James Touchet, the Lord Audley and principle Lancastrian commander to intercept Salisbury on his way south. This the Lord Audley managed, but unfortunately as far as he was concerned, he picked the wrong spot and was defeated and killed at the battle of Blore Heath of the 23rd September 1459.
The Earl of Salisbury therefore succeeded in arriving as planned at Ludlow as indeed did Warwick who had successfully eluded the attentions of Somerset on the way. However the Lancastrian army marched to confront the assembled Yorkists just outside Ludlow where Henry proclaimed a pardon to all those who laid down their arms.
The battle of Ludford Bridge of the 12th October turned out to be a non-event as the Yorkist army either surrendered or returned home once the Yorkist leaders abandoned their army. The Earls of Salisbury and Warwick fled to Calais whilst York himself scuttled off to Ireland.
And so ended the second War of the Roses when the Lancastrians appeared to be firmly in charge.
The third War of the Roses
With king Henry VI, or at least the combination of his wife and the Duke of Somerset now back in charge, a parliament was convened at Coventry to pass the usual attainders against their enemies.
But the Duke of York remained at liberty in Ireland and even though the Earl of Wiltshire was theoretically placed in charge of Ireland, he did nothing to attempt to dislodge the Duke. (The royal messengers who brought news of the Duke's attainder were promptly hanged in Dublin.) The Earls of Warwick and Salisbury were also at Calais, where Warwick's pirate fleet continued to raid French shipping thereby raising much needed funds, and successfully resisted the attempts of the Duke of Somerset to dislodge them.
In June 1460 Warwick and Salisbury landed in Kent, paid their respects to the shrine of Thomas a Becket at Canterbury, and began raising an army. Within a week they had occupied London, catching the Lancastrians off balance; they decided to gather their forces at Northampton in preparation for a march on London to drive out the Yorkists.
Leaving the Earl of Salisbury in charge of London, Warwick together with the Duke of York's eldest son Edward, then known as the 'Earl of March' left to challenge the Lancastrian army, which included the Lord Egremont, the Earl of Shrewsbury, the Lord Grey of Ruthin and also now the Duke of Buckingham who had thrown his weight behind the king.
At the battle of Northampton on the 10th July 1460, the Yorkists had an unfair advantage as the Lord Grey was a 'double agent', who switched sides mid battle and was instrumental in the Yorkist victory. In accordance with instructions to spare the common man and the king but to kill all the nobility and knights, Egremont, Buckingham and Shrewsbury were all killed.
The result of the battle left the Earl of Warwick in charge of the country apart from the north which was still in the hands of the Earl of Northumberland.
The Duke of York who was in Ireland, now returned home and made his way to Westminster. He now expected to be acclaimed king, but was sorely disappointed by the lack of enthusiasm and even Warwick was a little put out at his presumption. Despite this the Duke of York persisted in putting forward his claim to the throne, but the lack of support for the actual deposition of Henry VI, forced him to accept the compromise enshrined in the Act of Accord of the 14th October 1460. This specified amongst other things, that on Henry's death that the crown would pass to the Duke of York and his heirs.
And so ended the third war with the Yorkist in charge of the government.
The fourth War of the Roses
Part 1: The fall of Richard, Duke of York
Naturally Margaret of Anjou wasn't happy about seeing her son disinherited and of course she still hated the Duke of York; she fled to Scotland and continued to scheme against him. Whereas the Yorkists now had control of much of the country, the north remained in the hands of the Lancastrians, where the Earl of Northumberland and other magnates began gathering an army.
To counter this threat the Duke of York and the Earl of Salisbury went to Sandal Castle just outside Wakefield where they were met by a considerably larger force under Northumberland. At the battle of Wakefield fought on the 30th December 1460 the Lancastrians prevailed and Duke of York, the Earl of Salisbury and the Duke of York's son the Earl of Rutland were all killed.
York's severed head was afterwards displayed on a stake. (There is unfortunately no truth in the story that Margaret rushed down from Scotland to congratulate her supporters on the victory and decided that it would be a nice touch if the Duke's head was pointed in the right direction with a sign reading "Let York overlook the town of York".)
The Lancastrian army then marched south to tackle the Earl of Warwick who was still in command of London. Warwick in turn moved his army near to St Albans where he deployed his forces ready to meet the enemy and where on the 17th Feb 1461 was fought the second battle of St Albans. Unfortunately for Warwick the Lancastrians picked a different route to St Albans than expected and hit him with a surprise attack from the rear so much of his careful preparations were to no avail. Warwick was defeated and the Lancastrians regained possession of the person of Henry VI.
Therefore as a consequence of the victories at Wakefield and St Albans it now appeared as if the Lancatrians were now back in the driving seat.
Part 2: The Rise of Edward IV
Whilst the Duke of York had gone north to deal with the Lancastrian threat he had sent his eldest son Edward, Earl of March, into the west to raise reinforcements and counter the Lancastrian strength in Wales. It was there that he heard the news of his father's death, which made him at the age of eighteen Duke of York and a considerably wealthy man, if only in theory at that precise point in time.
Within a few weeks he had defeated Jasper Tudor, the Earl of Pembroke at the battle of Mortimer's Cross near Leominster in the Welsh Marches on the 2nd February 1461, to give the Yorkist cause a glimmer of hope. He was soon joined by Warwick who after his defeat at St Albans on the 17th, had at least managed to keep part of his force intact.
In the meantime the Lancastrian army was at Dunstable, taking a much needed rest before proceeding to occupy London. (There was also the little matter regarding the conduct of the Lancastrian troops; they had busy looting and raiding the countryside on their journey south and the local authorities in London were reluctant to open the city gates without some assurances of good behaviour.)
Edward took advantage of this delay and in four days marched from the Cotswolds and occupied London himself. (London gratefully opened its gates and welcomed Edward as its savious from the Lancastrain hordes.) There on the 4th March 1461 he dared to do what his father had not and proclaimed himself king, offering a pardon to all of Henry's supporters who submitted to him and began recruiting a larger army.
Faced with the loss of London once more the Lancastrian army retreated back to their northern stronghold, followed closely by Edward and Warwick. After a brief skirmish at Pontefract, on Palm Sunday the 29th March 1461 Edward caught up with the Lancastrian army just outside the village of Towton.
The resulting battle of Towton, fought in the middle of a blizzard, proved to be the bloodiest battle of the conflict with a total killed between 9,000 and 28,000, most of them Lancastrian as it turned out, as Edward and Warwick hacked their way to victory; those Lancastrian knights and nobles who survived the battle itself were later executed.
Edward returned to London in triumph and was crowned king Edward IV on the 28th June 1461.
Part 3: Resistance in the north
Although Edward IV was now indisputably king, the deposed Henry VI was still alive and hiding out in Scotland, and the far north of England remained thoroughly Lancastrian.
There followed a pattern when Yorkist forces would march into Northumberland, the Lancastrians would surrender their castles, wait for the Yorkist army to go home gain, at which point they would re-occupy the fortresses and declare for Henry VI and the whole process would start over again.
Desperate to find some way of dislodging Edward IV, Margaret of Anjou did a deal with the French king Louis XI to surrender Calais in return for war against Edward and tried to construct an alliance with Scotland and France against Edward. In July 1463 she even managed to get a Scottish army to invade England. The Scots captured Norham castle but went home again when Warwick turned up with an army. But in October 1463 Louis concluded his own deal with Edward and with the French now at peace with England, the Scots decided that they had better come to terms as well and agreed to open negotiations with Edward.
It was as a result of these negotiations that John Neville, Warwick's younger brother, now the Lord Montagu was given the job of escorting the Scottish negotiating team down south. On his way north, the Lancastrians under Ralph Percy tried to ambush him, but at the resulting battle of Hedgley Moor, on the 25th April 1464, Montagu defeated and killed Ralph Percy.
After this defeat Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset decided to gather together the remaining Lancastrian adherents in the north at Hexham. On hearing this news the Lord Montagu, after completing his mission, gathered together every man he could find and attacked the Lancastrian army at Hexham. The resulting battle of Hexham fought on the 15th May 1464 was another Yorkist victory; Somerset and another 23 leading Lancastrians were all rounded up and executed, effectively bringing an end to resistance in the north.
On the 11th June 1464 the negotiations with Scots bore fruit with the conclusion of a fifteen year truce, and the Scots also agreed not to provide sanctuary to Henry VI or any of his family.
Another peaceful interlude
Denied any prospect of a safe heaven in Scotland, after the defeat at Hexham, Henry VI spent over a year being sheltered by Lancastrian sympathisers in the north before he was captured in August 1465 near Clitheroe. He was taken to the Tower of London, and placed in comfortable but secure accommodation.
Margaret of Anjou and her son Edward of Westminster had fled Scotland and were now in exile in France. With truces arranged with both Scotland and France, and the former king safely in custody, Edward IV seemed to be firmly in charge.
Edward IV then went and spoilt everything by secretly marrying Elizabeth Woodville. This was unfortunate as nobody considered Elizabeth Woodville a suitable bride for a king; it excluded the possibility of Edward IV making a politically advantageous marriage with a French or Burgundian princess, and the resulting advancement of the numerous members of the Woodville family served only to alienate the rest of the nobility.
The one particular individual most alienated was the Earl of Warwick; having been instrumental in gaining the throne for Edward IV he now found his position as Edward's right hand man being undermined by the Woodvilles. His attempts to organise a French alliance came to nothing when he found that Edward IV and Anthony Woodville, the Earl Rivers had been negotiating behind his back with Burgundy.
To make matters worse, king refused to allow Warwick's daughters to marry either of his brothers, George, Duke of Clarence or Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Warwick soon discovered that Clarence was equally put out by this refusal and that Clarence also harboured ambitions of his own, even to the extent of desiring the throne for himself. The two soon began to conspire against Edward.
The fifth War of the Roses
1. Warwick's first rebellion
In the May and June of 1469 trouble flared in the north once more with two successive rebellions under the leadership of men known as Robin of Holderness and Robin of Redesdale. The most persistent of these affairs was led by Robin of Redesdale who, it turns out, was actually one William Conyers, a man closely connected to Warwick, who published a manifesto which called for the dismissal of the Woodvilles and other favourites of the king.
Edward IV moved north with an army to finish off the rebellion only to discover that the rebels had raised a somewhat larger force than he'd anticipated and retreated to Nottingham and called on William Herbert the Earl of Pembroke and Humphrey Stafford newly created Earl of Devon to join him with re-enforcements. Whilst this was going on Warwick and Clarence had left for Calais where Clarence married Isabel Neville in defiance of his brother. They returned to England, quickly recruited an army and occupied London. (Which must have given Warwick a sense of deja vu if nothing else.)
The two conspirators then marched to Coventry with the intention of intercepting the relief force. Which is exactly what they did, and at the
battle of Edgecote on the 26th July 1469 they were victorious and afterwards arranged for the execution of both the Earl of Pembroke and his brother. Edward IV was soon captured and placed securely in Warwick Castle, whilst the Earl Rivers, the Earl of Devon (who had escaped from Edgecote and John Woodville the queen's brother were all executed.
Which meant that by August 1469 Warwick was in charge of England once again. However neither he nor Clarence could bring themselves to execute Edward IV, but thought they could control him. But once Edward IV was released, he began quietly rebuilding his support and was soon back in charge of the country.
In March 1470 Edward IV took an army to put down a disturbance in Lincolnshire where he defeated the rebels at the battle of Losecote Field near Empingham on the 12th March. This turned out to be another Warwick inspired revolt, and what is more Edward came across clear evidence of Warwick's involvement.
Summoned to attend a council and explain themselves, both Warwick and Clarence fled to France leaving Edward in charge once again.
2. Warwick's second rebellion.
Louis might have signed a truce with Edward IV, but that didn't mean that he wasn't prepared to throw the odd spanner in the works if the opportunity presented itself. He had long desired to somehow bring Margaret of Anjou and the Earl of Warwick together and now he had the perfect opportunity.
Whereas each of these parties had their own agenda, they were all agreed on one thing, the removal of Edward IV from power. So under French sponsorship an agreement was reached between the various parties, Warwick agreed that his remaining daughter Anne Neville should marry Edward of Westminster and plans were made for an invasion of England.
Back in England, Warwick inspired another revolt in the north, hoping to distract Edward IV. This didn't fool Edward IV who made sure that a careful watch was kept on the coast of Kent to forewarn him of Warwick's arrival. Unfortunately for Edward IV, Warwick landed not in Kent as expected, but in the south-west where he was soon joined by the usual Lancastrian suspects such as the earls of Oxford, Shrewsbury and the Lord Stanley. Once John Neville now the Marquess of Monatagu had declared for Warwick, Edward IV decided that his cause was hopeless and fled to Burgundy. (His wife, Elizabeth scurried off into sanctuary at Westminster which is where the future Edward V was born on the 2nd November 1470.
On the 6th October 1470 the rebels released Henry VI from the Tower of London and re-instated him on the throne. After eight and a half years of Yorkist rule the Lancastrian king was back in nominal charge once more.
3. The return of Edward IV
Meanwhile Edward IV was in Burgundy. Officially the Duke of Burgundy spurned his pleas for help, privately he gave him 50,000 florins to fund his attempt to regain the throne. On the 2nd March 1471 Edward, together with his younger and still faithful brother Richard, landed at Ravenspur on the Humber. He was soon joined by his brother Clarence who now realised that he'd been duped by Warwick, together they marched on London and returned Henry VI to the Tower of London once more.
After securing London they set out in search of Warwick. The two sides met at the battle of Barnet on the 14th April 1471, with the result that both Warwick and his brother Montagu were killed.
On the very day the battle was being fought Margaret of Anjou and Edward of Westmister landed at Weymouth. Joined by Somerset, their intention was to march to Wales to make contact with the Lancastrians there, but they were intercepted en route by Edward IV. At the battle of Tewkesbury of the 4th May 1471 Edward IV routed his enemies and afterwards performed the now standard executions; both the Duke of Somerset and Edward of Westminster were killed and Margaret of Anjou was finally captured.
It only remained to carry out one final act to secure Edward's grip on the crown.
On the 22nd May 1471 Henry VI was taken from his chambers in the Tower of London and beaten to death. The constable of the tower at the time was none other than Richard, Duke of Gloucester; no doubt getting a little regicidal practice in.
As the official Yorkist history would proclaim, the House of Lancaster was now "extinct and repressed for ever".
Edward the king
The remainder of Edward's reign turned out to be fairly peaceful. There was the matter of the Earl of Oxford's little escapade in 1473 (which didn't amount to much) and his brother George, Duke of Clarence continued to be something of a loose cannon and was executed for treason in 1478; but otherwise there were twelve years of domestic peace.
Of course, the Woodvilles continued to monopolize the king's patronage and annoy everyone else, there was a new Earl Rivers, serving as guardian to the young Prince of Wales, Edward as well as other assorted Woodville relations in positions of authority and influence. But the Lamcastrian threat was dead and buried; Henry VI and his son Edward were dead and Margaret of Anjou, released to the French in return for £10,000, neutered as apolitical force.
The only remotely plausible Lancastrian claimant left was was a chap called Henry Tudor whose mother Margaret Beaufort was descended from John of Gaunt and whose grandmother had been Catherine of Valois, the widow of Henry V, but no one took him seriously. Having spent his youth in the care of his uncle Jasper Tudor, Henry had been captured by William Herbert and placed in protective custody at Raglan Castle. Henry had however, taken advantage of Herbert's defeat at Mortimer's Cross to escape from captivity and fled to exile in Brittany. Which is where he stayed, unregarded and unsupported.
But everything changed in the spring of 1483 when king Edward IV went boating, caught a bad cold and died on the 9th April 1483 at the age of forty-one. His brother Richard, the Duke of Gloucester who had spent the past few years administering the north on behalf of the king and had recently been awarded essentially palatine powers over the whole north, was appointed by Edward IV in his final will as Protector for the young king Edward V.
The sixth War of the Roses
As noted above, during the later years of Edward's reign the Woodville family had continued to exert considerable influence over the government of the realm. Fearful that the Woodville influence over the government would increase during the minority of Edward V, and that such influence might be detrimental both to their positions and lives, a number of influential magnates such as the Duke of Buckingham and the Lord Hastings persuaded Gloucester to do something about the Woodvilles before it was too late.
On the 29th April 1483 Gloucester therefore staged his coup at Stoney Stratford and seized control of the king, and soon thereafter it became clear that Gloucester was aiming for the throne himself. Those that stood in his way were quietly killed and the young king Edward V and his brother Richard, Duke of York disappeared from view in the Tower of London, and the rumours quickly spread that they had been murdered by their uncle.
In October 1483 the Duke of Buckingham, for reasons that remain unclear, himself rebelled against Richard III, but the revolt failed and Buckingham was executed. At king Richard III's only parliament in 1484 no less than a 100 individuals were attainted as traitors an indication of the depth of opposition that existed to his seizure of power.
A steady stream of disaffected Yorkists, former Lancastrians, Woodvilles and other refugees made their way to Brittany to pay court to the exiled Henry Tudor who was rapidly becoming the best and only hope of getting rid of Richard III. Aware of the growing threat from across the channel Richard III contrived to effect the arrest of this Henry Tudor. But suitably forewarned, Henry fled to France where he found a warmer welcome. Once again, the French had much to gain by sponsoring a change of regime in England. With French money and Breton mercenaries, Henry Tudor now made his plans to invade.
Richard of course knew that Henry was coming, and assembled his forces at Nottingham and organised a network of messengers across the country to provide intelligence of his arrival. On the 7th August 1485 Henry Tudor landed at Milford Heaven in Wales and marched unopposed across the country to Shrewsbury and then to Lichfield in the English midlands. On the 22nd August 1485 the respective armies of Henry and Richard squared up for battle just outside the town of Market Bosworth.
Richard was presumably confident of victory given that his army of 15,000 was three times the size of Henry's. But appearances can be deceptive and unfortunately for Richard a third of his army was under the command of Lord Stanley who was only waiting for the right moment to throw the weight of his forces into battle on Henry's side, and another third was under the command of the Earl of Northumberland whose lack of enthusiasm for Richard and his inexperience meant that he never actually got around to do any fighting.
So the weight of numbers was actually on Henry's side and he was duly victorious at the battle of Bosworth; Richard III was killed and the Lord Stanley placed the crown of England on Henry's head. (And was later made Earl of Derby in reward for his support.)
Therefore the final War of the Roses ended with neither a Lancastrian nor a York in charge but a Tudor in Henry VII.
The final War of the Roses
Although many people would now draw a line here and consider the Wars of the Roses officially ended with Henry VII's victory at Bosworth, some would extend the definition of the conflict to include the brief rebellion that ended at the battle of Stoke.
This was when the pretender Lambert Simnel was produced as a substitute Edward, Earl of Warwick. (The real Edward was in the Tower of London at the time.) Under the prompting of John de la Pole the Earl of Lincoln, and with Burgundian support (the Duchess of Burgundy was Margaret Plantagenet sister of Edward and Richard.), this Lambert Simnel was crowned 'Edward VI' in Dublin on the 24th May 1487.
This was really the last gasp of the Yorkist cause, when the rather disorderly army gathered to promote the cause of this fake Edward was comprehensively slaughtered by Henry's more professional forces at the battle of Stoke on the 16th June 1487.
- Alison Weir Lancaster and York: The Wars of the Roses (Pimlico 1998)
- Alison Weir The Princes in the Tower
- Alexander Rose Kings in the North (Phoenix, 2003)