Act of Accord
Battle of Towton
Battle of Hexham
War of the Roses
The Wars of the Roses were a series of civil wars fought over control of the English throne in the mid-to-late fifteenth century, fought between supporters of two rival cadet branches of the royal House of Plantagenet: Lancaster and York. The wars extinguished the male lines of the two dynasties, leading to the Tudor family inheriting the Lancastrian claim. Following the war, the Houses of Tudor and York were united, creating a new royal dynasty, thereby resolving the rival claims.
Henry V dies in 1422. Henry VI would prove to be ill-suited to leadership. In 1455, he marries Margaret of Anjou, niece of the King of France in exchange for the strategically important lands of Maine and Anjou. Richard of York was stripped of his prestigious command in France and sent to govern the relatively distant Lordship of Ireland with a ten-year term of office, where he could not interfere with affairs at court. Margaret, along with her close friendship with Somerset, would wield almost complete control over the pliable king Henry. On 15 April 1450, the English suffered a major reversal in France at Formigny, which paved the way for the French reconquest of Normandy. That same Year, there was a violent popular uprising in Kent, which is often seen as a precursor to the Wars of the Roses. Henry displayed several symptoms of mental illness, possibly inherited from his maternal grandfather, Charles VI of France. His near-total lack of leadership in military matters had left the English forces in France scattered and weak.
Percy–Neville feudYorkshire, UK
Henry's burst of activity in 1453 had seen him try to stem the violence caused by various disputes between noble families. These disputes gradually polarised around the long-standing Percy–Neville feud. Unfortunately for Henry, Somerset (and therefore the king) became identified with the Percy cause. This drove the Nevilles into the arms of York, who now for the first time had support among a section of the nobility. The Percy–Neville feud was a series of skirmishes, raids, and vandalism between two prominent northern English families, the House of Percy and the House of Neville, and their followers, that helped provoke the Wars of the Roses. The original reason for the long dispute is unknown, and the first outbreaks of violence were in the 1450s, prior to the Wars of the Roses.
Henry VI suffers mental breakdownLondon, UK
Richard of York appointed Lord ProtectorTower of London, UK
The lack of central authority led to a continued deterioration of the unstable political situation, which polarised around long-standing feuds between the more powerful noble families, in particular the Percy-Neville feud, and the Bonville-Courtenay feud, creating a volatile political climate ripe for civil war. To ensure the country could be governed, a Regency Council was established and, despite the protests of Margaret, was led by Richard of York, who was appointed Lord Protector and Chief Councillor on 27 March 1454. Richard appointed his brother-in-law, Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury to the post of Chancellor, backing the Nevilles against their chief adversary, Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland.
Henry VI recoversLeicester, UK
In 1455, Henry made a surprise recovery from his mental instability, and reversed much of Richard's progress. Somerset was released and restored to favour, and Richard was forced out of court into exile. However, disaffected nobles, chiefly the Earl of Warwick and his father the Earl of Salisbury, backed the claims of the rival House of York to control of the government. Henry, Somerset, and a select council of nobles elected to hold a Great Council at Leicester on 22 May, away from Somerset's enemies in London. Fearing that charges of treason would be brought against them, Richard and his allies gathered an army to intercept the royal party at St Albans, before they could reach the Council.
First Battle of St AlbansSt Albans, UK
Battle of Blore HeathStaffordshire, UK
After the First Battle of St Albans in 1455, an uneasy peace held in England. Attempts at reconciliation between the houses of Lancaster and York enjoyed marginal success. However, both sides became increasingly wary of each other and by 1459 were actively recruiting armed supporters. Queen Margaret of Anjou continued to raise support for King Henry VI amongst noblemen, distributing an emblem of a silver swan to knights and squires enlisted by her personally, whilst the Yorkist command under the Duke of York was finding plenty of anti-royal support despite the severe punishment for raising arms against the king. The Yorkist force based at Middleham Castle in Yorkshire (led by the Earl of Salisbury) needed to link up with the main Yorkist army at Ludlow Castle in Shropshire. As Salisbury marched south-west through the Midlands the queen ordered Lord Audley to intercept them. The battle resulted in a Yorkist victory. At least 2,000 Lancastrians were killed, with the Yorkists losing nearly 1,000.
Rout of Ludford BridgeLudford, Shropshire, UK
The Yorkist forces began the campaign dispersed over the country. York himself was at Ludlow in the Welsh Marches, Salisbury was at Middleham Castle in North Yorkshire and Warwick was at Calais. As Salisbury and Warwick marched to join the Duke of York, Margaret ordered a force under the Duke of Somerset to intercept Warwick and another under James Tuchet, 5th Baron Audley to intercept Salisbury. Warwick successfully evaded Somerset, while Audley's forces were routed at the bloody Battle of Blore Heath. Before Warwick could join them, the Yorkist army of 5,000 troops under Salisbury were ambushed by a Lancastrian force twice their size under the Baron Audley at Blore Heath on 23 September 1459. The Lancastrian army was defeated, and Baron Audley himself killed in the fighting. In September, Warwick crossed over into England and made his way north to Ludlow. At nearby Ludford Bridge, the Yorkist forces were scattered due to the defection of Warwick's Calais troops under Sir Andrew Trollope.
Yorkist flees and regroupsDublin, Ireland
Yorkist win at NorthamptonNorthampton, UK
Act of AccordPalace of Westminster , London
Battle of WakefieldWakefield, UK
Battle of Mortimer's CrossKingsland, Herefordshire, UK
Second Battle of St AlbansSt Albans, UK
Battle of FerrybridgeFerrybridge, Yorkshire
Battle of TowtonTowton, Yorkshire, UK
Battle of PiltownPiltown, County Kilkenny, Irel
The Battle of Piltown took place near Piltown, County Kilkenny in 1462 as part of the Wars of the Roses. It was fought between the supporters of the two leading Irish magnates Thomas FitzGerald, 7th Earl of Desmond, head of the government in Dublin and a committed Yorkist, and John Butler, 6th Earl of Ormond who backed the Lancastrian cause. It ended in decisive victory for Desmond and his Yorkists, with Ormond's army suffering more than a thousand casualties. This effectively ended Lancastrian hopes in Ireland and bolstered FitzGerald control for a further half-century. The Ormonds departed into exile, although they were later pardoned by Edward IV.It was the only major battle to be fought in the Lordship of Ireland during the Wars of the Roses. It is also part of the long-running feud between the FitzGerald dynasty and the Butler dynasty.
Growing discontentLondon, UK
Battle of HexhamHexham, UK
Battle of EdgcoteNorthamptonshire, UK
Battle of Losecoat FieldEmpingham, UK
Henry restored, Edward fleesFlanders, Belgium
Edward returns: Battle of BarnetChipping Barnet, London UK
Battle of TewkesburyTewkesbury, UK
Reign of Edward IVLondon, UK
Edward's reign was relatively peaceful domestically; in 1475 he invaded France, however he signed the Treaty of Picquigny with Louis XI whereby Edward withdrew after receiving an initial payment of 75,000 crowns plus an annual pension of 50,000 crowns, while in 1482, he attempted to usurp the Scottish throne but was ultimately compelled to withdraw back to England. In 1483, Edward's health began to fail and fell fatally ill that Easter. Prior to his death, he named his brother Richard to act as Lord Protector for his twelve-year-old son and successor, Edward. On 9 April 1483, Edward IV died.
Reign of Richard IIIWestminiser Abbey, London, UK
During Edward's reign, his brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester had risen to become the most powerful magnate in the north of England, particularly in the city of York where his popularity was high. Prior to his death, the king had named Richard as Lord Protector to act as regent to his twelve-year-old son, Edward. Acting as Lord Protector, Richard repeatedly stalled the coronation of Edward V, despite the urging of the king's councillors, who wished to avoid another protectorate. On 22 June, the selected date for Edward's coronation, a sermon was preached outside St. Paul's Cathedral declaring Richard the rightful king, a post which the citizenry petitioned Richard to accept. Richard accepted four days later, and was crowned at Westminster Abbey on 6 July 1483. The fate of the two princes following their disappearance remains a mystery to this day, however, the most widely accepted explanation is that they were murdered on the orders of Richard III.
Buckingham's rebellionWales and England
Since Edward IV had regained the throne in 1471, Henry Tudor had lived in exile at the court of Francis II, Duke of Brittany. Henry was half-guest half-prisoner, since Francis regarded Henry, his family, and his courtiers as valuable bargaining tools to barter for the aid of England, particularly in conflicts with France, and therefore shielded the exiled Lancastrians well, repeatedly refusing to surrender them. Francis provided Henry with 40,000 gold crowns, 15,000 troops, and a fleet of ships to invade England. However, Henry's forces were scattered by a storm, compelling Henry to abandon the invasion. Nevertheless, Buckingham had already launched a revolt against Richard on 18 October 1483 with the aim of installing Henry as king. Buckingham raised a substantial number of troops from his Welsh estates, and planned to join his brother the Earl of Devon. However, without Henry's troops, Richard easily defeated Buckingham's rebellion, and the defeated duke was captured, convicted of treason, and executed in Salisbury on 2 November 1483.
Battle of Bosworth FieldAmbion Hill, UK
An impostor claiming to be Edward (either Edward, Earl of Warwick or Edward V as Matthew Lewis hypothesises), whose name was Lambert Simnel, came to the attention of John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln through the agency of a priest called Richard Symonds. Although he probably had no doubt about Simnel's true identity, Lincoln saw an opportunity for revenge and reparation. Lincoln fled the English court on 19 March 1487 and went to the court of Mechelen (Malines) and his aunt, Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy. Margaret provided financial and military support in the form of 2000 German and Swiss mercenaries, under the commander Martin Schwartz. Lincoln was joined by a number of rebel English Lords at Mechelen. The Yorkists decided to sail to Ireland and arrived in Dublin on 4 May 1487, where Lincoln recruited 4,500 Irish mercenaries, mostly kerns, lightly armoured but highly mobile infantry. With the support of the Irish nobility and clergy, Lincoln had the pretender Lambert Simnel crowned "King Edward VI" in Dublin on 24 May 1487.
Battle of Stoke FieldEast Stoke, Nottinghamshire, U
On landing in Lancashire on 4 June 1487, Lincoln was joined by a number of the local gentry led by Sir Thomas Broughton. In a series of forced marches, the Yorkist army, now numbering some 8,000 men, covered over 200 miles in five days. On 15 June, King Henry began moving north east toward Newark after receiving news that Lincoln had crossed the River Trent. Around nine in the morning of 16 June, King Henry's forward troops, commanded by the Earl of Oxford, encountered the Yorkist army.
The Battle of Stoke Field was a victory for Henry and may be considered the last battle of the Wars of the Roses, since it was the last major engagement between contenders for the throne whose claims derived from descent from the houses of Lancaster and York respectively. Simnel was captured, but was pardoned by Henry in a gesture of clemency which did his reputation no harm. Henry realised that Simnel was merely a puppet for the leading Yorkists. He was given a job in the royal kitchen, and later promoted to falconer.
Some historians question the impact the wars had on the fabric of English society and culture. Many parts of England were largely unaffected by the wars, particularly East Anglia. Contemporaries such as Philippe de Commines observed in 1470 that England was a unique case compared to wars that befell the continent, in that the consequences of war were only visited upon soldiers and nobles, not citizens and private property.
Several preeminent noble families had their power crippled because of the fighting, such as the Neville family, while the direct male line of the Plantagenet dynasty was rendered extinct. Despite the relative paucity of violence undertaken against civilians, the wars claimed the lives of 105,000 people, approximately 5.5% of the population level in 1450, though by 1490 England had experienced a 12.6% increase in population levels compared to 1450, despite the wars.
The ascension of the Tudor dynasty saw the end of the medieval period in England and the dawn of the English Renaissance, an offshoot of the Italian Renaissance, that saw a revolution in art, literature, music, and architecture. The English Reformation, England's break with the Roman Catholic Church, occurred under the Tudors, which saw the establishment of the Anglican Church, and the rise of Protestantism as England's dominant religious denomination. Henry VIII's need for a male heir, impelled by the potential for a crisis of succession that dominated the Wars of the Roses, was the prime motivator influencing his decision to separate England from Rome.
Key Figures for War of the Roses
Earl of Warwick
Henry VI of England
King of England
King of England
Queen Consort of England
Duke of Somerset
King of England
Richard of York
Duke of York
Margaret of Anjou
Queen Consort of England
King of England
Edward of Westminster
Prince of Wales
Book Recommenations for War of the Roses
- Bellamy, John G. (1989). Bastard Feudalism and the Law. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-71290-3.
- Carpenter, Christine (1997). The Wars of the Roses: Politics and the Constitution in England, c.1437–1509. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-31874-7.
- Gillingham, John (1981). The Wars of the Roses : peace and conflict in fifteenth-century England. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 9780807110058.
- Goodman, Anthony (1981). The Wars of the Roses: Military Activity and English society, 1452–97. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. ISBN 9780710007285.
- Grummitt, David (30 October 2012). A Short History of the Wars of the Roses. I.B. Tauris. ISBN 978-1-84885-875-6.
- Haigh, P. (1995). The Military Campaigns of the Wars of the Roses. ISBN 0-7509-0904-8.
- Pollard, A.J. (1988). The Wars of the Roses. Basingstoke: Macmillan Education. ISBN 0-333-40603-6.
- Sadler, John (2000). Armies and Warfare During the Wars of the Roses. Bristol: Stuart Press. ISBN 978-1-85804-183-4.
- Sadler, John (2010). The Red Rose and the White: the Wars of the Roses 1453–1487. Longman.
- Seward, Desmond (1995). A Brief History of the Wars of the Roses. London: Constable & Co. ISBN 978-1-84529-006-1.
- Wagner, John A. (2001). Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 1-85109-358-3.
- Weir, Alison (1996). The Wars of the Roses. New York: Random House. ISBN 9780345404336. OCLC 760599899.
- Wise, Terence; Embleton, G.A. (1983). The Wars of the Roses. London: Osprey Military. ISBN 0-85045-520-0.