16 Key Figures in the Wars of the Roses

16 Key Figures in the Wars of the Roses

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The Wars of the Roses was a bloody contest for the throne of England, a civil war fought out between the rival houses of York – whose symbol was the white rose – and Lancaster – whose symbol was the red rose – throughout the second half of the 15th century.

After 30 years of political manipulation, horrific carnage and brief periods of peace, the wars ended and a new royal dynasty emerged: the Tudors.

Here are 16 key figures from the wars:

1. Henry VI

All was not well in King Henry’s court. He had little interest in politics and was a weak ruler, and also suffered from mental instability that plunged the kingship into turmoil.

This incited rampant lawlessness throughout his realm and opened the door for power-hungry nobles and kingmakers to plot behind his back.

King Henry VI

2. Margaret of Anjou

Henry VI’s wife Margaret was a noble and strong-willed Frenchwoman whose ambition and political savvy overshadowed her husband’s. She was determined to secure a Lancastrian throne for her son, Edward.

3. Richard, Duke of York

Richard of York—as great-grandson of King Edward III—had a strong competing claim on the English throne.

His conflicts with Margaret of Anjou and other members of Henry’s court, as well as his competing claim on the throne, were a leading factor in the political upheaval.

Richard eventually attempted to take the throne, but was dissuaded, although it was agreed that he would become king on Henry’s death. But within a few weeks of securing this agreement, he died in battle at Wakefield.

In this fourth and final episode of our four-part audio drama, the veracity of Perkin Warbeck's story starts to unravel.

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4. Edmund Beaufort

Edmund Beaufort was an English nobleman and Lancastrian leader whose quarrel with Richard, Duke of York was infamous. In the he 1430s obtained control—with William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk— of the government of the weak king Henry VI.

But he was later imprisoned when Richard, Duke of York became ‘Lord Protector’, before dying at the Battle of St Albans.

5. Edmund, Earl of Rutland

He was the fifth child and second surviving son of Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York, and Cecily Neville. #

By the laws of primogeniture, Edmund’s father, Richard of York had a good claim to the English throne, being descended from the second surviving son of Edward III, giving him a slightly better claim to the throne than the reigning king, Henry VI, who descended from Edward’s third son.

He was killed aged just 17 at the Battle of Wakefield, possibly murdered by the Lancastrian Lord Clifford who sought revenge for the death of his own father at St Albans five years earlier..

6. Edward IV

He was the first Yorkist King of England. The first half of his rule was marred by the violence associated with the Wars of the Roses, but he overcame the Lancastrian challenge to the throne at Tewkesbury in 1471 to reign in peace until his sudden death.

7. Richard III

The alleged remains of Richard III.

Richard III was the last king of the House of York and the last of the Plantagenet dynasty. His defeat at Bosworth Field, the last decisive battle of the Wars of the Roses, marked the end of the Middle Ages in England.

He is the Machiavellian, hunchbacked protagonist of Richard III, one of William Shakespeare’s history plays – famous for supposedly murdering the two Princes in the Tower.

8. George, Duke of Clarence

He was the third surviving son of Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York, and Cecily Neville, and the brother of Kings Edward IV and Richard III.

Though a member of the House of York, he switched sides to support the Lancastrians, before reverting to the Yorkists. He was later convicted of treason against his brother, Edward IV, and was executed (allegedly by being drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine).

In this second episode of our four-part audio drama, the prisoner Perkin Warbeck faces trial and stands by his claim that he is the rightful king.

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9. Edward, Earl of Lancaster

Edward of Lancaster was the only son of King Henry VI of England and Margaret of Anjou. He was killed at the Battle of Tewkesbury, making him the only heir apparent to the English throne to die in battle.

10. Richard Neville

Known as Warwick the Kingmaker, Neville was an English nobleman, administrator, and military commander. The eldest son of Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury, Warwick was the wealthiest and most powerful English peer of his age, with political connections that went beyond the country’s borders.

Originally on the Yorkist side but later switching to the Lancastrian side, he was instrumental in the deposition of two kings, which led to his epithet of “Kingmaker”.

Matthew Lewis, an author and historian who specialises in the 15th century, provides a fascinating talk about Richard Duke of York as a Marcher Lord. He explains this powerful noble's close relationship with the Mortimer family and how this further emboldened him to strive for the English Throne.

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11. Elizabeth Woodville

Elizabeth was Queen consort of England as the spouse of King Edward IV from 1464 until his death in 1483. Her second marriage, to Edward IV, was a cause célèbre of the day, thanks to Elizabeth’s great beauty and lack of great estates.

Edward was the first king of England since the Norman Conquest to marry one of his subjects, and Elizabeth was the first such consort to be crowned queen.

Her marriage greatly enriched her siblings and children, but their advancement incurred the hostility of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, ‘The Kingmaker’, and his various alliances with the most senior figures in the increasingly divided royal family.

Edward IV and Elizabeth Grey

12. Isabel Neville

In 1469 Isabel’s power-hungry father, Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick, defected from King Edward IV after his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville. Instead of ruling England through Edward, he planned a marriage for Isabel to Edward’s brother George Duke of Clarence.

George also saw benefit in the union, as the Neville family was extremely wealthy. The marriage took place in secret in Calais, as part of the rebellion of George and Warwick against Edward IV.

13. Anne Neville

Anne Neville was an English queen, the daughter of Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick. She became Princess of Wales as the wife of Edward of Westminster and then Queen of England as the wife of King Richard III.

A watercolour recreation of the Wars of the Roses.

14. Elizabeth of York

Elizabeth of York was the eldest daughter of the Yorkist king Edward IV, sister of the princes in the Tower, and niece of Richard III.

Her marriage to Henry VII was hugely popular – the union of the white rose of York and the red rose of Lancaster was seen as bringing peace after years of dynastic war.

15. Margaret Beaufort

Margaret Beaufort was the mother of King Henry VII and paternal grandmother of King Henry VIII of England. She was the influential matriarch of the House of Tudor.

Wars of the Roses historian Matt Lewis visits the Tower of London to talk through one of the building’s greatest mysteries: the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower. He talks through the possibility that the two young boys were not murdered on the infamous King Richard III's orders, but in fact survived their uncle's reign.

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16. Henry VII

Henry VII was the King of England and Lord of Ireland from his seizure of the crown on 22 August 1485 to his death on 21 April 1509. He was the first monarch of the House of Tudor.

17. Jasper Tudor

Jasper Tudor, Duke of Bedford, Earl of Pembroke, was the uncle of King Henry VII of England and a leading architect of his nephew’s successful accession to the throne in 1485. He was from the noble Tudor family of Penmynydd in North Wales.

Wars of the Roses

The Wars of the Roses were a series of fifteenth-century English civil wars fought over control of the throne of England, between supporters of two rival cadet branches of the royal House of Plantagenet: the House of Lancaster, represented by a red rose, and the House of York, represented by a white rose. Eventually, the wars eliminated the male lines of both families leading to the end of the Plantagenet reign and subsequent rise of the Tudor Dynasty. The conflict lasted through many sporadic episodes between 1455 and 1487, but there was related fighting before and after this period between the parties. The power struggle ignited around social and financial troubles following the Hundred Years' War, unfolding the structural problems of bastard feudalism, [ citation needed ] combined with the mental infirmity and weak rule of King Henry VI, which revived interest in the House of York's claim to the throne by Richard of York. Historians disagree on which of these factors was the main reason for the wars. [5]

    reigns for most of the period Extinction of the House of Lancaster inherits the Lancastrian claim

Eventual Lancastrian victory

With Richard of York's death in 1460, the claim transferred to his heir, Edward. After a Lancastrian counterattack in 1461, Edward claimed the throne, and the last serious Lancastrian resistance ended at the decisive Battle of Towton. Edward was thus unopposed as the first Yorkist king of England, as Edward IV. Resistance smouldered in the North of England until 1464, but the early part of his reign remained relatively peaceful.

A new phase of the wars broke out in 1469 after the Earl of Warwick, the most powerful noble in the country, withdrew his support for Edward and threw it behind the Lancastrian cause. Fortunes changed many times as the Yorkist and Lancastrian forces exchanged victories throughout 1469–70 with even Edward captured for a brief time in 1469. When Edward fled to Flanders in 1470, Henry VI was re-installed as king, but his resumption of rule was short-lived, and he was deposed again the following year with the defeat of his forces at the Battle of Tewkesbury. Shortly afterwards, Edward entered London unopposed, resumed the throne, and probably had Henry killed. With all significant Lancastrian leaders now banished or killed, Edward ruled unopposed until his sudden death in 1483. His 12-year-old son reigned for 78 days as Edward V. He was then deposed by his uncle, Edward IV's brother Richard, who became Richard III.

The accession of Richard III occurred under a cloud of controversy, and shortly after assuming the throne, the wars sparked anew with Buckingham's rebellion, as many die-hard Yorkists abandoned Richard to join Lancastrians. While the rebellions lacked much central coordination, in the chaos the exiled Henry Tudor, son of Henry VI's half-brother Edmund Earl of Richmond and the leader of the Lancastrian cause, returned to the country from exile in Brittany at the head of an army of combined Breton, French and English forces. Richard avoided direct conflict with Henry until the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. After Richard III was killed and his forces defeated at Bosworth Field, Henry assumed the throne as Henry VII and married Elizabeth of York, the eldest daughter and heir of Edward IV, thereby uniting the two claims. The House of Tudor ruled the Kingdom of England until 1603, with the death of Elizabeth I, granddaughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York.

Shortly after Henry took the throne, the Earl of Lincoln, a Yorkist sympathizer, put forward Lambert Simnel as an impostor Edward Plantagenet, a potential claimant to the throne. Lincoln's forces were defeated, and he was killed at the Battle of Stoke Field in 1487.


The Wars of the Roses (1455-1487 CE) was a dynastic conflict where the nobility and monarchs of England intermittently battled for supremacy over a period of four decades. Besides the obvious consequences of Lancastrian and Yorkist kings swapping thrones several times and the establishment of the House of Tudor at the end of it all, the wars killed half the lords of the 60 noble families of England, established a much more violent political environment, and saw first a boost to the power of the nobility and then a swing back in the favour of the Crown. Finally, the wars have inspired historians and writers forever after, whether it be Tudor propagandists, William Shakespeare, or the creators of such television shows as Game of Thrones.


The Wars of the Roses was a bloody contest for the throne of England, a civil war fought out between the rival houses of York – whose symbol was the white rose – and Lancaster – whose symbol was the red rose – throughout the second half of the 15th century.


16 Key Figures in the Wars of the Roses

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Soldiers of Misfortune

The long dynastic struggle that would much later come to be known as the "Wars of the Roses" (1455-1487) had its roots far back in the Hundred Years' War. Edward III had five sons, most of whom not only gained experience as military leaders during the war in France but also amassed great wealth. The official heir was Edward III's eldest son, who became famous posthumously as the "Black Prince", but since he died before his father, in 1377 the crown passed to his four year old son Richard II, for whom his uncle John of Gaunt led the regency.

When Richard had come of age and was himself reigning, conflicts with the nobility became more and more frequent. The great magnates in particular, who jealously guarded their newly gained independence, rallied under the leadership of John of Gaunt and his son Henry the Duke of Lancaster, who finally managed to depose Richard and crowned himself as Henry IV, thus initiating the reign of the house of Lancaster. In the following years, he had to put down some rebellions, but was able nonetheless to consolidate his power so that his son and successor, Henry V (1413-1422), could resume the war with France soon after succeeding the throne.

Henry V achieved a spectacular victory at Agincourt in 1415, after which he formed an alliance with Burgundy and in the end controlled large parts of France. Nevertheless, he had gravely overestimated the capabilities of the English, and the limited resources assigned were far from sufficient to fund the necessary forces for a long time. The first setbacks appeared when France began to professionalise her army, which led to severe defeats when Burgundy made a separate peace with the French.

Only the desolate state of the heavily devastated France delayed the war's end. But when fighting reassumed after a prolonged cease-fire in 1449, within two short years the English lost nearly all their old possessions in Normandy and Guyenne.

Many historians consider the masses of defeated mercenaries returning from France to be one of the main causes of the Wars of the Roses. There had undoubtedly been dynastic conflicts in England before, but apart from the long feud between Queen Matilda and Stephen of Blois, there had never been such an enduring and bitter struggle for the English throne. The unemployed veterans of the Hundred Years War were the ideal reservoir for anybody looking for experienced and ruthless fighters. In addition, in recent decades the English had settled many colonists in Normandy, and these were now also returning having lost everything.

Even more dangerous were the struggles of the great magnates, trying to control the increasingly insane King Henry VI. The war in France had long served as a valve allowing the power-hungry nobles to expend some of their pent-up energy. The most dangerous contender for power, for example, Richard Duke of York - also a descendant of Edward III and thus a Plantagenet - had served several times as a commander in France. After the final English defeat at Castillon (1453) the nobility focused their energies on the struggle for power at court, many of them looking for compensation for lost estates in France.

At first Richard of York succeeded in prevailing against the faction around Queen Margaret and was accepted as regent. But when the king recovered enough so that Richard was ousted from office, open war broke out with the first Battle of St Albans in 1455. The course of war was changeable, repeatedly interrupted by long truces and various attempts to reach an agreement by negotiation. In 1460 Richard of York fell in the battle of Wakefield and was succeeded by his son Edward, who was victorious a year later at Mortimer's Cross and then had himself crowned king as Edward IV. In 1461 he crushed the Lancaster faction at Towton, forcing their last partisans into exile in France.

Of course, many of the English archers and men-at-arms could be called mercenaries because they fought for whoever paid them. The pay, at six pence a day for an archer and twelve for a man-at-arms, was a good deal more than the earnings of a craftsman and certainly therefore a key factor for many hungry veterans. However, most men followed their feudal lords, albeit with good pay, and were dependant on the regional partisans of Lancaster or York. Because of this a greater understanding can be reached by focusing on foreigners while investigating the role of mercenaries. In this regard the Wars of the Roses looked like an inverted continuation of the Hundred Years' War, because Lancaster sought French support, while York aligned itself with Burgundy.

Initially both parties had little reason to recruit from abroad because England was full of unemployed former soldiers. Only when it came to the relatively new firearms had England considerable unfulfilled demand. Artillery had already proven its importance in the final phase of the Hundred Years' War, especially during sieges, but also increasingly in battle. Though there were gun founders and gunners in England, they were nowhere near the quality of the those of the French and Burgundians. The first "handgonners" equipped with portable firearms seemed to have been exclusively foreigners. Despite the fact that there were thousands of experienced archers available, many commanders - all seasoned veterans who knew what they were doing - spent increasingly large amounts of money hiring these specialists with their unreliable and extremely slow weapons on the continent.

That these firearms had their own problems became evident in 1461 in the Second Battle of St. Albans. Edward's ally the Duke of Warwick had some Burgundian gunners and handgonners among his troops, but as a result of sleet their powder got wet so that many of them were massacred before they could fire their guns.

But these few specialists marked only the beginning. After the first phase of the Wars of the Roses the leaders of the defeated party normally fled into exile on the continent and returned later with recruited mercenaries. The first had been Queen Margaret, the driving force of the Lancaster resistance, who went to her cousin King Louis XI of France and asked for help. He supplied her with one of his most seasoned captains, Pierre de Breze, along with several hundred soldiers. With this force she sailed to Scotland with French money to recruit more troops. Later she waged war in the north for some time quite successfully, until the Lancaster forces were defeated decisively at Hexham in 1464.

Edward IV reigned relatively undisturbed from this point, until he fell out with the powerful Duke of Warwick. At first Warwick was victorious but finally he too was defeated and had to flee to France in 1470. There Margaret was still at work gathering English emigrants and asking for money from King Louis, who already had enough trouble on his hands and therefore no interest at all in a new war with England. But Edward had formed an alliance with the rebellious Duke of Brittany and married his sister to Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy. Furthermore he had provided both dukes with larger contingents of the still very popular English archers. Confronted with a rematch of the old alliances from the Hundred Years' War, Louis finally gave his support to the newly formed alliance between the former arch-enemies Warwick and Margaret, and endowed it generously with money and ships.

This alliance proved too strong for Edward abandoned by most of his allies, he was forced to flee without a fight. He went to Holland to the court of the Duke of Burgundy. At first Charles the Bold didn't show much interest in his poor exiled brother-in-law, but when relations with France deteriorated again he provided Edward with 1,500 German and Burgundian mercenaries, including 300 Flemish handgonners, and had the necessary ships built. With this force Edward landed in England in 1471, where he was joined by many noblemen who had become dissatisfied with Warwick's regime.

Shortly thereafter, Edward crushed his opponents one after the other at Barnet and then at Tewkesbury, where the artillery played a crucial role. Warwick and the Lancaster heir to the throne had both fallen, Margaret was imprisoned for years until she was ransomed by Louis XI, while poor Henry VI was probably murdered in prison shortly after. Lancaster was decisively defeated and the Wars of the Roses seemed concluded. Nevertheless, the old conflict with France was still smouldering. Encouraged by Charles the Bold, Edward landed in 1475 in Calais with a large army to march on Paris once again, together with Burgundy. But Charles the Bold wanted to leave the dirty work to the English and held his own troops back. As a result, Edward finally accepted a generous tribute from Louis XI and went back home.

Edward enjoyed a peaceful life until his death in 1483, while Louis XI took care of Burgundy. He secretly roused the Swiss to war against Charles the Bold, who came to a miserable end in the battle at Nancy (1477). But the crafty Louis reaped only a small part of the rewards, because the Habsburgs took the lion's share of the Burgundian inheritance. And while it seems that these events happened far away on the continent, they without doubt caused repercussions for the Wars of the Roses, which would have been over after the battle of Towton in 1461 were it not for the support of France or Burgundy. Events on the continent dictated where the defeated could find help in the form of primarily money and mercenaries.

As long as Edward governed he stayed away from the conflict between France and Habsburg. But when, after his death, his brother Richard Duke of Gloucester took the throne for himself and had some disaffected nobles executed, a new surge of emigrants fled to the continent. Most gathered around Henry Tudor, a Welsh nobleman who had always been a loyal partisan of the Lancaster and had moved to Brittany.

The situation worsened when Louis XI died in the summer of 1483, and his sister Anne de Beaujeu exercised the regency for his eleven year old son. Some of the senior nobles tried to engineer this situation to their benefit. The Duke of Orleans hoped to become king and allied himself with the Duke of Brittany and Maximilian of Habsburg. Richard III was willing to join the coalition and send his archers to Brittany, but first he demanded the extradition of Henry Tudor and the other exiles. These fled to France and asked for support there.

They were forced to wait for some time. However, when in March 1485 the poorly planned revolt of the Duke of Orleans failed, Anne de Beaujeu was ready to see about the English problem. After the revolt had been quickly brought under control, she was left with many troops who it would have been best to deport overseas, before they caused trouble at home. She gave Henry Tudor a loan of 40,000 livres to start recruiting. The biggest contingent was comprised of 1,000 Scots who had been brought to France to fight the Duke of Orleans, and who now showed little inclination to return home so rapidly. The number of French - discharged mercenaries, Bretons, gunners and adventurers - is estimated at perhaps 1,800. These numbers were finally augmented with a few hundred English exiles.

With this relatively small army Henry Tudor landed in Wales in August, where he recruited more men from among his followers there. Since it is assumed, however, that in the ensuing battle of Bosworth he had only about 5,000 men at his disposal, foreign mercenaries must have made up over half of his army. On the side of Richard III a Spanish captain Juan Salaçar (also Salazar) is mentioned, who was normally in the service of Maximilian of Habsburg it is possible that he served with some Burgundian heavy cavalry in the Yorkist army. The battle was finally decided by Lord Stanley who commanded Richard's strongest contingent and changed sides during the battle.

The victory of Bosworth initiated the reign of the Tudors and officially ended the Wars of the Roses. But there were still some members of the Yorks who now fled to Burgundy, where the sister of Richard III and widow of Charles the Bold was an influential person at court. She mediated the services of the German mercenary captain Martin Schwarz (in English often Swartz), one of the early military contractors, who provided the new infantry pikemen, the Landsknechts. A former shoemaker from Augsburg, Schwartz came from a humble background but had quickly made a name for himself. Already by 1475 he had distinguished himself at the siege of Neuss, and was then knighted by Maximilian himself in the war for the Netherlands. Under his command many Swiss served who at that time were still important for giving the Landsknechts the necessary self-confidence.

Together with John de la Pole, a nephew of Richard III, Schwartz led 2,000 German, Swiss and Flemish mercenaries to Ireland, where they crowned a certain Lambert Simnel as Edward VI. Then they recruited about 5,000 Irishmen, mostly light-armed Kern with short swords and spears and no body armour. In addition, there were several English nobles with their retainers. Altogether there were between 7,000 and 8,000 men who landed in England in 1487.

There, in June, near Nottingham, the battle of Stoke was fought. The royal army was at least twice as strong and opened the fight with a devastating salvo from their archers. The victims were mainly the unarmoured Irishmen who were "full of arrows like hedgehogs", as some sources reported. Although among the Landsknechts and Swiss only the first files normally wore armour, they seem to have survived the hail of arrows pretty well. They attacked the English centre in their usual pike square formation and were only stopped after the English had suffered severe losses.

Attacked from both sides by knights and archers, they made a desperate last stand. It seems that they refused to let their lives go for nothing, as 3,000 Tudor casualties almost certainly fell to their pikes. Of the mercenaries themselves only about 200 survived the battle and, in contrast to the captured English and Irishmen, were pardoned and allowed to return home.

Incidentally, it is one of the strange twists in history that Richard de la Pole, the younger brother of the fallen John, later led German mercenaries in French pay. The alliance between England and France had soon given way to realpolitik. And so the Tudor kings also renewed the old alliance with Habsburg/Burgundy against France. The last York, which meant by then de la Pole, looked for help in France as had the Tudor exiles before him. Richard de la Pole, the last York candidate for the English crown, fell as commander of the famous "Black Band" at the battle of Pavia in 1525.

War of the Roses Leader Figures.

I was reading my copy of Lion Rampant yesterday and realised that I didn't have any leaders for my retinues yet. My very good pal Graham, who incidentally started me down this path with a gift of three boxes of Perry Miniatures, had also bought 18 leader figures, all metal, from the same company and they were presented to me at the same time. That was back in late July of this year.

I located the box, happily sat in the to do pile, fortunately I had primed them in the Summer along with lots of other metals, for future painting in the colder months when spraying outside was not really an option.

There are various members of the royal family, plus other notables from the period. I shall select four of them to be my retinue leaders, they can have dual personalities, which I think lots of them did anyway!

I started by gluing the horses to Renedra bases, all single except for two double bases which will hold King Richard III and his standard bearer also King Henry VII and his standard bearer.

Two of the horses come with figures already moulded on, they are Margret of Anjou sat side saddle and Warwick 'The Kingmaker,' the latter in a very striking pose.

The two double bases can be clearly seen here.

Using the ink pen I attempted to make it look a little like the writing of the time, probably not very well, but it will do and I enjoyed writing as opposed to typing for a change.

On the next page I simply set the scene with a single paragraph to put myself and any other reader in the mood for what would follow. It will simply contain lists of the figures I have painted, which retinue they are for, maps and diagrams of battles as the campaign unfolds etc.

16 Key Figures in the Wars of the Roses - History

WARS OF THE ROSES, 1 a name given to a series of civil wars in England during the reigns of Henry VI, Edward IV and Richard III. They were marked by a ferocity and brutality which are practically unknown in the history of English wars before and since.

The honest yeoman of Edward III's time had evolved into a professional soldier of fortune, and had been demoralized by the prolonged and dismal Hundred Years' War, at the close of which many thousands of ruffians, whose occupation had gone, had been let loose in England. At the same time the power of feudalism had become concentrated in the hands of a few great lords, who were wealthy enough and powerful enough to become king-makers. The disbanded mercenaries enlisted indifferently on either side, corrupting the ordinary feudal tenantry with the evil habits of the French wars, and pillaged the countryside, with accompaniments of murder and violence, wherever they went.

It is true that the sympathies of the people at large were to some extent enlisted: London and, generally, the trading towns being Yorkist, the country people, Lancastrian — a division of factions which roughly corresponded to that of the early part of the Great Rebellion, two centuries later, and similarly in a measure indicative of the opposition of hereditary loyalty and desire for sound and effective government. But there was this difference, that in the 15th century the feeling of loyalty was to a great extent focused upon the great lords. Each lord could depend on his own tenantry, and he could, further, pay large bands of retainers. Hence, much as the citizen desired a settlement, the issue was in the hands of the magnates and as accessions to and defections from one party and the other constantly shifted the balance of power, the war dragged on, becoming more and more brutal with every campaign.

The first campaign, or rather episode, of these wars began with an armed demand of the Yorkist lords for the dismissal of the Lancastrian element in the King's Council, Henry VI himself being incapable of governing. The Lancastrians, and the king with them, marched out of London to meet them, and the two small armies (3000 Yorkists, 2000 Lancastrians) met at St Albans (May 22, 1455). The encounter ended with the dispersion of the weaker force, and the king fell into the hands of the Yorkists. Four years passed before the next important battle, Blore Heath, was fought (Sept. 23, 1459). In this the Earl of Salisbury trapped a Lancastrian army in unfavourable ground near Market Drayton, and destroyed it but new political combinations rendered the Yorkist victory useless and sent the leaders of the party into exile.

They made a fresh attempt in 1460, and, thanks partly to treason in the Lancastrian camp, partly to the generalship of Warwick, won an important success and for the second time seized the King [Henry VI] at Northampton (July 10, 1460). Shortly afterwards, after a period of negotiation and threats, there was a fresh conflict. Richard Duke of York went north to fight the hostile army which gathered at York and consisted of Lancashire and Midland Royalists, while his son Edward, Earl of March [later Edward IV], went into the west. The father was ambushed and killed at Wakefield (Dec. 30, 1460), and the Lancastrians, inspired as always by Queen Margaret of Anjou, moved south on London, defeated Warwick at St Albans (Feb. 17, 1461), and regained possession of the King's person.

But the young Earl of March, now Duke of York [later Edward IV], having raised an army in the west, defeated the Earl of Pembroke (Feb. 2, 1461) at Mortimer's Cross (5 mi. W. of Leominster). This was the first battle of the war which was characterized by the massacre of the common folk and beheading of the captive gentlemen — invariable accompaniments of Edward's victories, and conspicuously absent in Warwick's. Edward then pressed on, joined Warwick, and entered London, the army of Margaret retreating before them. The excesses of the northern Lancastrians in their advance produced bitter fruit on the retreat, for men flocked to Edward's standard.

Marching north in pursuit, the Yorkists brought their enemy to bay at Towton, 3 mi. S. of Tadcaster, and utterly destroyed them (March 29, 1461). For three years after Towton the war consisted merely of desultory local struggles of small bodies of Lancastrians against the inevitable. The Duke of York had become King Edward IV, and had established himself firmly. But in 1464, in the far north of England, the Red Rose [House of Lancaster] was again in the field. Edward acted with his usual decision. His lieutenant Montagu (Warwick's brother) defeated and slew Sir Ralph Percy at Hedgeley Moor, near Wooler (April 25, 1464), and immediately afterwards destroyed another Lancastrian army, with which were both Henry VI and Queen Margaret, at Hexham (May 8, 1464). The massacres and executions which followed effectively crushed the revolt.

For some years thereafter Edward reigned peacefully, but Warwick the king-maker and all the Neville following having turned against him (1470), he was driven into exile. But at a favourable moment he sailed from Flushing with 1500 retainers and Burgundian mercenaries, and eluding the Lancastrian fleet and the coast defence troops, landed at Ravenspur (Spurn Head) in Yorkshire in March 1471. His force was hardly more than a bodyguard the gates of the towns were shut against him, and the country people fled. But by his personal charm, diplomacy, fair promises and an oath of allegiance to King Henry VI, sworn solemnly at York, he disarmed hostility and, eluding Montagu's army, reached his own estates in the Wakefield district, where many of his old retainers joined him.

As he advanced south, a few Yorkist nobles with their following rallied to him, but it was far more the disunion of the Warwick and the real Lancastrian parties than his own strength which enabled him to meet Warwick's forces in a pitched battle. At Barnet, on Easter Eve, April 14, 1471, the decisive engagement was fought. But in the midst of the battle reinforcements coming up under the Earl of Oxford to join Warwick came into conflict with their own party, the badge of the Vere star being mistaken for Edward's Rose-en-soleil. From that point all the mutually distrustful elements of Warwick's army fell apart, and Warwick himself, with his brother Montagu, was slain.

For the last time the unhappy Henry VI fell into the hands of his enemies. He was relegated to the Tower, and Edward, disbanding his army, reoccupied the throne. But Margaret of Anjou, his untiring opponent, who had been in France while her cause and Warwick's was being lost, had landed in the west shortly after Barnet, and Edward had to take the field at once. Assembling a fresh army at Windsor, whence he could march to interpose between Margaret and her north Welsh allies, or directly bar her road to London, he marched into the west on the 24th of April. On the 29th he was at Cirencester, Margaret, engaged chiefly in recruiting an army, near Bath. Edward hurried on, but Margaret eluded him and marched for Gloucester. At that place the governor refused the Lancastrians admittance, and seeking to cross the Severn out of reach of the Yorkists, they pushed on by forced marches to Tewkesbury. But Edward too knew how to march, and caught them up. The battle of Tewkesbury (May 4, 1471) ended with the destruction of Margaret's force, the captivity of Margaret, the death of her son Edward (who, it is sometimes said, was stabbed by Edward IV himself after the battle) and the execution of sixteen of the principal Lancastrians.

This was Edward's last battle. The rest of his eventful reign was similar in many ways to that of his contemporary Louis XI, being devoted to the consolidation of his power, by fair means and foul, at the expense of the great feudatories. But the Wars of the Roses were not yet at an end. For fourteen years, except for local outbreaks, the land had peace, and then Richard III's crown, struck from his head on Bosworth Field (Aug. 22, 1485), was presented to Henry Earl of Richmond, who, as Henry VII, established the kingship on a secure foundation. A last feeble attempt to renew the war, made by an army gathered to uphold the pretender Lambert Simnel, was crushed by Henry VII at Stoke Field (4 mi S.W. of Newark) on the 16th of June 1487.

1 The name, as is well known, comes from the "white rose of York" and the "red rose of Lancaster" but these badges, though more or less recognized as party distinctions, by no means superseded the private devices of the various great lords, such as the "falcon and fetterlock" of Richard Duke of York, the "rose in sun" of Edward IV, the "crowned swan" of Margaret, the Vere star, and even the revived "white hart" of Richard II.

Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th Ed. Vol XXIII.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1910. 736-.

May 22, 1455 First Battle of St Albans
Sep 23, 1459 Battle of Blore Heath
Oct 12, 1459 Rout at Ludford Bridge
Jul 10, 1460 Battle of Northampton
Dec 30, 1460 Battle of Wakefield
Feb 2, 1461 Battle of Mortimer's Cross
Feb 22, 1461 Second Battle of St Albans
Mar 28, 1461 Skirmish at Ferrybridge
Mar 29, 1461 Battle of Towton
Apr 25, 1464 Battle of Hedgeley Moor
May 15, 1464 Battle of Hexham
Jul 26, 1469 Battle of Edgecote
Mar 12, 1470 Battle of Losecoat Field
Apr 14, 1471 Battle of Barnet
May 4, 1471 Battle of Tewkesbury
Aug 22, 1485 Battle of Bosworth
Jun 16, 1487 Battle of Stoke Field

Colbeck, Charles. The Public Schools Historical Atlas.
New York: Longmans, Green, & Co., 1905.

The death of Richard, Duke of York [ edit | edit source ]

Ruins of Sandal Castle, near Wakefield, West Yorkshire

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 30 December, his forces left the castle and attacked the Lancastrians in the open, although outnumbered. 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.


In fifteenth-century England everyone was brought up in the Catholic Church. They were baptised within a few days of being born. This was a ceremony that made them a member of the Christian Church and it was believed that the unbaptised could not go to Heaven after death. As children grew up they were taught to pray as soon as they woke up, before they went to bed, and before each meal. Those who lived in large households usually went to a service in the household chapel every morning and often another before their evening meal. Poorer people would just go to church on Sundays and special holy days.

A priest celebrating Mass: BL MS Harley 2915

The main religious service was called Mass. During Mass it was believed that bread and wine on the altar were miraculously transformed into the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ so that people present in the church were physically close to God (Christians believe that Jesus Christ is God in human form). Ordinary people were only allowed to eat the bread, not drink the wine, and many only did this on Easter Day.

Religion was woven into all aspects of life. For example, children were taught to read using prayer books. People were not allowed to eat meat during Lent (the forty days leading up to Easter) or Advent (the four weeks leading up to Christmas) or on Fridays (the day Jesus was crucified). The church had a whole law system with its own courts separate from the laws made by the king and parliament. These laws included rules about who people could marry. Bishops often had powerful positions in the government and could be very wealthy.

Pilgrims: BL MS Royal 18 D II

People were taught that after death their souls would go to Purgatory which was a place of suffering which would make them pure enough to go to Heaven. They believed that they could shorten their time in Purgatory by the good things they did in life. These good things included looking after the poor, giving gifts to the Church, and going on pilgrimages to holy places. Time in Purgatory could also be shortened if people prayed for you after death so many people gave money to churches (or even founded special chapels) in exchange for promises of prayers in the future.

Very often, instead of praying directly to God, people asked saints to speak to God for them. Saints were people who had died and were believed to be in Heaven with God – they were named as saints because of their holy lives which pleased God and because miracles had happened which were proof of their closeness to God. (For example, someone prayed for their help and then avoided shipwreck or were healed). The most popular saint was the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus.

15th century print of the Virgin Mary nursing Jesus BL MS Egerton 1821 f. 2

People used statues and pictures to help them feel closer to God or the saints as they prayed. Sometimes they used ‘relics’ which were objects connected to a particular saint or to Jesus. For example, a fragment of the cross Jesus was crucified on, the bones of a saint, or a piece of their clothing. Almost all churches had at least one relic and wealthy people would own some too.

Only men were allowed to be priests and priests were not allowed to get married. Some people chose to take up a ‘religious life’ focussed on prayer, either as hermits or, more often, with larger groups in monasteries, nunneries, priories or colleges. Ordinary people would visit or send them gifts asking for prayers for themselves.

The Wise Men bringing gifts to Jesus, from a Book of Hours that was probably made for Edward V around 1480. BL Add MS 54782 f. 42

Just like today, within the Church some people had very different ideas about parts of their religion from others. The principal beliefs and stories of the church were drawn from the Bible but very few people read these directly because books were very expensive and Bibles were written in Latin. People learned from priests and other preachers, or from plays performed on holy days, or from other books. Books of saints’ lives were especially popular as were Books of Hours. (Books of Hours were versions of the religious services used in monasteries that were shortened for lay people to use in their daily worship. Often some more personal prayers and texts were added).

Historians used to believe that in the fifteenth century a lot of people were fed up with bad habits and greed in the church and that this led to the Reformation in the sixteenth century. Very few historians still argue this.

The images on this page are all copyright of the British Library and have been put in the public domain. You can find out more about the images in their Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts.

Find out more about medieval churches and their services at Salisbury Cathedral’s Sarum Customary website.

Micklegate Priory re-created in virtual 3-D 15th century York by the University of York illustrates the monastic environment and daily routines of a large, medieval religious house.

Some of the books used by important figures during the Wars of the Roses are now fully online:

Wars of the Roses

Wars of the Roses - History of Wars of the Roses - Information about Wars of the Roses - Wars of the Roses Facts - Wars of the Roses Info - English - England - Famous - Wars of the RosesHistory - Interesting Facts - Wars of the Roses Facts - Info - Wars of the Roses - Wars of the Roses History Timeline - Story - History - Facts - Info - Wars of the Roses - Facts and Info - Wars of the Roses Story - Wars of the Roses - Wars of the Roses History - Wars of the Roses Facts - Wars of the Roses Info - Wars of the Roses - Written By Linda Alchin

Watch the video: Wars of the Roses. 3 Minute History (February 2023).

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