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The Wars of the Roses and the Princes in the Tower
Henry VI was troubled all his life by recurring bouts of madness, during which the country was ruled by regents. The regents didn't do any better for England than Henry did, and the long Hundred Years War with France sputtered to an end with England losing all her possessions in France except for Calais. In England itself, anarchy reigned. Nobles gathered their own private armies and fought for local supremacy.
The Wars of The Roses
The struggle to rule on behalf of an unfit king was one of the surface reasons for the outbreak of thirty years of warfare that we now call the Wars of the Roses, fought between the Houses of York (white rose) and Lancaster (red rose). In reality, these squabbles were an indication of the lawlessness that ran rampant in the land. More squalid than romantic, the Wars of the Roses decimated both houses in an interminably long, bloody struggle for the throne. The rose symbols that we name the wars after were not in general use during the conflict. The House of Lancaster did not even adopt the red rose as its official symbol until the next century.
Henry VI was eventually forced to abdicate in 1461 and died ten years later in prison, possibly murdered. In his place ruled Edward IV of the house of York who managed to get his dubious claim to the throne legitimized by Parliament. Edward was the first king to address the House of Commons, but his reign is notable mostly for the continuing saga of the wars with the House of Lancaster and unsuccessful wars in France. When Edward died in 1483 his son, Edward V, aged twelve, followed him. In light of his youth Edward's uncle Richard, Duke of Gloucester, acted as regent.
The Princes in The Tower
Traditional history, written by later Tudor historians seeking to legitimize their masters' past, has painted Richard as the archetypal wicked uncle. The truth may not be so clear cut. Some things are known, or assumed, to be true. Edward and his younger brother were put in the Tower of London, ostensibly for their own protection.
Richard had the "Princes in the Tower" declared illegitimate, which may possibly have been true. He then got himself declared king. He may have been in the right, and certainly England needed a strong and able king. But he was undone when the princes disappeared and were rumoured to have been murdered by his orders.
In the 17th century, workmen repairing a stairwell at the Tower found the bones of two boys of about the right ages. Were these the Princes in the Tower, and were they killed by their wicked uncle? We will probably never know. The person with the most to gain by killing the princes was not Richard, however, but Henry, Earl of Richmond. Henry also claimed the throne, seeking "legitimacy" through descent from John of Gaunt and his mistress. See a more in-depth article on the Princes in the Tower here.
The Battle of Bosworth Field
Henry defeated and killed Richard at the Battle of Bosworth Field (1485). The crown is said to have been found hanging upon a bush, and it was placed on Henry's head there on the field of battle. Bosworth marked the end of the Wars of the Roses. There was no one else left to fight. It also marked the end of the feudal period of English history. With the death of Richard III the crown passed from the Plantagenet line to the new House of Tudor, and a new era of history began.
Kings were gaining the upper hand in the struggle with the barons. They encouraged the growth of towns and trade. They took more advisors and officials from the new merchant middle class.
This eroded the power of the land-based nobility. Further, kings established royal courts to replace local feudal courts and replaced feudal duties (which had been difficult to collect in any case) with direct taxation. They created national standing armies instead of relying on feudal obligations of service from vassals. Feudal kingdoms moved slowly towards becoming nations.
Today in History: England’s War of the Roses Begins (1455)
The battle to control the English throne is almost as old as the throne itself. Even though it isn&rsquot something we think about, there has been conflict in regards to the heir to the British throne as recently as 1936. However, because of the current reining monarch&rsquos (Elizabeth II) longevity, the conflicts have faded into history somewhat (especially outside of Britain).
One of the most famous conflicts for the English throne, and perhaps the most important, is called the War of the Roses. The War of the Roses is a complex conflict between two families: The House of Lancaster, and the House of York. The House of Lancaster held the throne via King Henry VI, while the Duke of York (first Richard, later Edward) also had a claim to the throne.
The House of York&rsquos claim onto the throne started with the fourth son of King Edward III in the mid-1300s. The House of Lancaster&rsquos claim also descended from Edward III, but from his heir. Because of this close association, and the ineffectiveness of a very young Henry VI, the House of York&rsquos claim to the throne became more significant. Henry VI became King of England as an infant, which caused a lot of problems. He was also (due to lack of living heirs by the rest of the House of Lancaster) the only male heir to the throne from that House.
Henry VI of England and the House of Lancaster. Wikipedia
Henry VI had very little chance of being an effective monarch. He was surrounded by power-hungry men who wanted to control the throne through him for their own gain. He was only a year old when he was put on the throne after his father&rsquos death in 1421.
By the time he turned 25, his House was in chaos because of the people who had helped him rule England while he grew up. This allowed the House of York to successfully start what would become the War of the Roses on May 22, 1455. The Lancasters were represented by the red rose, and the House of York who were associated with the white rose, hence the name of conflict: War of the Roses.
The War of the Roses took place officially between 1455 and 1487. Fighting had been going on long before that, as both Lancaster and York fought for the throne. It would also continue after the official end to the war.
The House of York would meet with initial success, and would place Edward IV on the throne on March 4, 1461. He would rule for around 10 years before being deposed by Henry VI and the Earl of Warwick in 1470, and then would be back on the throne for another 12 years before he died in 1483.
Edward IV of England and the House of York. The only Yorkist King. Wikipedia
The war ended at the battle of Bosworth Field, when Henry Tudor beat the House of York and restored the House of Lancaster to the English throne. This would be the start of the Tudor Dynasty, which lasted until 1603 when Elizabeth I died without an heir. The Tudor Dynasty, of course, produced Britain&rsquos most famous king, King Henry VIII, he of the many wives.
The War of the Roses is much more complicated than what we&rsquove been able to talk about in the space we have here. However it is important, as it is the war the led to the English Monarchy as it is today. And while it was by no means the last of the conflicts over the English throne, it is one of the most famous.
When did the War of the Roses start?
Game of thrones: Richard of York defeated Henry VI at St Albans Credit: Alamy
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22 May 1455
The War of the Roses began at St Albans
T he first battle of what became the War of the Roses took place when forces led by Richard, Duke of York (brother of Richard III), clashed with troops of the troubled king Henry VI at St Albans.
After a triumph for Richard's forces, the Yorkists found Henry hiding alone in a local tanner's shop. England's monarch had apparently been abandoned by his retinue following another bout of the mental illness which increasingly troubled him. He had also been slightly wounded in the neck by an arrow. Not a good day by any standards, royal or otherwise.
If Henry being found cowering in a tanners is ignoble, then the recent discovery of the body of Richard III in a Leicester car park isn't much better!
While Shakespeare painted Richard III as an undisputed villain, 21st-century football fans are putting a different spin on him. Some are promoting the idea that the rediscovery of his body and its grander reburial in the city has provided a supernatural spur to the remarkable turnaround in Leicester City's fortunes, turning them from Premier League relegation candidates in 2015 to champions in 2016. Anyone spotted his ghost at the the King Power Stadium?
*This article originally claimed Richard III was the Duke of York. This is now corrected to state that it was his brother
Royal London has its roots in the community. Founded in 1861, it began with the aim of helping people avoid the stigma of a pauper’s grave.
It became a mutual life insurance company in 1908 before growing into the UK’s largest mutual life and pensions company.
Its founding principles are self-reliance, community and keeping members at the heart of all decisions.
Writing for BBC History Revealed, historian and battlefields expert Julian Humphrys recounts the twists and turns in the contest for England’s throne…
Phase one: the ire of Richard of York
The initial conflict was caused by the inadequacies and poor mental health of the Lancastrian Henry VI of England, and the ambitions of Richard of York, great-grandson of Edward III, a leading English magnate who demanded a top role in government. This tense situation was exacerbated by rivalries among the country’s aristocratic families.
In May 1455, York and the noble Neville family attacked the royal court at St Albans, killing a number of leading Lancastrian nobles. Conflict broke out again in 1459 and, the following July, York captured the Henry VI at the battle of Northampton and then later claimed the throne for himself.
Eventually, a compromise was agreed, which allowed Henry VI to remain king, but with York installed as his heir. However, Henry’s wife, Margaret of Anjou, refused to accept the disinheritance of her son, Edward 0f Westminster, Prince of Wales, and raised an army to fight for the Lancastrian cause. York was defeated and killed at the battle of Wakefield, West Yorkshire, in December. But the crushing victory won by York’s son, Edward IV, at the battle of Towton in March 1461, effectively settled the issue in favour of the Yorkists, although occasional fighting would continue in the North East for a further three years.
Phase two: the defection of the Earl of Warwick
The second war was primarily caused by the discontent of the mighty nobleman Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick. Warwick ‘the Kingmaker’, as he’s often known, had been a supporter of Edward IV but, following the king’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, Warwick saw his influence slip away. In 1469, he rebelled, briefly taking Edward prisoner. The following year, Warwick made an extraordinary alliance of convenience with his former foe, Margaret of Anjou, forcing Edward IV into exile and temporarily restoring Henry VI to the throne.
In 1471, the exiled Edward returned to England and brought his enemies to battle separately, defeating and killing Warwick at the battle of Barnet, now in Greater London, and beating Margaret at the battle of Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, where her son was killed. Edward then had Henry VI quietly done away with and ruled unchallenged as Edward IV until his early death in 1483. He was succeeded by his 12-year-old son, Edward V.
Phase three: the conflict shifts from Yorkists vs Lancastrians, to Tudors vs Royals
Edward IV’s death, on 9 April 1483, took everyone by surprise. His brother Richard of Gloucester was in the north, while his heir, the 12-yearold Edward, Prince of Wales, was at Ludlow, Shropshire, in the care of his mother’s family, the Woodvilles – a house among Richard’s enemies. As the Woodvilles travelled to the capital, they were intercepted by Richard, who took charge of his nephew and arrested members of the Woodville faction. Richard of Gloucester assumed Protectorship of the Realm.
Over the following month, preparations were made for the young King’s coronation but, on 13 June, Edward IV’s old friend William Hastings, who had supported Richard against the Woodvilles, was seized and summarily executed in the Tower. Richard claimed that Hastings had been plotting with the Woodvilles against him, but it may be that Richard had already decided to make himself king and realised that Hastings would never accept the deposition of Edward V.
On 16 June, the Archbishop of Canterbury persuaded Elizabeth Woodville to hand over her other son Richard, Duke of York, so he could attend his brother’s coronation. The two boys were then housed in the royal apartments in the Tower of London. The coronation never took place. On 22 June, it was declared that, because Edward IV had been pre-contracted to marry another woman before he wed Elizabeth Woodville, his marriage to her was invalid and the boys were illegitimate.
On 26 June, Richard assumed the throne and, ten days later, he and his wife were crowned in a lavish ceremony. But Richard’s support was limited. Many of Edward’s supporters, especially in the South, were alienated by Richard’s actions. They fatally split the old Yorkist establishment and enabled Henry Tudor – a largely unknown exile – to mount a challenge for the throne.
In 1483, many of Edward IV’s former servants rebelled against Richard III. The rising was stamped out, but dissatisfaction was rife. Richard had alienated many by favouring men in his own Northern power bloc. Further grants of confiscated rebel land and property to his supporters only added to his unpopularity. As a result, although few nobles were prepared to openly support Henry Tudor in his bid, few supported Richard, either.
On 22 August 1485, Richard was killed at the battle of Bosworth, and Henry seized the throne. Two years later, on 16 June, Henry VII defeated a rebellion by some of Richard III’s former supporters at Stoke, near Newark. After some 30 years of intermittent conflict, the final battle had at last been fought.
Lancaster and York: 7 things you (probably) didn’t know about the rival houses in the Wars of the Roses
Both houses claimed the throne through descent from the sons of Edward III. Kathryn Warner shares seven facts about the families who fought the series of civil wars in England and Wales…
A dodgy king
However, all this dynastic arguing was something of a smokescreen. What really mattered were more practical issues and in particular the problematic reign of Henry VI.
A portrait of the ailing Henry VI whose inability to rule effectively due to his illness contributed to the outbreak of the Wars of the Roses.
Thanks to the military successes of his father, Henry V, England held vast swathes of France and Henry VI was the only King of England to be crowned King of France and England. However, it was not a title he could hold onto for long and over the course of his reign he gradually lost almost all England’s possessions in France.
Finally, in 1453, defeat at the Battle of Castillon called an end to the Hundred Years War and left England with only Calais from all their French possessions.
The English nobility was incensed by the loss of power and French land, and factional tensions broke out. Mounting pressures on Henry led to a major breakdown in 1453. Historians believe he suffered from a condition known as catatonic schizophrenia which would see him lapse into catatonic states for long periods of time.
War of the Roses Begun - History
By William F. Floyd, Jr.
The men of Bridport on the coast of southwestern England kept extra weapons on hand to deal with the raids endemic during the Hundred Years War that preceded the Wars of the Roses. Just four years after the last great battle of the Hundred Years’ War was fought at Castillon, a muster was held at Bridport at the outset of the Wars of the Roses during which the town’s four principal officials, two constables and two bailiffs, assessed the equipment of individuals who presented themselves for inspection for wartime duty. One commoner in particular stood out from the rest for he had brought enough to equip himself and others. Besides two helmets and two padded jacks, he had three bows and sheaves, two poleaxes, two glaives, and two daggers. This man, unlike many others, would not be subjected to the requirements others would have to meet if they were short of the required equipment. If that were the case, they would be told to acquire the additional equipment within a fortnight or pay a fine.
The three wars that constituted the Wars of the Roses had periods of peace that separated them. The name of the wars derived from the badges used by the two cadet branches of the Plantagenet dynasty: the white rose of York and the red rose of Lancaster. Supporters of the two branches shed a large amount of blood in a contest for control of the English crown.
Both houses laid claim to the throne as descendants of the sons of Edward III. The Lancastrians had been on the throne since 1399 and may have remained there indefinitely were it not for the anarchy through- out the kingdom that began in the middle of the 15th century. When Henry V died in 1422, the country endured the fractious minority of Henry VI during which England was managed by the king’s council, a predominately aristocratic body.
Longbowmen engage each other in a period image of the Wars of the Roses. Since both the Lancastrians and the Yorkists had longbowmen, neither side gained a clear advantage from their use.
The arrangement was not maintained without trouble. The council soon became a battleground for those attempting to gain power. Great magnates with private armies controlled the English countryside. Lawlessness became rampant, and the people began to be overtaxed.
When King Henry VI lapsed into insanity in 1453, Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York, was installed as protector of the realm. When Henry recovered from his illness in 1455, he re-established authority, forcing York to take up arms for self-protection. Queen Margaret, who controlled her weak and mentally unstable husband, subsequently drove York from the royal court. In response, York rebelled against Henry VI.
Armed conflict broke out at St. Albans on May 22, 1455. The Lancastrians eventually killed York, who was slain in the Battle of Wakefield in West Yorkshire on December 30, 1460. His eldest son, Edward, 4th Duke of York, however, vanquished the Lancastrians at the Battle of Towton fought March 29, 1461. After the battle, the victorious duke became King Edward IV.
The second war lasted from 1469 to 1471 and its events centered on the expulsion from power of Edward IV by a military coup led by his former ally Richard, Earl of Warwick. Warwick was slain in the Battle of Barnet in 1471. The third war involved Edward’s brother Richard Plantagenet, who usurped the crown in the wake of Edward’s death in 1483. That conflict ended with the victory of Henry Tudor, the future Henry VII, over King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.
The 15th century brought major tactical changes and advances in metallurgy and armor that had a profound influence on the types of weapons deployed on the battlefields of the Wars of the Roses. The vulnerability of French heavy cavalry to the English longbow in famous battles of the Hundred Years War, such as Crécy, Poitiers, and Agincourt, proved that armored cavalry was highly vulnerable to missile fire by highly skilled bowmen. For their part, the English knights and men-at-arms had fought on foot throughout the Hundred Years’ War, and this preference for fighting dis- mounted continued into the Wars of the Roses. Indeed, the English proved that the most effec- tive way to do battle was with dismounted infantry supported by archers armed with the devastating longbow. Typically, the wealthy knights were clad in suits of armor, men-at- arms were clad partially in armor, and levies wore leather jerkins or padded jacks.
Another seminal change that differentiated warfare in the 15th century from the previous one was the refinement of plate armor. The renowned armor craftsmen of northern Italy and Germany had the requisite metallurgical skills to fashion magnificent suits of armor from steel. By the time of the Wars of the Roses, knights and men-at-arms who could afford these suits went into battle encased from head to foot in plate armor. Plate armor negated the need for shields but required offensive weapons that could punch through or tear the armor of the wealthier combatants.
The English longbow, which most likely was an outgrowth of the ordinary wooden bow, played a substantially less important role in the Wars of the Roses, not only because there was no enemy cavalry to decimate, but also because the use of fluted plate armor for the most part negated the effect of arrows. Other forms of protection, such as leather jerkins or padded jacks, blunted the effect of the arrows. It was common for the archers to duel with each other at the outset of a battle and then fall back to a supporting position. Moreover, since both sides had longbowmen during the Wars of the Roses, neither side gained a clear advantage from their use.
A flanged mace delivered greater force than the sword. It would have been highly useful in combat against a knight clad in plate armor.
The longbow consisted of a six-foot bow usually crafted from a single piece of yew. The longbow projected arrows up to 820 feet by elasticity in the form of a spring. As the bow was drawn, energy was transformed into kinetic energy as the string was released, thus transferring energy to the arrow. A typical longbow archer carried from 60 to 72 arrows at the time of battle. A skilled English longbowmen could fire 10 to 12 arrows a minute. Archers would place their arrows either point down in the ground in front of them or through their belt to grasp them for firing in battle.
In one noteworthy instance, the use of longbows did not cancel each other out in battle. At the Battle of Towton on March 29, 1461, Yorkist and Lancastrian archers engaged in an archery duel at the outset of the battle. Because the wind was at their backs, the Yorkists won the contest. Yorkist archers shot approximately 750,000 arrows in less than 10 minutes, resulting in the death or wounding of hundreds of Lancastrian troops. In this way, the Yorkist archers succeeded admirably in softening the opposing ranks before foot soldiers on both sides clashed.
The primary weapon of the period for cavalry remained the lance. The word “lance” is a catchall term for a variety of different pole weapons based on the spear. The name is derived from “lancea,” a Roman auxiliaries’ javelin. The lance was designed for mounted troops. Medieval guilds manufactured both the heavy lance and the light lance. They usually were a solid shaft made of ash, cedar, or poplar.
The heavy lance was 10 to 12 feet in length and was used more or less as a shock weapon. Before tactics changed in the 15th century, the purpose of the heavy lance had been to enable charging cavalry to break the enemy’s front line.
A hand guard was added to the heavy lance in the 14th century. The most effective way to use a heavy lance was to hold it 30 degrees away from the centerline of the horse on either side of the neck. Two versions, one light and one heavy, were available to the mounted man-at-arms.
The light lance ranged from six to 10 feet in length and had a narrower diameter than the heavy lance. Unlike the heavy lance, the light lance was designed to be either thrown like a javelin or stabbed like a spear using an overhanded thrust.
Dismounted men-at-arms during the Wars of the Roses used powerful staff weapons such as the poleaxe and mace for battering their armored opponents during dismounted combat. They also employed thrusting and stabbing weapons such as the sword and rondel. Local levies primarily used the billhook.
The billhook was a variation of a common agricultural tool used for cutting woody material. It consisted of a hooked metal blade which was sharpened on the inner curve and mounted on a wooden shaft. The six-foot-long English version of the billhook was a combination of a broad, curved knife and an axe. The length of the blade range from eight to 10 inches, and the staff ranged from six to eight inches.
The “bill,” as it was sometimes called, was a versatile close contact weapon that gave the foot soldier the ability to reach and engage a cavalryman. Using the hook, a foot soldier could hook a cavalryman and pull him to the ground. A blow from a billhook blade could inflict serious injury even to a knight protected by armor.
German peasants fight with a wide variety of staff weapons derived from agricultural tools. In England, the most ubiquitous of these was the billhook, which had a hooked metal blade that was sharpened on the inner curve.
The poleaxe was a brutal assault weapon that was used with regularity on the 15th century battlefield, rather than sporadically as it had been used in the previous century. The poleaxe provided a way to offset the advantages afforded by fluted plate armor. Requiring strength and two hands to wield in battle, poleaxes were swung in a cleaving motion like the battle axes used by Normans and Vikings in previous centuries.
A poleaxe consisted of a wooden staff up to six feet in length topped with a heavy, razor-sharp curved blade on one side, a claw-like point on the other, and a sharp spike at the top. Alternate versions had a hammer on the front end and a sharp hook on the back end. The poleaxe was intended to deliver a bone-crushing blow and also to cut through plate armor, depending on which feature of the weapon was used. Whether a knight or man-at-arms used a poleaxe against an armored or unarmored opponent, the result could be lethal. The thick blade was capable of severing limbs and the sharp point that capped the poleaxe was useful for puncturing armor.
A mace was a weapon with a heavy head that might also have flanged or knobbed additions on the end of the handle. The mace generated far greater force than a sword when swung. The weapon could be mounted on either a long shaft measuring up to five feet or on a short shaft measuring one foot in length. The mace was an armor-fighting weapon designed for close combat that could be used by a man-at-arms fighting on foot or on horseback.
A major advantage of the mace was that it was cheap and easy to make, which made it more numerous on the battlefield. Its primary use was for bludgeoning an opponent, and it was particularly effective against an enemy wearing plate armor. The flanged mace in particular was designed to penetrate armor.
The Flail and Halberd
The flail, which is sometimes referred to as a mace and chain or a ball and chain, was similar to the mace. It featured a chain or strap so it could be swung with great force. In previous centuries when soldiers used shields, a soldier who was skilled with a flail could wrap the chain around an enemy’s shield and pull it away.
Another staff weapon used during the Wars of the Roses was the halberd. Halberds sported a spiked axe head on a staff of similar length to the billhook. The foot soldier wielding a halberd swung at his opponent as he would a two-handed axe. Yet another staff weapon was the glaive, which featured a slender axe-like blade attached to a six-foot pole. Some versions of the glaive had a small hook on the reverse side used to unhorse cavalrymen.
The Sword and Rondel Dagger
For close-quarter combat, the 15th-century man-at-arms carried a sword designed either for cutting or thrusting. Many sword designs of this period originated from those developed during the Viking and migration periods dating back to the type of iron swords wielded by pre-historic Celts. Length was the most critical factor in how a sword would be used in combat. Single-handed swords were usually 2.5 feet long, and double-handed swords were usually 3.5 feet long. Men-at-arms usually wore their sword in a scabbard on one side and a rondel dagger on the other side.
In some cases, a knight would be considered “undressed” without his sword even when not in armor. Swords normally weighed only two or three pounds. A sword that was too heavy could not move fast enough to precisely strike a moving opponent and would not be controllable once it began to swing. During their manufacture, swords were carefully balanced, according to the purpose for which they were designed. Swords intended for thrusting had long, narrow blades and long hilts.
The rondel dagger takes its name from the cylindrical hand guard and disc-shaped pommel and cross-guard that were equal in size. The weapon was introduced at the turn of the 14th century, and its forerunner was the knightly dagger of the two previous centuries. The rondel dagger might be, for example, 25 inches long with a 10-inch handle and a 15- inch blade. Rondel dagger handles usually were made of wood plated with metal or of metal, although wood, horn, and bone models existed, too.
Rondel daggers were not meant for slashing. They featured a slender, triangular blade made of steel with a tapering point. The rondel dagger allowed the user to deliver a fatal wound to an incapacitated or pinned knight. To finish off an adversary with a fatal puncture wound, the rondel dagger was thrust through a seam or joint in a suit of armor or even through the eye slit in a helmet.
Hand-held firearms were introduced in the 15th century, although they were crude and inaccurate and for the most part ineffective. These “hand-gonnes” consisted of a short tube mounted on a stick.
The gunpowder was ignited with a hot coal or a piece of slow match. Typically, a two-man team operated a 15th-century handgun. One man aimed the weapon and the other applied the ignition. Hand-held firearms were not refined until the following century.
A soldier fires a so-called hand-gonne consisting of a short tube mounted on a stick. He ignited the gunpowder through a touchhole using a hot coal or piece of slow match.
Even though the Wars of the Roses lasted for three decades, pitched battles were infrequent. When fighting did take place, however, it was extremely brutal. For example, it is estimated that the combined casualties of approximately 28,000 from the Battle of Towton constituted one percent of the total population of England at the time.
The Wars of the Roses are remembered for the large number of high-born males who were killed in battle or later executed. With the exception of crude gunpowder weapons and the longbow, combat was conducted at close quarters. In order to kill or wound an oppo- nent with one of the hand-held weapons of the day, an attacker had to be as close as two to three feet to inflict a lethal blow. Unless a fighter was wearing heavy armor, one blow or stab from a poleaxe or sword could prove fatal or at the very least disable an enemy fighter.
The number of participants involved in any given battle during the Wars of the Roses is dif- ficult to determine, and casualties are even harder to ascertain. Battles tended to be blood- ier just by the violent nature of the combat. Defeated armies rarely retreated in any orga- nized manner, making retreating troops an easy target for enemy cavalry.
The Wars of the Roses marked the beginning of the end for medieval warfare. Great changes were afoot, particularly in regard to gunpow- der. The introduction of effective cannons made stone castles obsolete. Likewise, the introduction of hand-held firearms eventually made edged weapons obsolete
Participants in the Conflict
The conflict involved mainly representatives of the English feudal aristocracy with detachments of their servants and supporters, as well as a small number of foreign mercenaries. Support for the opposing sides was largely determined by dynastic factors. The so-called system of “bastard feudalism” was one of the main factors that influenced the fall of the authority and influence of royal power and the escalation of armed conflict. Service in exchange for land and gifts remained important, but it was not determined by feudal tradition.
The sides’ armies were represented by numerous feudal detachments of professional soldiers, as well as detachments of soldiers called into service by special royal orders. Warriors from the lower social strata were mainly archers. The number of archers traditionally exceeded the number of soldiers 3:1. Warriors traditionally fought on foot. The cavalry was used only for reconnaissance and gathering provisions and forage, as well as for transportation. In the battles, the commanders often dismounted to inspire the troops. Artillery began to appear in large numbers, as well as hand-held firearms.
The ascendancy of Warwick
The next round of the wars arose out of disputes within the Yorkist ranks. Warwick, the statesman of the group, was the true architect of the Yorkist triumph. Until 1464 he was the real ruler of the kingdom. He ruthlessly put down the survivors of the Lancastrians who, under the influence of Margaret and with French help, kept the war going in the north and in Wales. The wholesale executions that followed the battle of Hexham (May1464) practically destroyed what was left of the Lancastrian party, and the work seemed complete when, a year later, Henry VI was captured and put in the Tower of London.
Warwick made an equally vigorous effort to put the government of the realm in better shape, to restore public order, to improve the administration of justice, and, by confiscations and economies, to make the crown solvent. At the same time, both Warwick and his master were caught in the diplomatic schemes of the astute Louis XI, who had succeeded Charles VII as the king of France in 1461. He was still preoccupied with the power of Burgundy, and the English were to be the pawns in the game he intended to play for the humbling of Charles the Bold.
Yet Edward IV was not prepared to submit indefinitely to Warwick’s tutelage, efficient and satisfactory though it proved to be. It was not that he deliberately tried to oust Warwick rather he found the earl’s power irksome. Edward’s hasty and secret marriage to Elizabeth Woodville in 1464 was the first overt sign of his impatience. The Woodvilles, a family with strong Lancastrian connections, never achieved real political influence, but they climbed into positions of trust near the king, thus estranging Warwick still further.
The open breach between the king and the earl came in 1467. Edward dismissed Warwick’s brother, George Neville, the chancellor repudiated a treaty with Louis XI that the earl had just negotiated and concluded an alliance with Burgundy against which Warwick had always protested. Warwick then began to organize opposition to the king. He was behind the armed protest of the gentry and commons of Yorkshire that was called the rising of Robin of Redesdale (April 1469). A few weeks later, having raised a force at Calais and married his daughter Isabel without permission to the Edward’s rebellious brother, George Plantagenet, duke of Clarence, Warwick landed in Kent. The royal army was defeated in July at Edgecote (near Banbury), and the king himself became the earl’s prisoner, while the queen’s father and brother, together with a number of their friends, were executed at his command.
By March 1470, however, Edward had regained his control, forcing Warwick and Clarence to flee to France, where they allied themselves with Louis XI and (probably at Louis’s instigation) came to terms with their former enemy Margaret. Returning to England (September 1470), they deposed Edward and restored the crown to Henry VI, and for six months Warwick ruled as Henry’s lieutenant. Edward fled to the Netherlands with his followers.
Effects of the War
The royal nobles took advantage of the situation and started small wars with their rivals. The country began its descent into chaos. When King Henry VI recovered in 1455, York was removed from his position and Somerset was released from prison. He then formed an alliance with Percy, who was the Earl of Northumberland and Clifford. This alliance, known as the Lancastrians, wore red roses and had the support of the king.
York was not to be left behind and formed a pact with the Earls of Wawick and Salisbury, later known as the Yorkists, who wore white roses. War broke out between them and it had the support from the neighboring kingdoms who offered asylum and monetary support to the defeated party. They did this in the hope that England would never be strong enough to invade them again.
Both sides won a couple of battles and sustained casualties in the process. Warwick was killed in the battle April 1471 in Barnet and Edward suffering the same fate in Tewskebury in May the same year which lead to end of Lancastrians succession.
The power struggles didn’t end there, even though the Lancastrians had the stronger position. Edward’s brother, Richard moved to prevent his sister-in-law’s family from participating in the ruling of the country. He mounted a coup in 1483 and ruled until 1485 where he was defeated by the eventual winner, Henry Tudor. Tudor would be crowned King and be named Henry VII. He reconciled the two houses by marrying the daughter of the late Edward, Elizabeth. In 1497, there was stability in the country. The War of the Roses was finally over.