The war of the roses, officially took place between 1455-1487 the seeds lay earlier than this and it starts with King Henry VI. The wars were the cause of the incompetence of the King and the ambitions of 2 major families in England, the Percie’s and the Neville’s. The court, the Queen and the betrayal of Richard Neville escalated tensions between the two families and the King’s court. This article will without a doubt cover most of the events as best it can but due to the size of the events and the much back and forth it will unfortunately miss the numerous exiles, returns and rebellions, for this I apologize but hope you enjoy what has been written. I will also only cover up until the battle of Towton, again I apologise for this.
Figure one: from google
In 1422 Henry V had died unexpectedly and his son Henry VI ascended the throne, at this time Henry was only an infant at 9 months old and was left in the care of his uncle Duke of Gloucester, Humphrey. Humphrey attempted to garner peasant support to get himself elected as Lord Protector but was in contention with the Cardinal Beaufort who wished to stop Humphrey’s ambitions. In 1447 Humphrey died whilst awaiting prosecution at Bury St Edmunds after William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk who rose to prominence after Cardinal Beaufort’s retirement finally had Humphrey arrested on treason. This is arguably where Henry’s failings are thought to originate, Suffolk had been using his authority over the young Henry to his own benefits. Suffolk continued the wars in France, but after many major reverses in the war, William de la Pole was blamed and stripped of his title and was later killed on his way to exile. Upon his death Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset took over leadership of operations in France and would seek peace with France instead of continue the 100 year’s war, as it is known. Opinions were split on the decision to carry out peace talks with France one in particular character was very much against the idea, Richard the Duke of York who had been lieutenant at this time. The rivalry between York and Somerset is a major factor in the wars as soon after the quarrelling between Somerset and York, saw York removed from his position a lieutenant and forced him to return to Ireland as he had vast lands there.
Figure two: From google images
Soon after a revolt at Kent by Jack Cade and his supporters took place, this was due to the extortionate taxes levied on the land and failure to protect the land owners from the extortion and property damages due to scattered looters. The taxes were levied by a corrupt court, since King Henry VI was uninterested in dealing with court and would rather read religious scripture than deal with stately affairs; this essentially gave the court the run of the country, Henry’s incompetence was well known by this stage as almost all the lands won in the Hundred years war was lost, returned or given to those valued by the court. To further show his incompetence his court declared that Henry was one to avoid brutality when it was necessary and when attack was imminent he would not act first but would wait for the attack before attacking. Henry was extremely naïve and inexperienced, so much so that his wife Margaret of Anjou was the real power behind the throne, Anjou was dedicated to her country and is a large reason why many of the lands in France were returned to the French monarchy. So devout was Henry that the main act in which a king would have to do, that is produce an heir was a difficult task as he had seen sex as a bad thing, an example of his disgust with sex is shown in an event in which one of the Kings barons had attempted to entertain the king with bare breasted dancers, this act disgusted the king so much that he had returned to his chambers after yelling at the baron.
The incompetence of the King and his rule led to major turmoil in the realm, this was an opportunity that 2 of the greater houses of England would seek to take advantage of, these two houses were bitter rivals but both very powerful, the Percy family and the Neville family. These two families were originally magnates charged with protecting the borders North and North West of England. The Percy’s were a powerful military family and had powerful strongholds on the Scottish border, the Percy’s also had easy access to Yorkshire a, prime recruiting ground for soldiers as it had the most dense population. The head of the family, Henry Percy II, Earl of Northumberland was a man with a past of rebellion against the King and saw many battles, though the rebellions were both put down he remained an influential presence in England due to his many holdings. The Percy family was strong, even though they had to pay reparations and much of the family had fallen into disfavour with the court, they remained a presence and one that played a major part in the Roses War.
The Neville family had ties to the royal family by marriages long past, they were charged with protecting the North Western borders of England, though they were powerful and well-connected their influence in the court was limited, unlike the Percy’s they didn’t access to a centre of recruits. They did have lands scattered about and their income was quite vast and unlike the Percy’s they were not shamed by uprising.
*The connections to the royal family would take up an actual chapter of any academic book so I will opt to give an example of the just how vast the family is and how they came to form such connections and influence*
Ralph Neville 1st Earl of Westmoreland had 23 children through 2 wives, 20 of which survived beyond infancy, this many children left many of his daughters perfect for political marriage and Ralph did use them as such amongst the ties created through these political marriages amongst the families there was titles presented such as Duchess of Exeter, Duke of Rutland, Duchess of Burgundy, Duchess of Suffolk, Earl of Bedford, Duchy of Burgundy, Duke of Clarence, including Richard III of England and Duke of York. This is to list a few there is more as time goes on.
The rivalry between the two houses was mostly bloodless until the Neville’s were to marry into the Cromwell family an influential that had gained estates from the Percy’s, the thought of the Neville’s gaining estates that were originally Percy estates was intolerable, that and the appointment of William Percy as the Bishop of Carlisle which was long a title given to the Neville’s created intense tensions between the two families.
In 1453 Henry had several bouts of mental collapse; these were so bad so that he didn’t even recognise his own son Edward of Westminster, Henry was removed from rule as he couldn’t do so in his condition, this led to Cardinal John Kemp taking over the running of the country but soon after on March 1454 the Cardinal had died. The choice of the Cardinals successor fell to the king who at this moment was still incapable of appointing a new one. When there was no person of authority to appoint a new Cardinal the Duke of York, who at this time was still loved by the people was appointed ‘Protector’ of the Kingdom, much to the dismay of Queen Margaret and Somerset. York’s first act was to imprison Somerset and support his new allies, the Neville’s in their rivalry against the Percy’s and the Duke of Northumberland who were supporters of the King. In his temporary rule York had put in place new political reforms and other than the feud between the Percy’s and the Neville’s a sombre peace came to England. In 1455 King Henry had made a full recovery and again gained control over the entire kingdom, with his return all that Richard had done was undone and power was returned to the court and of course the aggressive Queen Margaret who instantly released Somerset from prison and swiftly worked together with the Percy’s and Somerset to reduce York’s power and influence. Fearing a possible indictment of treason Richard had retreated.
Images three & four: google images
The first official battle of this war, ‘The Battle of St Alban’s’ which took place on the 22nd May 1455 was originally supposed to be a negotiation and reconciliation of the two forces, Richard and the Yorkists and the King and Lancastrians. There was a lot of back and forth between the two forces and in this situation negotiations had broken down and as a resort conflict broke out between the two. Richard’s plan to remove bad advisors from the Kings side had failed in negotiations but was succeeded in battle. The battle ended in victory for the Yorkists and their enemies were defeated, coincidentally, not many were killed but amongst the dead there was Somerset and Northumberland were killed along with several other of the king’s advisors. The king was wounded in the battle with a wound across the neck and hid in a tanner’s house; he was also thought to have had another bout of mental collapse. In his victory and the condition of the kings mental health Richard was again assigned the title of ‘Protector’. The failing health of the King and the leadership of York led to an issue of ascendancy to the throne between York and the King heir. Margaret who was now just the king’s minder due to Yorks command would not accept any solution that would remove her infant son from the ascendancy. The confusion of the two led to a break down in governance, the feud between the Percy’s and the Neville’s continued and piracy from the French became a growing issue, with the Queen not budging from her position on her sons ascendancy, she invoked conscription for the first time in English history. In 1456 Henry had returned to health once again and removed Richard from his position as ‘Protector’. Later that year the aggressive Queen persuaded Henry to revoke any title given to York and send him back to Ireland where he would resume being lieutenant.
Images five & six figure: from google images
The next battles took place 1459 and 1460; in 1459 York had gathered his allies to join him at Ludlow castle in the Welsh marches. The Duke of Salisbury who was meant to meet the main Yorkists force headed to meet York and allies, Lancastrian forces attempted to stop the meet but were defeated. Soon after Salisbury met with the main forces the combined forces headed south where they met a larger Lancastrian force at Ludford Bridge. The expected support from the Duke of Warwick who was to aid York by coming from Calais with a force didn’t arrive as Warwick’s ally who was to aid him in this assault, Andrew Trollope defected and the Yorkists forces were defeated. The Earls of Warwick, Salisbury with Edward of March retreated to Calais. In 1460 Warwick Salisbury and Edward of March returned and rapidly established themselves in Kent in which they had much support including support from the Papacy. With this support they again marched North, King Henry in return gathered his forces and marched South to meet them where they met at Northampton. The Yorkists forces led by Warwick had defeated the King’s forces in Northampton with aid from defectors in the Kings ranks. The King was later found in a tent apparently after yet another mental collapse. With the King captured they headed to London where Richard laid his claim to the throne.
York’s success and claim to the throne forced the Queen and her infant son to retreat to Scotland, where the Queen had requested help from Mary of Gueldres, Queen Consort to James II of Scotland. Mary had granted the assistance and with her new forces Margaret had headed south, with no money to pay her troops Margaret had raided towns along her way to the South and gave the loot they plundered as wages for her troops. This moment York was heading North to consolidate his right to rule against the Lancastrians who were strongly present around the town of York. Outnumbered York had taken up defensive hold in the Castle of Sandal but in December he and his forces rode to face the Lancastrian forces in the Battle of Wakefield. The battle was a victory for the Lancastrian forces York was slain and his son Earl of Rutland and the Earl of Salisbury were captured and executed. Margaret to display her success ordered that their 3 heads be placed on the gates of York. With momentum on their side the Queen had carried on south towards London pillaging as many prosperous towns in her wake as possible. Eventually she and her forces came upon Warwick and his forces at St Albans, again the Queen was victorious and in the retreat of the Yorkists forces they found the king who was left behind by the retreating Yorkists. As the Queen moved South and eventually arrived at London the city refused the Queen entry and food due to her brutal acts and pillaging of neighbouring towns and counties. The lack of resources forced the Queen back to Yorkshire.
At this time Warwick had met up with Edward IV who was left to guard the midlands, from a young age Edward was recognised as a capable commander and soldier and with the Queens retreat he sensed an opportunity. The young Edward making full use of the opportunity followed rapidly in pursuit of the Queen. On his march North Edward gained large support that was easy to come by due to the Queens atrocious acts of slaughter and pillaging. Edwards support was so grand that when the Bishop of London, Thomas Kempe asked the people of London for their opinion on Edwards aim to be king they all shouted “King Edward!.” For Edward to be true King he would have to kill the current King, Henry and Margaret his Queen. Continuing his march to become heir apparent to the throne Edward led all his forces to end the King and Queen, Edward came upon the Lancastrian forces at Towton, this was to be the biggest battle of the Roses conflict ‘The Battle of Towton’, both commanders had agreed to end the war on that same day 29th March 1461. The advantage of this battle laid with the Lancastrians as they had defensive capabilities but due to a snowstorm from the south the archers arrows fell short of their targets and hand to hand combat was prevalent, the fighting was fierce and both armies by the end of the day were exhausted, with exhaustion being sped up by the biting cold. As the battle drew on further and exhaustion was setting in Yorkist reinforcements had arrived leading to the defeat of the Lancastrians in victory of his enemies Edward replaced the rotting heads of his brother and father as well as Salisbury with the heads of Lancastrian officers including the commanders head John Clifford, 9th Baron de Clifford.