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Wars of the Roses
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Wars of the Roses“The Queen Margaret is verily landed and her son in the west country, and I trow that as tomorrow, or else the next day, king Edward will depart from hence to her ward to drive her out again.”
Extract from one of the Paston Letters, written after the Battle of Barnet, 1471


The Wars of the Roses were ferocious struggles for power, with England as the prize. The warring parties were the House of Lancaster (whose symbol was a red rose) and the House of York (a white rose). Both families claimed Edward III as their royal ancestor, and so both laid hands on the Crown.

The soldier-hero Henry V had died too soon, leaving a child-king – Henry VI. This boy grew up to be an incompetent bookwarm, ruled by a domineering queen, Margaret, who made many enemies. France was lost, the nation’s coffers were empty, the nobility disgruntled. When Henry collapsed into mental illness in 1453, the Duke of York decided enough was enough, and set about making a bid for the throne.

The iron-willed Queen Margaret stiffened Lancastrian resistance, dashing York’s hopes for an easy transfer to power. The grand old duke’s ambition ended in defeat and shame – his severed head, crowned with paper, stuck on a pole above the gates of York. But the duke had capable sons: Edward (later Edward IV) and Richard (later Richard III). Faced with such military muscle, the Lancastrians wobbled. King Henry was powerless whether in the hands of friends or foes, leaving Lancastrian hopes with Queen Margaret, her son (the young Prince Edward) and the fickle Earl of Warwick, “the kingmaker”.

Having helped Edward to the throne after the Battle of Towton (1461), Warwick later changed sides. Henry was briefly restored as king in 1470, but the pendulum quickly swung back to the Yorkists. Warwick was killed at Barnet, and Prince Edward at Tewksbury – a cruel blow to Queen Margaret. When Henry VI followed his son to the grave, Edward IV seemed secure, but his death in 1483 opened an opportunity for his brother Richard. The disappearance of the Princes in the Tower and one last bloody battle – Bosworth in 1485 –were the final twists in the violent chronicles of the Wars of the Roses. Henry Tudor’s victory at Bosworth began a fresh chapter of English regal history.

Attacking to exterminate
Battles in the Wars of the Roses were small but vicious. Hastily gathered armies, led by personal enemies, did their best to wipe each other out.

Wars of the Roses


A king captured
Henry VI was captured after the Battle of Northampton which took place on 10 July 1460. A respectful Earl of Warwick (a Yorkist ally at this stage) kneels before the unfortunate king.

Wars of the Roses


Iron Queen
Margaret of Anjou married Henry VI in 1445 at the age of 16. Beautiful, clever and forceful, her iron will kept the Lancastrians in the field through disaster and defeat.

Wars of the Roses




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