The War of the Roses

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The house of York fought the Lancaster house in the late 1400s for the English crown. This long conflict that lasted for about 30 years became known as the war of Roses (Cook 2014, p.1). There is a lot of confusion when it comes to understanding this long conflict because of different views about Richard, who he was, and how it was that he even gained the throne, either by a scheme of simple coincidence (Axford 2016, p.252). Also, some people termed the War of the Roses the ‘cousins’ war’ because of a continuous change between Lancaster and York. It is important first to note that the entire period of the War of the Roses is all encapsulated within one family’s feud. All individuals involved in the infamous war were all descendants of Edward III through his six sons (Pidgeon 2015, p.1). The cycle constitutes the Lancastrians and Yorkist playing “musical chairs” with England’s throne. It is difficult to assess the causes of the war of Roses because there are many theories and stories surrounding the war of Roses. Also, it involved a series of a battle fought from 1455 to 1485 between the house of York and the House of Lancaster in Medieval England. Besides, it is also difficult to assess what is all about the Flowers, how it started and the major events which took place.

            The term war of Roses refers to a series of conflict or a civil war that lasted from 1455 to 1485 in England. This makes it more difficult to assess its causes because these thirty years of the war of roses led to England’s destruction (Cook 2014, p.2). Most of the war of Roses fighting’s occurred in England. There was a much greater loss of properties and life in England. This war was as a result of the struggle between families. One of the families descended from Edward III. Conversely, the other families were descendants of Henry IV. Both the families were fighting in claim of the throne.

Henry IV overthrew King Richard II and murdered him. The Lancastrian factions were the supporters and descendants of Henry IV. The Yorkist faction was Edward IV’s descendants. They were associated with the northern England families.  It is difficult to assess the root causes of the war of the Roses because the Yorkist who was the Henry VI’s opponent vs the Lancastrians was the main cause (Axford 2016, p.252). This was due to the breakdown of social and government conditions contributing to the drift towards anarchy. Also, the feudal government had been employing a band of retainers or followers to retain wealthy Englishmen who came to have what was essentially a private army.

 The cycle began with Henry IV usurping the throne, bringing into the picture his grandson and his son, Henry VI and Henry V. Henry VI was supposedly the start to the War of the Roses because of his insufficiencies in politics, in judgment of others, in war strategy, and maintaining lands in France won by his father Henry V (McCalliste 2017, p.3). The York side of the War of the Roses derives from the Duke of York, who, along with Henry VI, had a legitimate claim to the throne (Watts 2014, p.107). It is impossible to tell, however, whether bastard feudalism, a facet of the social structure of the period, or Henry VI’s incompetency’s as king facilitated the onslaught of Yorkist or Lancastrian efforts to claim the throne. It is possible bastard feudalism, a system where gentry, a type of middle class of the era, would fight for powerful families or lords in exchange for allegiance to their “agendas” (Shepherd 2016, p.5). With these buyable armies, powerful families would be able to accomplish their political missions then. The availability of armies would make it easy for royals to pursue their claims to the throne.

            It is also difficult to assess and now what’s all this stuff about flowers. However, the exact image of flowers in the war of Roses was a late invention. Also, the exact image of roses is the general idea of a factional symbol of each rose originating in Shakespeare’s day (Pidgeon 2015, p.1). According to the writers in Renaissance literature, the white rose was linked with the house of York while the red rose was linked with the house of Lancaster (Wright 2016, p.112). For instance, in Henry IV, the major lords are depicted by Shakespeare as symbolically choosing their factions by plucking either red rose or white rose from the garden. However, during the medieval war of the Roses, nobody cared about the roses. Some of the causes of the wars of the roses were both housed to King Edward III’s descendants (Axford 2016, p.252). This brought a lot of mixed reactions because nobody could understand why Edward III’s descendants were fighting or causing war among themselves. Additionally, King Henry VI, the ruling Lancastrian king was surrounded with popular nobles (Shepherd, 2016, p.5). This could not allow him to operate as the king because he had many enemies who he had to fight. The civil unrest by the people also led to the wars of Roses because there was pressure coming both from the Yorkist side and the Lancastrian side to claim the throne (Wright 2016, p.112). Also, there were many powerful lords with their private enemies making it difficult for the right king to settle and rule effectively. Furthermore, Henry VI had untimely episodes of mental illnesses.

            Furthermore, it is difficult to assess how the war of Roses started due to many theories and stories surrounding it. During the beginning of this war, the current King’s right to the throne was challenged by the Duke of York, King Richard (Giancarlo 2016, p.338). However, King Richard II came from a similar family as Richard, the Duke of York. Henry IV was the Lancastrian king during this time. According to Duke of York, Henry IV’s descendants had no right to claim the throne. Furthermore, he argued that Henry IV unlawfully usurped the position. In 1461, Henry IV flees the county and King Edward IV who was the son of Richard became the king. In any case, despite Richard Duke of York having a viable claim to the throne, his death left his son, Edward IV claim to the throne (Cook 2014, p.3). Edward IV was successful in his usurpation of the throne, and was the first Yorkist king of England. Edward IV had supporters, although with the learning of his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville instead of the marriage to France’s King’s sister-in-law, his supporter Warwick joined sides with the Lancastrians which led to the first deposition of Edward IV and returned the throne to Henry VI.

The deposition of Edward IV was short-lived, because, with the support of Charles the Bold, he quickly took back the crown, Henry VI surrendered and was killed in the Tower, and Yorkist once again held the throne. The second part of his rule was a popular one, as most of what he did was to build faith back into the monarchy and rebuild from the financial destitution brought on by Henry VI (Axford 2016, p.252). He was thus regarded very well by the public along with Parliament. Without too much trouble, King Edward enjoyed ruling for the nine years. In 1470, Henry IV regained the throne briefly after returning with an army and. However, the power was wrestled away from him again by Edward IV.

Edward III won many victories. However, his death left many people sad. The next Yorkist ruler was Edward V. Edward V took power after the death of Edward IV. Edward IV died in 1483. However, Edward V was unusually capable and precocious since he was still a child (Watts 2014, p.107). The Duke of Gloucester, Richard III made himself the King while waiting for Edward V to become old enough to take power. He declared martial law and sent Edward and his younger brother into the London’s tower for the protection of the prince (McCallister 2017, p.3). Edward and his younger brother vanished mysteriously, presumably murdered. Richard III declared himself as the next king of the York after the disappearance of the two princes. He declared himself in the line for the throne because both the princes were out of the way. The mysterious disappearance of the two young princes created a lot of tension. Nobody could tell whether they were killed or not. But it is clear that Richard III murdered the two young princes because they were never seen again (Pidgeon 2015, p.1). Furthermore, Richard III immediately declared himself as the king leaving people surprised that there was something fishy about that move. Richard took the advantage because following the death of Edward, his sons Edward and Richard were unable to assume the throne following Parliaments ruling of Edward IV’s sons as illegitimate. Richard then was the one to assume the throne.

Richard III’s short two-year reign is filled with ambiguity, but his reign was, for the most part, received well. This is because people did not believe in him and everybody kept asking where the two young princes disappeared. However, he was a great military man and had proved himself during the previous reigns of kings (Axford 2016, p.252). Things begin to fog as we see the disappearance of the princes in the tower, which bring forth different views about Richard, who he was, and how it was that he even gained the throne, either by a scheme of simple coincidence. It is noted by most historians, that his demise and fall from the throne is not so much accredited to Henry Tudor’s skill, but the desertion of Richard’s close allies, such as Thomas Stanley, a baron to Richard III (Boylan 2015, p.26). It is with Richard III’s fall, and Henry Tudor’s size of the throne that the War of the Roses ended, and the cyclical change of Lancaster to York had broken.

However, the rule of King Richard III faced various troubles which came from the Lancastrian faction rebellion though he had strong support in England’s northern region. Many southerners were not happy with the mysterious murder of the young princes making the Lancaster house to continue fighting Richard III.  The struggle ended abruptly in 1985 at the battle of Bosworth. During this time, the Lancastrian faction won a decisive victory. Richard II was fought by an army raised by an obscure Welsh prince, Henry Tudor. Henry Tudor had a legitimate claim to the throne, and also, the house of Lancaster and Tudor had blood ties (Boylan 2015, p.26). This was because most of the Yorkist candidates and major Lancastrian killed each other during the war of Roses. This made Henry Tudor declare himself as King Henry VII. King Henry Tudor eliminated all of his enemies in the first year of his reign. Henry Tudor decided to marry the daughter of Edward IV’s to strengthen the claim by his descendants to the throne (Pidgeon 2015, p.1). Politically, this marriage was a brilliant move because Henry carried patrilineally the Lancastrian throne claim while Elizabeth carried patrilineally the Yorkist throne claim. Thus, all the children of Henry Tudor would have both Lancastrian and Yorkist blood. The son of Henry VII and Elizabeth became Henry VIII and fathered Queen Elizabeth in turn.

The major events which took place in the war also make it difficult to assess the causes of this war (Wright 2016, p.112). The major events were St. Albans’ first Battle which occurred in 1455. Another major event in the war of roses was the Bosworth Field Battle which occurred in 1485. St. Albans’ first Battle of 1455 was the first Battle in the war of Roses. During this time, a force of about 30,000 was led by Richard of York on a march towards London (Shepherd 2016, p.5). On the other hand, Henry VI relocated to London to interrupt the Yorkist army. Richard also invaded and conquered Henry (Watts 2014, p.118). In 1485 during the Bosworth Field Battle, Henry Tudor challenged Richard III and proclaimed himself as the king (Boylan, R., 2015, p.26). During this time, Richard moved to meet the army of Henry in Bosworth. However, Henry defeated the Yorkist, and in the process, Richard got killed. After that, Henry effectively ushered the rule of the House of Tudor which led to the termination of the war of the Roses.  

Despite the obvious continuities of the Lancaster and York feud, a great change was witnessed between the fourteenth and fifteenth century (Pidgeon 2015, p.1). Major changes are seen in military strategy aforementioned. Bastard feudalism, a type of mercenary military, allowed for rich and powerful families, in this case being the Lancaster’s and York, to buy up personal armies rather than armies employed by England itself. Bastard feudalism also had measures of assurance, since the lesser men were supported by, the greater men, which added an edge, especially in courts (Axford 2016, p.252). These “great men” or those with higher social stature would threaten the courts, most often threats of violence, to assure that their plans and pursuits were secured. The changes in military structure, as well as the insufficiencies of Henry VI together, culminated in the War of the Roses, a “musical chairs” game for the throne of England.

Overall, the term war of Roses refers to a series of conflict or a civil war that lasted from 1455 to 1485 in England. There is a lot of confusion when it comes to understanding this long conflict and its causes because of the various theories surrounding it. This war was termed by some individuals as the ‘cousins’ war’ because of a continuous change between Lancaster and York. It is essential to know that the entire period of the War of the Roses is all encapsulated within one family’s feud making it more difficult to understand. Every person who was involved in a war of Roses was the descendants of Edward III. The cycle of Edward III included the Lancastrians and Yorkist who were both claiming the throne. Many theories surrounding the cause of the war of Roses makes it more difficult to assess because these thirty years of the war of roses led to England’s destruction. The war of Roses led to greater loss of resources, properties and life as evidence in the disappearance of two young princes. St. Albans’ firs Battle which occurred in 1455 was the major events leading to the start of the war of Roses. Bosworth Field’s Battle was another major event in the war of roses which took place in 1485. Richard of York led a marching force towards London. Henry VI also relocated to London to seize the Yorkist army. During the 1485 Bosworth Field’s Battle in, Henry Tudor challenged Richard III by declaring himself as the king. Finally, the war of Roses ended in 1485 when the Yorkist king, Richard III was defeated at the Bosworth Battle by Henry Tudor.


Axford, M., 2016. The Split History of the Wars of the Roses (A Perspectives flip book). The School Librarian, 64(4), p.252.

Boylan, R., 2015. THE WARS OF THE ROSES the fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors. 26-26

Cook, D.R., 2014. Lancastrians and Yorkists: the Wars of the Roses. Routledge.1-10

Giancarlo, M., 2016. Romancing Treason: The Literature of the Wars of the Roses by Megan Leitch. Studies in the Age of Chaucer, 38(1), pp.338-341.

McCallister, K., 2017. Blood Royal: The Wars of the Roses: 1462-1485.

Pidgeon, L., 2015. Higginbotham, the Woodvilles the Wars of the Roses and England's Most Infamous Family (History Press, 2015).

Shepherd, J., 2016. The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses: Benedict Cumberbatch says filming the latest William Shakespeare adaptation was' brutal’.” independent. Co. uk. Last modified 8 May, 2016.

Watts, J., 2014. Popular Voices in England’s Wars of the Roses, c. 1445-c. 1485. In The Voices of the People in Late Medieval Europe: Communication and Popular Politics (pp. 107-122).

Wright, S.M., 2016. The crisis of the Yorkist succession. A/AS Level History for AQA The Wars of the Roses, 1450–1499 Student Book, 1450, p.112.

November 13, 2023

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