Roses, Wars of the

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Roses, Wars of the. Once applied to the whole of the 15th cent., the name is now given to the sequence of plots, rebellions, and battles that took place between 1455 and 1487. They are so called because of the notion that, fought between the dynasties of Lancaster and York, Lancaster was represented by a red rose, York by a white. In fact the idea of the warring roses was invented by Henry VII after he seized the throne in 1485. He claimed to be the heir of Lancaster and represented his marriage to Elizabeth of York, the heiress of Edward IV, as the union of the red and white roses, bringing peace and prosperity after the war and ruin of the preceding decades. While the actual phrase ‘Wars of the Roses’ did not appear until the 19th cent., the idea of the warring roses was rooted in Tudor propaganda.

There were three distinct phases of civil war: between 1455 and 1464; 1469 and 1471; and 1483 and 1487. In the first two fighting for the control of royal government led to outright war for possession of the crown; the third was dynastic from the start. There was also a strong element of rivalry for local dominance, especially in northern England between the Percies and the Nevilles. The scale of the fighting and the extent of disorder were much exaggerated by Tudor writers. The most intense period was between July 1460 and March 1461, but as a whole there were barely more than two years' military activity throughout the thirty-year period. Civilian casualties and physical destruction were light; most were able to go about their normal affairs.

Nevertheless, especially in 1459–61 and 1469–71, there was considerable instability as the houses of Lancaster and York competed for the throne. In 1455 the duke of York led his supporters in a successful rebellion against Henry VI. In 1459 they rebelled again, were at first defeated, but were victorious at Northampton in July 1460. Four months later York claimed the throne for himself. Although he was defeated and killed at the battle of Wakefield, his heir Edward seized the throne and won a decisive victory at Towton. In 1469 Edward in his turn faced rebellion from Warwick the Kingmaker. Warwick too endeavoured to rule the kingdom by force, but also found it impossible, and resorted to the restoration of Henry VI. Edward IV, however, had the last word, defeating Warwick at Barnet and a Lancastrian army at Tewkesbury. The virtual destruction of the Lancastrians seemed to have brought the wars to an end. They were reopened when Edward's brother Richard III made himself king in 1483. Henry Tudor then emerged as a claimant to the throne. Leading an alliance of die-hard Lancastrians and supporters of the deposed Edward V, he swept to power at Bosworth in August 1485. He brought the wars effectively to an end when he defeated a Yorkist invasion at Stoke (by Newark, Notts.) in 1487.

In the later 20th cent., historians much debated the origins and causes of the wars. Some, arguing that in 15th-cent. politics everything rested on the fitness of the king to rule, put the entire blame on the shoulders of Henry VI. But there were deeper causes in the social, economic, and political trends of the later Middle Ages, which suggest that any monarch would have faced severe problems. Nevertheless the recovery of royal authority under the Tudors was rapid. No great political or social change resulted: the old feudal nobility did not destroy itself, nor did the Tudors represent a new middle class. The most lasting impact of the Wars of the Roses has been on the historical imagination. Lewis Carroll used his schoolboy knowledge of them as a recurring motif in Alice in Wonderland. And they have come to be a byword for anarchy: the last months of the Callaghan administration in 1979 were dubbed with telling effect ‘the Winter of Discontent’ from the opening line of Shakespeare's Richard III.

Anthony James Pollard

Bibliography

Ross, C. D. , Wars of the Roses (1976).

Roses, Wars of the

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Roses, Wars of the (1455–85) English dynastic civil wars. They are named after the badges of the rival royal Houses of York (white rose) and Lancaster (red rose). Both Houses descended from Edward III. Richard, Duke of York, challenged the Lancastrian King Henry VI, and gained brief ascendancy after the Battle of St Albans (1455). The Lancastrians recovered control, but in 1460 Richard, supported by the powerful Earl of Warwick, forced Henry to recognize him as his heir. Richard was killed months later, but the Yorkist victory at Towton (1461) put his son on the throne as Edward IV. In 1469, Warwick changed sides and Edward was deposed, but he returned to win the decisive victory of Tewkesbury (1471). A final phase of the Wars began with the seizure of the throne by Richard III in 1483. He was defeated and killed at Bosworth, when Henry Tudor (Henry VII) became King with support from both Houses.

Wars of the Roses

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Wars of the Roses the 15th-century English civil wars between the Houses of York and Lancaster, represented by white and red roses respectively, during the reigns of Henry VI, Edward IV, and Richard III. The struggle was largely ended in 1485 by the defeat and death of the Yorkist king Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth and the accession of the Lancastrian Henry Tudor ( Henry VII), who united the two houses by marrying Elizabeth, daughter of Edward IV.