Wars of the Roses
In the 1450's, England was in a state of confusion. It was still in weak condition following the Hundred Years War with France. England had suffered a massive defeat. The war drained away much of England's money. Many unemployed soldiers had no way to make a living. In addition, King Henry VI of the House of Lancaster was unfit to rule because of a mental condition. Richard, Duke of York, stood in for the king while he had a very bad bout of illness. When the king had recovered, Richard didn't want to give up the power. A war began between the Houses of Lancaster and York. The first battle took place in 1455 in St. Albans.
Henry VI could not mentally control the throne, so his wife, Margaret of Anjou made the decisions for him. She made many alliances for the House of Lancaster. She also was responsible for the death of Richard of York and rescuing Henry from the enemy. At one point, she was forced to flee to France, but she still made plans there. York's son Edward IV had placed himself on the throne.
Although the Wars continued for more than thirty years, only about 20 important battles occurred. In March, 1461, Edward IV's forces of York went to battle against the Lancasters, the forces of Margaret. Near the village of Towton, in a violent snowstorm, the forces met. As many as 80,000 men at first shot many volleys of arrows and then came together in hand-to-hand fighting. After ten hours, Edward's forces drove off the forces of the Lancastrians.
In this battle perhaps 40,000 men died, the worst losses ever in British history. Edward IV was back on the throne. In 1470, Margaret was the power which organized an invasion of England which allowed Henry VI, her husband, to take back the throne for a brief time. She was vicious and frequently executed her rivals.
Many defections occurred during these wars. People took first one side, then the other. For example, in 1470, the Earl of Warwick, who supported Edward IV, turned around and supported the king's brother, the Duke of Clarence, against Edward. That attempt to unseat Edward failed. Warwick and Clarence fled to France to join Margaret for the brief invasion to England. Warwick was killed in battle, and Clarence went back to support Edward. Margaret was captured at a later point. Henry VI and his son were killed. The house of Lancaster was destroyed.
Edward IV won the throne back again and ruled for several years. However, Edward died in 1483. His heirs fought over the throne and were murdered. Both Richard III of York and Henry Tudor gained the throne at different points. After Edward IV died in 1483, his uncle, the Duke of Gloucester, put Edward's young sons in prison and took over the throne as Richard III. Some of the members of the House of York stopped supporting Richard III.
Henry Tudor of the House of Lancaster came to England in 1485 and wanted to make a claim to the throne of England. He met the forces of Richard III on August 22, 1485, in Bosworth Field. Henry Tudor won and was made Henry VII. Richard III was killed.
Henry joined the two houses of Lancaster and York by marrying Elizabeth, daughter of Edward IV. This new house of Tudor reigned until the early 1600's. The term 'Wars of the Roses' was made up in the 1800s. Before that it was called the 'Cousins' War.' The white rose was sometimes used by the family of York. The red rose was probably taken up by the House of Lancaster in the 1480s.
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