History of the Wars of the Roses
ROSES, WARS OF THE. The Series of Civil wars in England between the rival houses of Lancaster and York in the latter half of the fifteenth century. The struggle owed its name to the fact that the badge of the house of Lancaster was a red rose and that of the house of York a white rose. The house of Lancaster had obtained the throne of England in 1399 by an Act of Parliament which had deposed Richard II and given the crown to his cousin Henry IV. During the reigns of Henry IV and Henry V there was no open discontent, for the country was prosperous and under the latter King the military successes in France appealed to the national pride. But when Henry V died, in 1422, he left as heir a child of nine months, Henry VI, who, when he grew to manhood proved to be weak physically and mentally. Moreover, the country was exasperated by the loss of the French possessions (see HUNDRED YEARS' WAR), and the poor were in dire distress on account of the excessive taxation. Under such circumstances the people began to look to Richard, Duke of York, who, descended from Lionel, the second son of Edward III, had, if hereditary right was to be regarded, better claims to the throne than Henry VI, descended from John of Gaunt, the fourth son of Edward III. The first armed demonstration was Jack Cade's Rebellion (1450) , which began in Kent and was directed against the favorites of Henry VI. The chief demand of the insurgents was that the government should be placed in the hands of the Duke of York. This rising was easily suppressed, but in 1453 Henry VI became insane, and in 1454 the Duke of York was declared Protector. Henry VI, however, soon recovered his reason, and York, fearing destruction, took up arms. In general the country districts were Lancastrian, while the commercial centres (especially London) sided with the Yorkists. In 1455 the first battle of the war took place at St. Albans. York was victorious, and when, shortly after, Henry again became insane, the Protectorate was reŽstablished. In 1456 the King recovered his reason and the Duke of York resigned. Meanwhile, however, the Earl of Warwick, the most powerful supporter of the Yorkists, continued in rebellion until in 1460 the strife again became general. The royal army was defeated at Northampton and the King captured, and Parliament declared Richard heir to the crown, thus excluding Edward the son of Henry VI. This last action aroused the Queen, Margaret of Anjou (q.v.), and she collected an army in the North. On Dec. 31, 1460, the Duke of York was defeated and slain at Wakefield. His successor was his son Edward, Earl of March, who on Feb. 2, 1461, defeated some Lancastrian forces at Mortimer's Cross. Meanwhile Margaret was advancing on London and on her way defeated Warwick in the second battle of St. Albans on February 17 and released Henry, who had been in Warwick's hands. Edward hastened to London and on March 2, 1461, assumed the crown as Edward IV. On March 29 the decisive battle of Towton was fought. Edward was victorious, and Margaret fled with Henry to Scotland.
Since nearly all the great nobles were Lancastrians, Edward IV sought to conciliate the Commons and increased their privileges. The civil strife for a while went on in a desultory way. In 1462 Margaret was again in northern England, but in 1464 Warwick's brother, Lord Montague, defeated her at Hedgeley Moor and Hexham, and in 1465 Henry was captured and thrown into the Tower. Suddenly in 1469 Warwick deserted Edward IV for Henry VI. His followers were defeated at Stamford, but Warwick fled to France and there obtained aid from Louis XI and with his new forces landed in England. Edward IV escaped to Holland, and Henry VI was taken from the Tower and replaced on the throne. But Edward soon returned and on April 14, 1471, won the battle of Barnet, in which Warwick and Montague lost their lives. On May 4 Margaret was defeated at Tewkesbury, and her son was slain after the battle, while shortly after Henry VI was probably murdered in the Tower, whither he had been taken after the battle of Barnet.
The battle of Tewkesbury ended all effective resistance to the Yorkist rule until the reign of Richard III (q.v.). His unpopularity enabled the Duke of Richmond. the head of the house of Lancaster, to invade England in 1485. On Aug. 22, 1485, Richard III was defeated and slain at Bosworth Field, and Richmond became King as Henry VII (q.v.). On Jan. 18, 1486, Henry married Elizabeth, the daughter of Edward IV and heiress of the Yorkist family. Thus the rival dynasties were united. The chief results of the Wars of the Roses were the extirpation of the ancient nobility and the reduction of Parliament to the position of a tool of faction. This rendered possible the despotism of the Tudors. Consult: J. H. Ramsay, Lancaster and York (2 vols., Oxford, 1892); James Gairdner, The Houses of Lancaster and York. (10th impression, London, 1900); C. W. C. Oman, History of England from the Accession of Richard II to the Death of Richard III (New York, 1906); K. H. Vickers, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester (London, 1907).
The New International Encyclopaedia, Vol. XX (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1920) 159-160.