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War of the Roses

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War of the Roses

White roses against red roses. What does it mean? The War of the Roses was an English civil war that lasted thirty years. The two sides were noble houses, York and Lancaster. Each felt they had a claim to the English throne. So how did this conflict happen, and how did it end? Let's explore this article to learn about the most important battles, a map of the conflict, and a timeline!

What about the getting of the garland, keeping it, losing and winning it again? It hath cost more English blood than twice the winning of France.

–William Shakespeare, Richard III.

Origins of the War of the Roses

The houses of York and Lancaster were both descended from King Edward III (1312-1377). He had four sons who lived to adulthood with his queen Philippa of Hainault. However, his eldest son, Edward the Black Prince, died before his father, and according to the law of the land, the crown passed to the Black Prince's son, who became Richard II (r. 1377-1399). However, Richard's kingship was not popular with Edward's other son, John of Gaunt (1340-1399).

John instilled his dissatisfaction with not inheriting the throne in his son, Henry of Bolingbroke, who overthrew Richard II to become King Henry IV in 1399. Thus the two branches of the War of the Roses were born–those descended from Henry IV became the Lancasters, and those descended from Edward III's elder son Lionel, Duke of Clarence (Richard II had no children), became the Yorks.

Wars of the Roses Flags

The Wars of the Roses are called such because each side, York and Lancaster, chose a different color of rose to symbolize them. The Yorks used the white rose to represent them, and the Lancasters chose red. Tudor King Henry VIII took Elizabeth of York as his queen when the Wars ended. They combined the white and red roses to make the Tudor Rose.

The War of the Roses (1455-1485), White Rose of York, StudySmarter

The White Rose of the House of York. Source: Sodacan, CC-BY-SA-3.0, Wikimedia Commons
The War of the Roses (1455-1485), the red rose of Lancaster, StudySmarter
The Red Rose of the House of Lancaster. Source: Sodacan, CC-BY-SA-3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Causes of the War of the Roses

King Henry V conquered France in a decisive victory in the Hundred Years' War (1337-1453) at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. He died suddenly in 1422, leaving his one-year-old son as King Henry VI (1421-1471). However, unlike his hero father, Henry VI was weak and mentally unstable, quickly squandering England's victory and causing political unrest. The king's weakness caused those closest to him to doubt his ability to rule England effectively.

Two opposite factions in the nobility appeared. On the one hand, Henry's cousin Richard, Duke of York, openly objected to the monarchy's domestic and foreign policy decisions.

Richard, Duke of York (1411-1460)

Richard descended from an elder son of Edward III than King Henry VI, which meant that his claim to the throne was stronger than Henry's. Richard disagreed with the king's decision to yield to France's demands to relinquish conquered territory and marry a French princess to end the Hundred Years War. In 1450, he became the opposition movement leader against the king and his government. He said he did not want to replace the king but became Protector of the Realm in 1453 after Henry had a mental breakdown.

However, Richard had a formidable opponent in Henry VI's queen, Margaret of Anjou (1430-1482), who would stop at nothing to keep the Lancastrians in power. She formed the royalist party around her weak husband, and the clash between York and Lancaster began.

Margaret of Anjou was a shrewd political player in the War of the Roses, earning the title "She-Wolf of France" from William Shakespeare. She married Henry VI as part of a treaty with France to end the Hundred Years War and controlled the Lancastrian government for much of her reign. Seeing Richard of York as a challenge to her husband's rule, in 1455, she called a Great Council of government officials and did not invite Richard or his family. This snub sparked the thirty-year War of the Roses between the Yorks and the Lancasters.

Wars of the Roses Map

Even though the War of the roses involved the whole kingdom, not every region of England saw the same grade of violence. Most battles happened south of the Humber and north of the Thames. The first and last battles were the Battle of St. Alban (May 22, 1455) and the Battle of Bosworth (August 22, 1485).

War of the Roses (1455-1485), Plantagenet's England at war, StudySmarter

A map of the battles fought in the War of the Roses. Source: Westport Library

War of the Roses Timeline

Let us take a look at the timeline

BattleWhy it happenedWho won?Results
May 22, 1455: The First Battle of St. Albans. Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou resisted Richard of York's protectorshipStalemateHenry VI was captured, Richard of York was renamed Protector, but Queen Margaret seized government control, excluding the Yorkists
October 12, 1459: The Battle of Ludford Bridge The Yorkist Earl of Warwick engaged in piracy to pay his troops, which infuriated the crown. Instead of answering the charges against him, his men attacked the royal household.LancasterQueen Margaret seized lands and property from the Yorkists.
July 10, 1460: The Battle of Northampton Yorkists seized the port and town of SandwichYorkThe Yorkists captured Henry VI. Many Lancastrian forces joined the Yorkists, and Queen Margaret fled. Richard of York was again declared Protector.
December 30, 1460: The Battle of Wakefield The Lancasters fought against Richard of York's position as Protector and the Parliament's Act of Accord, which made Richard's, not Henry's son after Henry VI died.LancasterRichard of York was killed in battle
March 9, 1461: Battle of TowtonRevenge for Richard of York's deathYorkHenry VI was deposed as king and replaced by Richard of York's son, Edward IV (1442-1483). Henry and Margaret fled to Scotland
June 24, 1465The Yorkists searched for the king in ScotlandYorkHenry was captured by the Yorkists and imprisoned in the Tower of London.
May 1, 1470The coup against Edward IVLancasterEdward IV's advisor, the Earl of Warwick, changed sides and forced him off the throne, restoring Henry VI. The Lancastrians took power
May 4, 1471: Battle of Tewkesbury Yorkists fought back after Edward IV's overthrowYorkThe Yorkists captured and defeated Magaret of Anjou. Shortly afterward, Henry VI died in the Tower of London. Edward IV again became king until he died in 1483.
June 1483Edward IV diedYorkEdward's brother Richard seized control of the government, declaring Edward's sons illegitimate. Richard became King Richard III (1452-1485).
August 22, 1485: The Battle of Bosworth Field Richard III was unpopular because he stole power from his nephews and probably killed them.TudorHenry Tudor (1457-1509), the last Lancastrian, defeated the Yorkists. Richard III died in battle, making Henry King Henry VII the first king of the Tudor dynasty.

War of the Roses: A Summary of the End

The new King Henry VII married Edward IV's daughter, Elizabeth of York (1466-1503). This alliance merged the York and Lancaster houses under a shared banner, the Tudor Rose. Although there would still be power struggles to maintain the Tudor dynasty's power during the new king's reign, the War of the Roses was over.

War of the Roses (1455-1485) Rose of both houses StudySmarter

The Tudor Rose, combining York White and Lancaster Red.
Source: Sodacan, CC-BY-SA-3.0, Wikimedia Commons

War of the Roses - Key takeaways

  • The War of the Roses was an English civil war between 1455 and 1485 over control of the English throne.
  • The noble houses of York and Lancaster both shared King Edward III as an ancestor, and much of the fighting was over who had the better claim to the crown.
  • The major players for the Yorkist side were Richard, Duke of York, his son who became King Edward IV, and Edward's brother, who became King Richard III.
  • The major Lancastrian players were King Henry VI, Queen Margaret of Anjou, and Henry Tudor.
  • The War of the Roses ended in 1485 when Henry Tudor defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field, then married Edward IV's daughter Elizabeth of York to combine the two noble houses.

Frequently Asked Questions about War of the Roses

Henry VII and the Lancastrian/Tudor side.

He defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 and married Elizabeth of York to combine the two noble houses of York and Lancaster under the new Tudor dynasty.

The War of the Roses was a civil war for control over the English monarchy between two noble houses, both descended from King Edward III.

Thirty years, from 1455-1485.

Approximately 28,000 people died in the War of the Roses.

Final War of the Roses Quiz

Question

When did the War of the Roses begin?

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Answer

1455

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Question

What year did the War of the Roses end?

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Answer

1485

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Question

Who was NOT a member of the Yorkist faction?

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Answer

Margaret of Anjou

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Question

Who was NOT a member of the Lancastrian faction?

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Answer

Edward IV

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Question

Which house represents the White Rose?

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Answer

York

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Which house represents the Red Rose?

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Answer

Lancaster

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Question

What was the first battle of the War of the Roses?

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Answer

The Battle of St. Albans

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What was the final battle of the War of the Roses?

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Answer

The Battle of Bosworth Field

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Who was Henry Tudor?

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Answer

The last Lancastrian, who overthrew Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field and became King Henry VII, the first Tudor King.

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Who was Richard III?

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Answer

Brother of King Edward IV. After Edward's death, he declared his brother's sons illegitimate and seized the crown for himself.

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Who was Margaret of Anjou?

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Answer

As Henry VI's queen, Margaret led the Lancastrian faction against Richard of York. She was the major political player for her side due to Henry VI's frequent illnesses.

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