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Wars of the Roses (1455 – 1487)

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The War of the Roses was the armed conflict between groups of the English nobility in the years 1455-1485 in the struggle for power between the supporters of the two Dynasty branches Plantagenet – Lancaster, and York. The war ended in the victory of Henry Tudor from the side branch of the Lancaster House, which founded a dynasty that ruled England and Wales for 117 years. The war brought considerable destruction and disaster to the people of England. During the conflict, a large number of representatives of the English feudal aristocracy died.

The Causes of the War

The cause of the war was the dissatisfaction of a large part of English society with setbacks in the Hundred Years’ War and the policies pursued by King Henry VI’s wife, Queen Margarita (the king himself was a weak-willed man and became insane). The opposition was led by Duke Richard of York, who first demanded regency over the incompetent king, and later – the English crown.

A flammable element was numerous professional soldiers who, after the defeat in the war with France, were out of work and, being in large numbers, posed a grave danger to the royal authority. War was customary for these people, so they willingly engaged in the service of the great English barons, who significantly enlarged their armies at their expense. Thus, their authority and authority of the king were greatly undermined by the increased military power of the nobles.

Names and Symbols

Name “War of the Roses” was not used during the war. Roses were the distinguishing marks of the two warring parties. Who exactly used them for the first time is unknown. The term came into use in the 19th century, after the publication of the novel. Although roses were sometimes used as symbols during the war, most participants used symbols associated with their feudal lords or defenders. Evidence of the importance of rose symbols rose when King Henry VII at the end of the war combined the red and white rose fractions into a single red and white Tudor Rose. The names of competing factions have little in common with the cities of York and Lancaster or the counties of Yorkshire and Lancashire.

Participants in the Conflict

The conflict involved mainly representatives of the English feudal aristocracy with detachments of their servants and supporters, as well as a small number of foreign mercenaries. Support for the opposing sides was largely determined by dynastic factors. The so-called system of “bastard feudalism” was one of the main factors that influenced the fall of the authority and influence of royal power and the escalation of armed conflict. Service in exchange for land and gifts remained important, but it was not determined by feudal tradition.

The sides’ armies were represented by numerous feudal detachments of professional soldiers, as well as detachments of soldiers called into service by special royal orders. Warriors from the lower social strata were mainly archers. The number of archers traditionally exceeded the number of soldiers  3:1. Warriors traditionally fought on foot. The cavalry was used only for reconnaissance and gathering provisions and forage, as well as for transportation. In the battles, the commanders often dismounted to inspire the troops. Artillery began to appear in large numbers, as well as hand-held firearms.

Main Events of the War

Confrontations passed into open war in 1455, in the First Battle of St. Albans. The victory was celebrated by York, after which the English Parliament declared Richard York the protector of the kingdom and the heir of Henry VI. However, in 1460, Richard died at the Battle of Wakefield. The party of the White Rose was led by his son Edward, and in 1461 crowned in London as Edward IV. In the same year, York won victories at Mortimer Cross and at Taunton. As a result of the last battle, the main forces of the Lancastrians were defeated, and King Henry VI and Queen Margarita fled the country (the king was soon caught and imprisoned in the Tower of London).

Active hostilities resumed in 1470, when the Count of Warwick and the Duke of Clarence (the youngest brother of Edward IV), who had joined the Lancastrians, returned Henry VI to the throne. Edward IV, with his other brother, the Duke of Gloucester, fled to Burgundy, from where they returned in 1471. The Duke of Clarence again turned to his brother’s side – and York won at Barnet and Tewkesbury. In the first of these battles, Earl Warwick was killed; in the second, Prince Edward, the only son of Henry VI, died.

Results of the War

Historians are still discussing the true extent of the conflict’s impact on medieval English life. There is no doubt that the War led to a political upheaval and a change in the established balance of power. The most obvious result was the collapse of the Plantagenet dynasty, which was replaced by the new Tudor dynasty, which changed England over the following years. In subsequent years, the remnants of the Plantagenet factions, without direct access to the throne, were dispersed.

The accession of the Tudors in 1485 is considered the beginning of the New Time in English history. On the other hand, it is also assumed that the horrific impact of the war was exacerbated by Henry VII, in order to extol its’ achievements in its’ end and to ensure peace. Of course, the effect of war on merchants and peasants was much less than in wars in France and elsewhere in Europe, filled with mercenaries who were directly interested in continuing the war. Although there were several long sieges, they were in comparatively remote and sparsely populated areas. In heavily populated areas belonging to both factions, the opponents, in order to prevent the devastation of the territories, were looking for a quick solution to the conflict in the form of a general battle.

The post-war period was also the end for armies that fueled the conflict. Henry VII, fearing further struggle, kept the lords under strict control, forbidding them to train, hire, arm or supply an army so that they could not start a war with each other, or with the king.

Sources:

  • White and scarlet roses // Encyclopaedic dictionary of Brockhaus and Efron
  • Brown ED. Wars Rose: History. Mythology. Historiography.
  • Lander Jack R. Wars Rose
  • Norwich D. History of England and Shakespeare’s Kings
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