The Wars of the Roses was a dynastic battle for the English throne between two branches of the descendants of Edward III, York and Lancaster.
There was an ongoing legacy from the previous Hundred Years war, but I will focus on it from 1452, the year Richard III was born.
This is to commemorate the 530th anniversary of the Battle of Bosworth, the final major battle of the Wars of the Roses and the death of the last Plantagenet King.
The Reign of Henry VI
Henry VI was born in 1421 at Windsor Castle, and by 1452, he had been on the throne for 31 years.
He inherited it after the death of his father Henry V at the age of 9 months and was the youngest monarch in British history.
The country was ruled by a regency council before he came of age in 1437.
Henry also had a claim to the French throne, after his father’s triumph in France, but it wasn’t a simple succession.
In 1429, Charles VII was crowned in Reims Cathedral so the decision was made to crown Henry at Westminster Abbey 4 months after Charles, and then he was crowned in Paris in 1431.
As their were two kingdoms to protect, the council appointed his two uncles to lead the defense of the realm,
Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester in England, and John, Duke of Bedford in France where there was ongoing war.
Henry was a pious King, and he was totally unsuitable for the role he had to play.
He was quiet, shy and adverse to conflict and bloodshed. It was easy for him to lean heavily on a few noble favourites.
Henry negotiated a peace treaty with France, and this divided his court – His uncle Cardinal Henry Beaufort supported him, however Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester and his cousin (and Richard III’s father) Richard, Duke of York disagreed heavily in ending the war.
Richard, Duke of York had his own claim to the throne, as he was descended from the 1st Duke of York, Edmund, a son of Edward III.
In fact, he had a better claim to the throne than Henry, as he could trace his lineage to the 2nd and 4th sons of Edward III through both his parents, where in which Henry descended from just the 3rd son through his father.
In 1445, Henry married Margaret of Anjou at Tichfield Abbey to solidify the peace with France. Margaret was 15 years of age when she arrived in England, and would prove to be a force to be reckon with.
Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester was attained on treason charges in 1447 and imprisoned at Bury St. Edmunds.
He died before he came to trial, and it has been suggested this was due to poison.
Instrumental in his fall was Cardinal Beaufort, and his nephew Edmund, Earl of Somerset who had the trust of the King and the support of Margaret of Anjou.
Richard, Duke of York was named as Henry’s heir presumptive, but was sent from court to govern Ireland.
His nemesis the Earl of Somerset was created Duke of Somerset around the same time, this was controversial due to the fact that the rank of Duke is usually reserved for close relatives of the King.
Richard remained in Ireland for ca. 5 years when he was convinced to return to England in 1452, with one of his conditions
being the execution of the Duke of Somerset.
The King agreed to this, but Margaret of Anjou intervened to prevent it and Richard was on the outside once more.
The last years of Henry’s reign resulted in failed French campaigns and loss of territory. 1453 saw the fall of Bordeaux, and Henry lapsed into a catatonic state.
It is possible that he suffered from a congenital mental illness, passed down from his grandfather Charles VI of France.
His son Prince Edward of Lancaster was born this year, and sadly Henry wasn’t lucid enough to acknowledge that he had a son and heir.
Richard, Duke of York used this opportunity to gain the trust of the council and was named Protector of the Realm.
This was partly due to his alliance with Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick who was an extremely wealthy powerful noble. They were able to isolate Margaret of Anjou and govern during Henry’s incapacity.
The Duke of Somerset was imprisoned in the Tower of London during this time.
Henry regained his senses in December 1454, and released the Duke of Somerset.
Angered by this, the disaffected nobles the Earls of Warwick and Salisbury backed Richard, Duke of York’s claim to the throne and agreed that Richard would become Henry VI’s successor.
The first major battle was at the Battle of St. Albans in 1455 triggered by the exclusion of Richard, Duke of York and the Earl of Warwick from a council meeting.
The Duke of Somerset was killed, and Henry VI was captured. Richard, Duke of York was soon restored to the protectorate.
Margaret of Anjou was not happy about her son Edward being excluded from the succession and took up arms by gathering an army in the North of England.
Richard, Duke of York and his son Edmund, Earl of Rutland moved
north to suppress them and were killed at the Battle of Wakefield.
Margaret of Anjou ordered their heads be put on spikes on Micklegate Bar in York, with a paper crown to grace Richard’s head in insult.
They were buried in Pontefract, and later re-interred at Fotheringhay.
The victorious Lancastrian army marched south and released Henry VI, but couldn’t take London and retreated north once more.
Richard’s claim continued through his son Edward, Earl of March and the Lancastrian cause was soundly defeated by Edward in the Battle of Towton.
This was a short 4 months after the death of his father, and he was then proclaimed Edward IV, leaving England with two Kings!
After the Lancastrian defeat at Towton, Margaret of Anjou and Henry VI fled into exile in Scotland with their son.
To be continued……
Next blog will be from the perspective of Edward IV’s reign, picking up from the events post the Battle of Towton.