War of the Roses (Civil War)

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The Wars of the Roses, 1455 to 1487, is the name generally given to the intermittent civil war fought over the throne of England between adherents of the House of Lancaster and the House of York. Both houses were branches of the Plantagenet royal house, tracing their descent from King Edward III. The name Wars of the Roses was not used at the time, but has its origins in the badges chosen by the two royal houses, the Red Rose of Lancaster and the White Rose of York.

Shakespeare's Henry VI, depicts the wars' beginning with the plucking of two roses in the Temple gardens in London

Shakespeare's Henry VI, depicts the wars' beginning with the plucking of two roses in the Temple gardens in London

The Wars were fought largely by armies of mounted knights and their feudal retainers. The House of Lancaster found most of its support in the north and west of the country, while support for the House of York came mainly from the south and east. The Wars of the Roses, with their heavy casualties among the nobility, were a major factor in the weakening of the feudal power of the nobles, leading to the growth of a strong, centralised monarchy under the Tudors.


The House of York, headed by the powerful and popular Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, challenged the fitness and legitimacy of the Lancastrian King Henry VI. The King was surrounded by unpopular regents and advisors who were blamed for mismanaging the government and poorly executing the Hundred Years War in France, having lost nearly all of the land conquered by Henry V. Henry VI was a weak, ineffectual king, and he suffered from embarrassing episodes of mental illness. By the 1450s many considered Henry incapable of rule. The short line of Lancastrian kings had already been plagued by questions of legitimacy, and the House of York believed they had a slightly stronger claim to the throne - they claimed lineage from the elder of two of Edward III's sons, Lionel, Duke of Clarence, and John of Gaunt. Growing civil discontent, the abundance of feuding nobles with private armies, and corruption in Henry VI's court made the political climate ready for civil war.

When, in 1453, King Henry suffered the first of several bouts of mental illness, a Council of Regency was set up, headed by Richard, Duke of York, in the role of Lord Protector. Richard now began to press his claim to the throne with ever greater boldness. Henry's recovery in 1455 thwarted Richard's ambitions, and he was soon after driven from the royal court by Henry's queen, Margaret of Anjou. Since Henry was an ineffectual leader, the powerful and aggressive Queen Margaret emerged as the de facto leader of the Lancastrian faction. Queen Margaret built up an alliance against Richard and conspired to reduce his assets. Richard resorted to armed hostilities in 1455 at the First Battle of St Albans.

The disputed succession

Opinions may vary as to when the Wars of the Roses began and ended, but the armed conflict was concentrated in the period 1455-1485. The antagonism between the two houses, however, originated with the overthrow of King Richard II of England by his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Lancaster, in 1399. Bolingbroke, crowned as Henry IV, had a poor claim to the throne and was tolerated as king only because Richard had been unpopular. Henry's heir, Henry V of England, was a great soldier and gained a firm hold on the reins of power but did not lack enemies. One of these was Richard, Earl of Cambridge, a son of Edmund of Langley and thus grandson of King Edward III of England. Cambridge was executed (1415) for treason at the start of the campaign leading up to the Battle of Agincourt.

Cambridge's wife, Anne Mortimer, also had a claim to the throne, being descended from Lionel of Antwerp, an older son of Edward III. Their son, Richard, Duke of York, grew up to challenge the feeble King Henry VI of England for the crown. At first appointed "Protector", he grew more ambitious and was at loggerheads with Henry's queen, Margaret of Anjou, especially after the birth of her son, Edward of Westminster.

The initial phase

Richard, Duke of York, led a small force toward London, and was met by Henry VI's forces at St Albans, north of London, on May 22, 1455. The relatively small First Battle of St Albans was the first open conflict of the civil war. Richard's aim was ostensibly to remove "poor advisors" from King Henry's side. With his victory, the Duke of York regained his position as Protector, and was also promised the succession by Henry, thus disinheriting Prince Edward of Westminster, much to the disgust of Queen Margaret.

After the first Battle of St Albans attempts were made to achieve a permanent settlement of the grievances which had given rise to the conflict, and for a while the compromise of 1455 seemed to enjoy some success. However, the problems which had caused conflict soon re-emerged, particularly the issue of whether the Duke of York, or Henry and Margaret's son, Edward would succeed to the throne. Queen Margaret refused to accept any solution that would disinherit her son, and it became clear that she would only tolerate the situation for as long as the Duke of York and his allies retained the military ascendancy. In the years up to 1459 both sides continued to raise armed support, with the Queen introducing conscription for the first time in England.

Hostilities resumed on September 23, 1459 at the Battle of Blore Heath in Staffordshire, when a large Lancastrian army failed to prevent a Yorkist force under Lord Salisbury marching from Middleham Castle in Yorkshire and linking up with York at Ludlow Castle. The Battle of Northampton on July 10, 1460 proved even more disastrous for the Lancastrian cause. A Yorkist army under Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick - "the Kingmaker", aided by treachery in the Lancastrian ranks, captured King Henry.

Queen Margaret, however, managed to escape, and immediately began raising a new army in Wales and the north of England, moving her headquarters to York. She gained a major success at the Battle of Wakefield on December 30th, 1460, when the army of the Duke of York and the Earl of Salisbury was destroyed. Margaret ordered the beheading of the Duke of York and the Earl of Salisbury and the placing of their heads on the gates of the city of York. Margaret followed up with a victory at St Albans on 22 February 1461, at which she defeated the Yorkist forces of the Earl of Warwick and recaptured her husband.

Yorkist triumph

Lancastrian success proved to be illusory, however, since the Duke of York's claim to the throne was immediately taken forward by his eldest son, Edward, an outstanding warrior who prevailed over the Lancastrians at the Battle of Towton in 1461 to become King Edward IV of England. With Margaret fleeing the country, Edward was able to rule in relative peace for ten years.

In the North, Edward could never really claim to have complete control until 1464, as apart from rebellions, several castles with their Lancastrian commanders held out for years. Dunstanburgh, Alnwick (the Percy family seat) and Bamburgh were some of the last to fall. The very last Lancastrian stronghold to surrender was the mighty fortress of Harlech, (Wales) in 1468 after a seven year long siege.

In Rishton.

Sir Edmund Talbot of the Holt Manor in Rishton died in 1462, and was succeeded by his son Thomas, who in 1464 played an ignoble part in our history, not just of Rishtons, but the entire Country.

It was the most unfortunate, most amiable, and weakest of the Lancastrian Kings, Henry VI, who was in hiding for 12 months at Bolton Hall, home to Sir Ralph Pudsey.

Henry was entertained for a short time at Waddington Hall as well, which was the home of another Gentleman who had supported the the Kings interests, this man was Sir John Tempest.

Sir Thomas Talbot had married Alicia, the daughter of Sir John Tempest de Bracewell, and had probably discovered the Kings hiding place through his father-in-law. Talbot made himself the ring leader of a small band of men, which included other heads of important families, as well as Sir John Talbot de Salesbury, who was a cousin of Sir Thomas.

Leyland related the manner in which the King was betrayed and abused thus:-

"King Henry was taken in Clithereoode by side of Brungerley hipping (stepping) stones in Lancastershyre, by Thomas Talbot, of Bashall, and John Talbot, his cousin of Colebry (Salesbury), which decieved him, being at his dyner in Waddyngton Haul, and brought to London, with his legges bounde to the sterropes."

The house at Waddington was beset upon, but the King contrived to escape, and fled by a secret passage, hoping to put the river between himself and his pursuers, but his enemies were to many and to eager for him. He was captured, some say when attempting to cross the stepping stones, and others say after he crossed them and fled into Clitheroe Wood close by. He was escorted to London in the most derogatory manner, with his legs tied to the stirrups of the horse on which his captors mounted him, and an insulting placard fixed to his shoulders. He was paraded through the streets of London as an object of scorn and thrown into the tower.

Sir Thomas Talbot meanwhile, the ringleader of this coup, received £100, together with his costs and charges. The others also received grants from the Yorkist King, Edward IV, but early in the reign of Richard III, who was the son of Edward IV, Sir Thomas was further granted an annuity of £40. His sons also received annuities from King Richard III:

  • Edmund, the heir - £20

  • William - £15

  • Thomas - £10

In a letter patent addressed by Richard III from York to Sir Thomas Talbot in 1484, we find that Richard refers to Henry VI as "our great adversary late in fact but right King of England".

This plot was probably hatched at Bashall Hall, which was only a short distance from Waddington Hall, about a mile and a half. Sir Thomas Talbot was a Yorkist and a descendant of Yorkist, and without doubt he sacrificed his late King because of his intense loyalty to the King of his own County. His enmity to the Lancastrian King might have been due to his intense hatred for the Lancastrian family of the de Rishtons, whose estates completely surrounded the Talbot manor of Holt.

In 1465, the year after the betrayal of Henry VI, Thomas Wilkinson, the vicar of Halifax and many other Halifax men with certain other strong fellows from the Countryside marched into Lancashire to do battle with the Talbots. The Talbots however were forewarned and raised an army of men and met them at Burnley. Weather a skirmish took place or not is unknown, but the visitation shows that not all Yorkshire men were happy with the demise of the Lancastrian King.

There were two Lancastrian revolts in 1464 and twice the houses of York and Lancaster clashed; once at the Battle of Hedgeley Moor on the 25th April and once at the Battle of Hexham, soon after on 15th May 1464. Both revolts were put down by John Neville, 1st Marquess of Montagu.

However, Edward's mentor, the powerful Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick - "the Kingmaker" - changed sides after being slighted (this is when the manor house was destroyed) by the young king, and transferred his allegiance to Henry VI's Queen, Margaret of Anjou, triumphing over Edward at the Battle of Edgecote Moor on July 26th, 1469, and restoring Henry briefly to the throne in 1470.

Warwick's success was short-lived. With assistance from Burgundy, Edward returned and defeated Warwick at the Battle of Barnet in 1471. The remaining Lancastrian forces were destroyed at the Battle of Tewkesbury and Edward of Westminster, the Lancastrian heir to the throne was killed. Henry VI was murdered shortly afterwards (14 May 1471), to strengthen the Yorkist hold on the throne.

Richard III

Peace was restored for the remainder of Edward's reign, but the Yorkist king died suddenly, in 1483, when his heir, Edward V, was a mere 12-year-old boy. Edward IV's brother, Richard III took charge of both the boy king and his younger brother, keeping them "protected" in the Tower of London. Having secured the boys, Richard then alleged that Edward IV's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville had been illegal, and that the two boys were therefore illegitimate. Parliament gave the throne to Richard III and the two princes in the tower were gradually forgotten and possibly murdered.

Richard was the finest general on the Yorkist side, thus many accepted him as a ruler better able to keep the Yorkists in power than a boy who would have to rule through a committee of regents. Lancastrian hopes, on the other hand, now centred on Henry Tudor, whose father, Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond, had been an illegitimate half-brother of Henry VI. It was through his mother, however, Margaret Beaufort, a descendant of Edward III, that Henry's claim to the throne rested, but it was derived from a grandson of Edward III's who was also illegitimate.

The final phase

Henry Tudor's forces defeated Richard's at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 and Henry Tudor became King Henry VII of England. Henry then strengthened his position by marrying Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV, and the best surviving Yorkist claimant. He thus reunited the two royal houses, merging the rival symbols of the red and white roses into the new emblem of the red and white Tudor Rose. Henry shored up his position by executing all other possible claimants whenever he could lay hands on them, a policy his son Henry VIII continued.

Many historians would consider the accession of Henry VII to mark the end of the Wars of the Roses. However some would argue that the Wars of the Roses concluded only with the Battle of Stoke in 1487, which arose from the appearance of a pretender to the throne, a boy named Lambert Simnel who bore a close physical resemblance to the young Earl of Warwick, the best surviving male claimant of the House of York. (The plan was doomed from the start, because the young earl was still alive and in King Henry's custody, so no one could seriously doubt Simnel was an imposter.) It was at the Battle of Stoke that Henry defeated forces led by John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln - who had been named by Richard III as his heir, but had been reconciled with Henry after Bosworth - thus effectively removing the remaining Yorkist opposition. Simnel was pardoned for his part in the rebellion and sent to work in the royal kitchens.


The following is a simplified family tree including members of the English royal family.



  • Henry VI (Lancastrian)

  • Edward IV (Yorkist)

  • Edward V (Yorkist)

  • Richard III (Yorkist)

  • Henry VII (Lancastrian)

Prominent antagonists 1455-1487


  • Richard, Duke of York

  • Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick (Kingmaker)

  • Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury

  • John Neville, 1st Marquess of Montagu

  • William Neville Lord Fauconberg, Earl of Kent

  • Bastard of Fauconberg


  • Sir Henry Percy, 2nd Earl of Northumberland

  • Henry Percy, 3rd Earl of Northumberland

  • Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset

  • Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick (changed sides)

  • Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke

  • Lord Clifford


Roses BattlesA list of the battles of the War of the Roses.
Henry VIHenry VI involement in the War of the Roses.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wars_of_the_Roses (All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License Copyrights for details).

External links

  • WarsOfTheRoses.com includes a map, timeline, info on major players and summaries of each battle.

  • A complicated but comprehensive diagram of the Wars of the Roses can be found at threetwoone.org.


  • The Military Campaigns of the Wars of the Roses by Philip A Haigh ISBN 0750909048

  • Lancaster and York by Alison Weir