Fifteenth century England saw the turmoil of a bloody struggle for power between the House of York (Red Rose) and the House of Lancaster (White Rose). The Wars of Roses would culminate in a ferocious encounter on Bosworth Field in 1485—a battle which saw the death of King Richard III. With Henry VII’s victory, the Tudor dynasty was born.
Henry V of England
1415: Victory at the Battle of Agincourt results in his becoming heir to the throne of France in 1420. His marriage to the French King’s daughter (Charles VI) results in a son, named Henry also. In 1422 Henry V dies, and Infant son Henry becomes King of England (Henry VI) and France. French resentment of English possessions in France. Supply convoys attacked by guerrillas.
In 1445 King Henry VI offers to cede provinces of Maine and Anjou to France. He marries Margaret of Anjou to seal this alliance. Henry VI is a cultivated man and a patron of Eton College and Cambridge University but not the man for the hour. He entrusts the running of the country to the Duke of Suffolk, who is despised for personal aggrandizement of his position by other nobles who feel left out. Court’s influence is absent in the north, east and to the borders of Wales. Great families are answerable to the king alone, and are entrusted the task of running the affairs on his behalf and even have private armies.
1450: French reclaim possession of lost territories of Maine and Anjou and attack Normandy from there.
July 1450: Two crown officials murdered in London by mob. Duke of Suffolk is replaced by the Duke of Somerset in King’s favour, and is murdered (Suffolk) as he travels to exile. Richard, Duke of York, and descendant of Edward III feels disgruntled as money lent to King Henry VI is not repaid. He holds the Duke of Somerset responsible, and the Dukes of York and Somerset become bitter rivals.
Richard asks for Somerset’s dismissal, agitates, fails to win over nobles to his side, and then retreats from court. Henry VI is paralyzed by a mental fit. Richard returns and enlists the support of the Earls of Warwick and Salisbury and members of the powerful Neville family. Richard persuades the king’s council to make him protector and his first act is to arrest Somerset and imprison him. King Henry VI recovers from his illness in less than a year, Somerset is released and the influence of Richard Duke of York and company is dissolved.
The Court is divided between:
• King & Somerset followers—later known as Lancastrians
• Duke of York followers-the Yorkists
• Neutral nobles
At this stage the nobles have started arming their retainers. Henry VI tries to reconcile the two sides but does not dismiss Somerset which is the demand of Richard that the king get rid of his evil councilors. Swords are sharpened and armour is gleaned.
1455-60-The First Battles, Henry VI vs the Duke of York
May 22, 1455: Yorkists force of 3000 men arrives at St. Albans to meet the king’s army of 2000 men waiting for them. King’s army is encamped in the town of St. Albans and uses the town as defensive support, and the attack by York falters. Earl of Warwick outflanks the town defenders and reaches the town square undetected. The king is wounded in the shoulder and is escorted to the local abbey along with the Earl of Buckingham who has three arrows lodged in his body. Duke of Somerset is cornered and slain along with three lords, Sir Richard Harrington, Earl of Northumberland, and Lord Clifford. Warwick swears loyalty to King Henry VI and is named Captain of Calais. York himself becomes Constable, and pardon is granted to his retainers. The French fleet raids the Kent coast.
1459: Queen Margaret (Henry VI’s wife) declares the recent action of York and his followers is treason. Armies are raised for the Queen from the Royal Duchy of Lancaster and for York and Neville from their heartland in Northern England. The Yorkists force defeats the Queen’s army at Glad Heath. Margaret escapes to join her husband’s loyal followers. At Ludlow, York and Lancaster forces again confront one another. The Yorkists army comprises elements from the Calais garrison who defect and join King Henry VI army leaving the Yorkists in turmoil. They flee, York to Ireland, Warwick, Salisbury, and York’s elder son, Edward, Earl of March to Calais. Warwick, the king maker, defeats all land ad sea forces sent against him. He has played the role of a Machiavellian character in British politics. United by marriage to ten great families in England, his only interest was in self-aggrandizement for the families and self.
June 1460: Yorkists earls return to England to meet the king’s forces at Northampton. The outcome is decided by the weather and treachery. A heavy downpour renders the guns of the king’s army useless and the king’s soldiers encourage the enemy over their defensive ramparts in treachery. The battle is over with the king a prisoner of his subjects. At the same time Richard, Duke of York returns from Ireland and claims the throne of England. Edward, King Henry VI‘s son is the rightful heir. Richard Duke of York and King Henry VI are descended from the children of Edward III, 1327-77. Richard Duke of York’s claim is stronger but Henry VI is the defacto king. Richard threatens to overturn the laws of inheritance, and amidst this uncertainty a compromise is reached.
1460: The Duke of York is recognized by parliament as King Henry VI’s successor. Queen Margaret garners public sympathy for her dispossessed son and the Yorkists cause becomes an isolated faction. Lancastrian troops attack the Neville’s, the Yorkists strongest supporters. York moves north to confront the threat. After Christmas 1460, Richard Duke of York is killed at Wakefield by the sons of the men who died at St. Albans. Also killed are the Earl of Salisbury, his son and 2000 men. The Lancastrian triumph is short lived and is avenged at Mortimus Cross two months later by the Duke of York’s son and heir, Edward.
1461: Lancastrian army moves south and at St. Albans, Warwick and the Yorkists are defeated and routed. King Henry VI escapes and slips through the Yorkists lines, and joins his wife’s forces during the heat of the battle. Warwick flees and the path to London is open for Margaret and her Lancastrian army.
1461: Duke of York’s son Edward, Earl of March self claims the throne as Edward IV.
March 1461: Two armies of 20,000 men face each other at Taunton. It is the bloodiest episode. Weather again plays a crucial part and due to fog, communication becomes impossible. Yorkists reinforcements arrive to tilt the battle in their favour. 20,000 Lancastrians meet their death in the field and the record is set of the bloodiest day in fighting in history. King Edward IV follows up his victory with two successful campaigns in Wales and in the North. Policy of reconciliation is adopted and lives are vouchsafed for allegiance of loyalty to the king. King Henry VI is recaptured.
In the spring of 1469, five years later civil war erupts again, and the instigator is Warwick, the oldest ally of King Edward IV who would usurp his newly won throne. He was a Yorkists for the most part of his career and was at odds with the king. He goes over to France and through the agency of Louis XI negotiates with Margaret of Anjou (King Henry VI wife) also in exile in France. Louis XI had her ransomed from the Tower of London some years earlier. He marries one of his younger daughters ‘to the Prince of Wales (Margaret’s son) and promptly becomes a Lancastrian. This is a reversal of alliances. King Henry VI (father of the Prince of Wales) is in the Tower of London. Warwick returns to England to a massive welcome and gets the king (Henry VI) out from the Tower of London by skilful playing of the public sympathy. Henry VI is king again. Warwick’s position is precarious as he is surrounded by his former enemies and is unable to reward his supporters. The Queen has no further use of him now that he has won the war for here.
In March 1471, King Edward IV returns to England from exile in France. Forces of Edward and Warwick meet at Barnett on Palm Sunday 1471. Weather and treachery again play their part. Thick fog covers the battlefield as units of Warwick attack each other. Army of Warwick disintegrates and he is slain. Edward confronts Queen Margaret’s Lancastrian army which has landed in England and is moving towards Wales. Edward chases her and catches up at Tewkesbury. Queen Margaret’s son Prince Edward is in command of the Lancastrian army with the Duke of Somerset as his general. Edward’s artillery takes a heavy toll and the Duke of Somerset decides to strike back by a calculated risk. This has been anticipated by the enemy who are prepared for the eventuality. The Lancastrians flee and Prince Edward is slain. Queen Margaret is captured. King Henry VI is dead mysteriously in late 1461.
King Edward IV becomes the undisputed ruler of England. From 1461 to 1483 there is relative peace. Richard Duke of Gloucester is entrusted with the job of placating the troubled north. York’s succession secured by birth of second son, Richard. In 1477, the Duke of Clarence (king’s brother) is executed for treason. In 1483 Edward dies of pneumonia at age 41.
Richard Duke of Gloucester is haunted by the renewed prospect by peers for acceptance of the crown. Alternatively he cynically manipulated public opinion to have himself crowned king of England. There is strong suspicion that he had Edward IV’s sons imprisoned and murdered. Richard III is crowned July 1483. House of York is ascendant. Three months into the reign, the Duke of Buckingham in an uprising against the king encourages Henry Tudor, an obscure Welshman exiled in France, who is the focus of Lancastrian aspirations to come to England. He sets sail for England, and is assured of a welcome by his followers. The invasion fleet never lands in England because of weather and indifferent support, and returns to France. The Duke of Buckingham pays the price for treason. Two years later in the autumn of 1485, Henry Tudor lands at Milford Haven in Wales. People and families prefer to stay at home rather than choose sides. The armies meet at Bosworth Field near Leicester. At the last minute the Stanley family deserts. Richard has kept the son of the elder Stanley as hostage.
1485: End of the feudal period. Henry Tudor is crowned on the battlefield. The body of Richard III, the last of the Yorkists kings is taken to Leicester and put on display to dispel any rumours of his survival. The body was dug up during the Reformation and the ashes scattered in the river. King Henry VII moved quickly from Bosworth Field to safeguard his newly acquired kingdom. Young Earl of Warwick, a rival, arrested and thrown in the Tower. Henry VII married the late king’s daughter, Elizabeth of York to cement the alliance between the two Houses of York and Lancaster.
Henry VIII still felt threatened enough to execute an old woman whose only crime was to be the daughter of the Yorkists Edward IV. This was in 1541, 86 years after the battle of St. Albans.
Courtesy: KULTUR International Films, NJ