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THE WARS OF THE ROSES (1455-1485)
 HENRY VI. was one of the most unfortunate kings who ever sat on a
throne. He was truthful, upright, and just, and wished to
please everybody. But he had neither the strength of mind
nor of body to rule a kingdom, and for long periods he was
In 1450, the misgovernment of his ministers led to a
rebellion, in southeastern England, under one Jack Cade.
The rebels proclaimed that "the King's false Council hath
lost his law; his merchandise is lost; France is lost; the
King himself is so set that he may not pay for his meat or
drink, and he oweth more than ever any King
 of England owed." The rebellion was easily put down; but it
led the Duke of York to put himself at the head of the
opposition, and a struggle then began which soon passed into
a war for the crown itself.
In order to understand this contest between the houses of
York and Lancaster, you will need to look at the table on
page 141, and see just how each house was descended from
King Edward III. Henry VI., the head of the house
of Lancaster, represented the third line of
descent; while Richard of York was descended from Edward's
second son, Lionel, through his mother, as well
as from the fourth son, through his father. If
strict rules of succession were regarded, Richard of York
had a better right to the throne than King Henry VI.
But the claims of the line of Lionel had been passed over in
1399, and had been since disregarded;
 and it was only the miserable failure of the French war, and
the misgovernment at home, which enabled the Yorkists to win
any attention for their claims.
At first, the object of York was merely to take the
government from incapable persons, and to secure it for
himself; but later he claimed the throne itself. His ablest
supporter was the Earl of Warwick, who played so important a
part that he is called "the King Maker." On the Lancastrian
side, the real head of the party was Queen Margaret, a young
and beautiful French woman, who fiercely resisted all
attempts to disinherit her son, Prince Edward. On both
sides, the followers of the different lords were
distinguished by the badges which they wore—the swan,
the bear and staff, the white hart or deer, and the like.
But the Lancastrians regarded the Red Rose as their emblem,
and all Yorkists similarly looked upon the White Rose. The
wars, which troubled England for thirty years, are thus
known as the "Wars of the Roses."
Map of England
The first battle in this struggle was fought in 1455, at St.
Albans, where York defeated his enemies, and for a time
secured control of the government. Four years later,
however, Queen Margaret attacked the Yorkists with superior
forces; and York was obliged to flee to Ireland, while his
 Edward, and Warwick, fled to Calais, in France. In a
Parliament which was unfairly elected, Queen Margaret then
had York and his friends "attainted" of treason—that
is, they were made outlaws, and their lives and goods
Next year, York returned from Ireland, and his son and
Warwick from Calais. Warwick found the King's army
fortified in a meadow near Northampton. But a heavy rain
flooded the meadow and made their cannon useless, while some
of the Lancastrian forces deserted; so Warwick won an easy
victory. King Henry was captured and taken to London; and
it is said that the city "gave to God great praise and
thanking" for the victory. A new Parliament then repealed
the "attainders" of the previous year, and decided that King
Henry should keep the crown so long as he lived, but that,
after his death, it should go to the Duke of York and his
 After the battle of Northampton, Queen Margaret and the
little six year old Prince were in great danger. They fell
into the hands of some Yorkists, and were robbed of their
goods and insulted and threatened. But a fourteen year old
squire took pity on them, and while their captors quarreled
over the booty, he said:
"Madam, mount you behind me, and my lord the Prince before
me, and I will save you or die."
So they escaped, all three riding on one horse.
At another time, the Queen and her little son took refuge in
wood, where they were found by a brigand of fierce and
terrible appearance. But the Queen told her rank, and
placing her boy in the robber's hands said: "Save the son of
The man proved faithful, and at length the Queen and the
little Prince reached friends and safety.
Richard of York was not left long in enjoyment of his
victory over his opponents. On the last day of December,
1460, another battle was fought at Wakefield, in the north
of England. York was taken by his enemies "like a fish in a
net," and fell fighting at the head of his men. The cruel
practice, which Warwick had introduced, of putting to death
the leaders of the other party, was now followed by the
Lancastrians, and many leading Yorkists were slaughtered.
The bloody head of the Duke of York was set over the gate of
a near-by town, and was crowned in mockery with a paper
With a large army of rude northerners, Margaret then
advanced southward. They came, says a chronicler, "robbing
all the country and people, and spoiling abbeys and houses
of religion, and churches; and they bare away communion
cups, books, and other ornaments, as
 if they had been pagans and not Christian men." They again
defeated the Yorkists, and rescued the captive King, to his
great joy. But the citizens of London declared against
them, and Margaret's army soon retreated northward, still
plundering as they went.
Meanwhile York's eldest son, now nineteen years old, had
fought his way from Wales to London, and had joined Warwick.
"And there," says a chronicler, "he took upon him the crown
of England, by the advice of the Lords spiritual and
temporal, and by the election of the Commons." He was
crowned as Edward IV.—the first of the Yorkist
The new King was tall, strong, and handsome; he was a much
better general than Warwick, but not so good a statesman.
His first task was to pursue Queen Margaret's army, which he
overtook at Towton, not far from Wakefield.
As the battle began, a snow-storm set in, which so blinded
the Lancastrians that they discharged all their arrows
before the Yorkists came within good range. Then Edward's
men pressed on—with swords, battle-axes, daggers, and
deadly hammers of lead, which even helmets of iron could not
 withstand. Both sides fought desperately, and no prisoners
were taken. In the end, the victory was won by King Edward.
King Henry and his Queen escaped to Scotland; but four years
later the poor dethroned King was captured and again
imprisoned in the Tower. Edward IV. was now recognized
by foreign powers as England's ruler.
Plate Armor of the Fifteenth Century
Soon quarrels arose between the new King and the man who had
made him King. Warwick was greedy of wealth, influence and
power. He kept so many followers that "when he came to
London he held such a house that six oxen were eaten at a
breakfast, and every tavern was full of his meat, for who
had any acquaintance in that house he should have as much
boiled and roast as he might carry upon a long dagger."
Edward offended Warwick by secretly marrying beneath his
rank. Then, to build up a party against Warwick, Edward
ennobled and promoted his wife's relatives. Warwick won
over to his side Edward's weak brother, the Duke of
Clarence. In addition to all else, King
 Edward and Warwick differed over foreign policy; for Warwick
wisely wished England to remain at peace with France, while
Edward wanted to renew the French war.
At last, in 1470, Warwick's friends rebelled, and were
defeated in a battle, for which they fled so hastily that it
was called "Lose-coat Field." Warwick and Clarence took
refuge at the court of the King of France, where they found
Queen Margaret and her son. The French King caused these
former enemies to be friends; and in September, 1470,
Warwick returned to England, with an army, to drive Edward
from the throne and restore the Lancastrian line.
For a time everything went well with Warwick. Edward's
troops deserted him, and he was forced to flee to Flanders.
Henry VI. was then replaced on the throne, and "all his good
lovers were glad, and the most part of the people."
 But in March, 1471, Edward returned, and his brother, the
Duke of Clarence, joined him. At Barnet, a few miles north
of London, the battle was fought. Edward was completely
successful, and Warwick was slain as he left the field.
On the very day of the battle of Barnet, Queen Margaret and
her son landed in the west of England, and soon they were at
the head of a considerable army. A few weeks later the
Queen's forces met the Yorkist forces at Tewkesbury. There
King Edward fought and won the last battle needed to secure
his possession of the crown. The Lancastrian Prince, who
had become a fine young man of eighteen years, was captured
after the battle, and was cruelly put to death. Queen
Margaret was allowed to return to France, where she died
some years later. As for poor Henry VI., who played so
feeble a part in all these struggles, he was murdered in the
Tower on the very day that King Edward returned to London.
Tower of London
So long as King Edward lived, there was no renewal of the
war. The townsmen and common people were glad to have peace
at any price, and willingly submitted to the strong rule of
the King. The nobles were so weakened by the wars that they
could not resist. To end the troubles within his own
family, the King charged his brother—"false, fleeting,
perjured Clarence"—with treason, and had him put to
This hard, unscrupulous, pleasure-loving King died in 1483,
leaving two sons, Edward and Richard, the one twelve years
old, and the other ten. The elder of these was at once
proclaimed King, as Edward V.; and his uncle, Richard
of Gloucester became "Protector," or ruler in the young
 Gloucester was a monster of cunning and cruelty, and
set to work to rob his nephew of the crown.
He imprisoned and executed the chief supporters of the
young King. Then he had it announced that
he was the true heir to the throne, and
began to reign in his own name. The little Princes
were shut up in the Tower of London, and soon
disappeared—murdered by the orders of their cruel
uncle. In this way, began the brief reign of
Richard III., the last of the Yorkist kings, whom
the poet Shakespeare represents with a crooked back, to
match his cruel and crooked mind.
But punishment followed fast upon this wicked King.
Old Yorkists joined with what was left of the
Lancastrian party, and soon a great conspiracy was on
foot. They planned to make Henry Tudor (a distant
relative of Henry VI.) King, and marry him to
Elizabeth of York, the daughter of Edward IV.
Henry's first expedition from France failed because of
storms and floods; but a second expedition, in 1485,
brought him safely to land in Wales.
 At Bosworth field he was met by King Richard, and there
was fought the last battle of the Wars of the Roses.
The Red Rose of Lancaster triumphed over the White Rose
of York. Richard's leading officers deserted him, and
he died fighting in the front of the battle. His crown
was picked up from the field, and set upon the head of
Henry Tudor, who was proclaimed King as Henry VII.
The marriage with Elizabeth of York followed, and the
wise policy of Henry VII. united the interests of
both Lancaster and York in the house of Tudor.
The long warfare for the crown was at last ended. The
old nobility had suffered
through deaths on the field and at the block, and
through confiscation of estates, and never again did
its power seriously threaten the peace of England. The
common people, however, had suffered little in the
struggle, and a new era of peace and prosperity now
dawned for England. Other forces, too, had for some
time been changing the modes of life and thought in
Europe. With the close of the Wars of the Roses, we
may recognize the complete ending of the Middle Ages in
England, and the establishing of the "Renaissance,"
which begins Modern History.