During the 15th century, England witnessed a series of protracted battles as two powerful families engaged each other in a struggle for the English throne. These battles have come to be famously known as the “wars of the roses” due to the differently colored rose symbols adopted by the two belligerent families.. England was plunged into a period of great violence as this warring houses engaged in a bitter conflict for three decades.
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The wars ended with the ascendancy of Henry, of the House of Tudor, to the throne. The wars of the roses had significant and far-reaching impacts on the various parties that were involved in the battle. This paper will set out to provide a detailed account of the outcomes of the domestic this bloody English conflict.
Major Events and Players
The wars of the roses, which took place between 1455 and 1485, had a number of significant events and actors who contributed to the start of the war and influenced its eventual outcome. A major actor in the wars was King Henry VI, who became King of England in 1422 at the age of four months following the death of his father King Henry V.1 Unlike his father who was a strong and effective ruler, Henry VI was a weak ruler.
To make matters worse, the king suffered from sporadic insanity making him a feeble leader. His wife, the ambitious Queen Margaret of Anjou, was able to dominate the King and influence royal policy. King Henry VI’s weakness caused the House of York to start making plots to overthrow him.
A mental affliction on the king led to Richard Duke of York being given control of the Realm in 1453.2 Richard’s first act was to imprison the 3rd Duke of Somerset, who was one of the King’s favored advisors. Richard’s rule as the protector of the realm ended in 1455 when the King recovered and gave considerable power to the Queen who subsequently reduced Richard’s power.
This marked the start of the war of the roses as Richard Duke of York and his supporters sought to remove the King’s advisors and therefore gain influence in the court. The House of York made alliances with Salisbury and Warwick and this faction became the Yorkists.
On the other hand, the supporters of King Henry VI (who came from the House Lancaster) included Somerset, Clifford, and Northumberland and they took the name Lancastrians.
The first battle in this English Civil War took place in 1455 and the Yorkists gained victory and took King Henry VI captive.3 However, this victory was not absolute and a series of battles with Lancastrian loyalists led to the death of Richard duke of York in 1459.
Following Richard’s death, his son, Edward Earl of March took over as the leader of the Yorkists. Edward was able to assemble the Yorkist supporters and carry out pervasive attacks against the Lancastrians leading to the defeat of King Henry VI in 1461. Following this victory, Edward was named King Edward IV and he ruled England in relative peace until the Lancastrians deposed him in 1470.4
However, Edward IV was able to ally himself with Clarence and defeat the Lancastrians in the 1471 battle of Tewkesbury. The battle resulted in the death of King Henry’s son and heir, Edward of Wales. Following these outcomes, Edward IV was re-crowned king of England and his position on the throne became secure following the death of Henry VI in 1471.5
Edward’s reign ended in 1483 when he died unexpectedly. His brother, Richard III took over the throne, dismissing the legitimate claims of Edward IV’s son, Edward V.6 This led to resistance from the Yorkists who even turned to the Lancastrians for help. Under the leadership of Henry Tudor, the Lancastrians together with the Yorkist defectors were set to tackle Richard III.
One of the most significant events in the wars of the roses was the death of Richard III in 1485. In this fateful year, Henry Tudor issued a challenge to Richard III for the throne. Richard III responded to this challenge by marshalling his supporters to meet Henry and his forces at Bosworth Field.
Henry had a larger army since he was joined by Yorkist defectors and this caused him to gain victory over Richard who died at the battle.7 This effectively ended the war, which had ravaged the land for 30 years, as Tudor was able to consolidate his power and take over as King Henry VII.
Outcomes of the War
Effect on the Lancaster and York Houses
The most significant outcome of the wars is that they led to the crushing defeat of the Yorkists. This defeat was epitomized by the death of King Richard III in 1485.8 The House of York had enjoyed a relatively successful hold on the throne since the death of King Henry VI. There is strong evidence that this Yorkist reign would have continued for many years if Edward IV’s son had taken over following the death of his father in 1483.
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However, this was not the case and Richard III took over the throne. From the moment he ascended to power, many nobles who opposed him collaborated with the Lancastrians to oust him. After a relatively long and successful rule under Edward IV, the Yorkists were forced to relinquish the throne to the Lancastrian Tudor.
When King Henry VI took the throne, he took steps to deal with the threat posed by York loyalists. After the end of the wars, the houses that had allied themselves to Richard III suffered the greatest losses. To begin with, vast portions of their Estates were taken over by Henry.
Property that belonged to Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick was acquired by Henry. The same happened with property from Clarence and Gloucester, both of whom had supported the Yorkist claim to the throne. The nobles who continued to support the House of York’s claim to the throne were killed or had their estates confiscated by the king.
The war led to the unification of the Houses of York and Lancaster under King Henry VII. In spite of his victory over Richard III, Henry Tudor still faced opposition from some Yorkist factions, who still hoped to take over power.9
This led to some skirmishes after the Bosworth Field as Yorkist forces attacked the Lancastrians and their allies. To deal with this division between the Yorkists and the Lancaster, Henry decided to unite the claims of these two houses.
He achieved this by seeking marriage with Elizabeth of York. The marriage was essentially a pragmatic unification of two warring dynasties.10 The marriage between King Henry VII and Elizabeth literally joined the House of Lancaster and York making it posible for the 30-year long power struggle to come to an end.
Impacts on the English Noble Houses
The wars dealt heavy loses to the English nobilities who died in many numbers. Between 1455 and 1485, a number of notable English nobles allied to both sides died in battle. There are a number of Notable figures who fought for the Lancastrian cause over the 30-year period and died for their trouble.
They include John Tuchet who was the 5th Baron Audley, Edmund Beaufort who was duke of Somerset, Henry Percy who was the 2nd earl of Northumberland, Henry Percy who was the 3rd earl of Northumberland, and Thomas Roos who was the Baron of Helmsley.
Nobles who fought and died for the House of York included William Herbert who was the Earl of Pembroke, John Howard who was Duke of Norfolk, and John Mowbray who was Duke of Norfolk. Historians propose that the deaths of so many nobles in the wars contributed to the weakening of this class in medieval England.
This had the effect of strengthening the merchant class and the subsequent movement towards Renaissance by English society. Even so, the War of the Roses did not eliminate the nobility and they remained a powerful force in the country. The new King had to find ways to keep the nobles in check and prevent another Civil War from breaking out.
An outcome of the wars of the roses was therefore the profound change in the peerage system in England. This English system created peers, who comprised of Dukes, Earls and Barons. These individuals had great social and political power and their titles were hereditary or created by the King as rewards for loyalty.11
At the onset of the war, there were relatively many noble families in England had direct links to the throne though royal bloodlines. Historians note that princes of royal blood headed these noble families and they had legitimate claims to the throne due to their titles and heritage.12
After the end of the wars, Henry VII took steps to reduce the number of peers. He created and granted fewer titles than King Edward IV had done during his rule. By effecting these changes in the peerages, King Henry VII minimized the chances of strife occurring in England.
The war let to a significant loss in power and wealth by the English Noble Houses. Historians record that the wars of the roses were facilitated by the private power and wealth held by the immensely wealthy and powerful dukes of York and Somerset.13 Over the course of these wars, the various noble houses dedicated vast resources to military efforts.
This led to depletion in the finances of some of the houses. In addition to this, some houses were dispossessed when they allied themselves with a losing side in the wars. After the war, the noble houses were noticeably less wealthy than they had been in the early fifteenth century.
Families that were Revered
There are a number of noble families that became revered when the wars of the roses ended. One of these families was the House of Jasper Tudor. Jasper came from the Tudor family in North Wales and he was the uncle to King Henry VII.14
Over the course of the 30-year war, Jasper suffered numerous loses due to his allegiance to the Lancastrians. Henry VI made Japer the Earl of Pembroke in 1452 and from this moment, Jasper demonstrated his dedication to the Lancaster cause.
During the wars, Jasper was forced to seek asylum in France to escape the Yorkish forces. He lost his Earldom and the Pembroke castle to the York loyalist William Herbert in 1468.15 However, he continued to champion the Lancaster cause and tried to shore up support from the nobles and barons. When King Edward IV died, he started campaigning for his nephew to take the throne.
The loyalty shown to Henry Tudor by his uncle Jasper contributed to his eventual accession to the throne.16 Japer Tudor’s power base as Earl of Pembroke in west Wales was invaluable in setting Henry on the road to victory over Richard II. When Henry VII took the throne, Jasper’s fortunes were restored. His previous Earldom was returned and he was made the Duke of Bedford.
The King also bestowed upon him the highest order of chivalry, the Order of the Garter. In addition to this, Jasper was given the Cardiff Castle that had previously been in the hands of Richard, Duke of Gloucester.
Another noble house that benefited from supporting the Lancaster side was John de Vere, the Earl of Oxford. The Earl of Oxford was a faithful lieutenant to Henry VII throughout the wars of the roses.
The Earl of Oxford started his military career as a rebellious Yorkist in 1469. John de Vere went on to ally himself with the Lancastrians and was part of the 1470 invasion of England that temporarily restored Henry VI to power.17 This invasion failed to secure lasting victory for the Lancastrians and John de Vere was forced to flee England. Due to his actions, the Yorkists confiscated his estates and he lost his titles. King Henry VII recognized John de Vere’s contribution to the Lancaster cause throughout the wars.
He therefore restored to him all the titles he had lost to the Yorkists and the estates that had been confiscated. In addition to this, the king appointed him Lord Admiral and awarded him the Order of the Garter.
A noble house that gained significantly by changing allegiances from the Yorkists to the Lancastrians at the last moments was the Stanley House. The house was headed by Thomas (Lord Stanley) who was an original supporter of the Yorkist side fighting numerous battles for their cause. Between 1459 and 1483, Lord Stanley was able to acquire large tracts of land and property from dispossessed Lancastrians.
The Yorkist rulers bestowed these estates upon Lord Stanley as a reward for his loyal services during the wars of the roses. When Richard III took over, Lord Stanley was given even more property in North Wales by the King. However, Stanley changed his allegiances to the Lancastrian side at the last moment.18
He fought on the side of Henry Tudor at the pivotal Battle of Bosworth Field.19 His contributions helped secure victory over Richard III and for this reason, Henry VII was thankful to him. In gratitude for his role in securing victory over Richard III, King Henry VII bestowed more property to Stanley and even made him Lord Chamberlain.
Families that were Reviled
Many Noble families suffered both during and after the war because of their different allegiances. During the ways, the following major English Houses suffered material loses following defeat by their enemies in various battles. John Tuchet, 5th Baron Audley, was a wealthy landowner who was killed in 1459 by Yorkist forces.20 Following his death, Richard Duke of York gave some of Audley’s Estates to the knight who had killed him.
The 9th Baron of Helmsley, Thomas Roos was also dispossessed following his defeat by the Yorkish army. Thomas Roos, Baron of Helmsley was defeated by the Neville led Yorkish army and executed at Newcastle. He was a loyal Lancaster Supporter and he fought against the Yorkish on behalf of King Henry VI.
However, he was captured in the Battle of Hexham in 1464 and subsequently executed as a traitor.21 Following his execution, his family lands were confiscated and awarded to the York Loyalist, Lord Hastings.
An English noble family that suffered heavily due to the wars is the House of Beaufort. Following the outbreak of the wars, the House of Beaufort, led by Edmund Beaufort who held the title of 3rd Duke of Somerset supported the House of Lancaster. Edmund was killed in the first year of the war.
His son Henry Beaufort succeeded him and he continued to fight on the Lancastrian side.22 He was captured in battle in 1464 and shortly afterwards executed. This effectively marked the end of the powerful and wealthy House of Beaufort, as Henry did not leave a legitimate successor.
The Neville family was greatly impacted by the wars of the roses. This family was part of the wealthy landed society in the North-East that supported the Yorkists and the Lancastrians at different times during the 30year duration of the war. At the onset, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick allied himself with the Yorkists in their attempt to gain the throne.23
However, he switched allegiances to the Lancastrians after Edward IV married Elizabeth Woodville and allied himself to the duke of Burgundy.24 The Earl of Warwick died in the Battle of Barnet and with no sons to survive him, his title became extinct.
This paper set out to discuss the destructive Civil War that took place in 15th century England between the Houses of York and Lancaster with special focus on the outcomes of the war. The paper began by providing a historical context of the wars and noting the major players in the battlers. It then proceeded to highlight the major outcomes of the war, which included the unification of the warring houses under King Henry VII.
The paper has also discussed the major changes that Henry VII enacted to prevent the outbreak of another Civil War. Close attention has been given to the effects that the wars had on a number of noble houses in England. This paper has shown that nobles had something to gain or lose by allying themselves with either house in the wars of the roses.
It has shown how allegiances shifted constantly as the nobles sort to secure their future wealth and influence in the country. The paper has shown how the war caused some families to lose their fortunes since they supported the wrong side while others were able to acquire great fortunes due to their allegiances to the victors.
Bush, Michael. “The Tudors and the Royal Race.” History 55, no.183 (1970): 37-48.
Carpenter, Christine. The Wars of the Roses: Politics and the Constitution in England, C.1437-1509. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
Cheetham, Anthony. The Wars of the Roses. California: University of California Press, 2000.
Grummitt, David. A Short History of the Wars of the Roses. NY: Cengage Publishers, 2013.
DeLloyd, Guth. Late-medieval England, 1377-1485. Boston: CUP Archive, 1976.
Edgar, John. The Wars of the Roses: Or, Stories of the Struggle of York and Lancaster. Kent: W. Kent & Company, 1859.
Fleming, Peter. “Murder, Alchemy and the Wars of the Roses.” Regional Historian 12, no.1 (2004): 1-4.
Fraser, Anthony. The Wars of the Roses A royal history of England. California: University of California Press, 2000.
Hicks, Michael. The Wars of the Roses: 1455-1485. Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2003.
Marsden, Gordon. “Henry VII Miracle King.” History Today 59, no.3 (2009): 54-60.
1 Christine Carpenter, The Wars of the Roses: Politics and the Constitution in England, C.1437-1509 (Cambridge University Press, 1997), 135.
2 Guth DeLloyd, Late-medieval England, 1377-1485 (Boston: CUP Archive, 1976), 29.
3 Carpenter, 136.
4 DeLloyd, 30.
5 Michael Hicks, The Wars of the Roses: 1455-1485 (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2003), 37
6 DeLloyd 42.
7 Hicks, 92.
8 Ibid, 93.
9 Anthony Cheetham, The Wars of the Roses (California: University of California Press, 2000), 97.
10 Gordon Marsden, “Henry VII Miracle King,” History Today 59, no.3 (2009): 56.
11 Cheetham 32.
12 Michael Bush, “The Tudors and the Royal Race,” History 55, no.183 (1970): 37.
13 Bush 37
14 Cheetham 97.
15 Hicks, 41.
16 Marsden, 56.
17 David Grummitt, A Short History of the Wars of the Roses (NY: Cengage Publishers, 2013), 44.
18 Anthony Fraser, The Wars of the Roses A royal history of England (California: University of California Press, 2000), 101.
19 Carpenter, 222.
20 John Edgar, The Wars of the Roses: Or, Stories of the Struggle of York and Lancaster (Kent: W. Kent & Company, 1859), 53.
21 Grummitt, 44.
22 Edgar, 53.
23 Grummitt, David 56.
24 Peter Fleming, “Murder, Alchemy and the Wars of the Roses,” Regional Historian 12, no.1 (2004): 1.