The war of the roses
The war of the roses
The War of the Roses.
It was in this year , that Richard Plantagenet was born to
Richard, fifth Earl of Cambridge and Anne Mortimer. His father was the son
of Edmund, the first Duke of York, who was in turn the fourth son of Edward
III. If Henry VI had died before 1453, the year of the birth of Edward,
Prince of Wales, then Richard would have undoubtedly been crowned King of
England, since there was no other noble (since the death of Henry VI's
uncle and heir Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, who had died in 1447) with
such a strong claim to the throne at that time, other than Richard himself.
Being so highly placed in the royal household, Richard was destined to
play a significant role in the Government and politics of England
throughout his lifetime and in England's affairs in France during the later
stages of the Hundred Years War. He was appointed Lieutenant of France in
1436. Throughout his service in Europe, he had to pay for the services of
his men and finance the army in France from his own personal funds.
Although York was a wealthy man in his own right, (York was the sole
benefactor of the childless Edmund Mortimer, who had died of plague in
Ireland in 1425). It was his marriage to Cicely Neville in 1438 (who was
known as 'The Rose of Raby'), daughter to Ralph Neville, Earl of
Westmoreland and sister of Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury, which had
brought him great wealth. Thus, he was able, albiet unhappily in doing so,
to fund the English army overseas. By the time he left France, York had
forwarded some Ј38,000 of his own money to maintain English interests in
France. To add insult to injury, in 1445 he was replaced as Lieutenant of
France by Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset. It is not to be doubted that
it was on Somerset's advice (who was Henry VI cousin, and someone Henry
trusted more than the Duke of York) that Henry VI created York Lieutenant
of Ireland, which was in reality, exile by office. Somerset was no doubt
fearful of York, a fear enhanced by the fact that Somerset, a man whom York
equally detested, and a favourite of Henry VI was forwarded funds to the
sum of Ј25,000 to sustain the king's army in France.
Not only did York detest Somerset because of his favouritism with the
king, but he also detested the fact that he had been given the office he
had previously held in France and the funds to support it, despite his
inability as a soldier. York's fears over the management of the campaign in
France was soon realised, as the war began to go badly for the English. The
Duke of Somerset was personally responsible for the surrender of the
strategic town of Rouen which subsequently led to the fall of Normandy to
Charles VII of France. Because of this, Somerset became distinctly
unpopular at home. However, because he retained the king's favour, he
maintained his prestigious position at court. In June 1451, Bordeaux in
France, and Gascony, were lost to the French. This was disastrous news for
the English and the King, Henry VI, took the loss very badly. York in turn,
was quick to blame Somerset for the disaster and, with support for the king
and his adherents at such a low point (due mainly to English failings in
France), York, decided to risk all and attempt to wrest control from the
king by force of arms and arrest the Duke of Somerset, thus removing him
from his position as the king's most senior advisor.
Doubtless this move was not only inspired by York's fear for the conduct
of the war in France, but also because he was equally fearful that Somerset
might take over the very position that York felt was his own, that of the
most likely heir to Henry in the absence of the king having any children of
his own. Thus York, believing that he had more popular support than he
actually had, sailed from Ireland and landed in North Wales, gathered his
forces and travelled straight for London and the encounter at Blackheath.
The Wars of the Roses Begin
After York's release from custody, there then followed several years of
relative peace. However, by the year 1453, the political storm clouds were
once again gathering over the country. By this year, England's possessions
in France had been almost lost as the disastrous Hundred Years War had all
but come to an end . It was this - it is said - that brought about the
first bout of madness in Henry VI. What form this illness took is not
recorded, but it seems that it manifested itself in a form of paralysis.
York, with the king incapacitated, was made protector of England and took
the opportunity to seek revenge on his earlier enemies, namely the Duke of
Somerset, who was sent to the Tower on a revised charge of treason (for his
poor management of the war in France) in September 1453. The Earl of
Salisbury, Richard Neville and his eldest son Richard, Earl of Warwick,
also took the opportunity afforded by the king's illness and, under the
cover of their kinsman's protectorate began to seek their revenge against
the Percy family, the Earls of Northumberland, with whom, they had held a
long running feud, over the issue of ownership of property in
Northumberland and Yorkshire .
Thus, England was plunged into a series of minor wars between the land's
most powerful lords to which the Duke of York, as protector was able to use
his authority to the advantage of his family and supporters. However, this
all came to an end when the king recovered from his illness in January
1455. Somerset was released from the Tower, and immediately formed a
natural alliance with Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland (and Percy's ally
in the north Lord Clifford), against the Duke of York - who was stripped of
his powers as protector - and his supporters, namely the Earl of Salisbury
and the Earl of Warwick. With this the battle lines for the 'Wars of the
Roses' were drawn. The pact between Somerset, Northumberland and Clifford,
supported by the king would in later years go by the name of Lancastrians,
taken from the family name of the House of Lancaster to which the lineage
of Henry VI was derived. While the followers of the House of York, Warwick,
Salisbury and the Duke of York himself became known as the Yorkists.
First St. Albans, Northampton, Wakefield, Mortimer's Cross, Second St.
Albans, Towton and Hexham.
In May 1455 the queen and Somerset summoned a Council, to which no
prominent Yorkist was invited, and ordered a gathering of the peers at
Leicester to take steps for the king's safety. York marched south to secure
a fair hearing from the king, while the court moved towards Leicester,
escorted by a large number of nobles and their retainers. The king and
Somerset did not learn of York's actions until they were en route to
Leicester. They tried to assemble an army, but there was insufficient time;
at nightfall on 21 May, when the two sides camped only 20 miles apart, the
king's 'army' still consisted of just his escort and their retainers.
Both sides decided to advance against their adversary during the night,
and these marches became a race for the chief town of the area, St. Albans.
The king's army arrived there at 7am, and York halted at Key Fields, east
of the town, at about the same time. There followed a pause of three hours
while reconciliation was attempted, York offering to withdraw if the king
would surrender Somerset, whom York considered a traitor. The king (i.e.
Somerset!) refused, and York ordered the attack(see map).
Warwick was to lay down a barrage of arrows in support of flank attacks
by York and Salisbury. However, these attacks were repulsed and Warwick
therefore ordered his archers to concentrate on their own front. He then
attacked the center, broke through to the Chequers, and here established a
rallying point. Falling back to prevent their divided forces from being
outflanked by Warwick, the Lancastrians weakened their defense of the
Sopwell and Shropshire Lanes, and the forces of York and Salisbury almost
immediately burst into the town. The Lancastrians began to falter,
panicked, and broke, to be pursued up St. Peter's Street by the triumphant
Somerset and some retainers took cover in the Castle Inn while Lord
Clifford, with Percy, Harington and some other knights and esquires, fought
on outside the inn. When those outside were slain, Somerset led his men in
one last charge. He killed four men before being felled by an axe. The
king, the Duke of Buckingham, and the Earls of Devon and Dorset were
captured; Clifford, Somerset, Stafford, Percy and Harington were amongst
York was appointed Protector in October and Warwick became Captain of
Calais, the city which possessed the only standing army of the king. For
the next three years there was an uneasy peace. York lost the protectorship
at the beginning of 1456 and returned to Ireland. Margaret gained control
of court and government, but Warwick refused to surrender Calais to her,
and this city thus became a refuge for the Yorkists, from which an attack
might be launched at any time.
In the late summer of 1459 both sides began arming again, and in October
York's forces were defeated at Ludford – mainly due to the treachery of
Andrew Trollope, captain of a body of professional soldiers sent over from
Calais by Warwick. York was forced to flee to Ireland again and his troops
In June 1460 Warwick landed at Sandwich with 2,000 men of the Calais
garrison, accompanied by the Earl of Salisbury and York's son Edward, Earl
of March. The king and queen were at Coventry when they received news of
the landing. Hastily gathering an army from his chief supporters – the
Percies, Staffords, Beauforts, Talbots and Beaumonts – the king began to
march south. However, in the meantime the men of south-east England had
flocked to the standard of the popular Warwick, and on 2 July he entered
London with 5,000 men. Only the Tower, commanded by Lord Scales, held out
for the king and, hearing that London had gone over to the Yorkists, the
king halted at Northampton and took up a defensive position to await
Pausing only to establish a siege force round the Tower, Warwick led his
army northwards, arriving between Towcester and Northampton on the 9th.
Early the next morning - 10 July 1460 – he deployed for battle, but first
attempted to negotiate a settlement. At 2pm, no agreement having proved
possible, Warwick gave the order to advance, with the three 'battles' in
It was raining hard as the Yorkists arrived and Edward's 'battle',
consisting entirely of men-at-arms, made slow progress over the sodden
ground. As they came within bow range they were met by a fierce barrage of
arrows and this, together with a ditch and stakes, prevented the Yorkists
from getting to close quarters. At this critical moment Lord Grey suddenly
displayed Warwick's ragged staff badge and ordered his men to lay down
their weapons. Indeed, the men of Grey's command actually assisted their
enemies over the defenses and, once established within the defenses in
sufficient numbers, Edward and Warwick led their men-at-arms behind the
king's archers in the center to strike Buckingham in flank and rear. Unable
to maneuver within the narrow confines of the defenses, the Lancastrians
soon broke and fled, many being drowned in the shallow but wide river at
their backs. The Duke of Buckingham, Earl of Shrewbury, Thomas Percy, Lord
Beaumont and Lord Egremont were among the Lancastrian dead. The king was
captured again, taken to London, and compelled to sanction a Yorkist
York arrived from Ireland in mid-September and in October put forward a
claim to the throne. The peers rejected his claim (while Henry lived) but
made him Protector in view of the king's periods of insanity.
The queen and her son, who had remained at Coventry, fled to north
Wales, then to the North, where she began to gather a new army. With these
forces she overran Yorkshire, and a large number of Lancastrian supporters
from the West Country began to march across the Midlands to join her. York
sent his son Edward, Earl of March, to the Welsh borders to recruit an army
and to handle the minor local troubles stirred up by the Earl of Pembroke.
He left Warwick in London to ensure the capital's support and guard the
king; and on 9 December he led the Yorkist army northwards to deal with the
queen. He took with him his younger son Edmund and all the artillery then
available at the Tower of London.
On the 16th York's 'vaward battle' clashed with the West Countrymen,
suffered heavy losses, and was unable to prevent the Lancastrians from
moving on to join the queen. Learning that Margaret's main force was at
Pontefract Castle, York marched to his castle at Sandal, two miles south of
Wakefield and only nine from Pontefract. He arrived at Sandal Castle on the
21st and, learning that the queen's army was now almost four times as
numerous as his own, remained in the castle to await reinforcements under
Edward. The Lancastrian forces closed round the castle to prevent foraging.
On 30 December 1460 half the Lancastrian army advanced against Sandal
Castle as if to make an assault, but under cover of this movement the
'vaward battle', commanded by the Earl of Wiltshire, and the cavalry under
Lord Roos, unobtrusively took up positions in the woods flanking the open
York, believing the entire Lancastrian army to be before him, and much
smaller than he had been told, deployed for open battle, and led his troops
straight down the slope from the castle to launch an attack on Somerset's
line. The Lancastrians fell back before the advance, drawing the Yorkists
into the trap, finally halting to receive the charge.
The Yorkist charge almost shattered Somerset's line and the Lancastrian
reserve under Clifford had to be committed to stem the advance. But then
Wiltshire and Roos charged from the flanks, and the battle was over. York,
his son Edmund, his two uncles Sir John and Sir Hugh Mortimer, Sir Thomas
Neville (son of Salisbury), Harington, Bourchier and Hastings were among
those killed. The Earl of Salisbury was captured, and subsequently beheaded
by the Percies because of their feud with the Nevilles.
The death of Richard of York was a severe blow to the Yorkists; but
Warwick in London and Edward, now Duke of York, in the Welsh Marches, were
both raising new armies. In the Welsh Marches, in particular, men flocked
to Edward's banner to avenge Richard and their own lords who had died with
him, and by the end of January 1461 Edward had a fair-sized army gathered
From here he set out to unite with Warwick, probably at Warwick Castle,
in order to halt the queen's march on the capital. However, shortly after
starting out he learned that the Earls of Pembroke and Wiltshire were
moving towards Worcester from the west with a large force and, in order to
avoid being caught between two Lancastrian armies, Edward moved northwards
17 miles to Mortimer's Cross, not far from Ludlow and only three and a half
miles from his own castle at Wigmore, ancestral home of the Mortimers. Here
the River Lugg, flowing south to join the Wye, was bridged for the main
road from central Wales and the Roman road from Hereford, the two roads
meeting close by the bridge. Edward deployed his army at this important
crossroads and river crossing early on the morning of 2 February 1461.
The Lancastrians deployed for battle on the morning of the 2nd and
advanced against the Yorkist line about noon. After a fierce struggle the
Earl of Wiltshire and Ormond succeeded in forcing Edward's right flank back
across the road (see map), but at the same time Pembroke's 'main battle'
was completely defeated by Edward. Ormond's 'battle' reformed and moved on
to the center to support Pembroke but, finding him already defeated, for
some inexplicable reason halted and sat down to await the outcome of the
fighting on the other flank.
Owen Tudor's 'battle' was the last to become engaged, having swung right
in an attempt to outflank the Yorkist position. In carrying out this
maneuver the Lancastrians exposed their own left flank, and the waiting
Yorkists promptly seized the opportunity to charge, cutting the
Lancastrians in two and scattering them in all directions. A general
retreat by the Lancastrians in the direction of Leominstcr followed,
quickly transformed into a bloody rout by the Yorkists. Owen Tudor was
captured and later executed.
After the battle of Wakefield the queen's army of borderers, Scots,
Welsh and mercenaries had begun to march on London, pillaging as it went
and leaving a 30-mile-wide swathe of ruin in its wake: Margaret, whose aim
was now to rescue the king, was unable to pay her army and had promised
them the whole of southern England to plunder in compensation. London was
panic-stricken, and Warwick found himself faced with the problem of being
unable to raise enough men either to stop the Lancastrian advance or to
defend the city. Edward's victory at Mortimer's Cross solved this problem,
for men flocked to Warwick's banner when news of the battle reached London
on about 10 February; and on the 12th Warwick was able to leave London with
a force large enough to attempt to halt the queen, sending word to Edward
to join forces as soon as possible.
Warwick marched to St. Albans and began to prepare a defensive position
there with a three-mile front barring the two roads to London which passed
through Luton and Hitchin. Detachments were also placed in St. Albans and
Sandridge to watch the flanks, and in Dunstable to guard the Watling Street
approach to St. Albans.
The queen left York on 20 January, marching down Ermine Street towards
London. At Royston she swung left and moved south-west as if to prevent a
junction between Edward and Warwick. On 14 or 15 February the queen
received details of Warwick's deployment from Lovelace, who had commanded
the Yorkist artillery at Wakefield but who had been spared by the
Lancastrians. Margaret allowed the borderers to continue ravaging the
countryside due south from Hitchin to divert Warwick's attention, and took
the rest other army on a hard march south and west past Luton to Dunstable,
intending to follow this with another march against St. Albans from the
west, so turning Warwick's defensive line.
The queen's army arrived at Dunstable late on the 16th, took the
Yorkists detachment there by surprise, and killed or captured every man.
After a brief halt the Lancastrians set out on a 12-mile night march to St.
Albans, arriving on the south bank of the River Ver before dawn. After a
short pause to rest and organize an attack, at about 6am on 17 February
1461 the 'vaward battle' crossed the river and entered the town. The
Yorkists were again taken by surprise but, as the Lancastrians rushed up
George Street towards the heart of the town, they were halted by a strong
detachment of archers left in St. Albans by Warwick, and eventually were
driven back to St Michael's church.
Shortly afterwards scouts reported an unguarded entrance through the
defenses via Folly and Catherine Lanes, and at about loam the town fell to
the Lancastrians. The king was found in a house in the town.
Warwick's defense line had been rendered useless and he was now faced
with the task of re-aligning his army in the presence of the enemy. His
'rearward battle', stationed by Beech Bottom Ditch, was wheeled to face
south, and Warwick then rode off to bring up the 'main' and 'vaward
The Lancastrian army now attacked the Yorkist 'rearward battle' which,
after a long and brave struggle, finally broke and fled towards the rest of
the army. Warwick was already on his way to reinforce them with the 'main
battle', but this now broke up as the fugitives streamed past, joining in
the general flight. Warwick rode off to bring up his 'vaward battle', but
on reaching it he found that Lovelace's detachment had deserted to the
enemy and the remainder was badly shaken. Somehow Warwick managed to form a
new line and held off further Lancastrian attacks until dark, when he
managed to extricate about 4,000 of his men and march westwards to join
Margaret waited nine days at St. Albans while negotiating the surrender
of London, only 20 miles away. London, panic-stricken by the behavior of
the queen's army, which looted St. Albans after the battle, refused to open
its gates to the queen and her king. The borderers began to desert in
droves; and with Edward and Warwick united and advancing rapidly from the
west, Margaret finally abandoned her attempt on the capital and withdrew to
York with the king. Twelve days after second St. Albans the united forces
of Edward and Warwick entered London: on 4 March Edward was proclaimed king
by the Yorkist peers and by the merchants and commons of London.
Edward set off in pursuit of Margaret and Henry on 19 March, but his
advance guard was defeated by a Lancastrian delaying force at Ferrybridge
on the River Aire on the 27th. At dawn on the 28th the Yorkists forced
their way over the bridge and all that day fought to push back the
Lancastrian rearguard towards Towton, reaching the village of Saxton by
nightfall. The next morning the queen's army, commanded by Somerset, was
seen drawn up less than a mile away (see map).
At 9am on 29 March 1461, with heavy snow falling, the two armies
advanced towards each other. When they were about 300 yards apart the
Yorkists halted to discharge one volley of heavy armour-piercing arrows
which, aided by a following wind, hit the Lancastrian line and caused some
casualties. The Yorkist archers then fell back a short distance. The
Lancastrians responded with several volleys, using the lighter flight
arrows not normally used at all except short range. Impeded by the wind,
these arrows fell short by some 50 yards, but the Lancastrians continued to
discharge their arrows until their quivers were empty. The Yorkist archers
then advanced again and poured a barrage of arrows into the Lancastrian
ranks. Unable to respond, the Lancastrians moved forward to contact as
quickly as possible.
The battle raged all day, but at about 3pm Lord Dacres, one of the
senior Lancastrian commanders, was killed, and at the same time the Duke of
Norfolk's force of several thousand men arrived to reinforce the Yorkist
right flank. The Lancastrians began to ease off, the slackening of pressure
increased to a withdrawal, and suddenly their whole line collapsed. About
12,000 Yorkists were killed or died of wounds and exposure, while some
20,000 Lancastrians were killed, making Towton the bloodiest battle ever
fought on English soil. It was also the most decisive battle of the wars,
in the very heart of Lancastrian country, and firmly established Edward IV
on the throne. The queen, Henry, and their son Prince Edward fled to
The first years of Edward's reign were pro-occupied with stamping out
all remaining Lancastrian opposition. Pembroke and Exeter remained at large
in Wales, but the Earl of Oxford was executed in 1462 for an attempted
landing on the cast coast. The bulk of the surviving Lancastrians retired
to the Scots border with Margaret and Henry, seeking support from Scotland
and holding the powerful border castles.
In April 1464 a Yorkist force under Lord Montagu, Warwick's younger
brother and Edward's lieutenant in the north, clashed with a Lancastrian
force under the Duke of Somerset at Hedgeley Moor. The two Lancastrian
wings, commanded by Lords Hungerford and Roos, promptly fled, but the men
under Sir Ralph Percy stood fast and were annihilated. Montagu was unable
to pursue, as he was escorting a Scottish delegation to York to discuss a
peace. Somerset led his forces to Hexham and made camp two miles south of
that town. As soon as Montagu had carried out his mission, he moved
southwards to confront the Lancastrians again.
Early on the morning of 15 May 1464 Montagu attacked the Lancastrian
camp, smashing through Somerset's center with a rapid downhill charge. Once
again the two wings broke and fled. Somerset was captured and executed,
along with Hungerford and Roos, among others. These executions almost
completed the extinction of the old Lancastrian faction, and virtually
ended Lancastrian resistance; and even the queen gave up, and fled to
Barnet and Tewkesbury.
The great northern strongholds of the Lancastrians – Ainwick, Norham,
Bamburgh and Dunstanburgh fell soon after the battle of Hexham, and within
a year Henry VI, who had been hiding in a monastery, was betrayed and
placed in the Tower. Apart from Harlech Castle and Berwick-on-Tweed, Edward
was now truly king of all England.
In November 1464 Edward secretly married Elizabeth Woodville, without
the consent and against the wishes of Warwick (who was engaged at the time
in trying to arrange a French marriage for the king). Warwick, trying to
assume dictatorial powers over the new king, fell from favor, and
Elizabeth's numerous relatives rose swiftly in rank and office as Edward
formed his own Yorkist party: his father-in-law became Earl Rivers, his
brother-in-law Lord Scales, Elizabeth's son by her first marriage became
Earl of Dorset, while old supporters were also advanced – William Herbert
was made Earl of Pembroke, Humphrey Stafford Earl of Devon, and the Percies
were recruited in alignment against the Nevilles by restoring to them the
earldom of Northumberland. In 1467 Edward openly broke with Warwick by
repudiating a treaty with France and an alliance with Burgundy which
Warwick had just negotiated. Enraged and humiliated, Warwick enlisted the
aid of Edward's brother, George of Clarence, and from the security of
Calais declared against Edward because of his oppressions.
At about this time Warwick engineered a Neville rising in the north,
which began with the so-called rebellion of Robin of Redesdale. When the
rising was well under way Warwick landed in Kent with a force from Calais
but, before he could reach the scene of operations, the royal army was
defeated at Edgecotc in Northamptonshire (6 July 1469). Edward was captured
and handed over to Warwick, who executed many of Edward's leading
supporters, including Queen Elizabeth's father, her brother John, and the
newly created Earls of Pembroke and Devon.
Edward was confined for some weeks in Middleham Castle, but was released
when he agreed to accept new ministers nominated by Warwick. But at the
first opportunity Edward took his revenge. In March 1470 a Lancastrian
uprising occurred in Lincolnshire. Edward gathered a force to suppress the
rising, carefully calling to his standard all those peers with grudges
against Warwick or who were not tied to him by family alliances. Edward
defeated the rebels at the battle of Lose-Coat Field and the rebels'
leader, Sir Robert Welles, confessed the rising was part of a plot by
Warwick to make Clarence king. Unable to oppose Edward's army, Warwick and
Clarence fled to France, where they allied themselves with Margaret and the
In September Warwick arranged a rising in Yorkshire and, as soon as
Edward moved north, landed with Clarence and a small force at Dartmouth.
Devon rose to support them, Kent followed suit, and London opened its
Edward, returning south in a hurry, found himself caught between
Warwick's growing army in the south and the rising in the north. His army
began to melt away, and Edward was forced to take ship at Lynn and flee to
Henry VI was released and restored to the throne, but Margaret did not
trust her old enemy Warwick, and refused to leave France: Prince Edward
remained with her.
Meanwhile, Clarence began to seek reconciliation with Edward; and on 15
March 1471, with a body of some 1,500 German and Flemish mercenaries lent
to him by the Duke of Burgundy, Edward landed at Ravenspur in the Humber
estuary. Marching swiftly southwards, Edward evaded an army under the Duke
of Northumberland and reached Nottingham, where he learned that Warwick was
gathering an army at Coventry. The Earl of Oxford was at Newark with
another army, but Edward managed to slip between them, gathering adherents
to his cause all the way to the capital. The most important of these was
Clarence, who joined him with a force originally raised for the Lancastrian
Edward reached London on 11 April, closely followed by the now united
armies of Oxford, Northumberland and Warwick, and on 14 April 1471 was
fought the battle of Barnet (see map).
The battle began at dawn in a heavy fog, with the right wing of each
army overlapping the left wing of the other. Both the Yorkist and
Lancastrian left wings were defeated. Consequently both armies swung to a
new position, almost at right angles to their original lines, and in the
fog the Lancastrian right under Oxford blundered into the rear of his own
center, causing some casualties. Cries of treason rang out, and many of
Oxford's men now quit the field, followed by some of those from Somerset's
'main battle'. At this moment Edward charged between Somerset and Warwick
with about a 100 horsemen of his reserve. Warwick's men slowly gave way,
eventually breaking and fleeing, and a general Lancastrian rout then
ensued. Warwick, on foot, was cut down and killed. With him died his
On the same day Queen Margaret and Prince Edward landed at Weymouth.
Learning of the battle, the queen marched through the West Country,
collecting men and heading for the Lancastrian strongholds in Wales.
Edward, keeping his army intact, marched from London to prevent this new
Lancastrian force from reaching Wales.
Gloucester, with its crucial first bridge over the Severn, closed its
gates to the queen at Edward's request, and Margaret had no option but to
bypass the city and move further up river to Tewkesbury. Here Edward caught
up with her on 3 May after a series of forced marches.
The next day – 4 May 1471 – the outnumbered Lancastrians took up a
strong position on a slope between two brooks (see map). The Yorkists
deployed some 400 yards away, with their left flank under Richard of
Gloucester apparently 'in the air'. Somerset took his personal command away
to the right to attack Richard in the flank, giving Lord Wenlock orders to
advance as soon as he saw Somerset attacking, thus pinning Richard in
position. In the event Wenlock failed to advance;
Richard turned to face Somerset, who was now faced by the entire Yorkist
left; and at the same time some 200 spearmen, placed on the extreme flank
by Edward to guard against such a move, advanced to attack Somerset in the
flank. Somerset's force gave ground, then broke and fled. Somerset escaped
to confront Wenlock, and in a rage slew him with his battleaxe. The 'main
battle' now began to give ground, and when Edward's center began a general
advance the Lancastrian army broke and ran.
Most of the Lancastrian nobles were captured and slaughtered, among them
Prince Edward and Edmund, Duke of Somerset, the last male Beaufort. Queen
Margaret was captured and placed in the Tower, where she remained for five
years until ransomed by her father. Henry VI was murdered in the Tower
shortly after the battle.
Edward proclaimed his seven-month-old son Edward Prince of Wales and
sent Hastings with a strong force to take possession of Calais. Richard of
Gloucester was rewarded with Warwick's lands and offices, while Clarence
received the lands of Courtenay in the West Country and the Lieutenancy of
Bosworth, Stoke, Blackheath and Exeter
Edward IV died in April 1483 when his son and heir, Edward V, was only
twelve. Inevitably rival factions immediately emerged – the boy king and
the court controlled by the queen mother and her relations, and Edward's
favorites Lord Hastings and Thomas Lord Stanley, opposed by Richard, Duke
of Gloucester, now the most powerful man in the kingdom, whom Edward IV had
intended should be regent.
Richard acted swiftly. Moving south, he joined forces with Henry
Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, and seized Edward V en route to London in the
care of Lord Rivers, the queen mother's brother. Her son, Dorset, at once
fled the country, while the queen mother sought sanctuary in Westminster
Abbey. Within a month of Edward IV's death, Richard was Protector of the
In June Hastings was suddenly arrested and executed. Two weeks later
Richard informed Parliament that Edward's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville
was invalid due to an earlier marriage, and therefore Edward V was a
bastard – which left Richard the rightful successor. Richard became Richard
III, Lord Rivers was executed, and Edward V and his younger brother
Richard, Duke of York, were placed in the Tower.
That autumn there was a revolt in the West Country, led by Buckingham,
apparently in conspiracy with the exiled Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond and
now head of the House of Lancaster. (Henry could claim the throne, in right
of his mother, Margaret Beaufort, as surviving male representative of the
House of Lancaster, the Beauforts being descended from John of Gaunt.)
Buckingham was supported by the Woodvillcs and Courtenays. Richard quickly
and efficiently crushed the revolt, and Buckingham was executed. Henry
Tudor withdrew to France, but in 1485, with about 3,000 French mercenaries,
he landed in Pembrokeshire, where his uncle Jasper was earl. He marched
quickly through Wales and the Marches, picking up considerable support on
the way, and confronted Richard in battle for the throne at Bosworth in
Leicestershire on 22 August 1485.
The two main forces drew up facing each other but both Henry Tudor and
Richard III looked anxiously for support from the forces of the two
brothers Stanley: those of Sir Willaim Stanley were visible to the north-
west of the battlefield, and those of Lord Stanley to the southeast.
The battle commenced without the Stanleys, the opposing forces both
making a bid for Ambien Hill. Richard's troops reached the ridge first, and
his 'vaward battle' deployed on it in a defensive position. The 'main
battle' followed, while the 'rearward battle' was ordered to take position
on the left of this line as soon as possible, and to face due south.
Henry advanced to engage in an archery duel at long range, and Richard
looked in vain for his 'rearward battle': the Earl of Northumberland had
decided to avoid action until the Stanleys showed their hands.
As the archers began to run out of arrows, the two armies advanced to
melee, and only now did the Stanleys move – to attack both flanks of
Richard's line, while Northumberland remained immobile. Richard mounted,
collected his bodyguard around him, and rode into the center of the enemy,
intent on killing Henry Tudor or dying like a king. Unhorsed in the marsh,
Richard was soon overwhelmed by superior numbers and killed. The battle
ceased when his death became known, and his army melted away with little or
no pursuit. Lord Stanley took the circlet indicating Richard's rank from
the dead king's helmet and, placing it on Henry Tudor's head, proclaimed
him King Henry VII.
In the early years of his reign Henry VII was in continual danger, and
it is erroneous to regard Bosworth as the end of the Wars of the Roses. The
first of the king's troubles was a rising in 1486 in the North Riding of
Yorkshire, where Richard III had been very popular. It was led by Lord
Lovel, Richard's chamberlain and admiral, but the rebels dispersed when
Henry marched against them with a large force. Lovel fled to Flanders.
In May 1487 Lovel landed in Ireland with some 2,000 Swiss and 1,500
German mercenaries, supplied by Margaret of Burgundy and commanded by the
Swiss captain Martin Schwarz, accompanied by John, Earl of Lincoln, and
about 200 other exiled Yorkists. This revolt was in the name of Edward,
Earl of Warwick, son of Clarence, but as he was a prisoner in the Tower a
'double' named Lambert Simnel played his part.
The invaders were welcomed by most of the Irish lords and 'Clarence' was
crowned Edward VI at Dublin. Within a few weeks Lincoln had recruited some
4,000 – 5,000 Irish soldiers under Thomas Fitzgerald. These forces now
sailed for England, landing in Lancashire. However, few Yorkists had joined
the invaders by the time Henry VII brought them to battle at Stoke, near
Newark, on 17 July 1487. Despite fierce resistance by the foreign
mercenaries the rebels were routed, Lincoln and Fitzgerald killed, and
Simnel captured. Lovel disappeared.
For the next four years Henry enjoyed a relatively peaceful reign, but
then Yorkist conspiracies began once more to thicken. Ever since 1483 it
had been rumored that one or both of Edward IV's sons had escaped from the
Tower: Henry Tudor claimed they had been murdered by Richard HI, but no
bodies had ever been found or displayed as proof of their death. One Perkin
Warbeck, a citizen of Tournai, was chosen for his similarity of appearance
to Edward IV, and declared to be Richard, Duke of York.
He gained some support in Ireland, and was recognized as York by
Margaret of Burgundy and Maximilian of Austria. For two years Warbeck
followed the Imperial court while his patrons intrigued with English
malcontents; but in the winter of 1494-5 Henry's spies infiltrated the
conspiracy and large numbers of the conspirators were arrested, including
Lord Fitz Walter and Sir William Stanley. The latter was beheaded, as were
several others, while the remainder were hanged or imprisoned.
Nevertheless, in July 1495 Warbeck sailed from Flanders with 2,000
exiles and German mercenaries. He attempted to land at Deal, but his
vanguard was destroyed by Kentish levies and he drew off and made for
Ireland. Henry had anticipated such a move, and had already sent to Ireland
Sir Edward Poynings, who had suppressed the Irish supporters of Warbeck.
Warbeck landed at Munster, but only the Earl of Desmond came to his
support. Unable to face Poynings' forces, Warbeck sailed to Scotland. With
James IV he raided Northumberland in 1496, but a pretender backed by
Scottish spears was not acceptable to the English borderers, and not one
man rallied to the Yorkist banner.
However, discontent over the taxes imposed to pay for the war with
Scotland did lead to rioting in the south-east counties, and in Cornwall
open rebellion broke out. A rebel army marched on Eondon, sweeping over
five counties unopposed and collecting recruits en route, and was only
stopped by a hard fight at Blackheath.
Warbeck, hearing of the rising, landed in Devon in August. Gathering
together 8,000 rebels, he marched on Exeter. The city closed its gates
against him and, after an attempt to besiege the city, Warbeck had to march
away to confront a royal army dispatched to relieve Exeter. When he reached
Taunton Warbeck found his followers so dispirited that disaster was
inevitable. He took sanctuary on the abbey of Beaulieu, and later confessed
his fraud in exchange for his life. In 1498 Warbeck escaped from the Tower
but was recaptured and thereafter confined in a dungeon. The next year he
planned another escape, together with the unfortunate Edward of Clarence,
but spies in the Tower betrayed this. Henry allowed the plot to proceed
almost to completion, then had both Edward and Warbeck executed for
The last real fighting of the Wars of the Roses had taken place at
Blackheath and the siege of Exeter, but Clarence had been a true male heir
of the House of Plantagenet and all the time he lived he was a threat to
the House of Tudor. His death truly marked the end of the Wars of the
Roses, and thereafter Henry VII’s reign was peaceful apart from a few minor
and futile plots by the exiled Edmund, Earl of Suffolk, younger brother of
John, Earl of Lincoln, and the last possible Yorkist claimant to the throne
Appendix 1 Armies
In 1341 Edward III had revolutionized the structure of European armies
by instituting in England a system of written indentured contracts between
the Crown and prominent military leaders. Under this system the military
leaders, or 'captains' and 'lieutenants', contracted with the king to
provide an agreed number of men for military service, promising to bring
them to a place of assembly by a certain date. The indenture set out
precisely how long the men would have to serve, their rate of pay,
obligations and privileges. The captains were responsible for paying these
men, the king giving securities to repay the money at a later date.
These captains raised their companies by making a series of similar
contracts with knights and man-at-arms, again stipulating the terms of
service and the types of soldiers they would be expected to contribute. The
captains usually sought these 'sub-contractors' amongst their friends,
kinsmen, tenants and neighbors.
These companies, composed entirely of volunteers, created in effect a
royal standing army; for the men were professional soldiers who, although
raised, led and paid by their captains, regarded themselves firstly as
English soldiers, owing allegiance to their king and fighting only his
Inevitably, many of the most powerful captains were of the nobility, for
they had the position at court, the wealth, and the connections to raise
large contingents. In order to be able to satisfy at once any request by
the king for a company, such lords frequently maintained a permanent force,
contracting their sub-contractors for life with annuities. These men often
held offices (such as chamberlain or steward) in the magnate's household or
on his estates, and probably provided in their turn the key contingents in
This system was introduced to deal with the demand for expeditionary
forces to invade France during the Hundred Years' War, and the need to
maintain permanent royal garrisons in the castles and towns across the
channel. But it had the effect of creating large forces commanded by the
great barons, and during the course of the Hundred Years' War these
magnates became virtually petty kings within their own domains: the great
northern families of Percy and Neville, for example, fought each other in
the Wars of the Roses as much for supremacy in the North as for who should
control the government of all England.
The three greatest landowners of the second half of Henry VI's reign
were the Earl of Warwick and the Dukes of Buckingham and York. Humphrey
Stafford (died 1460), 1st Duke of Buckingham, had a personal retinue often
knights and 27 esquires, many of whom were drawn from the Staffordshire
gentry. These men were paid annuities to retain their loyalty (hence
'retainers'), the best-paid in Buckingham's retinue being Sir Edward Grey
(died 1457) who was retained for life in 1440 at Ј40 per annum. Two knights
(Sir Richard Vernon and Sir John Constable) received annuities of Ј20 p.e.,
but Ј10 was the customary annuity for a knight, with esquires paid from Ј10
to Ј40 marks per annum.
These knights and esquires were the subcontractors, and each would have
provided a contingent of archers and men-at-arms. When their contingents
were amalgamated, considerable armies could be gathered. For example, in
January 1454, 2,000 badges of the Stafford knot were produced for
distribution to Buckingham's men; in 1469 the Duke of Norfolk fielded 3,000
men and some cannon; while a great soldier and statesman of the ability and
ambition of Warwick would have been able to count on thousands of men
scattered over no fewer than 20 shires.
Note the predominance of archers. The contemporary Paston letters give a
good idea of the value of the longbowman during the Wars of the Roses. When
Sir John Paston was about to depart for Calais, he asked his brother to try
to recruit four archers for him: 'Likely men and fair conditioned and good
archers and they shall have 4 marks by year and my livery', (i.e. they were
to be permanent retainers, on annuities).
These were ordinary archers, as opposed to an elite or 'de maison'
archer who would serve permanently in the household troop of a great lord.
Warwick considered such men to be worth two ordinary soldiers – even
English ones! In 1467 Sir John Howard hired such an archer, offering him
Ј10 a year – the annuity paid to knights – plus two gowns and a house for
his wife. As an extra inducement he gave the man 2s. 8d., two doublets
worth 10s. and a new gown (a term often applied to the livery coat). When
Sir John bought himself a new bow, for which he paid 2s., he bought for
this elite archer four bows costing 5s. 11.5d. each, a new case, a shooting
glove, bowstrings, and a sheaf of arrows which cost 5s.: at that price they
were probably the best target arrows available.
Edward IV's leading captains for his 1475 expedition to France had the
|Duke of Clarence |10 knights 1,000 archers |
|Duke of Gloucester |10 knights 1,000 archers |
|Duke of Norfolk |2 knights 300 archers |
|Duke of Suffolk |2 knights 300 archers |
|Duke of Buckingham |4 knights 400 archers |
This contract system still existed in the mid-15th century, and the end
of the Hundred Years' War in 1453 flooded England with large numbers of men
who had no trade other than that of soldier. Returning to England, these
men now assumed the aspect of mercenaries, unemployed and troublesome.
Bored and hungry, they eagerly sought employment with the great barons.
Such large private armies were extremely dangerous to the king. Lacking a
standing army of his own, he could now only control unruly or even disloyal
barons by using the private armies of those barons who remained loyal. Of
course, loyal barons were rewarded with valuable offices and vast estates –
which enabled them to hire even larger armies until, as with Warwick, they
became powerful enough to attempt the overthrow of their benefactor.
This weakness in the royal authority led to corruption in high offices,
and especially in the judiciary system. Whenever the interests of a
landowner were involved in a legal case, rival bodies of armed men, wearing
the liveries and badges of the lords who maintained them, would ride into
the county town and bribe or intimidate judge and jury.
During the regency of Henry VI's reign the legal system finally
collapsed, and the barons began to resolve their quarrels over land and
inheritances by making war against each other: might was right, and it
became commonplace for heiresses to be abducted, minor lords to be
imprisoned or even murdered, and for 'evidence' to be procured by bribery
Since justice was no longer obtainable by fair means, many of the yeoman
farmers and smaller landowners of the lesser gentry now turned to the
barons for their personal protection and for the protection of their lands
and rights. This led to the polarization, which is such a feature of the
Wars of the Roses.
The yeomen and lesser gentry entered into another form of contract,
known as 'livery and maintenance', whereby they undertook to wear the
baron's livery – i.e. a tunic in his colors and bearing his household badge
– and to fight for him in times of need. In return they received his
protection whenever they needed it.
From the above can be seen that an 'army' of the Wars of the Roses might
consist of a magnate's personal or household troops (or bodyguard – usually
of knights, sergeants and archers), plus his tenants, together with paid
mercenaries or contract troops – both English and foreign specialists such
as gunners and hand gunners – and 'livery and maintenance' men who were
unpaid but who had a personal stake in the fighting.
The only forces under the king's personal command were his bodyguard of
knights and sergeants and the large, professional body of men who formed
the royal garrison at Calais. Edward IV also had a permanent bodyguard of
archers, and one of Henry VII's first actions on seizing the throne was to
found the Yeomen of the Guard, a body of some 2,000 archers under a
captain. These first saw active service in 1486, when they were used in the
suppression of northern rebels.
Finally, in times of great need, the king might also use Commissions of
Array to call out the local militia. In theory the king's officials chose
the best-armed men from each village and town to serve the king for up to
40 days, the men's provisions being provided by their community. In
practice, the king's authority was frequently misused, and great landowners
often sent letters to the lesser landowners and councils of towns where
they had influence, reminding those in authority of past favors and hinting
at benefits yet to come.
An example is given in the contemporary Stonor letters and papers for
the Oxfordshire half-hundred of Ewelme, which provided from its 17 villages
a total of 85 soldiers, 17 of whom were archers. Eweime itself produced six
men: 'Richard Slythurst, a harness [i.e. armored] and able to do the king
service with his bow. Thomas Staunton [the constable], John Hoime, whole
harness and both able to do the king service with a bill. John Tanner, a
harness and able to do the king service with a bill. John Pallying, a
harness and not able to wear it [presumably it did not fit him]. Roger
Smith, no harness, an able man and a good archer'. Other men without
harness are described as 'able with a staff.
Muster rolls are another source of such information. The muster on 4
September 1457 before the king's officials at Bridport, Dorset, shows that
the standard equipment expected was a sallet, jack, sword, buckler and
dagger. In addition, about two-thirds of the men had bows and a sheaf or
half a sheaf of arrows. There was a sprinkling of other weapons – poleaxes,
glaives, bills, spears, axes and staves; and some odd pieces of armour –
hauberks, gauntlets, and leg harness. Two men also had pavises, and the
officials recommended more pavises be made available.
In May 1455 the mayor of Coventry was ordered by royal signet letter to
supply a retinue for the king. The town council decided to supply a hundred
men with bows, jacks and sallets, and a captain was elected to lead them.
The retinues supplied for Edward IV's expedition to France are divided
into 'lances' in the Continental manner, but it is most unlikely that the
forces engaged in the Wars of the Roses were ever formally divided in this
manner. Rather they were grouped by weapon and armour, by companies and
under the banners of their captains, and grouped into 'vaward', 'main' and
'rearward battles' under the standard of a major figure. The army as a
whole would often be commanded by the leading political figure, assisted by
military advisers. In the case of the king's armies the commander-in-chief
would be the lieutenant or captain of the region: officers such as the
Warden of the Marches, Lieutenant of Ireland, or Lieutenant of the North,
the latter post being granted to Fauconberg in 1461 and to Warwick in 1462.
Many of the commanders, particularly at company level, were not knights
but experienced soldiers, though many of them were subsequently knighted on
the field of battle. Lovelace was only an esquire, but rose to be Captain
of Kent through his military skills. Trollope was another soldier who rose
to high command, and was rewarded for his services by a knighthood at
Second St. Albans. Men such as Trollope were frequently the military brains
or 'staff officers' behind the magnates who led the 'battles'. On the other
hand, constables of towns played a key role in recruiting contingents, and
they may often have commanded companies, as may sheriffs. Such men may not
have had any military skill.
Although the wars started with small armies of experienced soldiers, as
time went on the proportion of veterans diminished and, generally speaking,
the armies had insufficient cohesion for elaborate tactics: most battles
began with an archery duel, which tended to cancel out the value of the
longbow, followed by a vast and contused melee on foot. The commander of an
army could do little once the melee commenced, though he might hold back a
small mounted reserve under his personal command, or detach a formation
prior to the battle to use in an outflanking maneuver.
Large numbers of the troops were mounted – not just the knights and
esquires, but many of the men-at-arms. Some of these 'mounted infantry'
were used as mounted scouts, flank guards and the like, but apart from an
occasional mounted reserve of only 100 men or so, the armies dismounted to
do battle, all horses being sent to the rear with the baggage. Primarily
this was because of the weapons used and the facts that few mounted men
were sufficiently experienced to fight effectively on horseback. However,
the fact that many men of all arms were mounted did tend to lead to the
formation of special vanguards of all-mounted troops, who were used to
spearhead movement prior to a battle.
Because of the fear of treachery, it was essential that the major
commanders fight on foot to indicate their willingness to stand and die
with their men. It was for this reason that so many of the nobles were so
easily killed or captured once their army was defeated. The mounted
reserves therefore tended to be composed of lesser knights or bodyguards,
and were led by minor commanders, such as Sir John Grey of Codnor, an
experienced soldier but a knight of low rank and position, who led the
Lancastrian cavalry reserve at Second St. Albans.
Appendix 2 Characters.
|Henry V (1387 - 1422) - King of England |
|Years lived: 1387 - 1422 |
|Years ruled: 1413 - 1422 |
|Son of: Henry IV and Mary de Bohun |
|Married to: Catherine de Valois |
|Children: Henry VI |
|Henry V, a member of the House of Lancaster, was crowned king in 1413 at the |
|age of 26. Henry spent most of his reign campaigning in France in order to |
|regain territories claimed by his ancestors. The highlight of his three |
|invasions of France (1415, 1417-1421, and 1422) was the Battle of Agincourt |
|fought on October 25, 1415 during the Hundred Year's War. In a span of a few |
|short hours, Henry crushed a much larger French army leaving him in control of |
|Northern France. Henry died at the age of 35 of an unknown illness, leaving the|
|crown to his infant son, Henry VI. |
|Richard III, King of England 1483 - 1485 |
|Years lived: 1452 - 1485 |
|Years ruled: 1483 - 1485 |
|Son of: Richard, Duke of York, and Cecily Neville |
|Married to: Anne Beauchamp Neville (1472) |
|Children: Edward, Prince of Wales |
| | |
| | |
|Richard III, the younger brother of Edward IV, was made duke of Gloucester at |
|age nine. He fough for Edward at the battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury in 1471.|
|When Edward died in 1483 he took control of Edwards heirs, Edward V and his |
|brother Richard. The young brothers were held in the Tower of London and |
|murdered in June 1483. Richard III was crowned king that year. He was killed |
|by Henry VII at the battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. |
Appendix 3 Genealogies
House of Lancaster
The Lancastarian claim to the throne was via Edward III's third son John
of Gaunt. In October 1460, an Act of Accord designated that the royal
succession would move to the house of York after Henry VI's death. The
houses of Lancaster and York were united when Henry VII married the
Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV.
Sons of Edward III (1312-1377)