A detailed guide to the causes, course and personalities of The Wars of the Roses. Written for A Level students and teachers, this unit provides an evidence based narrative of key elements of the course. Up to date research and historiography along with guided bibliographies make this free to access guide an ideal study aid.
The Wars of the Roses had a number of long term causes. Questions arose relating to the legitimacy of the monarchs following the overthrowing of Richard II. Political issues led to tension. Particularly financial woes and the state of English possessions in France. Though many of these issues subsided under the leadership of King Henry V, they reemerged in reign of his son, Henry VI, who acceded aged just 9 months old.
The minority government of Henry VI saw divisions emerge. Policy on campaigning in France split senior nobles. The nature of protectorship and guardianship was at times confused. It led to factions emerging.
Matters were not helped by Henry’s personality. Pious and holy, but meek and easily led. It meant that the transfer of power from divided but experienced nobles to the rule of an inexperienced and not very competent king was damaging. So potentially damaging that the king was ushered into the background.
Leading nobles squabbled over policy. Henry’s new wife, Margaret of Anjou, began to have influence. The frustrations exploded, albeit briefly, into conflict in 1455. Richard Duke of York attacked the kings army in the First Battle of St Albans. The king fell under York’s control. Soon after, he was incapable, falling into a catatonic state.
York acted as Protector. He swept aside many of the opposing faction. Though policy was generally sound, his very involvement now caused resentment. Upon the kings return to health his favourites returned to court. Tensions rose. In 1459 they again flared up into conflict, at Blore Heath.
Again attempts at resolution were made. Despite the Loveday parade, war followed. The campaigns of 1460/61 were quite brief. They proved quite decisive. Richard was killed at the Battle of Wakefield. His son, Edward, took his place and alongside the Earl of Warwick won a bloody battle of Towton.
Following Towton there was a period of Yorkist rule. In the late 1460s the Earl of Warwick became disaffected with Yorkist rule. In a dramatic twist, he changed sides. With support from Warwick, Margaret of Anjou was able to coordinate the successful readeption of Henry VI. Edward IV went into exile. His exile was not for long though. He returned in 1471 and overcame Warwick at the Battle of Barnet, then the forces of Margaret at the Battle of Tewkesbury. Yorkist rule was secured.
Rule lasted relatively unchallenged until the death of Edward IV. His son, Edward V, was never crowned. Instead Richard Duke of Gloucester became king, following the disinheritance of Edward IVs children on the grounds of illegitimacy. Richard’s actions won him few friends among Edward IVs old household. They looked to France, to Henry, Earl of Richmond, as an alternative ruler.
Henry Tudor as we know him, had the support of the King of France. His army was not large. He landed in Wales and slowly made his way toward England, gathering support along the way. Richard III cut him off in the Midlands. At the Battle of Bosworth Field, Richard III was killed and the Plantagenet dynasty’s rule came to an end.
The Historical Association have a handy Whos Who in the Wars of the Roses document. It is written for an A Level audience.
The Wars of the Roses is available as an A Level unit through AQA. The specification is here.