The Wars of the Roses was a prolonged period of civil unrest in England, focussed on a period of just over thirty years which saw seventeen battles between rivals, the initiative swinging swiftly between the sides and the crown changing hands four times as a direct result of battles won and lost. One of the most difficult question to answer is which, amongst those seventeen engagements, was the most important in determining the course of the wars?
I’m going to count down my top five and see how it compares with yours.
5. The Battle of Ludford Bridge – 12th October 1459
I know – there wasn’t even any fighting, so how did this make my top five? This battle represented a watershed moment in the escalating conflict and was the first engagement that really pitched King Henry VI against his most powerful subject, Richard, Duke of York. Henry headed an army much larger than York’s though the numbers on each side are unknown. York was joined by his brother-in-law Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury, who had encountered a force sent by Queen Margaret at Blore Heath on his way to Ludlow. Also within Ludlow’s stunning fortress were Salisbury’s namesake son the Earl of Warwick who would be remembered as the Kingmaker and York’s own family, his two oldest sons Edward, Earl of March and Edmund, Earl of Rutland ready for their first taste of battle.
The magnates arrayed against each other were not dissimilar from St Albans four years earlier. With the exception of those ensconced within Ludlow noble support was vested entirely in the king, headed by Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset and Humphrey Stafford, Duke of Buckingham. The big difference, and the reason for Ludford’s impact, was Henry VI’s position at the front of his army under his banners. The defection of the Calais garrison under Andrew Trollope during the night left the Yorkist force exposed and caused their retreat into the night. Ludlow was sacked by the king’s army in punishment for the town’s support of its lord.
The importance of Ludford lies in the confrontation between King Henry and York. No longer was this about control of the king, a war between magnates claiming to know what was best for Henry. York was forced to back down from confronting the king himself. This may have been the very point of the court faction’s efforts to place Henry at their head and if it was, it worked perfectly. Ludford’s real impact lay in its aftermath. Even before the royal army arrived at Ludlow a Parliament had been summoned, later known as the Parliament of Devils, to punish the rebel lords. York, his two oldest sons, Salisbury, Warwick and even Salisbury’s wife were attainted and deprived of all of their titles and lands forever. The move left the Yorkist lords with nothing to lose and forced them into a corner from which attack was their only option. Ludford, or at least its aftermath, was the first battle that changed the entire landscape of the conflicts in England and made the civil war a dynastic question of the right to the throne.
4. The Battle of Stoke Field – 16th June 1487
The inclusion of this battle may surprise some, too. It is often no more than a footnote in the telling of the Wars of the Roses, which are frequently described as having ended two years earlier. It suited the fledgling Tudor regime of Henry VII to underplay the importance of Stoke Field to detract from the very real threats that remained to his crown and so Stoke Field has been consigned to the tiniest footnotes of history, swept under the carpet.
Stoke Field’s importance is twofold. It was the last armed confrontation of the Wars of the Roses. Bosworth did not end the fighting, Stoke Field did. Never again would a Yorkist army challenge for the throne. How can the Wars of the Roses possibly have ended in 1485 when there was a battle between invading Yorkist and royalist forces in 1487? It is true that the Yorkists had around 8,000 men to the Tudor’s 12,000 and that the majority of the Yorkist army was ill-equipped Irish kerns who fell quickly under arrow fire but it is important to remember the other reason that Stoke Field was important.
The Yorkist army was led by John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, a grandson of Richard, Duke of York, nephew to Edward IV and Richard III and cousin of Elizabeth of York, Henry VII’s queen. The aim of the invading army has become somewhat muddied but they intended to place Edward, Earl of Warwick, the last grandson of Richard, Duke of York through the male line, on the throne. The thousands of Irish soldiers were led by Thomas Fitzgerald, younger brother of Gerald FitzGerald, 8th Earl of Kildare and their presence was a powerful reminder of the latent Yorkist sympathy that would remain in Ireland for years to come. There was a professional element to the Yorkist army too; Swiss mercenaries led by Colonel Martin Schwartz, they were a very real threat, though Colonel Schwartz would fall amongst around 4,000 other Yorkist soldiers at Stoke Field. These expensive mercenaries were funded by Margaret, Dowager Duchess of Burgundy, a sister of Edward IV and Richard III. Margaret was wealthy, influential and utterly committed to dislodging Henry VII from the throne he had won at her family’s expense.
Stoke Field deserves more attention than it usually receives not only because it was the last battle of over thirty years of civil war but because it reminded the fledgling Tudor dynasty that it was far from secure and that it was surrounded by enemies, from Ireland, the continent and Yorkist blood within the kingdom. Stoke Field has been largely forgotten because the early Tudor government wanted it forgotten, but Henry VII was probably never able to shake the threats that it made all too clear to him.
3. The Battle of Bosworth Field – 22nd August 1485
One of the most famous battles in English history, Bosworth’s inclusion is not contentious. Its importance lies in the demonstration of opposition to Richard III’s brief rule amongst the nobility and gentry and in the ending of the 331 years of Plantagenet rule. As we have seen, it was not the end of the Wars of the Roses, but it was the close of Plantagenet rule, the end of the House of York’s time on the throne and the dawn of the Tudor age, a period that would have an immense impact on England (whether for good or ill is a matter for discussion).
The defeat of Richard III at Bosworth had a huge impact on English history because of the questions it left unanswered too. Would Richard III have been a good king? Was he socially progressive? Would a marriage into the Portuguese royal family, who had Lancastrian blood, have served to heal the wounds that Henry Tudor and Elizabeth of York’s union sought to? Would the mystery of the fate of the Princes in the Tower have been solved if Richard had lived a little longer (and precisely how would it have been solved?)? Bosworth Field left us with these questions and they are still hot topics for debate over 500 years later.
Just as Stoke Field served to remind Henry VII that he had not been accepted by all, Bosworth exposed unhealed wounds across a nation that must have believed the wars were long gone. There had been no battle for fourteen years, yet disaffected Edwardian Yorkists still viewed war as the route by which they could vent their frustration. Lancastrian sympathies, lacking a figurehead for fourteen years, were swift to emerge from hiding and gather behind Henry Tudor, drawing unhappy Yorkists to them to swell opposition to Richard. Bosworth therefore demonstrated that resorting to the field of battle had become ingrained in the English psyche as a legitimate way to resolve disputes. Many taking the field had lived and grown through the troubles of earlier years and this was something the Tudor regime would have to deal with, as Stoke Field demonstrated.
Bosworth was a defining moment in English history, but only makes number three in my list of battles of the Wars of the Roses. Its impact on wider history may be larger than my other two suggestions, but in terms of this civil war, two battles strike me as more crucial.
2. The Battle of Towton – 29th March 1461
England’s Apocalypse really needs no justification for making the list. For many, Bosworth and Towton might be vying for the number one rank and there is certainly an argument for both to take the top spot. Towton is renowned as the largest battle ever to take place of English soil, around 100,000 men possibly taking the field, with possibly slightly more on the Lancastrian side than the Yorkist. Edward, Earl of March (by now Duke of York and legal heir to the throne) led a force also made up of the Earl of Warwick and Duke of Norfolk. The Lancastrians were led by Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset and contained Henry Holland, Duke of Exeter and Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland.
The battle was cataclysmic. It was fought on Palm Sunday in driving snow, the wind favouring the Yorkist archers but the subsequent fighting too close to call until the Duke of Norfolk’s army arrived late to the field and broke the Lancastrian’s resolve. Heralds and other reports gave a shocking figure of 29,000 casualties when the battle ended. Mass graves had to be dug in the frozen earth to house the battered corpses that littered the field.
Towton broke Lancastrian resistance to Edward and allowed him to assume the throne with a degree of security that lasted almost a decade (barring two of the civil war’s least important confrontations at Hexham and Hedgeley Moor). The crown of England had sat upon a Lancastrian head for 62 years but was now lowered onto the head of the first king of the House of York. Most people within England had known nothing but Lancastrian rule and Towton radically altered the political landscape. It tarnished anew the notion of kingship as divine and unquestionable and meant none knew what to expect from a dynastic change. Henry IV, the first Lancastrian king, had not enjoyed his crown and it must have seemed likely that Edward would suffer the same continual threats and uncertainties.
What battle could have been more important than either Bosworth or Towton?
Bear with me on this one…..
1. The Battle of Wakefield – 30 December 1460
Not an obvious choice, I know, but one I think I can justify. I should probably declare an interest here, since I have a biography of Richard, Duke of York due for release on 15th April 2016, but it was researching this that convinced me of Wakefield’s crucial position within the conflicts of the Wars of the Roses.
Wakefield sits between two of the other crucial battles I have listed above, taking place after Ludford Bridge but before Towton. It came about because of the consequences of Ludford Bridge, which saw Richard, Duke of York return to England to sensationally lay claim to his cousin’s throne. The act was not welcomed and produced a stalemate that was shelved by the unsatisfactory device of parliament that allowed Henry VI to keep his throne but disinherited his son Prince Edward, making Richard and his descendants legal heirs to the crown of England. York and his sons swore loyalty to Henry and Richard was granted the trappings associated with the position of Prince of Wales. Crucially, it was made treason to attack Richard and his heirs.
In the north, Henry VI’s queen, Margaret of Anjou, was gathering a huge force with the support of Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset and others. This was the beginning of the massive force that would arrive at Towton to face Richard’s son, Edward but it was the Duke of York who marched north to confront them whilst his oldest son gathered reinforcements on the Welsh border. Richard stopped at his northern stronghold of Sandal Castle at Wakefield when it became clear that he was hopelessly outnumbered.
Sources are unclear precisely what happened next but it is likely that a truce was agreed for the Christmas period. Richard seems to have been tricked into believing men were joining his side when in fact their sympathies were with the queen so that he thought he had more men than he ever did. There was possibly an attack on a foraging party from Sandal Castle that caused Richard to sally out to confront the Lancastrian army who had probably broken the truce. Those he believed were with him instantly turned on Richard and the battle was brief and decisive. Richard was killed, as was his 17 year-old son Edmund. The Earl of Salisbury was captured but beheaded the following day. The three heads were famously placed on spikes outside York, on Micklegate Bar, with a paper crown mockingly fixed to York’s head.
It might be significant enough that Richard, Duke of York fell at Wakefield. He was the most powerful man in England and legally heir to the throne, but the impact was far wider than that. The Battle of Wakefield took place at a time when matters were at their most complex. Richard, Duke of York held the legal right, granted by Parliament and enshrined in statute. Queen Margaret surely felt that she held the moral right. Her son had been disinherited by the force of York’s will and was still the rightful heir.
Margaret may have been acting to protect her son, but in legal terms her attack on Richard was treason. It made her and her army outlaws, legitimate targets for reprisals and it damaged their position and cause. The first engagement of the Wars of the Roses at St Albans had left the sons of the Duke of Somset, Earl of Northumberland and Lord Clifford swearing to have their revenge. Five years later they each got it. Somerset saw York killed. Northumberland’s old enemy Salisbury was executed and Clifford supposedly took great delight in slaying the seventeen-year-old Edmund. In satisfying their long quest for vengeance, these men unleashed more sons baying for revenge. Edward, Earl of March would seek to avenge his father and brother. Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick wanted revenge for his father’s treatment. Neither were men to wait five months, let alone five years, for what they wanted.
Towton was a direct consequence of Wakefield. Edward and Warwick were whipped into a frenzy and had the law on their side. Wakefield escalated the conflict to a new level, giving Edward permission, as he saw it, to unseat Henry and slaughter his followers. Margaret believed she had the initiative after destroying a foe she had feared for a decade or more, certain that right was on her side as she sought to win back her son’s birth right. It was Wakefield that caused Edward to proclaim himself King of England and bring the dynastic rivalry unsatisfactorily shelved by his father into sharp focus.
Both sides had a degree of right on their side, but neither would back down. This was now a war for the crown between Lancaster and York in a way it had never been before. Wakefield’s impact did not end there, though. York was almost certainly killed during the fighting. His body was then posthumously beheaded and mocked with the paper crown. Edmund was captured but rather than being held and ransomed he is killed in an act of simple vengeance. Salisbury was reportedly dragged from his prison cell by a mob and beheaded without trial or the intervention of any Lancastrian noble to protect him. Warfare was being radically altered by the queen’s army. Chivalry was dealt a fatal blow at Wakefield. No longer would the bodies of the most noble dead be respected – they were weapons in a propaganda war. Capture did not afford valuable individuals the protection of their captor but risked summary murder. Even those taken prisoner could be left to mob justice at a point when traditional chivalry required their captor to protect them. Nobles, previously targets for capture rather than killing, were targeted for death above the common soldiery. Wakefield was a clear demonstration of the changing nature of warfare in England in the mid fifteenth century.
So there you have it; my top five battles of the Wars of the Roses. I’m not suggesting my choices are definitive and I’d love to hear what you think. Probably the most notable omissions, sitting at numbers six and seven respectively, are Tewkesbury and Barnet. They saw the deaths of hugely important figures – Prince Edward at Tewkesbury, ending the Lancastrian male line, and the Kingmaker Earl of Warwick at Barnet, a man who dominated politics in England for over a decade. My choices were made within the context of the civil war and taking account of their wider impacts on the political situation and it is clear that some of the less well-known encounters probably had the widest bearing on future events.
What would you consider to be the most important battle of the Wars of the Roses?
Matt’s latest book, Richard, Duke of York, King By Right, is released by Amberley Publishing on 15th April 2016 and will reveal a very different man from the one who has passed into myth amongst the stories of the Wars of the Roses.
Matthew Lewis has written The Wars of the Roses (Amberley Publishing), a detailed look at the key players of the civil war that tore England apart in the fifteenth century, and Medieval Britain in 100 Facts (Amberley Publishing), which offers a tour of the middle ages by explaining facts and putting the record straight on common misconceptions.
Matt is also the author of a brief biography of Richard III, A Glimpse of King Richard III along with a brief overview of the Wars of the Roses, A Glimpse of the Wars of the Roses.
Matt has two novels available too; Loyalty, the story of King Richard III’s life, and Honour, which follows Francis, Lord Lovell in the aftermath of Bosworth.
The Richard III Podcast and the Wars of the Roses Podcast can be subscribed to via iTunes or on YouTube.
Matt can also be found on Twitter @mattlewisauthor and Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/MattLewisAuthor.
29 thoughts on “The Battles of the Wars of the Roses”
I ‘updated’ — rather improved–my new site and both on the Home and the Richard Iii pages I mention what I think Shakespeare obviously suggested about the end of the War of the Roses.Check it,please,I don’t repeat it here.
My above mentioned site is finished, together with the observations about the War Of the Roses,Queen Elizabeth,her grandmother,Elizabeth Of York and other tricky issues . There will be updated in the future,but it is basically ready.just in case anyone is interested…
Of course,I meant ‘updates’,or ‘it will be updated’,but here if you happen to hit the ‘post’ button,you cannot edit any more.Sorry. One of the things I don’t like in Word Press
I was happy to find your blog. Long interested in English history, I am able to indulge myself since retiring. The War of the Roses has always held questions I am just now finding answers to. Uppermost was what kind of king was Richard III. I will be looking for your book with great interest as well as your past blogs. Thanks for an enjoyable read.
Thank you Georgia. I’m glad that you enjoyed the post and hope that you will find the others interesting too. Richard III is a particular interest of mine so there is plenty here to keep you reading! Matt
Fascinating post, but I fear heavily biased. If Margaret of Anjou was a ‘traitor’ it was because the law and parliament had been twisted by the Duke of York in his favour. I would seriously question if a person can- in any legal or moral sense, be considered a ‘traitor’ against a man who had manipulated parliament to make him the heir. Especially of that woman was the legal Queen, and had been for the last 15 years. If anything, York was supposed to be her subject, not she his.
Richard Duke of York was not always in the right just because he said so. Let us not forget Yorkist propaghanda and lies, and not just take them as gospel.
More bias in blaming the ‘Queen’s party’ for ‘changing the nature of warfare’. Many historians have argued that the first Battle of St Albans was nothing more than a glorified assassination of political rivals by York and Warwick.
I would argue they killed them because they could not force their fellow nobles and manipulate the law to have them executed at their behest for ‘treason’ against them.
Thus, it is not as if there was no politically motivated killing before Wakefield or the Queen’s army started it. York and Warwick did when they attacked in King at St Albans- that was legally an act of treason.
I do not believe York was a passive victim or reluctant rebel- rather a hot-blooded overmighy subject, who proven himself more than willing to use violence to resolve his disputes and serve his ends- then play the innocent and wronged- but loyal subject.
Hi. Thank you for the comments. I’m not sure there is a right or wrong here, just interpretations which can differ.
I don’t believe York did attack the King at the first St Albans – if he wanted Henry’s crown, why not finish him off in the tanner’s shop? Why wait years and years, with two periods as Protector and Henry at his mercy more than once if all York wanted was the crown?
My interpretation is that Henry and Margaret grew paranoid about York, as they had about Humphrey Duke of Gloucester and ended up creating the monster they most by pushing York further and further into opposition.
That’s just one possible interpretation though, and I can’t say I’m right.
He did attack the King – he fired on his retinue when his banners were raised. This is something attested in contemporary sources.
By law, that was an act of treason- and there’s still no admission of what the Yorkists did at St Albans- unless we are meant to believe the deaths of Somerset, Northumberland and Clifford were accidental? Maybe Warwick’s lance slipped!
Let us not also forget that York only got his second protectorate because he was in the powerful position after St Albans.
Margaret of Anjou was 17 years old in 1447 when Humphrey of Gloucester died.
Are we really supposed to believe an adolescent girl was truly the cold-hearted Machiavel of the order that Shakespeare portrayed?
In the earlier matter of Maine and Anjou she was 15 probably just did whatever her family told her.
The government, led by Suffolk and Somerset in Henry’s name, accused Gloucester of plotting to kill his nephew and take the throne himself. That is why he was arrested and in my opinion it was fabricated but played on Henry’s paranoia. Margaret knew little of England and probably accepted the council of men like Suffolk. As York replaced Gloucester as a figure viewed as a champion of the common people, the paranoia transferred to him too. Margaret never learned to understand the nation she ruled, or she would never have made repeated deals to bring Scottish armies into England, and I think in her fear she pushed and pushed York in the 1450’s until he did exactly what she was afraid of.
What evidence is that that York was a Champion of the Common People- aside from what he and his allies said, of course?
I’ve always thought his killing of other nobles was looking out for Number One.
And the evidence that Somerset and Suffolk were throughly evil and corrupt? Except for Yorkist propaghanda of course? Methinks York simply played to the common people for his own ends- preserving their own power and postion.
That’s one likely reason I think York did not take the throne earlier. He could not get away with openly looking like a traitor, because he would lose all support and in short order his head. It had to look legal.
I don’t know at one point he decided to claim the thone, but I seriously doubt ‘they made him do it’. There must have been independent action and will on his part.
Furthermore, if his party were so popular with the commons, why would they have dragged Salisbury out of Prison and killed him, as you recount?
It does nothing to help us understand history to reduce events to ‘goodies vs baddies’ in the way that is done here. I for one cannot believe that York was thoroughly good virtuous, honourable, decent, loyal, good, unselfish and so sweet he bled sugar.
Nor was Margaret the ‘evil foreigner’. Most likely that was her enemies playing to xenophobic sentiments. Most Queens were French, Spanish, Dutch or whatever- and we dont’ blame them for all the ills of the nation.
Finally, if Henry really was so ‘paranoid’ why did he not eliminate York at the soonest oppurtunity? Why allow him to thrive for 30 years, and survive for 10 years opposing the government?
Hardly look like the actions of a paranoid tyrant. He allowed him – and many others- to get away with far too much for far too long IMHO. One of his fundamenal flaws I should say.
Gloucester was considered a champion of the people and had, in Parliament, identified York with his own faction in opposition to Cardinal Beaufort and Suffolk. The Parliament Rolls record Humphrey claiming that Beaufort had ‘caused me, your only uncle to be estranged, as also my cousin of York, my cousin of Huntingdon and many other lords of your kin, from knowledge of any great matters which might concern your high estate or that of others of your kingdom’. There is no evidence that York identified himself with Gloucester, but with Gloucester’s fall in 1447, York became heir presumptive and the most senior figure previously identified with Gloucester.
During Cade’s Rebellion, the rebels’ proclamation ‘The Requests by the Captain of
the Great Assembly in Kent’ openly and explicitly names York first amongst those they demand should be included in government. Unless you accept that York orchestrated this popular uprising (which he would need to be fairly popular to do) then I think that offers some evidence that he was considered a champion of the common people. In fact, it only really matters that Henry’s government saw him as one and perceived a threat from that.
Evidence that Suffolk was possibly corrupt and certainly hated can be found in the Paston Letters with complaints that his agents bullied tenants and in the charges brought against him in Parliament that led to his banishment. Charges were brought against Somerset by the Duke of Norfolk during the Protectorate, which may have been something York wished, but even so, Norfolk was willing to do it, and York did not use his position to rid himself of Somerset.
My conclusion is that York only sought the throne in 1460 after the Parliament of Devils stripped him of every title and every piece of land he held. It cannot be coincidence that he only claimed the crown when everything had been taken from him as a last resort. He had chances to make a play at Dartford in 1452, with 23,000 men at his back (after which he made an embarrassing oath), during the first Protectorate, at the First Battle of St Albans (after which he had Henry re-crowned), during the second Protectorate at any point as Henry popularity fell, but he never did – he showed no sign whatsoever of wishing to do more than be the king’s chief advisor.
As for Margaret, I don’t believe she was evil – I think she lacked subtlety and failed to understand her country. Grafton later wrote of Gloucester’s fall ‘There is an old saying, that a man intending to avoid the smoke, falls into the fire: so here, the Queen minding to preserve her husband in honour, and herself in authority, procured and consented to the death of this noble man.’ Baker would comment a further century later in his A Chronicle of the Kings of England; ‘In the death of this Duke, the Queen, who had a special hand in it, was either not so intelligent or not so provident as she might have been; for as long as he had lived, his Primogeniture would have kept back the Duke of York’s claim to the Crown, being but descended from the fifth son of Edward the third, where this Duke Humphrey was descended from the fourth. And here were the first seeds sown between the Two Houses of Lancaster … and York.’ If there are so many foreign queens who do not attract attention, then surely Margaret did something to make her stand out. According to the Paston Letters, it was being too manly, trying to claim authority that was viewed as a man’s preserve.
I think Henry and increasingly Margaret were paranoid. They let almost everyone in the country get away with too much without punishment, not just York, that was a big part of the problem. I don’t think I reduce history to ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’ – in fact I think I make a conscious and deliberate effort to offer balance, but as I said earlier, interpretation allows room for disagreement. I hope I’ve provided some of the evidence you wanted for my perspective. I’d be happy to hear your evidence for any contrary views.
Wow. If all Suffolk did was bully tenants then he was no worse than any other noble in English history.
In fact, if I recollect, the Pastons were involved in a long-running property dispute that involved Suffolk. So can their word be trusted as objective? Highly doubtful.
We also know now that Margaret was not at Wakefield- she was in Scotland- so Grafton was clearly wrong at worst, his information inaccurate at best in placing her anywhere near, or saying she directly ordered his death. Let us also not forget that almost every source written after 1460 is pro-Yorkist.
Third, if York did not ‘use his power’ to Bring about Somerset’s demise- why did he kill him at St Albans. Sounds an awful lot like using his power to bring about his demise to me. Or maybe that was an accident too?
Last of all- Henry ‘punished’ York? Seriously? After 10 years, coming against him three times, in arms, or threatening to- breaking his sacred oath after Dartford. I don’t blame him for confiscating his lands. Most Kings would have executed him the first time- and how many would have allowed their subjects to get away with that. Seriously. How many?
I’m afraid that at times the best of us, in trying to redress the balance, can lurch to the opposite extreme of trying to exonerate and whitewash those we admire.
Is any historical source without bias? You asked for evidence and I provided it.
Did York kill Somerset? My understanding was that he died in the street in the fighting. Hardly an efficient way to dispose of an enemy, in the turmoil and uncertainty of battle, when you’ve had him in prison for months on end accused of treason and at your mercy.
If you don’t believe that the attainder against the Yorkist lords qualifies as punishment, then I’m not sure what would. I don’t blame Henry for taking action either and think he should have taken stronger action far earlier, but the attainder left York with literally nothing to lose. It cannot be coincidence that York made no attempt on the throne until after that measure.
I do believe Richard, Duke of York has been misjudged and have provided evidence for my views. I still see none from you in support of your contrary opinions and obviously Lancastrian sympathy. My biography of York is sympathetic but I don’t believe it is a whitewash at all.
Why is it that the knee-jerk reaction whenever one is critical of the Holy House of York is accuse them of being ‘Lancastrians’. Its near enough a dirty word now.
I simply believe Yorkist propaghanda has held sway for far, far too long. Poeople complain about Shakespeare, but even he was influenced by it, esp. in his depictions of Margaret and Suffollk. People today accept it almost blindly in the common view of ‘York good, Lancaster bad’.
I think in a lot of ways, they were both as bad as each other, but I’m sick of this idea that one side had innately good motives, and the other way innately evil, corrupt and selfish. They both were, for goodness sake!
York had no claim to be heir apparent after the birth of Henry’s son in 1453, and although he might have had a right to be in the council, the King still had the right to appoint his other relatives. York was not his closest relation.
I don’t think York always intended to take the throne, but he comes across as a jealous, bitter- and yes, I might even say paraniod- man with too much of a sense of his own entitlement (when others were just as entitled as he) and too willing to resort to violence to achieve his ends. Not just some passive victim.
I cannot accept that what happened at St Albans was an accident. Way too convenient that the only major casaulties just so happened to be the main enemies of York and Warwick. I have read about this, and learned under Professor Michael Hicks (I know Ricardians hate him, say he’s ‘not a proper historian’- whatever). I don’t have a lot of my sources with me, (scattered on bookshelves mostly) but they’re not figments of my imagination.
I recall learning that the only reason Somerset was not executed was not because York was merciful and compassionate, but because he could not get parliament to convict him. Somerset might have been a lot of things- an absolute b#####d- but he was not a traitor in any legal sense. He had not rebelled against the King.
In all fairness, a stronger King should, and could have dealt with everything better, but York did deserve to be punished. He had risen up in arms three times, twice his men had hacked the King’s subjects to death virtually in front of him. Its hardly behaviour conductive to trust, regardless of good motives. I can see why people would have thought he was determined to take power, despite his protestations of innocence, and why people felt he aggrieved at him, not just he at them.
As far as the men who had lost fathers at St Albans were concerned, he and his cronies had been allowed to get away with murder. Sadly, they decided to resort the the same means of redress.
“According to the Paston Letters, it was being too manly, trying to claim authority that was viewed as a man’s preserve”
That I do agree with. If there was one thing Medieval men hated, it was a powerful woman. I don’t blame Margaret for being ‘manly’ at all. When she did not have men to fight her corner, she did it herself.
She was prepared to be as ruthless as the men, and as was to be expected, they could not hack it.
If that was her only choice against rolling over and giving up, this woman is inclined to admire her for fighting back when everything she knew and expected as going to be stripped from her (and let us not forget that the Accord not only disinherited her son, but made to provision for her either).
Shame she lived at the time and place when she did, and that was seen as such a crime. In France, she could well have been given the Regency- women had been many times before.
I admire Margaret and in a different time she would have been judged a saviour and a strong woman. Sadly in her say, her actions were frightening to the patriarchal establishment.
A- bloomin’-men. I don’t usually believe in judging the past by modern standards- but I think even by the standards of the time she was judged harshly.
That’s why I like asking our continental neighbours how they see her.
Some of the differences are very interesting. She was just French at a bad time to be- we were losing and wanted someone to blame- because naturally it could not be because the French had a better, or more organized army, more morale etc.
Never! Good old English arrogance.
I think part of her problem was that in France, a female regent was not unusual and she assumed the same would be true in England – Charles VIII’s sister acted as regent and it wasn’t frowned on. In that way, Continental countries were far ahead of England and Margaret got caught out.
Exactly. She thought it was quite natural- and her grandmother Yolande of Aragon was pretty formidable. She lived with her for 5 years as a child, it probably rubbed off on her.
Sad really. How far we had fallen since Ethelfleada of Mercia kicked Vikings, and nobody complained- well, except the Vikings of course. Maybe because she was fighting a foreign invader on home turf.
Anyway, I need to get back to my work on her! Ethelfleda that is, and Late Medieval Women women. Too easily distracted.
Sorry to sound like an obnoxious pain. I just get far too passionate about things I’m interested in.
No worries. I’m always happy to discuss things like this. As I said earlier, I don’t believe anyone knows the absolute truth – people took that to the grave centuries ago as we don’t really know motives for certain, so we are left to interpret and that will always leave room for disagreement. As long as it’s friendly that’s great. 😀
Great post and really interesting comments above. I too just believe that York was forced to act at St Albans as he had nothing left to lose, I may be wrong but desperate times, desperate measures. Just my opinion of course but I think you can think these things without being anti Lancastrian, Pro Yorkist whatever. Whatever people think of York there is no denying that he did have a claim to the throne, although through his mothers line. After the usurpation by Henry IV in 1399 (again desperate times etc) the role of King had again become something that could be removed if you didn’t like the present occupier.
I think my top five battles would be
1. 1st St Albans the start of it all – considering the bad blood between York and Somerset whoever won would not have left the other alive. Likewise with the Percy Neville fued. Those two deaths and the death of Lord Clifford was enough to start the vengeance breads vengeance culture. Henry VI could easily have been despatched with if York wanted power couldn’t he?
2. Wakefield goes without saying . The death of the Duke of York, Earl of Rutland and the Earl of Salisbury together with his son. You would have thought that with York dead the Lancastrians were now invincible but due to the raiding of the towns south of the Trent, a thing not forgotten by the townspeople of Northampton a few years later when Somerset passed back through the town with Edward IV and they tried to lynch him. London kept its gates firmly shut against Lancaster and Edward IV took advantage.
3. Towton the brutal battle that cemented the Yorkist rule, even though it was nearly their destruction until the forces of the Duke of Norfolk arrived, the violence must have been horrific and I’m amazed of how many people have never heard of it.
4. Barnet – the changing of sides, death of Warwick and Montagu and the emergence of the Duke of Gloucester. This was a close run thing against Tewkesbury and the snuffing out of the house of Lancaster.
5. Bosworth – The destruction of the Yorkist line and the last English King to die in battle Richard III. I’m so glad people are discussing him and his rule again. The start of the Tudors by conquest even though it appears old Henry Tudor never joined in with the fighting, leaving all that to the Earl of Oxford. Good job no one minded about his claim coming through his mother’s line by then.
Loving Richard Duke of York – King by right by the way. What an interesting character.
I do not think one can characterise Margaret of Anjou as a traitor unless you take a partisan Yorkist position. She would clearly have argued that Richard of York was the traitor – he had after all rebelled and imprisoned a King that he had sworn an oath of loyalty to (in that respect no different from Henry IV). It was a civil war after all with two separate parliaments – one that declared Richard a traitor and the other than named him heir to the throne.
However, I would agree that Wakefield is a key battle for any history of Richard of York – it certainly was for him because he died in it!
I would add that I think it important to make a distinction between Margaret and Henry. Margaret had only a limited involvement in politics based on her own letters and gift giving up until around 1455 – the Saint Albans incident probably galvanised her into taking charge. The Yorkist chroniclers are wrong about her level of involvement before then – this may be bias but it is more likely they were simply reporting commonly believed rumours. Her gift giving practice shows she favoured York and Somerset equally until 1455. Her letters show she appears to have had limited involvement in political appointments (no more or less so than any other medieval queen) up until the mid 1450s.
One more recent book on the war of the roses puts the blame more squarely on Henry VI – who after all was the King – it being argued that his influence was a good deal more active and pernicious than has traditionally been assumed. I personally would not go that far, but it is a view worth thinking about.
One interesting observation was that Loveday 1458 York and Margaret walked arm in arm. This showed they were willing to reconcile at that time. That suggests 2 things – Margaret had taken the reigns of power by then as regards the Lancastrian faction and secondly (and perhaps more significantly), York was willing to reconcile with Margaret but not with Somerset (or possibly Somerset would not reconcile with him – or both). That suggests Margaret was still playing the part of a reconciling intermediary even at that late stage (at least superficially so).