A History of Great Britain by Robert Balmain Mowat - CHAPTER XIII - The War of the Roses

September 3 2018

CHAPTER XIII - The War of the Roses

The Lead-Up

The Hundred Years’ War has drained Britain’s morale. Military forces have become disillusioned. Many nobles have put returning men-at-arms in livery, i.e. on payroll, like household servants. To identify a solider as belonging to a lord, a badge is sewn unto his cloak.

In 1430, a law is passed preventing those from voting in elections, who are not freeholders with land valued at least 40 shillings a year. The House of Lords has become smaller, more insular and without any representatives for the villeins. Those ~ 50 baronial families left in the House, are engaged in many small rivalries with each other.

Besides the moral and legal deterioration, the Lancastrian government is also financially on a downward trajectory; by 1433, treasurer Lord Cromwell records expenditures of £50.000, but a revenue of only £38.000.

Henry VI. is a religious and old-fashioned king. He marries Margaret of Anjou in 1445. His government is weak.

Voices grow louder each day about mismanagement. The country needs a new leader and the people want the Duke of York for the job. Queen Margaret favours the Duke of Somerset as Henry’s council. Henry goes against the people and elects Somerset.

The War of the Roses Begins

It’s now 1453 and the king has taken ill. He appears to have lost his memory and has fallen into a state of childishness. The same year, Margaret gives birth to a son, Edward.

With a king of unsound mind and a successor born, the Duke of York is declared ‘Protector of the Realm’. All is well for the next 15 months.

Christmas 1454 arrives and Henry VI. regains his wits. He immediately dismisses York and reinstates Somerset.

York gathers his supporters and advances on London in May, 1455.

The sides are now Lancastrian versus Yorkist - the war is fought with nobles and paid men-at-arms; this will not be a people’s war. However, the people are greatly effected - whenever a battle is concluded, the winning side takes administrative control until the next battle.

The Duke of York has a son too, also named Edward. After his father falls, he declares himself king.
The people are tired of the ever-changing government and welcome Edward as a their ruler. He is now known as Edward IV.; he is 19 years of age.

Henry VI. is imprisoned in the Tower of London, while Margaret and her son flee to France.

Edward IV. proves an independent king from the start. In defiance of his father’s adviser, the Earl of Warwick, he marries a widow of a Lancastrian supporter.

Warwick is not an enemy Edward should have made. He has a similar annual revenue to the crown but with less expenses and, due to his generosity, he is popular with the people.

In 1470 therefore, Warwick joins a campaign against Edward.

The campaign fails however and Warwick flees to France and joins Margaret against the Yorkist king. It is a curious alliance, for it was Warwick who helped topple Margaret’s husband.

Warwick and Margaret’s campaign takes Edward by surprise, and he is forced to flee to Burgundy for refuge. Warwick meanwhile, takes London.

For the next six months, Warwick administers government under Margaret, and Henry is put on the throne as for show.

Edward waits for his opportunity to take back control, which will come in 1471. A dense fogs lies of the country and Edward’s forces are winning the attack. Warwick dies fighting and despite what was, Edward regrets his death.

Almost Post-War

Margaret’s son is killed and she is taken prisoner but treated honourably; she is eventually allowed to return to France.

The rest of Edward’s reign is peaceful and England prospers. In 1475, he manages a treaty with France.

In April 1483, Edward IV. is succeeded by his 13 year old son, Edward V. Edward IV.’s brother Richard, the Duke of Gloucester, becomes Protector of the Kingdom until Edward V. is old enough to rule.

Howbeit, Edward V. and his brother will be dead in only two short months, having died in the Tower of London. Richard is suspected as their killer.

Richard III. takes the throne - but while is a thoughtful and agreeable king, the people view him as an usurper.

Over the sea in Brittany still lives a descendant of Edward. A Henry Tudor. In 1485 he sets sails for England and in the final battle of the War of the Roses, Richard III. is slain.

Richard was a good person, Mowat explains, but succumbed to the temptation of power.