On July 6, 1483, the house of York produced its third king: Richard III. Due to the king’s controversial seizing of the throne from his nephew, Edward V, he didn’t enjoy universal support in England. To boost his support, Richard appointed certain nobles to positions of power throughout the kingdom. However, he killed those he viewed as a threat. A month before his accession, Richard had a close ally of Edward IV, William, Lord Hastings, arrested. William was accused of treason and swiftly executed without a trial the same day.
The unlawful death of a former loyal ally did little to help Richard III’s cause. As a result, many nobles began to plot against Richard. Even the king’s closest allies were no exception. In October 1483, the Duke of Buckingham raised a rebel army. However, the duke’s rebellion proved short-lived, and he was captured without a fight. In response to his betrayal, Richard had Buckingham executed on November 2.
As the house of York dealt with rebellions in England, the remaining Lancastrians lived as exiles in France. After the disastrous Battle of Tewkesbury in May 1471, the Yorkists killed King Henry VI and his only son, Prince Edward. With the king and heir dead, the direct Lancastrian line ended. Queen Margaret was captured, although King Louis XI of France eventually paid for her release. Broken by her losses, the formerly headstrong queen retired to Anjou, where she died on August 25, 1482.
After Henry VI’s death, the Lancastrians rallied behind Henry Tudor. The half-nephew of the former king, Henry’s claim to the English throne wasn’t strong. Although he descended from King Edward III, it was through an illegitimate line. Regardless, the Lancastrians viewed him as their last hope. In addition, Henry gained further support from former Yorkists. The most prominent being Edward IV’s wife, Elizabeth Woodville.
Bitter with Richard III for her two son’s supposed deaths, the dowager queen allied herself with the Lancastrians. In exchange for her support, Henry would marry her eldest daughter, Princess Elizabeth, once he became king. Aware of the situation developing in France, Richard kept a close eye on Henry. However, the king had other matters to attend to. During 1484, Richard experienced a major setback. In April, the king’s sole heir, Prince Edward, died, leaving him vulnerable to his enemies.
Downfall of Richard III
The death of Prince Edward devastated his parents. Without an heir, Richard III’s throne became less secure and emboldened the Lancastrians. In March 1485, Queen Anne died. Although she passed away from an illness, a rumor spread that Richard had killed her to marry Princess Elizabeth. By doing this, the king could once again secure his throne. Although no concrete evidence existed, the rumor further damaged Richard’s reputation.
Throughout 1485, Henry Tudor prepared an army to invade England. From his spies, Richard III became aware of the plot. Despite this, the king didn’t know when or where Henry would invade. In early August, Henry and his fleet sailed to England, landing in Wales. As the Lancastrians journeyed across England, Richard discovered their presence. In response, the king raised an army and marched to intercept Henry.
On August 22, both men and their forces met near Bosworth. In the ensuing Battle of Bosworth Field, Richard III’s superior numbers almost overwhelmed Henry’s smaller army. However, a former Yorkist, Thomas Stanley, joined the battle at the last second, and his men fought alongside Henry’s. Betrayed and outnumbered, Richard made a final desperate charge towards Henry. In turn, Lancastrian soldiers cut down the king before he could reach their leader.
With Richard III dead, the house of York came to an end. In its place, the victorious Henry VII established the Tudor dynasty. Reuniting the Lancastrians and Yorkists through his marriage to Princess Elizabeth, the dynasty offered hope to England. The Wars of the Roses finally came to a close, ending 30 years of fighting and bloodshed. Producing three kings and two queens, the Tudor dynasty would reign in England until 1603.
Cawthorne, N. (2012). Kings & Queens of England: From the Saxon Kings to the House of Windsor. London: Arcturus.
Cheetham, A. (2000). The Wars of the Roses. London: Cassell.
Wars of the Roses. (2019, August 30). Retrieved January 13, 2021, from https://www.britannica.com/event/Wars-of-the-Roses.