A Yorkist Rift
The War of the Roses would continue under the new Yorkist government. As King Edward IV ruled his kingdom, Henry VI lived in exile on the English border. Resigned to his fate, the Lancastrian king made little effort to regain his throne. However, his wife, Margaret of Anjou, refused to give up. The queen didn’t care much for Henry’s future but desperately wanted to ensure their son Edward’s. To accomplish this, Margaret attempted to make alliances with Scotland and France.
By 1464, the house of Lancaster‘s fortunes began to change. Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, was one of Richard, Duke of York’s staunchest allies. When York had been killed at Towton, Warwick transferred his loyalty to Richard’s son, Edward. Warwick was instrumental in gaining the throne for the Yorkists and had guided Edward IV’s early rule. However, both men had begun to have a rocky relationship.
As Edward IV ruled, he began to chafe under Warwick’s guidance. Although Warwick was a competent tutor, Edward started to feel the need to become more independent. As an act of defiance, the king secretly married a commoner named Elizabeth Woodville. Warwick was humiliated by Edward’s decision. At the time, the earl had been negotiating for a French princess to be Edward’s bride. Angered by the king’s deception, the two men began to grow estranged.
As Edward IV continued to disrupt his diplomatic plans, Warwick became more frustrated with the king. He hated the sudden advancement of the Woodevilles in court and disliked Edward’s contrary politics. Warwick grew so alienated by Edward that he began making plans to replace the king with his brother, George, Duke of Clarence. George was a foolish man who desperately wanted to be king. Warwick viewed George as someone who he could manipulate, and together the two began scheming.
In July 1469, both men discretely left England for France. While in Calais, George secretly married a daughter of Warwick’s to cement their alliance. Back in England, Edward IV was facing a rebel army organized by Warwick. Outnumbered, Edward’s army was crushed, and the king was captured. Warwick hoped to gain the approval of Parliament to depose the Yorkist king.
Unfortunately, Warwick’s plan would backfire. Riots erupted, and Parliament failed to approve of Warwick’s idea. By March 1470, Edward IV was back on the throne and had pardoned a majority of the rebels. However, Warwick and George were exempt from this. Fearing for their lives, both men fled to France to escape Edward’s wrath.
While exiled in France, Warwick met with the French King Louis XI. Louis suggested that he ally with Margaret, who was in France with the remaining Lancastrians. Although sworn enemies, Warwick and Margaret eventually made an agreement. Warwick would put Henry VI back on the throne but would rule through him. Margaret agreed, and Warwick shortly after departed for England.
In September 1470, Warwick and the Lancastrian forces landed at York. The invasion surprised Edward IV, and he narrowly escaped. The king and his brother, Richard, retreated to Burgundy, France. Held in prison since 1465, Henry VI was released by Warwick and reinstated as king. Henry would reign for only six months.
In Burgundy, Edward IV was able to gain Duke Charles’s support. Bolstered by the Burgundian troops, the Yorkist army returned to England. In April 1471, Edward’s forces met Warwick’s at the Battle of Barnet. Warwick was killed in battle, and George swore an oath of loyalty to the king. In May, Margaret and the Lancastrians made a final stand against Edward. At the Battle of Tewkesbury, the last Lancastrian army was destroyed.
The results of the battle were catastrophic for the Lancastrians. Prince Edward was killed, Henry VI was murdered in prison, and Margaret’s will was finally crushed. With the deaths of the prince and king, the direct line of the Lancastrians was ended. The Lancastrians were no longer a threat, and the Yorkists were now firmly in control of England. Edward IV was able to rule in peace for the rest of his reign.
For the remaining 12 years of his life, Edward IV’s reign was rather uneventful. He was able to reform the government, as his father had wanted, and had maintained peace. Law and order were restored throughout England. In the spirit of past English monarchs, Edward would attempt to invade France. However, Louis XI would pay the king off instead.
In 1477, Edward IV’s brother, George, was once again causing trouble. Since Warwick’s daughter had died in childbirth, George was seeking a new bride. He wanted to marry the Duke of Burgundy’s daughter but was denied by Edward. Enraged by this, George started plotting against his brother again. Aware of George’s treachery, Edward didn’t pardon him this time. Instead, George was executed on February 18, 1478.
On April 9, 1483, Edward IV died from a fever. He was 40-years-old. Edward had been preparing for another military campaign in France at the time of his death. In his will, Edward entrusted his heir’s protection, Prince Edward, to his younger brother, Richard. For the first time since Henry IV’s passing, the crown was successfully passed from a usurper king to his son.
Ending of the Civil War
Richard, Duke of Glouchester
Glouchester was the last surviving son of Richard, Duke of York. He had grown up during the War of the Roses and had accompanied his brother Edward on many campaigns. When Edward IV became king in 1461, Richard would remain a staunch ally of his, unlike George. In return for his loyalty, Richard was given military and administrative positions in the kingdom. After the death of George in 1477, Richard withdrew from politics. Instead, he retired to his estates along the northern English border.
When Edward IV died in 1483, Richard was in northern England. The king’s wife, Elizabeth Woodville, and her family were at odds with Richard. Like other English nobles, he didn’t appreciate their rapid rise in social status and their attempts to gain power through marriage. In order to undermine Richard, the Woodvilles attempted to take away his guardianship of the young Edward V. When this news reached Richard, he immediately departed for London.
Edward V and his uncle made their way from Ludlow to London, but Richard was able to intercept his nephew. Having foiled her plans, Queen Elizabeth retreated with her remaining son, Prince Richard, to Westminster. Richard realized that if Edward was officially crowned, then he would lose his guardianship. Even worse, the king would most likely restore the reviled Woodvilles to power. Richard knew that drastic measures had to be taken to counter this.
In June 1483, Richard attempted to press his claim to the English throne. On June 16, 1483, Elizabeth was forced to surrender Prince Richard under the threat of violence. Afterward, Prince Richard was imprisoned alongside his brother Edward V. With both of Edward IV’s heirs in captivity, Richard had neutralized the Woodville’s threat.
Richard continued to push his claim while consolidating his supporters. However, his pitch wasn’t met with widespread approval from the English nobility. Some nobles were appalled at the thought of disinheriting Edward IV’s sons in favor of Richard. In response, Richard began giving credence to an old rumor about his brother. The rumor was that Edward IV had contracted a marriage with another woman before marrying Elizabeth. Under these conditions, Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth would be invalidated, and their children would be illegitimate.
The rumor created enough doubt to support Richard’s claim. By late June, Parliament agreed to make Richard king, and he was crowned shortly after on July 6. The newly crowned Richard III had successfully overthrown his nephew, Edward V, two months after Edward IV’s death. Edward V and Prince Richard would disappear shortly after. They were never seen again.
Rise of Henry Tudor
In 1483, Henry Tudor was the last legitimate Lancastrian claimant. At 26-years-old, he was the son of Edmund Tudor, 1st Earl of Richmond. Edmund had been the younger half-brother of Henry VI and had died before his son was born. Through his mother Margaret Beaufort, Henry Tudor descended from Edward III. However, his claim to the English throne was tenuous since the Beauforts were barred by Henry IV. They had been an illegitimate royal line that had been granted legitimacy, but couldn’t succeed to the throne.
Despite these obstacles, the Lancastrians still viewed Henry as a viable claimant who they could rally behind. As Richard III became more tyrannical in his rule, more English nobles were becoming inclined to support Henry. One such noble was Richard’s closest supporter, the Duke of Buckingham. Alienated by Richard’s actions, Buckingham planned an invasion of England with Henry. Buckingham landed first, but his army was swiftly defeated and the duke was killed. Henry promptly returned to Brittany, France empty-handed.
Embittered by the presumed deaths of her sons, Elizabeth Woodville reached out to Henry. Once more, an agreement was made between a Yorkist and a Lancastrian. In return for her support, Henry promised to marry Elizabeth’s eldest daughter, Princess Elizabeth, when he became king. With these preparations in place, Henry began planning his next invasion of England.
The Tyrant Richard III
In England, Richard III was attempting to secure his throne, while stamping out any rebellions. Any noble that questioned him was likely to be executed for treason. However, tragedy would strike in 1484. In April, his only son and heir, Prince Edward, died at 10-years-old. It was believed that the prince’s death was retribution for the supposed deaths of Edward V and Prince Richard. With the death of his heir, Richard’s hold on power became much less stable.
During the summer of 1484, Richard III’s agents came close to capturing Henry in Brittany. Being informed ahead of time, Henry was able to escape. Richard was able to discover that the Lancastrians planned to invade during the next summer. In March 1485, Richard suffered another personal tragedy. His wife, Queen Anne, passed away. A rumor arose that Richard had Anne poisoned to marry his niece, Princess Elizabeth.
On August 7, 1485, Henry and his Lancastrian army landed in South Wales at Milford Haven. By August 22, Henry’s forces met Richard III’s at Bosworth Field. On this day, Henry knew that he would either become king or die as the last Lancastrian. Anxious to end the Lancastrian threat to his throne, Richard personally took part in the battle. As he made one last cavalry charge towards Henry, Richard was killed. Against all odds, Henry’s smaller army was able to overcome Richard’s larger force.
After the Battle of Bosworth Field, Henry Tudor was crowned Henry VII of England. With his ascension, the Tudor dynasty was established. As promised, Henry married Elizabeth in January 1486. Through their marriage, the Lancastrians and Yorkists were symbolically united as one again. Their Tudor descendants would rule England until Queen Elizabeth I’s death in 1603.
The War of the Roses had brought 30 years of conflict to England. Throughout the war, there was political instability, countless deaths, and constant anarchy throughout the country. With Richard III’s death at the Battle of Bosworth Field, the War of the Roses officially ended. Henry VII’s reign ushered in an era of peace and stability that England desperately needed. The country has never again experienced such a devastating civil war.
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 October 28, 2019, from https://www.britannica.com/event/Wars-of-the-Roses.