The Wars of the Roses remain a controversial period of history lasting approximately from 1455 to 1485. The Wars consist of eight main battles and five key leaders. The struggle began during the reign of Henry VI due to his bouts of insanity. In 1451, Parliament chose Richard, Duke of York as Henry’s successor. They feared that the king would lose his sanity completely before the queen had an heir. When Henry lapsed into insanity again in 1453, Richard’s crown seemed within reach. However, Queen Margaret gave birth to a boy. Parliament then declared Richard as protector of the infant prince, and he ruled as regent. The fight for the throne began when Henry VI regained his sanity in 1455. The Wars of the Roses was not a true civil war, but rather battles between two noble families.
The first phase of the Wars of the Roses was fought between Henry VI of Lancaster and Richard, Duke of York. At the Battle of St. Albans in 1455, Henry and his Lancastrian supporters were defeated by Richard. Queen Margaret fled to France and vowed to bring back French mercenaries for her husband. In 1459, Margaret returned to England and defeated Richard’s Yorkist armies at the Battle of Ludlow. Richard fled to Ireland. The next nine years were the most violent. Many of the Lancastrian supporters were defeated and Henry VI was thrown into the Tower of London. Parliament was at an impasse since the war was unprecedented. English law decreed that a new king could not be crowned until the old king died. Parliament declared Richard regent, and then disinherited Henry’s son. Margaret, furious at the loss of her son’s power, raised another Lancastrian army. Together, Henry and Margaret defeated the Yorkists at the Battle of Wakefield in 1460. Richard, Duke of York, died in battle. Richard’s son, Edward, was declared to be Richard’s successor.
The second phase of the Wars of the Roses was fought between Henry VI of Lancaster and Edward IV of York. Henry defeated the Yorkist army at the second Battle of St. Albans in 1461. Later that year, at the Battle of Towton, Edward slaughtered the Lancastrian army during a blinding snow storm. His victory gave him the crown by right of conquest, not by the death of the king. Parliament finally recognized Edward IV as king of England. He ruled England peacefully for nine years before Henry VI returned to challenge his crown. In 1471 at the Battle of Barnet, Henry regained his sanity and momentarily forced Edward off of his throne. Edward organized his troops and crushed the Lancastrians at the Battle of Tewkesbury. Margaret was captured and her young son was killed. The Yorkists ruled England for the next fourteen years. Edward IV ruled well and left the throne to his son, Edward V, who was in the care of his uncle Richard of Gloucester. Edward V and his brother mysteriously disappeared, and Richard proclaimed himself Richard III. The people of England distrusted Richard III for his part in his nephews’ disappearances and a revolt began to form. The Lancastrians began to regroup with the Tudor family at their head.
The final phase of the Wars of the Roses consisted of one main battle fought between Richard III of York and Henry Tudor. At the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, Henry Tudor and his Lancastrian supporters defeated the Yorkists, and Richard III was killed. Henry Tudor was crowned Henry VII, and the new Tudor dynasty took over England.
– Hannah S. Bowers