The War of the Roses:
NOTE: large sections of this text are adapted from http://www.ehistory.com. See it for more details. What Was It?
The War of the Roses was a civil war in England that lasted from 1455-1487. These thirty years of warfare were even more destructive to England than the Hundred Years War had been in the previous century. (Most of the fighting in the Hundred Years War took place in France, which meant most of the military damage affected the French peasantry rather than the English. In the War of the Roses, most of the fighting occurred in England, and thus the loss of life and property was much greater for English citizens.) It was a struggle to claim the throne between the families descended from Edward III and the families descended from Henry IV. The last Angevin ruler, King Richard II died without an heir. He had been overthrown and murdered by Henry IV (Henry Bolingbroke, who was of the House of Lancaster through his father John of Gaunt). Henry IV's descendants and their supporters were the Lancastrian faction. The other branch, descended from Edward IV, were associated with families in the North of England, particularly the House of York and Richard of York. They are called the Yorkist faction. What's All This Stuff About Flowers?
The exact image of warring flowers was a late invention, and the general idea of each rose being a factional symbol originates in Shakespeare’s day. In Renaissance literature, writers linked the House of York with a white rose and the House of Lancaster with a red rose. For instance, in Henry VI, Part One, Act II, scene iv, lines 25-135, Shakespeare depicts the minor lords as choosing their factions symbolically by plucking either white or red roses from a garden. The play dates back to 1592 or so. For instance, in lines 124-128, we read the following: Warwick: And here I prophesy: this brawl today,
Grown to this faction in the Temple garden,
Shall send, between the Red Rose and the White,
A thousand souls to death and deadly night.
Mind you, Shakespeare is being anachronistic. He’s following chroniclers like Holinshed and such who popularized the image of warring roses for Renaissance readers. In actual point of fact, during the medieval War of the Roses, neither faction cared much about the roses. The red and white roses were only insignia worn as part of the household servants for the Houses of Lancaster and York. They were not part of the official coat-of-arms for either aristocratic house. The servants of each house wore emblems with these flowers on their liveries (servant uniforms). The phrase "War of the Roses" is even later. How Did It Start?
The war began in 1455 when Richard, Duke of York challenged the current king's right to the throne. (This was not the same Richard as Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who becomes King Richard III later.) Richard, Duke of York, descended ultimately from the same family as King Richard II, whom Henry Bolingbroke (Henry IV) deposed. The king at the time was the Lancastrian Henry VI, a pious but weak ruler prone to bouts of insanity. He descended from Henry IV, our "hero" in Shakespeare's play Richard II. Richard, Duke of York, argued that Henry IV's descendants have no right to the throne because Henry IV usurped the position unlawfully. Richard's son Edward becomes King Edward IV in 1461 and Henry VI flees the country for nine years. What Happened in a Nutshell?
Edward IV ruled for nine years without too much trouble until 1470, when Henry VI returned with an army. Henry VI briefly regained the throne in 1470, but Edward IV ultimately wrestled power away from him again. On Edward IV's death in 1483, his son Edward V was the next Yorkist ruler slated to ascend to the throne. However, though Edward was unusually precocious and capable, he was still a child. His uncle Richard, Duke of Gloucester (the guy who later becomes King Richard III) set himself up as regent (temporary ruler) until the boy Edward reached adulthood....
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