WARS OF THE ROSES, a name given to a series of civil wars in England during the reigns of Henry VI, Edward IV and Richard III. They were marked by a ferocity and brutality which are practically unknown in the history of English wars before and since.
The honest yeoman of Edward III's time had evolved into a professional soldier of fortune, and had been demoralized by the prolonged and dismal Hundred Years' War, at the close of which many thousands of ruffians, whose occupation had gone, had been let loose in England. At the same time the power of feudalism had become concentrated in the hands of a few great lords, who were wealthy enough and powerful enough to become king-makers. The disbanded mercenaries enlisted indifferently on either side, corrupting the ordinary feudal tenantry with the evil habits of the French wars, and pillaged the countryside, with accompaniments of murder and violence, wherever they went.
It is true that the sympathies of the people at large were to some extent enlisted: London and, generally, the trading towns being Yorkist, the country people, Lancastrian — a division of factions which roughly corresponded to that of the early part of the Great Rebellion, two centuries later, and similarly in a measure indicative of the opposition of hereditary loyalty and desire for sound and effective government. But there was this difference, that in the 15th century the feeling of loyalty was to a great extent focused upon the great lords. Each lord could depend on his own tenantry, and he could, further, pay large bands of retainers. Hence, much as the citizen desired a settlement, the issue was in the hands of the magnates; and as accessions to and defections from one party and the other constantly shifted the balance of power, the war dragged on, becoming more and more brutal with every campaign.
The first campaign, or rather episode, of these wars began with an armed demand of the Yorkist lords for the dismissal of the Lancastrian...
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