Today in History: England’s War of the Roses Begins (1455)

Today in History: England’s War of the Roses Begins (1455)

Matthew Weber - May 22, 2017

The battle to control the English throne is almost as old as the throne itself. Even though it isn’t something we think about, there has been conflict in regards to the heir to the British throne as recently as 1936. However, because of the current reining monarch’s (Elizabeth II) longevity, the conflicts have faded into history somewhat (especially outside of Britain).

One of the most famous conflicts for the English throne, and perhaps the most important, is called the War of the Roses. The War of the Roses is a complex conflict between two families: The House of Lancaster, and the House of York. The House of Lancaster held the throne via King Henry VI, while the Duke of York (first Richard, later Edward) also had a claim to the throne.

The House of York’s claim onto the throne started with the fourth son of King Edward III in the mid-1300s. The House of Lancaster’s claim also descended from Edward III, but from his heir. Because of this close association, and the ineffectiveness of a very young Henry VI, the House of York’s claim to the throne became more significant. Henry VI became King of England as an infant, which caused a lot of problems. He was also (due to lack of living heirs by the rest of the House of Lancaster) the only male heir to the throne from that House.

Today in History: England’s War of the Roses Begins (1455)
Henry VI of England and the House of Lancaster. Wikipedia

Henry VI had very little chance of being an effective monarch. He was surrounded by power-hungry men who wanted to control the throne through him for their own gain. He was only a year old when he was put on the throne after his father’s death in 1421.

By the time he turned 25, his House was in chaos because of the people who had helped him rule England while he grew up. This allowed the House of York to successfully start what would become the War of the Roses on May 22, 1455. The Lancasters were represented by the red rose, and the House of York who were associated with the white rose, hence the name of conflict: War of the Roses.

The War of the Roses took place officially between 1455 and 1487. Fighting had been going on long before that, as both Lancaster and York fought for the throne. It would also continue after the official end to the war.

The House of York would meet with initial success, and would place Edward IV on the throne on March 4, 1461. He would rule for around 10 years before being deposed by Henry VI and the Earl of Warwick in 1470, and then would be back on the throne for another 12 years before he died in 1483.

Today in History: England’s War of the Roses Begins (1455)
Edward IV of England and the House of York. The only Yorkist King. Wikipedia

The war ended at the battle of Bosworth Field, when Henry Tudor beat the House of York and restored the House of Lancaster to the English throne. This would be the start of the Tudor Dynasty, which lasted until 1603 when Elizabeth I died without an heir. The Tudor Dynasty, of course, produced Britain’s most famous king, King Henry VIII, he of the many wives.

The War of the Roses is much more complicated than what we’ve been able to talk about in the space we have here. However it is important, as it is the war the led to the English Monarchy as it is today. And while it was by no means the last of the conflicts over the English throne, it is one of the most famous.