Episode 411 - The Wars of the Roses - Part 16
The Wars of the Roses were a series of English civil wars for control of the throne of England fought between supporters of two rival cadet branches of the royal House of Plantagenet: the House of Lancaster, associated with the Red Rose of Lancaster, and the House of York, whose symbol was the White Rose of York. Eventually, the wars eliminated the male lines of both families. The conflict lasted through many sporadic episodes between 1455 and 1487, but there was related fighting before and after this period between the parties. The power struggle ignited around social and financial troubles following the Hundred Years' War, unfolding the structural problems of bastard feudalism, combined with the mental infirmity and weak rule of King Henry VI which revived interest in the House of York's claim to the throne by Richard of York. Historians disagree on which of these factors to identify as the main reason for the wars.
With the Duke of York's death in 1460, the claim transferred to his heir, Edward. After a series of Yorkist victories from January–February 1461, Edward claimed the throne on 4 March 1461, and the last serious Lancastrian resistance ended at the decisive Battle of Towton. Edward was thus unopposed as the first Yorkist king of England, as Edward IV. Resistance smoldered in the North of England until 1464, but the early part of his reign remained relatively peaceful.
A new phase of the wars broke out in 1469 after the Earl of Warwick, the most powerful noble in the country, withdrew his support for Edward and threw it behind the Lancastrian cause. Fortunes changed many times as the Yorkist and Lancastrian forces exchanged victories throughout 1469–70 (and Edward was even captured for a time in 1469). When Edward fled to Flanders in 1470, Henry VI was re-installed as king on 3 October 1470, but his resumption of rule was short lived, and he was deposed again following the defeat of his forces at the Battle of Tewkesbury, and on 21 May 1471, Edward entered London unopposed, resumed the throne, and probably had Henry killed that same day. With all significant Lancastrian leaders now banished or killed, Edward ruled unopposed until his sudden death in 1483. His 12-year-old son reigned for 78 days as Edward V. He was then deposed by his uncle, Edward IV's brother Richard, who became Richard III.
The ascension of Richard III occurred under a cloud of controversy, and shortly after assuming the throne, the wars sparked anew with Buckingham's rebellion, as many die-hard Yorkists abandoned Richard to join Lancastrians. While the rebellions lacked much central coordination, in the chaos the exiled Henry Tudor, son of Henry VI's half-brother Edmund Earl of Richmond, and the leader of the Lancastrian cause, returned to the country from exile in Brittany at the head of an army of combined Breton and English forces. Richard avoided direct conflict with Henry until the Battle of Bosworth Field on 22 August 1485. After Richard III was killed and his forces defeated at Bosworth Field, Henry assumed the throne as Henry VII and married Elizabeth of York, the eldest daughter and heir of Edward IV, thereby uniting the two claims. The House of Tudor ruled the Kingdom of England until 1603, with the death of Elizabeth I, granddaughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York.
Shortly after Henry took the throne, the Earl of Lincoln, a Yorkist sympathizer, put forward Lambert Simnel as an imposter Edward Plantaganet, a potential claimant to the throne. Lincoln's forces were defeated, and he was killed at the Battle of Stoke Field on 16 June 1487, bringing a close to the Wars of the Roses.
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