What was the War of the Roses?

Supporters of the House of Lancaster and the House of York fought for control of the throne of England.
Supporters of the House of Lancaster and the House of York fought for control of the throne of England.

The War of the Roses was series of battles from 1455 to 1487 that divided English society along political alignments due to personal ambitions and egos, plus a pure mistrust among the Lancastrians and the Yorkists. The House of Lancaster and the House of York both sought to control the throne of England. In the period between 1455 and 1487, the war would swing both sides and would see foreign intervention into the efforts of both the parties to prevent the nation from being united.


It is notable that the warring parties came from the lineage of King Edwards III. During the reign of King Henry VI when England was occupying France, Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset was given the mandate of commanding the King’s army and to maintain their possessions there. When Richard of York, 3rd Duke of York was sent to Ireland he was unhappy with the decision, and skeptical of the move since he feared that Somerset was in a position to climb to the top, a place which he strongly believed to be his.

In France, Somerset greatly mismanaged the war effort there leading to embarrassing defeats that made him unpopular at home. Despite this, the King still gave him his backing since he was his cousin.

York had interests in France and he had contributed a fortune to the King’s army. So in the height of Somersets' unpopularity, York set sail from Ireland to England with his supporters.The King was forced from the throne due to mental illness and the perception that he was a weak and ineffectual king. York was appointed the protector of England. He took revenge on his perceived enemies and he had Somerset put in prison.

Effects of the War

The royal nobles took advantage of the situation and started small wars with their rivals. The country began its descent into chaos. When King Henry VI recovered in 1455, York was removed from his position and Somerset was released from prison. He then formed an alliance with Percy, who was the Earl of Northumberland and Clifford. This alliance, known as the Lancastrians, wore red roses and had the support of the king.

York was not to be left behind and formed a pact with the Earls of Wawick and Salisbury, later known as the Yorkists, who wore white roses. War broke out between them and it had the support from the neighboring kingdoms who offered asylum and monetary support to the defeated party. They did this in the hope that England would never be strong enough to invade them again.

Both sides won a couple of battles and sustained casualties in the process. Warwick was killed in the battle April 1471 in Barnet and Edward suffering the same fate in Tewskebury in May the same year which lead to end of Lancastrians succession.

The power struggles didn’t end there, even though the Lancastrians had the stronger position. Edward’s brother, Richard moved to prevent his sister-in-law’s family from participating in the ruling of the country. He mounted a coup in 1483 and ruled until 1485 where he was defeated by the eventual winner, Henry Tudor. Tudor would be crowned King and be named Henry VII. He reconciled the two houses by marrying the daughter of the late Edward, Elizabeth. In 1497, there was stability in the country. The War of the Roses was finally over.


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