Wars of the Roses

Michael Hicks

in Military History

ISBN: 9780199791279
Published online February 2012 | | DOI:
Wars of the Roses

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The Wars of the Roses is the 19th-century name given to the English civil wars fought roughly between 1450 and 1509. The principal conflicts took place in 1459–1461 (First War), 1469–1471 (Second War), and 1483–1485 (Third War). The wars developed during the reign of King Henry VI (1422–1461) and they stemmed from the loss of the Hundred Years’ War, the consequent near-bankruptcy of successive governments, and the deepest point of the economic slump following the Black Death in 1348. Following the acute crisis of 1450, a kaleidoscope of short-term shocks occurred, notably Henry VI’s madness (1453–1455) and the first battle of St. Albans (1455). Starting from reform against what were regarded as corrupt and treasonable evil councilors, Richard, Duke of York (d. 1460), became a dynastic rival in 1460: the Yorkist rival to the Lancastrians. York was killed at the battle of Wakefield. His son Edward IV (r. 1461–1483), the first Yorkist king, decisively defeated the Lancastrians in 1461. His reign was punctuated by a Second War, in which Warwick the Kingmaker (d. 1471) made Henry VI briefly king again (the Readeption, 1470–1471). Edward recovered his throne at the battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury. Following Edward IV’s death and the succession of his son Edward V, in 1483, the throne was usurped by Edward’s uncle, Richard III (r. 1483–1485), who was overthrown at the battle of Bosworth in 1485 by Henry Tudor, who reigned as Henry VII (r. 1485–1509). Yorkist contenders Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck threatened Henry VII’s hold on the throne until 1499 and others did so beyond that date. The wars constituted a period of exceptional instability marked by dozens of violent episodes. The political and financial weaknesses of the Crown were compounded by the political activism of the Commons, who rebelled in 1460 and 1470 in numbers beyond those that any monarch proved capable of resisting. Opponents of each regime repeatedly sheltered in Calais, France, and/or in Ireland, or they were given shelter by the rulers of Burgundy, France, or Scotland. They launched a series of invasions against England, four of which were successful. The wars played a part in the power struggles of France and Burgundy. From 1460, all monarchs had rivals with competing claims to the Crown. Rivals weakened all kings, who were unable to command the allegiance that all monarchs needed. The most influential commentator was Chief Justice Fortescue, who blamed a flawed political system. Tudor historians today credit Henry VII with ending the wars by means of his ruthless social control. However, it is also true that economic recovery made the Crown solvent once again and, in so doing, removed many of the grievances of the people at the same time that the great continental powers lost interest in destabilizing English governments.

Article.  8474 words. 

Subjects: Military History ; Pre-20th Century Warfare ; First World War ; Second World War ; Post-WW2 Military History

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