- - The War of the Roses: the Historical Facts of the Tudor Myth (Shakespeares Histories)

The War of the Roses: the Historical Facts of the Tudor Myth (Shakespeares Histories)






The English Faculty

The Department of the English Language

heory and Teaching Methods of Foreign Languages and Culture

The War of the Roses: the Historical Facts of the Tudor Myth (Shakespeare's Histories)

The Course Paper in the History and Culture of Great Britain

Moshikova Ekaterina Yurievna


Pereyashkin V.V.

Novorossiysk 2006



1. The Historical Facts of the Tudor Myth

2. Shakespeare's Histories



Appendix 1

Appendix 2


The antagonism between the two houses started with the overthrowing of King Richard II by his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Lancaster, in 1399. Being the issue of Edward III's third son John of Gaunt, Bolingbroke had a poor claim to the throne. According to precedent, the crown should have passed to the male descendants of Lionel of Antwerp, duke of Clarence (1338-1368), Edward III's second son, and in fact, Richard II had named Lionel's grandson, Roger Mortimer, 4th Earl of March as heir presumptive. However, Bolingbroke was crowned as Henry IV. He was tolerated as king since Richard II's government had been highly unpopular. Bolingbroke died in 1413. His son and successor, Henry V, was a great soldier, and his military success against France in the Hundred Years' War bolstered his enormous popularity, enabling him to strengthen the Lancastrian hold on the throne. Henry V's short reign saw one conspiracy against him, led by Richard, Earl of Cambridge, a son of Edmund of Langley, the fifth son of Edward III. Cambridge was executed in 1415 for treason at the start of the campaign leading up to the Battle of Agincourt. Cambridge's wife Anne Mortimer also had a claim to the throne, being the daughter of Roger Mortimer and thus a descendant of Lionel of Antwerp. Henry V died in 1422, and Richard, Duke of York, the son of Richard, Earl of Cambridge and Anne Mortimer, would grow up to challenge his successor, the feeble King Henry VI, for the crown.

The choice of this theme for our course paper was mostly conditioned by the idea of learning history of Great Britain. The object matter of the paper is the compositions of W. Shakespeare meanwhile the subject of our investigation is the war of the roses which produced a great effect on the further history of the United Kingdom in general.

The object and purposes of the course paper may be formulated as follows:

- Analytical study of the material on the theme;

- Exposure of the dates and importance of some events for the Lancastrians and the Yorkists;

- Searching the peculiarities in the background of different things and events;

- Searching for the conditions which influenced this event;

- Defining of the consequences of the event.

To achieve the set aims we looked through a list of study books, various references, pieces of press and different sites in Internet. Our paper consist of the Introduction, 2 Chapters, Conclusion and the list of references.

1. The Historical Facts of the Tudor Myth

The Wars of the Roses were a series of civil wars fought in medieval England from 1455 to 1487 between the House of Lancaster and the House of York. The name Wars of the Roses is based on the badges used by the two sides, the red rose for the Lancastrians and the white rose for the Yorkists. Major causes of the conflict include: 1) both houses were direct descendents of king Edward III; 2) the ruling Lancastrian king, Henry VI, surrounded himself with unpopular nobles; 3) the civil unrest of much of the population; 4) the availability of many powerful lords with their own private armies; and 5) the untimely episodes of mental illness by king Henry VI. Please see the origins page for more information on the start of the wars.

Henry VI was troubled all his life by recurring bouts of madness, during which the country was ruled by regents. The regents didn't do any better for England than Henry did, and the long Hundred Years War with France sputtered to an end with England losing all her possessions in France except for Calais. In England itself anarchy reigned. Nobles gathered their own private armies and fought for local supremacy.

The struggle to rule on behalf of an unfit king was one of the surface reasons for the outbreak of thirty years of warfare that we now call the Wars of the Roses, fought between the Houses of York (white rose) and Lancaster (red rose). In reality these squabbles were an indication of the lawlessness that ran rampant in the land. More squalid than romantic, the Wars of the Roses decimated both houses in an interminably long, bloody struggle for the throne. The rose symbols that we name the wars after were not in general use during the conflict. The House of Lancaster did not even adopt the red rose as its official symbol until the next century.

Henry VI was eventually forced to abdicate in 1461 and died ten years later in prison, possibly murdered. In his place ruled Edward IV of the house of York who managed to get his dubious claim to the throne legitimized by Parliament. Edward was the first king to address the House of Commons, but his reign is notable mostly for the continuing saga of the wars with the House of Lancaster and unsuccessful wars in France. When Edward died in 1483 his son, Edward V, aged twelve, followed him. In light of his youth Edward's uncle Richard, Duke of Gloucester, acted as regent.

Traditional history, written by later Tudor historians seeking to legitimize their masters' past, has painted Richard as the archetypal wicked uncle. The truth may not be so clear cut. Some things are known, or assumed, to be true. Edward and his younger brother were put in the Tower of London, ostensibly for their own protection. Richard had the "Princes in the Tower" declared illegitimate, which may possibly have been true. He then got himself declared king. He may have been in the right, and certainly England needed a strong and able king. But he was undone when the princes disappeared and were rumoured to have been murdered by his orders.

In the 17th century workmen repairing a stairwell at the Tower found the bones of two boys of about the right ages. Were these the Princes in the Tower, and were they killed by their wicked uncle? We will probably never know. The person with the most to gain by killing the princes was not Richard, however, but Henry, Earl of Richmond. Henry also claimed the throne, seeking "legitimacy" through descent from John of Gaunt and his mistress.

Henry defeated and killed Richard at the Battle of Bosworth Field (1485), claiming the crown which was found hanging upon a bush, and placing it upon his own head. Bosworth marked the end of the Wars of the Roses. There was no one else left to fight. It also marked the end of the feudal period of English history. With the death of Richard III the crown passed from the Plantagenet line to the new House of Tudor, and a new era of history began.

Kings were gaining the upper hand in the struggle with the barons. They encouraged the growth of towns and trade. They took more advisors and officials from the new merchant middle class.

This eroded the power of the land-based nobility. Further, kings established royal courts to replace local feudal courts and replaced feudal duties (which had been difficult to collect in any case) with direct taxation. They created national standing armies instead of relying on feudal obligations of service from vassals. Feudal kingdoms moved slowly towards becoming nations.

In the late 1400's the House of York fought the House of Lancaster for the English crown. Because Lancaster's heraldic badge was a red rose and York's was a white rose, the long conflict came to be known as the Wars of the Roses (1455 - 1485).

The wars started when the nobles of York rose against Henry VI of Lancaster who was a feeble ruler. Edward IV, of York, replaced Henry as king. Later, Henry again became king, but lost his crown once more to Edward after the battle of Tewkesbury in 1471. The Yorkists held power until Richard III lost his throne to the Lancastrian Henry Tudor. Henry Tudor married into the House of York. This personal union ended the conflict, and a new famous dynasty, the Tudors, emerged.

"And here I prophesy: this brawl today, Grown to this faction in the Temple garden, Shall send, between the Red Rose and the White, A thousand souls to death and deadly night." -- Warwick, Henry VI, Part One

The Wars of the Roses (1455-1485) is the name generally given to the intermittent civil war fought over the throne of England between adherents of the House of Lancaster and the House of York. Both houses were branches of the Plantagenet royal house, tracing their descent from King Edward III. The name Wars of the Roses was not used at the time, but has its origins in the badges chosen by the two royal houses, the Red Rose of Lancaster, whose retainers tended to favour red coats or red roses as their symbol, and the White Rose of York, whose men often sported white coats, or white rose insignia.

The Wars were fought largely by the landed aristocracy and armies of feudal retainers. The House of Lancaster found most of its support in the south and west of the country, while support for the House of York came mainly from the north and east. The Wars of the Roses, with their heavy casualties among the nobility, would usher in a period of great social upheaval in feudal England and ironically lead to the fall of the Plantagenet dynasty. The period would see the decline of English influence on the Continent, a weakening of the feudal power of the nobles and by default a strengthening of the merchant classes, and the growth of a strong, centralized monarchy under the Tudors. It arguably heralded the end of the medieval period in England and the movement towards the Renaissance.

The antagonism between the two houses started with the overthrowing of King Richard II by his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Lancaster, in 1399. Being the issue of Edward's III third sonJohn of Gaunt, Bolingbroke had a poor claim to the throne. According to precedent, the crown should have passed to the male descendants of Lionel of Antverp, Duke of Clarence (1338-1368), Edward's III second son, and in fact, Richard II had named Lionel's grandson, Roger Mortimer, 4th earl of March as heir presumptive. However, Bolingbroke was crowned as Henry IV. He was tolerated as king since Richard II's government had been highly unpopular. Bolingbroke died in 1413. His son and successor, Henry V, was a great soldier, and his military success against France in the Hundred Years' War bolstered his enormous popularity, enabling him to strengthen the Lancastrian hold on the throne. Henry V's short reign saw one conspiracy against him, led by Richaed, earl of Cambridge, a son of Edmund of Langley, the fifth son of Edward III. Cambridge was executed in 1415 for treason at the start of the campaign leading up to the Battle o9f Aglicourt. Cambridge's wife, Anne Mortimer, also had a claim to the throne, being the daughter of Roger Mortimer and thus a descendant of Lionel of Antwerp. Henry V died in 1422, and Ricard, Duke of York, the son of Richard, Earl of Cambridge and Anne Mortimer, would grow up to challenge his successor, the feeble King Henry VI, for the crown.

The Lancastrian King Henry VI of England was surrounded by unpopular regents and advisors. The most notable of these were Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset and William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk, who were blamed for mismanaging the government and poorly executing the continuing Hundred Years' War with France. Under Henry VI virtually all of the English holdings in France, including the lands won by Henry V, had been lost. Henry VI had begun to be seen as a weak, ineffectual king. In addition, he suffered from embarrassing episodes of mental illness. By the 1450s many considered Henry incapable of rule. The short line of Lancastrian kings had already been plagued by questions of legitimacy, and the House of York believed that they had a stronger claim to the throne. Growing civil discontent, the abundance of feuding nobles with private armies, and corruption in Henry's VI court together formed a political climate ripe for civil war.

When, in 1453, King Henry suffered the first of several bouts of mental illness, a Council of Regency was set up, headed in the role of Lord Protector by the powerful and popular Richard Plntagenet, Duke of York, and head of the House of York. Richard soon began to press his claim to the throne with ever-greater boldness, imprisoning Somerset, and backing his allies, Salisbury and Warwick, in a series of minor conflicts with powerful supporters of Henry, like the Dukes of Northumberland. Henry's recovery in 1455th warted Richard's ambitions, and the Duke of York was soon after driven from the royal court by Henry's queen, Margaret of Anjou. Since Henry was an ineffectual leader, the powerful and aggressive Queen Margaret emerged as the de facto leader of the Lancastrian faction. Queen Margaret built up an alliance against Richard and conspired with other nobles to reduce his influence. An increasingly thwarted Richard finally resorted to armed hostilities in 1455 at the First Battle of St. Aslbans.

Although armed clashes had broken out previously between supporters of King Henry and Richard, Duke of York, the principal period of armed conflict in the Wars of the Roses took place between 1455 and 1489.

Richard, Duke of York led a small force toward London and was met by Henry VI's forces at ST. Albans, north of London, on May 22,1455. The relatively small First Battle of St. Albans was the first open conflict of the civil war. Richard's aim was ostensibly to remove "poor advisors" from King Henry's side. The result was a defeat for the Lancastrians, who lost many of their leaders including Somerset. York and his allies regained their position of influence, and for a while both sides seemed shocked that an actual battle had been fought and did their best at reconciliation. When Henry suffered another bout of mental illness, York was again appointed Protector, and Margaret was charged with the king's care, having already been sidelined from decision-making on the Council.

After the First Battle of St Albans, the compromise of 1455 enjoyed some success, with York remaining the dominant voice on the Council even after Henry's recovery. The problems which had caused conflict soon re-emerged, particularly the issue of whether the Duke of York, or Henry and Margaret's infant son, Edward, would succeed to the throne. Queen Margaret refused to accept any solution that would disinherit her son, and it became clear that she would only tolerate the situation for as long as the Duke of York and his allies retained the military ascendancy. Henry went on royal progress in the Midlands in 1456, and Margaret did not allow him to return to London--the king and queen were popular in the Midlands but becoming ever more unpopular in London where merchants were angry at the decline in trade and widespread disorder. The king's court set up at Coventry. By then the new Duke of Somerset was emerging as a favourite of the royal court, filling his father's shoes. Margaret also persuaded Henry to dismiss the appointments York had made as Protector, while York himself was again made to return to his post in Ireland. Disorder in the capital and piracy on the south coast were growing, but the king and queen remained intent on protecting their own positions, with the queen introducing conscription for the first time in England. Meanwhile, York's ally, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick (later dubbed "The Kingmaker"), was growing in popularity in London as the champion of the merchant classes.

Following the return of York from Ireland, hostilities resumed on September 23, 1459, at the Battle of Blore Heath in Staffordshire, when a large Lancastrian army failed to prevent a Yorkist force under Lord Salisbury from marching from Middleham Castle in Yorkshire and linking up with York at Ludlow Castle. After a Lancastrian victory at the Battle of Ludford Bridge, Edward the Earl of March (York's eldest son, later Edward IV of England), Salisbury, and Warwick fled to Calais. The Lancastrians were now back in total control, and Somerset was appointed Governor of Calais. His attempts to evict Warwick were easily repulsed, and the Yorkists even began to launch raids on the English coast from Calais in 1459-60, adding to the sense of chaos and disorder.

By 1460, Warwick and the others were ready to launch an invasion of England, and rapidly established themselves in Kent and London, where they enjoyed wide support. Backed by a papal emissary who had taken their side, they marched north. Henry led an army south to meet them while Margaret remained in the north with Prince Edward. The Battle of Northampton, on July 10, 1460, proved disastrous for the Lancastrians. The Yorkist army under Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, aided by treachery in the Lancastrian ranks, was able to capture King Henry and take him prisoner to London.

In the light of this military success, York now moved to press his own claim to the throne based on the illegitimacy of the Lancastrian line. Landing in north Wales, he and his wife Cecily entered London with all the ceremony usually reserved for a monarch. Parliament was assembled, and when York entered he made straight for the throne, which he may have been expecting the lords to encourage him to take for himself as they had Henry IV in 1399. Instead there was stunned silence. He announced his claim to the throne, but the Lords, even Warwick and Salisbury, were shocked by his presumption; there was no appetite among them at this stage to overthrow King Henry. Their ambition was still limited to the removal of his bad councillors.

The next day, York produced detailed genealogies to support his claim based on his descent from Lionel of Antwerp and was met with more understanding. Parliament agreed to consider the matter and finally accepted that York's claim was better; but, by a majority of five, they voted that Henry should remain as king. A compromise was struck in October 1460 with the Act of Accord, which recognised York as Henry's successor to the throne, disinheriting Henry's six year old son Prince Edward. York had to accept this compromise as the best on offer; it gave him much of what he desired, particularly since he was also made Protector of the Realm and was able to govern in Henry's name. Margaret was ordered out of London with Prince Edward. The Act of Accord proved unacceptable to the Lancastrians, who rallied to Margaret, forming a large army in the north.

The Duke of York left London later that year with Lord Salisbury to consolidate his position in the north against Queen Margaret's army, which was reported to be massing near the city of York. Richard took up a defensive position at Sandal Castle near Wakefield at Christmas 1460. Although Margaret's army outnumbered Richard's by more than two to one, on December 30 York ordered his forces to leave the castle and mount an attack. His army was dealt a devastating defeat at the Battle of Wakefield. Richard was slain during the battle, and Salisbury and Richard's 17 year old son, Edmund, Earl of rutland, were captured and beheaded. Margaret ordered the heads of all three placed on the gates of York.

The Act of Accord and the events of Wakefield left the 18 year old Edward, Earl of March, York's eldest son, as Duke of York and heir to the throne. Salisbury's death meanwhile left Warwick, his heir, as the biggest landowner in England. Margaret travelled north to Scotland to continue negotiations for Scottish assistance. Mary of Guelders, Queen of Scotland agreed to provide Margaret with an army on condition that England cede the town of Berwick to Scotland and her daughter be betrothed to Prince Edward. Margaret agreed, although she had no funds to pay her army with and could only promise unlimited booty from the riches of southern England, as long as no looting took place north of the river Trent. She took her army to Hull, recruiting more men as she went.

Edward of York, meanwhile, met Pembroke's army, which was arriving from Wales, and defeated them soundly at the battle of Mortimer's Cross in Herefordshire. He inspired his men with a "vision" of three suns at dawn (a phenomenon known as "parhelion"), telling them that it was a portent of victory and represented the three surviving York sons--himself, George and Richard. This led to Edward's later adoption of the sign of the sunne in splendour as his personal emblem.

Margaret was by now moving south, wreaking havoc as she progressed, her army supporting itself by looting the properties it overran as it passed through the prosperous south of England. In London, Warwick used this as propaganda to reinforce Yorkist support throughout the south--the town of Coventry switching allegiance to the Yorkists. Warwick failed to start raising an army soon enough and, without Edward's army to reinforce him, was caught off-guard by the Lancastrians' early arrival at St Albans. At the Second Battle of St Albans the queen won the Lancastrians' most decisive victory yet, and as the Yorkist forces fled they left behind King Henry, who was found unharmed under a tree. Henry knighted thirty of the Lancastrian soldiers immediately after the battle. As the Lancastrian army advanced southwards, a wave of dread swept London, where rumours were rife about the savage Northerners intent on plundering the city. The people of London shut the city gates and refused to supply food to the queen's army, which was looting the surrounding counties of Hertfordshire and Middlesex.

Edward was meanwhile advancing towards London from the west where he had joined forces with Warwick. Coinciding with the northward retreat by the queen to Dunstable, this allowed Edward and Warwick to enter London with their army. They were welcomed with enthusiasm, money and supplies by the largely Yorkist-supporting city. Edward could no longer claim simply to be trying to wrest the king from his bad councillors. With his father and brother having been killed at Wakefield, this had become a battle for the crown itself. Edward now needed authority, and this seemed forthcoming when the Bishop of London asked the people of London their opinion and they replied with shouts of "King Edward". This was quickly confirmed by Parliament and Edward was unofficially crowned in a hastily arranged ceremony at Westminster Abbey amidst much jubilation. Edward and Warwick had thus captured London, although Edward vowed he would not have a formal coronation until Henry and Margaret were executed or exiled. He also announced that Henry had forfeited his right to the crown by allowing his queen to take up arms against his rightful heirs under the Act of Accord; though it was by now becoming widely argued that Edward's victory was simply a restoration of the rightful heir to the throne, which neither Henry nor his Lancastrian predecessors had been. It was this argument which Parliament had accepted the year before.

Edward and Warwick next marched north, gathering a large army as they went, and met an equally impressive Lancastrian army at Towton. The Battle of Towton, near York, was the biggest battle of the Wars of the Roses thus far. Both sides had agreed beforehand that the issue was to be settled that day, with no quarter asked or given. An estimated 40-80,000 men took part with over 20,000 men being killed during (and after) the battle, an enormous number for the time and the greatest recorded single day's loss of life on English soil. The new king and his army won a decisive victory, and the Lancastrians were decimated, with most of their leaders slain. Henry and Margaret, who were waiting in York with their son Edward, fled north when they heard of the outcome. Many of the surviving Lancastrian nobles now switched allegiances to King Edward, and those who did not were driven back to the northern border areas and a few castles in Wales. Edward advanced to take York where he was confronted with the rotting heads of his father, brother and Salisbury, which were soon replaced with those of defeated Lancastrian lords like the notorious Lord Clifford of Skipton-Craven, who had ordered the execution of Edward's brother Edmund, Earl of Rutland, after the Battle of Wakefield.

Henry and Margaret fled to Scotland where they stayed with the royal court of James III, implementing their earlier promise to cede Berwick to Scotland and leading an invasion of Carlise later in the year. But lacking money, they were easily repulsed by Edward's men who were rooting out the remaining Lancastrian forces in the northern counties.

Edward IV's official coronation took place in June 1461 in London where he received a rapturous welcome from his supporters as the new king of England. Edward was able to rule in relative peace for ten years.

In the North, Edward could never really claim to have complete control until 1464, as apart from rebellions, several castles with their Lancastrian commanders held out for years. Dunstanburgh, Alnwick (the Percy family seat) and Bamburgh were some of the last to fall. Last to surrender was the mighty fortress of Harlech (Wales) in 1468 after a seven-year-long siege. The deposed King Henry was captured in 1465 and held prisoner at the Tower of London where, for the time being, he was reasonably well treated.

There were two further Lancastrian revolts in 1464. The first clash was at the Battle of Hedgeley Moor on April 25 and the second at the Battle of Haxham on May 15. Both revolts were put down by Warwick's brother, John Neville, 1st Maquess of Montagu.

The period 1467-70 saw a marked and rapid deterioration in the relationship between King Edward and his former mentor, the powerful Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick--"the Kingmaker". This had several causes, but stemmed originally from Edward's decision to marry Elizabeth Woodville in secret in 1464. Edward later announced the news of his marriage as fait accompli, to the considerable embarrassment of Warwick, who had been negotiating a match between Edward and a French bride, convinced as he was of the need for an alliance with France. This embarrassment turned to bitterness when the Woodvilles came to be favoured over the Nevilles at court. Other factors compounded Warwick's disillusionment: Edward's preference for an alliance with Burgundy (over France), and Edward's reluctance to allow his brothers George, Duke of Clarence, and Richard, Duke of Gloucester, to marry Warwick's daughters, Isabel Neville and Anne Neville, respectively. Furthermore, Edward's general popularity was also on the wane in this period with higher taxes and persistent disruptions of law and order.

By 1469 Warwick had formed an alliance with Edward's jealous and treacherous brother George. They raised an army which defeated the King at the Battle of Edgecote Moor, and held Edward at Middleham Castle in Yorkshire. Warwick had the queen's father, Richard Woodville, 1st Earl Rivers, executed. He forced Edward to summon a parliament at York at which it was planned that Edward would be declared illegitimate and the crown would thus pass to Clarence as Edward's heir apparent. However, the country was in turmoil, and Edward was able to call on the loyalty of his brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, and the majority of the nobles. Gloucester arrived at the head of a large force and liberated the king.

Warwick and Clarence were declared traitors and forced to flee to France, where in 1470 Louis XI of France was coming under pressure from the exiled Margaret of Anjou to help her invade England and regain her captive husband's throne. It was King Louis who suggested the idea of an alliance between Warwick and Margaret, a notion which neither of the old enemies would at first entertain but eventually came round to, realising the potential benefits. However, both were undoubtedly hoping for different outcomes: Warwick for a puppet king in the form of Henry or his young son; Margaret to be able to reclaim her family's realm. In any case, a marriage was arranged between Warwick's daughter Anne Neville and Margaret's son, the former Prince of Wales, Edward of Westminster, and Warwick invaded England in the autumn of 1470.

This time it was Edward IV who was forced to flee the country when John Neville changed loyalties to support his brother Warwick. Edward was unprepared for the arrival of Neville's large force from the north and had to order his army to scatter. Edward and Gloucester fled from Doncaster to the coast and thence to Holland and exile in Burgundy. Warwick had already invaded from France, and his plans to liberate and restore Henry VI to the throne came quickly to fruition. Henry VI was paraded through the streets of London as the restored king in October and Edward and Richard were proclaimed traitors. Warwick's success was short-lived, however. He overreached himself with his plan to invade Burgundy with the king of France, tempted by King Louis' promise of territory in the Netherlands as a reward. This led Charles the Bold of Burgundy to assist Edward. He provided funds and an army to launch an invasion of England in 1471. Edward defeated Warwick at the Battle of Barnet in 1471. The remaining Lancastrian forces were destroyed at the Battle of Tewkesbury, and Prince Edward of Westminster, the Lancastrian heir to the throne, was killed. Henry VI was murdered shortly afterwards (May 14, 1471), to strengthen the Yorkist hold on the throne.

The restoration of Edward IV in 1471 is sometimes seen as marking the end of the Wars of the Roses. Peace was restored for the remainder of Edward's reign, but when he died suddenly in 1483, political and dynastic turmoil erupted again. Under Edward IV, factions had developed between the Queen's Woodville relatives (Anthony Woodville, 2nd Earl Rivers and Thomas Grey, 1st Marguess of Dorset) and others who resented the Woodvilles' new-found status at court and saw them as power-hungry upstarts and parvenus. At the time of Edward's premature death, his heir, Edward V, was only 12 years old. The Woodvilles were in a position to influence the young king's future government, since Edward V had been brought up under the stewardship of Earl Rivers in Ludlow. This was too much for many of the anti-Woodville faction to stomach, and in the struggle for the protectorship of the young king and control of the council, Edward's brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who had been named by Edward IV on his deathbed as Protector of England, came to be de facto leader of the anti-Woodville faction.

With the help of William Hastings and Henry Stafford, Gloucester captured the young king from the Woodvilles at Stony Stratford in Buckinghamshire. Thereafter Edward V was kept under Gloucester's custody in the Tower of London, where he was later joined by his younger brother, the 9-year-old Richard, Duke of York. Having secured the boys, Richard then alleged that Edward IV's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville had been illegal, and that the two boys were therefore illegitimate. Parliament agreed and enacted the Titulus Regius, which officially named Gloucester as King Richard III. The two imprisoned boys, known as the "Princes in the Tower", disappeared and were possibly murdered; by whom and under whose orders remains one of the most controversial subjects in English history.

Since Richard was the finest general on the Yorkist side, many accepted him as a ruler better able to keep the Yorkists in power than a boy who would have had to rule through a committee of regents. Lancastrian hopes, on the other hand, now centred on Henry Tudor, whose father, Edmund tudor, 1st Earl of Richmond, had been an illegitimate half-brother of Henry VI. However, Henry's claim to the throne was through his mother, Margaret Beaufort, a descendant of Edward III, derived from John Beaufort, a grandson of Edward's III who was also the illegitimate son of John of Gaunt.

Henry Tudor's forces defeated Richard's at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 and Henry Tudor became King Henry VII of England. Henry then strengthened his position by marrying Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV and the best surviving Yorkist claimant. He thus reunited the two royal houses, merging the rival symbols of the red and white roses into the new emblem of the red and white Tudor Rose. Henry shored up his position by executing all other possible claimants whenever he could lay hands on them, a policy his son, Henry VIII, continued.

Many historians consider the accession of Henry VII to mark the end of the Wars of the Roses. Others argue that the Wars of the Roses concluded only with the Battle of Stoke in 1487, which arose from the appearance of a pretender to the throne, a boy named Lambert Simnel who bore a close physical resemblance to the young Earl of Warwick, the best surviving male claimant of the House of York. The pretender's plan was doomed from the start, because the young earl was still alive and in King Henry's custody, so no one could seriously doubt Simnel was anything but an imposter. At Stoke, Henry defeated forces led by John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln--who had been named by Richard III as his heir, but had been reconciled with Henry after Bosworth--thus effectively removing the remaining Yorkist opposition. Simnel was pardoned for his part in the rebellion and sent to work in the royal kitchens.

2. Shakespeare's histories Richard III

The Life and Death of King Richard III is William Shakespeare's version of the short career of Richard III of England, who receives a singularly unflattering depiction. The play is sometimes interpreted as a tragedy; however, it more correctly belongs among the histories. It picks up the story from Henry VI, Part III and is the conclusion of the series that stretches back to Richard II. It is the second longest of Shakespeare's 38 plays, after Hamlet. The length is generally seen as a drawback and the play is rarely performed unabridged often cutting out various characters peripheral to the main plot.


The play begins with Richard eulogizing his brother, King Edward IV of England, the eldest son of the late Richard, Duke of York.

Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York

The speech reveals Richard's jealousy and ambition, as his brother Edward rules the country successfully. Richard is an ugly hunchback, describing himself as rudely stamp'd and deformed, unfinish'd, who cannot strut before a wanton ambling nymph. He responds to the anguish of his condition with an outcast's credo: I am determined to prove a villain / And hate the idle pleasures of these days. With little attempt at chronological accuracy (which he professes to despise), Richard plots to have his brother Clarence, who stands before him in the line of succession, conducted to the Tower of London as a suspected assassin; having bribed a soothsayer to confuse the suspicious king.

Richard next ingratiates himself with the Lady Anne - Anne Neville, widow of the Lancastrian Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales. Richard confides to the audience, I'll marry Warwick's youngest daughter. What though I kill'd her husband and her father? Despite her prejudice against him, Anne is won over by his pleas and agrees to marry him.

The atmosphere at court is poisonous: the established nobles are at odds with the upwardly-mobile relatives of Queen Elizabeth, a hostility fueled by Richard's machinations. Queen Margaret, Henry VI's widow, returns in defiance of her banishment and warns the squabbling nobles about Richard. The nobles, Yorkists all, reflexively unite against this last Lancastrian, and the warning falls on deaf ears.

Edward IV, weakened by a reign dominated by physical excess, soon dies, leaving as Protector his brother Richard, who sets about removing the final obstacles to his ascension. He meets his nephew, the young Edward V, who is en route to London for his coronation accompanied by relatives of Edward's widow. These Richard arrests and (eventually) beheads, and the young prince and his brother are coaxed into an extended stay at the Tower of London.

Assisted by his cousin Buckingham (Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham), Richard mounts a PR campaign to present himself as a preferable candidate to the throne, appearing as a modest, devout man with no pretensions to greatness. Lord Hastings, who objects to Richard's ascension, is arrested and executed on a trumped-up charge. The other lords are cajoled into accepting Richard as king, in spite of the continued survival of his nephews (the Princes in the Tower).

His new status leaves Richard sufficiently confident to dispose of his nephews. Buckingham conditions his consent for the princes' deaths on receiving a land grant, which Richard rejects, leaving Buckingham fearful for his life. As the body count rises, the increasingly paranoid Richard loses what popularity he had; he soon faces rebellions led first by Buckingham and subsequently by the invading Earl of Richmond (Henry VII of England). Both sides arrive for a final battle at Bosworth Field. Prior to the battle, Richard is visited by the ghosts of those whose deaths he has caused, all of whom tell him to: Despair and die! He awakes screaming for Jesu (Jesus) to help him, slowly realizing that he is all alone in the world and that even he hates himself. Richard's language and undertones of self-remorse seem to indicate that, in the final hour, he is repentant for his evil deeds, however, it is too late.

As the battle commences, Richard gives arguably the least motivational pep-talk in English literature (Let not our babbling dreams affright our souls; Conscience is but a word that cowards use... March on, join bravely, let us to't pell mell; If not to heaven, then hand in hand to hell....). Lord Stanley (who happens to be Richmond's step-father) and his followers desert, leaving Richard at a disadvantage. Richard is soon unhorsed on the field at the climax of the battle, and utters the often-quoted line: A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse! He is defeated in the final hunting of the boar, so to speak, and Richmond succeeds as Henry VII, even going so far as to marry a York, effectively ending the War of the Roses (to the evident relief of everyone involved).

In dramatic terms, perhaps the most important (and, arguably, the most entertaining) feature of the play is the sudden alteration in Richard's character. For the first 'half' of the play, we see him as something of an anti-hero, causing mayhem and enjoying himself hugely in the process:

I do mistake my person all this while;

Upon my life, she finds, although I cannot,

Myself to be a marvellous proper man.

I'll be at charges for a looking-glass;

Almost immediately after he is crowned, however, his personality and actions take a darker turn. He turns against loyal Buckingham (I am not in the giving vein), he falls prey to self-doubt (I am in so far in blood, that sin will pluck on sin;); now he sees shadows where none exist and visions of his doom to come (Despair and die).

Depiction of Richard

Shakespeare's depiction of Richard and his reign of terror is unflattering, and modern historians find it a distortion of historical truth. Shakespeare's history plays were not, of course, intended to be historically accurate, but were designed for entertainment. As with Macbeth, Richard's supposed villainy is depicted as extreme in order to achieve maximum dramatic effect. In addition, many previous writers had depicted Richard as a villain, and Shakespeare was thus following tradition.

Nevertheless, it is important to question why this particular king became a symbol of villainy during the Elizabeth's period. Critics have argued that this dark depiction of Richard developed because the ruling monarch of Shakespeare's time, Elizabeth I, was the granddaughter of Henry VII of England, the Lancastrian Earl of Richmond, who had defeated the last Yorkist king and started the Tudor dynasty, and Shakespeare's play thus presents the version of Richard that the ruling family would have wanted to see.

Shakespeare's main source for his play was the chronicle of Raphael Holinshed but it also seems likely that he drew on the work of Sir Thomas More, author of the unfinished History of King Richard III published by John Rastell after More's death. Rastell, More's brother-in-law, compiled the text from two work-in-progress manuscripts, one in English and one in Latin in different stages of composition. More's work is not a history in the modern sense. It is a highly coloured and literary account which contains accurate and invented details in (arguably) roughly equal portions. More had many sources available for his account (most of whom, like his patron Cardinal John Morton, were extremely hostile to the old regime) but like Shakespeare his main source is his own imagination: over a third of the text consists of invented speeches.

Richard III is the culmination of the cycle of Wars of Roses plays. In Henry VI, part II and part III, Shakespeare had already begun the process of building Richard's character into that of a ruthless villain, even though Richard could not possibly have been involved in some of the events depicted. He participates in battles in which historically he would still have been a boy. From an overview of the cycle, it can be seen that Shakespeare's inaccuracy works both ways.

Historical context

Shakespeare is not famous for his historical accuracy; this play is representative of his work in that respect. Queen Margaret did not in fact survive to see Richard's accession to the throne; her inclusion in the play is purely dramatic, providing first a warning to the other characters about Richard's true nature (which they of course ignore to their cost) and then a chorus-like commentary on how the various tragedies affecting the House of York reflect justice for the wrongs the Yorkists performed against the Lancastrians (I had an Edward, till a Richard killed him; I had a Henry, till a Richard kill'd him. Thou hadst an Edward, till a Richard kill'd him; Thou hadst a Richard, till a Richard kill'd him...).

It is perhaps strange that in presenting the cycle of vengeance Shakespeare omitted the fact that the real-life Richard himself had a son who died prematurely, which some contemporary historians viewed as divine retribution for the fate of Edward's sons - which of course Margaret would claim as retribution for the fate of her son. Shakespeare's Tudor patrons might have welcomed this additional demonstration of Richard's wickedness.

Comedic elements

Despite the high violence of the play and the villainous nature of the title character, Shakespeare manages to infuse this play with a surprising amount of comic material. Much of the humor rises from the dichotomy between what we know Richard's character to be and how Richard tries to appear. The prime example is perhaps the portion of Act III, Scene 1, where Richard is forced to play nice with the young and mocking Duke of York. Other examples appear in Richard's attempts at acting, first in the matter of justifying Hastings's death and later in his coy response to being offered the crown.

Richard himself also provides some dry remarks in evaluating the situation, as when his plan to marry the Queen Elizabeth's daughter: Murder her brothers, then marry her; Uncertain way of gain....

Other examples of humor in this play include Clarence's ham-fisted and half-hearted murderers, and the Duke of Buckingham's report on his attempt to persuade the Londoners to accept Richard (...I bid them that did love their country's good cry, God save Richard, England's royal king! Richard: And did they so? Buckingham: No, so God help me, they spake not a word....)

Puns, a Shakespearean staple, are especially well-represented in the scene where Richard tries to persuade Queen Elizabeth to woo her daughter on his behalf.

Film versions

The most famous player of the part in recent times was Laurence Olivier in his 1955 film version. His inimitable rendition has been satirized by many comedians including Peter Cook and Peter Sellers (who had aspirations to do the role straight). Sellers' version of A Hard Day's Night was delivered in the style of Olivier as Richard III. The first series of the BBC television comedy Blackadder in part parodies the Olivier film, visually (as in the crown motif), Peter Cook's performance as a Richard who is a jolly, loving monarch but nevertheless oddly reminiscent of Olivier's rendition, and by mangling Shakespearean text (Now is the summer of our sweet content made o'ercast winter by these Tudor clouds...)

More recently, Richard III has been brought to the screen by Sir Ian McKellen (1995) in an abbreviated version set in a 1930s fascist England, and by Al Pacino in the 1996 documentary Looking for Richard. In the 1976 film The Goodbye Girl, Richard Dreyfuss's character, an actor, gives a memorable performance as a homosexual Richard in a gay stage production of the play.


The war of the Roses (also called the war of the two Roses) is a very important period for the British culture and history. It has been a turning point in the history of the United Kingdom : a very large part of the aristocracy was killed (some noble families even disappeared) and the royal dynasty changed. It has also been a vast source of inspiration for English authors, such as Shakespeare.

The history of the war of the two Roses is really propitious to literary narration : you have a Queen with a strong personality (Marguerite), a mad King, traitors, multiple reversal of situation, ... But the myth is different from the reality : what is disappointing is that the version of Shakespeare is a bit far from the reality whereas it needed not to be thrilling. For instance, Richard III was not the ``nice'' King of Shakespeare's play. However we must not forget that he could not question the foundation of the Tudor dynasty ands its legitimity !

This period will remain one of the most epic in the English history, even if it concerned principally the aristocracy (the armies were small and one implicit rule was to kill the nobles, not the simple peasants).


1. E. F. Jacob, The Fifteenth Century (1961);

2. P. M. Kendall, The Yorkist Age (1962, repr. 1965);

3. S. B. Chrimes, Lancastrians, Yorkists, and Henry VII (1964);

4. J. R. Lander, The Wars of the Roses (1965);

5. C. D. Ross, Wars of the Roses: A Concise History (1976);

6. E. Hallam, Wars of the Roses and Chronicles of the Wars of the Roses (1988);

7. J A.J. Pollard. Richard III and the Princes in the Tower

8. Alison Weir. The Princes in the Tower.

9. Anne Sutton, Livia Visser-Fuchs. Richard III's Books.

10. Anne Sutton, Peter Hammond. The Coronation of Richard III.

11. Bertram Fields. Royal Blood.

12. Charles Ross. Richard III. Methuen, 1981

13. Charles Wood. Joan of Arc and Richard III.

14. Desmond Seward. Richard III: England's Black Legend.

15. Jeremy Potter. Good King Richard?

16. Keith Dockray. Richard III: A Reader in History, Sutton, 1988

17. Michael Hicks. Richard the Third, Tempus, 2001.

18. Paul Murray Kendall. Richard III: The Great Debate.

19. Paul Murray Kendall. Richard the Third.

20. Peter Hammond and Anne Sutton. Richard III: The Road to Bosworth Field.

21. Richard Drewett & Mark Redhead. The Trial of Richard III.

22. Rosemary Horrox. Richard III: A Study in Service.

23. Rosemary Horrox. Richard III and the North.

24. V.B. Lamb. The Betrayal of Richard III.

25. Winston Churchill. History of the English Speaking Peoples. The Birth of Britain, Vol. 1.

26. Pollard, Wars of the Roses (1995); A. Weir, Wars of the Roses (1995).

Appendix 1

King Henry VI (1421-1471)

He ruled England from 1422-1461 and then again from 1470-1471. Henry may fairly be said to have been a very good man, but a very bad king. He was pious and devoted to education, but lacked either the governing or the military skills to run 15th Century Britain. In 1445, Henry married Margaret of Anjou. Her favorites, such as Somerset and Buckingham ruled the court in all but name. In 1453, however, a mental breakdown by Henry allowed Richard, Duke of York, to step in as "Protector". When Henry regained his sanity, he was urged by his wife and her favorites to throw York and his allies out of the Government. On May 22nd of that year, York and his allies began to take that Government back. (Trivia: Henry VI was the first King of England to never personally command an Army against a foreign foe.)

King Edward IV (1442-1483)

He ruled England from 1461-1470 and again from 1471-1483. Upon the death of his father, the Duke of York, in the battle of Wakefield on December 31, 1460, Edward took up both the position and the quarrel of his sire. In 1461, He was taken to Parliament by "The Kingmaker", Richard Neville, and crowned king. The two of them then headed north and engaged with the Lancastrian army in the battle of Towton; a Yorkist victory. This spelled the beginning of the end for the Lancastrians. Edward ruled for the next 9 years and it would take the influence of the Kingmaker to bring the Lancastrians to power again. (Trivia: The battle of Towton was the largest battle ever fought on English soil. Contemporary sources reported the numbers of men in the hundreds of thousands, though they were prone to spice up amounts (the big fish syndrome) and the actual number was probably nearer to 40,000 individuals.)

Queen Margaret of Anjou (1429-1482)

Margaret was married to Henry VI in 1445. Despite the King's inate shyness and fear of women, they appear to have had a good marriage. With Henry's mental failings, however, it was left to Margaret and her favorites to try and hold the kingdom. Until the death of her son (at Tewkesbury in 1471), she was truly the backbone of the Lancastrian cause. At Tewkesbury in 1471, her son was defeated and killed and she was imprisoned. She was eventually ransomed by Louis of France in exchange for her French lands.

King Edward V (1470-1483

Duke Somerset
Edmund Beaufort (Somerset) supported Henry and the Queen during the King's breakdown. Unfortunately for him, he also had a private feud in the north with the Nevilles. When York became Protector, Somerset found himself thrown out of court and into the Tower of London. In a reversal of fortunes, however, the King regained his sanity and Somerset was freed. This too was shortlived, however, as the Yorkists returned with an army that met with the Lancastrians at St Albans in the first battle of the Wars. The Yorkists were victorious (in great part due to the efforts of the Kingmaker who would begin to gain his personal fame at this time) and Somerset was hacked to death in front of the Castle Inn; May 22, 1455.
He reigned from 1483 until his death in 1485. One of the most controversial rulers in the history of the British Isles, Richard remains something of an enigma to historians. Histories surrounding him range from Sir Thomas More and Shakespeare portraying him as evil incarnate, to some modern revisionists who would clear him of all possible guilt and proclaim him to be the greatest of the English monarchs. As with all things the truth is probably somewhere in between. Opposing views on the subject are readily available even on the Web (see my intro page) and so I will refrain from pursuing the debate to any degree. Richard came to power in 1483 probably fearing for his power and perhaps his life under a Woodville Monarchy. He seems to have been content under his brother's rule (Edward IV), but when Edward died and Edward V was too young to rule for himself, Richard became Protector. He seems to have been a successful administrator, but his rule was wracked with as much controversy then as it is today and many in power mistrusted him. In 1485, at the battle of Bosworth Field, Richard was defeated and killed by the army of Henry Tudor (King Henry VII). (Trivia: Richard III was the last English Monarch to personally battle beside his troops in war.)
Richard Neville (Earl of Warwick)(1428-1471)
Also known as the Kingmaker, this figure has been called the last of the English Barons. He was central to the Wars and could even be considered to be the third party in them (ie. Lancastrians, Yorkists, and Nevilles). (Trivia: Richard Neville once held two Kings of England captive at the same time. Henry VI and Edward IV both feel under his control in 1469. For those of you who are vampire buffs, you might be interested in learning that the Kingmaker was born in the same year as Vlad Dracula; 1428.(There are others, including Rand McNally who put the Impaler's birth at 1431 which would make this trivia pointless, but I thought I'd mention it in order to be fair.)
Henry Stafford, the 2nd Duke of Buckingham (1454-1483)

Stafford became duke in 1460 with the death of his father. When Edward IV died, Buckingham supported Richard III's claim to the throne and was rewarded with the high constableship of England. In the same year, however, he led a rebellion against Richard and was captured and executed for treason.

Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York (1411-1460)

Father of Edward IV and Richard III, Richard was the namesake of the Yorkist side of the Wars. His claim to the throne was considered strong enough so that he was heir to Henry VI, until Henry produced a son. After the Battle of St Albans, Richard was again made heir to Henry disinheriting Edward of Lancaster. Queen Margaret would have none of that and by 1459 the two sides were in outright war with one another. In 1461 in Wakefield, York was tricked into leaving his castle and his forces were slaughtered by the Lancastrians. He, his son, and Salisbury were killed.

Henry Tudor (1457-1509)

The first of the Tudor kings, Henry VII defeated Richard III at Bosworth Fields on 22 August 1485. Henry was born to Edmund Tudor and Margaret Beaufort, though his father was killed before his birth and his mother was only 13. He spent 14 years in Wales and then another 14 in exile in France before making his bid for the throne. Early in 1486 he married Elizabeth of York, Edward IV's daughter and ostensibly united the two houses of York and Lancaster. His reign lasted from 1485 to 1509 when the crown passed to his more famous son, Henry VIII. (Trivia: Henry VII was something of a Mama's boy. His mother, Margaret Beaufort, had tremendous political influence during his reign as well as controlling the household. She even went to France to order them to pay up on War debts.)

Richard Neville (Earl of Salisbury)(Abt 1400 - 1460)

Father of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, Salisbury was the oldest of the Yorkists. He was a capable warleader and often seems to have been the voice of reason. Successful in the early part of the war, he was captured and beheaded just after the battle of Wakefield.

Louis XI

The King of France from 1461 until his death in 1483. Known as the "Spider King", Louis ran a game of serious international intrigue in order to rebuild his country which had been plagued with a century of war. In his 22 year reign, he showed a great understanding of changing politics and reclaimed the duchies of Burgundy and Brittany.

Charles the Bold (1433-1477)

The Duke of Burgundy. When his father, Philip the Good, died in 1467, Charles began his dream of expanding his Dukedom. In 1468 he married Margaret of York, the sister of Edward IV, and formed an alliance with England. He fought intermittant battles with France before being defeated and killed by Switzerland at the battle of Nancy on 5 January 1477. (Trivia: Fantastically wealthy, lavish, ambitious and tenacious, Charles had an abominable war record. In his war with Switzerland, his forces were defeated soundly at Grandson and later even more soundly at Morat. Despite the fact that he was a losing agressor, he nevertheless ignored peace attempts and laid siege to Nancy.)

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