The War of the Roses: the Historical Facts of the Tudor Myth (Shakespeare’s Histories)
The War of the Roses: the Historical Facts of the Tudor Myth (Shakespeare’s Histories)
FEDERAL AGENCY OF
NOVOROSSIYSK BRANCH OF
STATE EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTION
OF HIGHER PROFESSIONAL
The English Faculty
The Department of the
Òheory 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
1. The Historical Facts of the Tudor Myth
2. Shakespeare’s Histories
The antagonism between the two houses started with the
overthrowing of King Richard II by his cousin, Henry
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
The object and purposes of the course
paper may be formulated as follows:
study of the material on the theme;
of the dates and importance of some events for the Lancastrians and the
the peculiarities in the background of different things and events;
for the conditions which influenced this event;
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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,
"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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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,
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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;
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 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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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....”
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....”)
a Shakespearean staple, are especially well-represented in the scene where
Richard tries to persuade Queen Elizabeth to woo her daughter on his behalf.
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...”)
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.
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
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 !
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).
E. F. Jacob, The Fifteenth Century
P. M. Kendall, The Yorkist Age (1962,
S. B. Chrimes, Lancastrians, Yorkists,
and Henry VII (1964);
J. R. Lander, The Wars of the Roses
C. D. Ross, Wars of the Roses: A Concise
E. Hallam, Wars of the Roses and
Chronicles of the Wars of the Roses (1988);
Pollard. Richard III and the Princes in the Tower
Weir. The Princes in the Tower.
Sutton, Livia Visser-Fuchs. Richard III's Books.
Sutton, Peter Hammond. The Coronation of Richard III.
Fields. Royal Blood.
Ross. Richard III. Methuen, 1981
Wood. Joan of Arc and Richard III.
Desmond Seward. Richard
III: England's Black Legend.
Potter. Good King Richard?
Dockray. Richard III: A Reader in History, Sutton, 1988
Hicks. Richard the Third, Tempus, 2001.
Murray Kendall. Richard III: The Great Debate.
Murray Kendall. Richard the Third.
Hammond and Anne Sutton. Richard III: The Road to Bosworth Field.
Drewett & Mark Redhead. The Trial of Richard III.
Horrox. Richard III: A Study in Service.
Horrox. Richard III and the North.
Lamb. The Betrayal of Richard III.
History of the English Speaking Peoples. The Birth of Britain, Vol. 1.
Pollard, Wars of the Roses (1995); A.
Weir, Wars of the Roses (1995).
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.)
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
Margaret of Anjou (1429-1482)
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.
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.
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.)
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.)
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.
Plantagenet, Duke of York (1411-1460)
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
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.)
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.
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.
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