Spanning the years 1455 to 1487, the Wars of the Roses was one of the most dramatic and violent periods in our history, a series of bloody battles fought between the house of Lancaster and the house of York for the English throne.
It was a time of spectacular reversals of fortune; within a period of twenty-four years, the occupant of the throne changed no fewer than seven times.
The conflict sprang out of the social unrest and financial woes that followed the Hundred Years’ War between England and France, combined with the mental infirmity and weak rule of Henry VI. The culmination of these troubles was the attempt in 1460 by Richard, Duke of York to wrest the throne from his cousin, King Henry.
When the Duke was killed later that year, his claim passed to his eldest son, who, in 1461, triumphed over the Lancastrians at the Battle of Towton – the bloodiest battle ever fought on English soil – to become the first Yorkist king of England, Edward IV.
In 1470, the exiled Lancastrian lords formed an alliance with the Warwick ‘the Kingmaker’ – hitherto Edward IV’s stongest supporter – to invade England and put the imprisoned Henry VI back on the throne. Henry’s second reign lasted barely six months before Edward – who had, himself, fled abroad – was back in England and defeated the Lancastrians at the battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury.
The relative stability of Edward IV’s second reign collapsed at his death in 1483. His eldest son, Edward V, still a child, was deposed by Edward’s younger brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who ascended the throne as King Richard III. The new reign did not last long. Two years later Richard was overthrown by Henry Tudor, a cadet of the house of Lancaster, who married Edward IV’s eldest daughter and united Lancaster and York in the new Tudor dynasty.
The Wars of the Roses has proved fertile ground for writers and film-makers alike, starting with Shakespeare and finding new expression today through authors including G.R.R. Martin, who is noted for finding inspiration for his celebrated Game of Thrones fantasy novels from the inter-dynastic machinations and devastating warfare between the houses of Lancaster and York.
The Wyvern and Star series of historical novels by author Sophy Boyle vividly captures the unparalled excitement, intrigues and twists of the Wars of the Roses, combining fact and fiction to provide a vivid, fresh retelling of the story from the standpoint of the Lancastrians during the second half of the Wars.
Click HERE to see a family tree of the royal dynasties involved in the Wars of the Roses.