In the first of a new series, Myra King starts to tell the story of the English Civil War.

 

“Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?

With silver bells and cockleshells and pretty maids all in a row.”

Sound like a sweet, children’s rhyme? Well it’s not.

It actually refers to Queen Mary I of England. A woman so violent and psychologically imbalanced she earned herself the name, Bloody Mary. This queen, the first child and eldest daughter of King Henry VIII, had the strange idea that her God was punishing her with infertility because she was too tolerant of Protestants. This was an unfortunate belief as her father, 40 years before, believed his God was punishing him with infertility because England was not Protestant. And so, Henry broke away from the Roman Catholic Church and changed the religion of the England. This might not sound catastrophic, but in an era when science and reason barely existed, belief in the church was all these people had. And Henry took it away from them. He replaced it with a church that saw him as the unquestioned leader. This tyrannical leader then burned monasteries, killed monks, stole their gold and hanged all those who questioned him.

Queen Mary I of England

Queen Mary I of England

Henry earned himself two of his own nursery rhymes, “Little Jack Horner” and “Old Mother Hubbard.” Once again, this might not seem important, but this shows us the turning tide of public opinion towards monarchs. Throughout the history of England, the question of who reigned had always been more important than how they reigned. The law called “The Divine Right of Kings” meant that the monarch was seen as God’s choice; he was a chosen person to rule over their land. Therefore, who were the commoners to question who ruled? A king was a king was a king was a king. If he wasn’t a good one, hopefully the next one would be better. And that was the end of it. The common man had no say.

Or did he?

Henry VIII destroyed his reign and the love of his people by gutting England of its long standing religion; of putting wives aside, or worse, killing them; of starving the nation for his wars; of murdering all those who opposed him. The people remember him by mocking him in rhyme. His son, and successor, did not rule for long enough to live in infamy. But his daughter, Mary, will always be remembered as the blood-thirsty, psychopath she was.

The poem, “Mary, quite contrary,” refers to Mary’s garden that in reality was the growing graveyard her religious genocide caused. Mary, unlike most of the rest of England, had never abandoned Catholicism. Upon her disastrous marriage and second phantom pregnancy, the Queen decided that England would once again be Catholic, and all Protestants should be tortured and burned. Silverbells, Cockleshells and Pretty Maids were all torture devices used heavily in her reign. Mary earned herself even more rhymes: Ladybird, Ladybird, Three Blind Mice, and Goosy Goosy Gander, as well as a handful that have not survived into modern times. Despite their sweet words, these rhymes depict the hell that Mary brought to the realm. More hated than her father had ever been, Mary lives on despite her death four hundred years ago. Although, only children, their mothers and pre-school teachers still speak of her. Rhyming happily to a poem forged in the blood and torture of the Protestants she destroyed.

Henry and Mary serve to prove the changing opinions of the English people. Their chosen monarch could be evil, they now saw. Their chosen monarch could be cruel and unjust; their policies wrong; their beliefs and rules could be against the wishes of England.

Common men of the past had quietly accepted their kings without complaint. But those kings had abused their people. Those kings had destroyed the trust put in to them.

And so when James I and his son, Charles I, insisted on the law of the Divine Right of Kings despite England not wanting that law, England no longer wanted their Kings.

 

You can read Myra’s first series of articles on the Wars of the Roses by clicking here.

 

References

  • Who's who in British History by Juliet Gardiner
  • British History by Miles Kelly
  • Rhymes.org.uk

The American Revolution from 1775-1783 changed the world. In this article, Aidan Curran takes a unique look at the causes of the Revolution – stamps, sugar and tea. This article is part of our introductions to history series.

 

Thinking of hosting an afternoon tea party any time soon? Think again, you might just spark a revolution!

The Boston Tea Party in 1773 was not your ordinary tea party. There were no forced pleasantries, scrumptious pastries, or even tea being drunk. Instead, there were 60 men, dressed as Native Americans, flinging 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbor. This was in response to the British Government passing the Tea Act, which stated Americans had to buy tea from Britain only. Americans were less then pleased by this, as taxes were being placed on them, yet they had no representation in the British Parliament. This led to the cry for “No Taxation without Representation.” However, a tea party is not complete without sugar, and this was also a cause of the American Revolution. A third cause was a tax on stamps.

But before we get into tea, sugar, and stamps, it is important to understand what life was like for the colonists under British rule. Society was made up of ruling elites, from great landowners to British placemen, who were trying to make their fortune in the Thirteen Colonies. Nobody really cared about the colonists; everybody was in it to serve their own interests. Americans were restricted in their day-to-day living. The Navigation Acts stated that the most important goods had to be sent to British ports, and transported in British vessels. Turning crude iron into finished goods was also forbidden, along with selling beaver hats. Granted, not being able to buy a hat is hardly an excuse for a Revolution, but the fact remains: the colonists were serving needs other than their own, as economically they were restricted, and politically they had no influence. Upon the conclusion of the Seven Years’ War in 1763, it was colonists who had to pay the price, literally. 

The tarring and feathering of the Loyalist Commissioner of Customs, John Malcolm, January 1774, underneath the Liberty Tree. He is also being forced to drink tea. In the background, the Boston Tea Party is taking place, an event that in reality occurred in December 1773. Painting attributed to Philip Dawe.

The tarring and feathering of the Loyalist Commissioner of Customs, John Malcolm, January 1774, underneath the Liberty Tree. He is also being forced to drink tea. In the background, the Boston Tea Party is taking place, an event that in reality occurred in December 1773. Painting attributed to Philip Dawe.

War Debt

Why did Britain have to impose taxes on tea, sugar, and stamps? From 1754-1763, they battled with France over North American territory, which is known as the Seven Years’ War. To fight this war, Britain borrowed huge amounts of money from banks and individual investors. The colonists assisted Britain in the war by providing soldiers and economic resources, and this made Britain realize just how important the colonies were in maintaining its status as a world power.

Were the British grateful for the colonists help though? Absolutely not!

The British saw the colonists as inferiors, whose main role was to enrich the mother country. One British official even described the colonists as “fools.” In fact, the British even believed that Americans should be grateful for the continued protection they received, and so did not hesitate in making Americans pay for the war debt.

 

Taxing the Colonies

And now, we get to the tea, sugar, and stamps! By placing taxes on these items, Britain hoped to regain the huge amount of money that it had spent fighting the Seven Years War. In 1764, the Sugar Act was introduced by Prime Minister George Grenville, which forced Americans to pay a three-cent tax on sugar. There was also a tax placed on wine and coffee.

While, the Sugar Act was really only a new reinforced aspect of the Navigation Acts, the Stamp Act was a new matter altogether. Introduced in 1765, it placed a tax on every single piece of paper that Americans used, from newspapers to playing cards.

Now, it would seem reasonable that a person should be able to buy tea from wherever they want, don’t you think? Well, the British didn’t think so. The Tea Act of 1773 meant that if Americans wanted tea, they had to buy it from the British owned East India Company. And the colonists certainly liked their tea – they drank at least 1.2 million pounds of it every year.

The colonists were annoyed, very annoyed indeed. Not so much with the acts themselves, but the fact that Britain was making decisions without their consent. Furthermore, the colonists believed that if they were paying taxes, they should be represented in the British Parliament, and devised the slogan “No Taxation without Representation.” This simply meant that if colonists were to pay taxes, they wanted somebody in the British Parliament, who would claim their rights and fight taxation. If Americans were British citizens, they wanted to be treated as such.

 

American reaction to taxation

Feeling that their rights were being violated, colonists reacted to taxation with mass meetings, protests, and boycotting British goods. Everything revolved around the word “liberty.” Opponents of the new taxes went as far as to hold mock funerals, in which liberty’s coffin would be carried to the grave. At the last minute, the occupant would jump out of the coffin, and everybody would go to a tavern and celebrate. In Boston, there is a large elm tree, where protesters once hanged an effigy of stamp distributor Andrew Oliver, and this became known as the Liberty Tree. Mass meetings were also held under this tree, and this space became known as Liberty Hall.

In New York, hundreds of residents passed through the streets every night shouting “liberty.” Around this time too, the Sons of Liberty were formed, and while they were unsupported by society’s elite, they had a large following from the city’s laborers, craftsmen, and sailors. A British officer by the name of Major Thomas James infuriated colonists by boasting that he would force the stamps down New Yorkers’ throats, and the colonists reacted by destroying his home.

Faced with such resistance, the British government repealed the stamp act in 1766. However, they did proceed to pass a Declaratory Act, which dismissed the colonists’ claims that they should be represented in Parliament.

The Townsend Acts also contributed to the American Revolution. They angered the colonists even further by placing taxes on glass and paper. The colonists again protested and boycotted British goods. British troops were sent to enforce the laws, but this led to many unpleasant clashes with colonists. Indeed, on March 5, 1770, the Boston Massacre took place. British troops who were guarding a customs house, opened fire and killed five Bostonians, while wounding many more. It is believed that the soldiers panicked, after somebody began to throw snowballs.

In response to the Tea Act imposed by the British government, colonists boarded three British ships in Boston Harbor and threw $4 million worth of tea into the sea. This is event of now known as the Boston Tea Party. As the British loved their tea (and money), they were furious, and quickly and decisively enforced the Intolerable Acts. As part of the Acts, Boston’s port was closed to all trade until the tea was paid for, town meetings were banned, and colonists had no choice but to feed and house the extra British soldiers that were sent to keep order. The British realized that they had to stand firm against the Americans – to back down over the Tea Party would portray them as weak to their other colonies. Again, colonists responded with resistance and defiance to the Intolerable Acts, claiming that their rights to liberty were being violated. They went so far as to accuse the British as being “instigated by the devil.” Revolution was edging ever closer…

 

The Continental Congress and outbreak of war

In response to the Intolerable Acts, the First Continental Congress was held in Philadelphia from September 5 through October 26, and urged citizens to resist the new laws and prepare themselves for war. It was here that Patrick Henry made his famous proclamation: “Give me liberty, or give me death!”

The Continental Congress was the final bolt that opened the door of Revolution. By May 1775, war had broken out between British soldiers and armed colonists.

 

 To sum it all up

Who knew a row over tea, sugar, and stamps could contribute to the establishment of one of the world’s great superpowers? However, as has been outlined, there were many factors that led to the American Revolution and, eventually, American Independence. Colonists were tired of being seen as inferior and wanted to have the rights of an English citizen, but more importantly, they wanted the rights of a human being. They also felt they should not be made to pay for Britain’s debt resulting from the Seven Years War. In addition, they thought that they should not have to pay taxes if they were not represented in Parliament – “No Taxation without Representation.”

With the Declaration of Independence, Americans were allowed to embark on their “pursuit of happiness” and realize their goals. They could shape their society in whichever way they saw fit. Oh, and they had the freedom to buy tea from whoever they chose…

 

You can find out more from Aidan Curran on his site here or his Twitter feed here.

 

This article is the first in what will be occasional articles on introductions to history. Introductions to History will feature an overview of a major event in world history, often told in a somewhat humorous or different way!

 

Finally, you can find out more about the American Revolution in our podcast series here.

 

 

Selected References

  • The American Revolution, Colin Bonwick
  • The American Revolution, Edward Countryman
  • The Limits of Liberty, Maldwyn Jones
  • Give Me Liberty!, Eric Foner
  • http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/patrick.asp
  • http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/era.cfm?eraID=3&
  • http://history.howstuffworks.com/revolutionary-war/boston-tea-party1.htm
  • http://www.usfca.edu/fac_staff/conwell/revolution/tea.htm

Our final installment in The Wars of the Roses series looks at the intrigues that led Richard and Henry to face each other and bring the wars to an end. This article follows our introduction to the Wars of the Roses available here and our article on Edward III’s descendants and the causes of the Wars of the Roses available here. Later were the battles of the war from 1455-1464, the Kingmaker, and Prince George’s treachery. Then came part 1 and part 2 of a love story. Finally, our previous article looked at how a baby ended The Wars of the Roses.

 

Is it possible for a man to be an uncouth barbarian but manage to be a devoted father, husband and an excellent King? Henry Tudor forces this question on us.

The young Lancastrian had a barely existent claim to the throne. He was the last in a line of bastard descendants who were legally not allowed to inherit the crown of England. This didn’t worry Henry too much. His mother, Margaret Beaufort had paved the way for his attack a full year before he made it. Margaret’s husband, Lord Stanley, was one of those men whom history calls a coward. He famously only joined sides once he knew who the victor would be. He was always neutral in politics and never took part in revolts. This has earned him the title of traitor. I think that to be an unfair analysis. From one perspective, Lord Stanley was a dangerous man. No one knew where his alliances lay. From a soldier’s point of view, he was the best commander they could have. He only joined battles at the end and only on the side of the victor. That meant his soldiers were almost guaranteed to walk away the winners, and this made Stanley a very popular lord to fight for. After all, England was built on the backs of peasants and not by the swords of their masters. Being popular with peasants was a better option than being a favorite soldier of Kings. And so, when Lady Margaret began her campaign against Richard III, Lord Stanley stayed out of it.

King Richard III at The Battle of Bosworth Field. By James Doyle.

King Richard III at The Battle of Bosworth Field. By James Doyle.

Margaret summoned rebel armies to revolt against Richard’s followers in 1483. Her plan was to overwhelm Richard with attacks while her son, Henry, snuck in through Wales. It probably would have worked, but the weather in England had never favored the Lancastrians. Once again, the River Severn flooded, preventing Henry from entering England and stopping the rebels from carrying out their revolution. Richard’s reign had been in no real danger, and because he was not allowed to punish a woman, nor would he ever have done, he simply issued a warning to Lord Stanley to better control his wife.


Whispers

Apparently Lord Stanley didn’t listen as Margaret then attempted another plot. And this time she did it as all women who had come before her had done – quietly. She simply spread enough rumors about Richard to tarnish his pristine reputation. By this point, the princes in the tower had not been seen for months. Margaret herself claimed to have staged a rescue, but had no princes to show for it. Could that “rescue” have been murder? Despite Richard’s claims to the contrary, he was blamed for the boys’ murder. Was Margaret behind it all? Well, we do know that Richard’s popularity began to dip after this point. He was no longer the beautiful King of England.

More misfortune struck Richard in 1484 when his only son and heir died. Both Richard and his wife, Anne, moved into a dark place where happiness no longer existed. Anne never came back out, and she died in March 1485. Richard was a broken man. To make matters worse, a rumor spread across England that Richard had killed his wife in order to marry Edward’s eldest daughter, Elizabeth of York. The princess would then be heir to the throne and very important. Richard denied this many times, and history backs him up. There is documented evidence that Richard was in the process of organizing a Portuguese prince for Elizabeth when Anne died, and there is no historical evidence whatsoever to back up the claim that Richard wanted to marry Princess Elizabeth. It was just another rumor. Started perhaps by Lady Margaret?

Henry Tudor, on the other hand, wanted Elizabeth. With no substantial claim to the throne, marriage to the new heir would make him the unquestioned King. History tells us that Henry was no soldier. He knew nothing about battlefields or war and even less about the country he was trying to claim. Henry did have an area of expertise though - he was extremely intelligent. He knew that it was better to make friends in high places and to let experienced soldiers call the shots. This was a trait he would pass down to his granddaughter, the later Queen Elizabeth I, who is known for just that and whose time in power was a “Golden Age.” Like Elizabeth, Henry was a great leader and wise beyond his years.


A broken man

Meanwhile, Richard was struggling. Having lost his wife, his son, his reputation, the love of his people, and his allies, he marched to intercept Henry’s newly assembled army on August 22nd, 1485.

Although Richard was emotionally beaten, the old soldier in him had not died. He was, afrer all, trained by the Kingmaker. The Yorkist troops positioned themselves atop Ambion Hill and used their advantage to tire the Lancastrians at the Battle of Bosworth Field. Henry’s troops were waning; fighting uphill was no easy task. Richard and his army were set to win. But Lord Stanley had other ideas. He and his troops had entered the battle on the side of the Yorkists, and when Richard called for reinforcements to finish the battle, Lord Stanley’s men ran downhill and attacked Richard’s army. The last words the great King ever uttered were, “treachery, treachery, treachery.” King Richard III, the last King of England to die fighting on the battlefield, was slaughtered as he fought to keep England under the protection of the House of York. He was then stripped naked, and his lifeless body abused, molested and throne in a shallow grave that would not be found for half a millennium.

It is said that Henry Tudor lifted Richard’s crown from the rose bush and crowned himself King Henry VII on the battlefield. Another one of Shakespeare’s lies. Henry, or one of his men, had actually stolen the crown from Richard’s cart before the battle. For all we know, he had fought with the stolen crown on his head.

Henry was no fool however, and he was aware that England would not take kindly to this French-speaking, Welshman who had just won the crown by conquest. So he decided to re-write history and declared that he was crowned King on August 21st – the day before the Battle of Bosworth Field. That meant that legally Richard was not defending his crown, but fighting Henry for it. This made Richard and his followers the true traitors. This also meant that Henry was legally King and did not need Princess Elizabeth. He most certainly did not mention marriage again. But Elizabeth, like her mother Elizabeth Woodville, was not someone to take lightly. Despite no repeat mention of wishing to marry her, Henry seemed to quickly change his mind and the two were hastily married in a quiet ceremony very unbefitting for a King. Eight months later, their first son and heir was born. Premature babies rarely survived in the Middle Ages, yet this child – born at only eight months – easily made it. Why is that? Could it be that Elizabeth had realized she was no longer needed and had quickly trapped Henry? Had she seduced him, become pregnant and demanded to be made Queen?

History’s lips are once again sealed.

With the marriage of Henry to Elizabeth, the two warring houses were now joined. The red Lancaster rose and the white York rose were now drawn together and called the Tudor rose. Most historians believe that the Wars of the Roses ended with the Battle of Bosworth Field, but I believe it ended with the marriage of the Lancastrian King to his Yorkist Queen and the birth of their Tudor son.

And so began the next dynasty.


By M.L King, a history enthusiast and part-time blogger. You can connect with her on Facebook here.


We would like to send a special message of thanks to M.L King for her excellent Wars of the Roses series of articles. I hope you have all enjoyed it too!


Want to read more? Go to the blog now and see what else we have for you. Click here!

 

 

References

  • British History by Miles Kelly
  • Measly Middle Ages by Terry Derry
  • www.english-heritage.org.uk
  • www.battlefieldstrust.com
  • www.learningsite.co.uk

Our latest installment in the Wars of the Roses looks at the marriage of Richard Plantagenet and Anne Neville – among many other intrigues in the Wars of the Roses. This article follows our introduction to the Wars of the Roses available here and our article on Edward III’s descendants and the causes of the Wars of the Roses available here. Later were the battles of the war from 1455-1464, the Kingmaker, and Prince George’s treachery. Most recently were part 1 and part 2 of a love story.

 

Historians always warn us that we should never imagine the story of Richard Plantagenet and Anne Neville to be one of romance and true love. But it is hard not to. The two had known each other since infancy and had grown together under the tutelage of the Earl of Warwick at Middleham Castle. War and the choices of the Kingmaker forced these friends onto opposite sides after a life time of watching their fathers fight side-by-side. Anne’s marriage to the Lancastrian heir, Prince Edward, had only been a few months long and had resulted in no children. After the battle of Tewkesbury, Anne was left a fifteen-year-old widow so her sister’s husband, Prince George, took her in.

Richard Plantagenet (Richard III) and Anne Neville from the Rous Roll

Richard Plantagenet (Richard III) and Anne Neville from the Rous Roll

But George was anything but charitable. Anne was heiress to all the lands and castles in the north of England. A wonderful, rich fortune she shared with her sister. Since George had half these lands through marriage, he forcefully took the other half by keeping Anne as a prisoner in everything but name. This made George the wealthiest land owner in England. But history tells us that Anne didn’t take this lying down. According to legend, she dressed as a kitchen maid and escaped to the London home of one of George’s friends, where she continued to work in the kitchen while plotting her next move. That move would turn out to be Prince Richard Plantagenet.

The 18-year-old Duke of Gloucester had spent weeks looking for her, making a nuisance of himself in the household belonging to his brother, George. When Richard finally found our heiress, it is said that he spirited her away to a sanctuary in order to protect her from George. Legend tells us that he made it perfectly clear to Anne that his chivalrous rescue had no ulterior motives, and he wanted nothing from her. On May 14, 1472, she married him. The couple had a happy marriage lasting thirteen blissful years that gave them one son named Edward. Unlike the princes who came before and after him, Richard had no interest in London and the royal court. Richard’s heart belonged to his wife, his son and the northlands. Living mostly in Middleham castle, just as they had done as children, the couple rarely made it to London, rarely took up the mantle of royalty. Instead, they spent their days riding, commanding their farms and just generally enjoying one another’s company.

Unfortunately, life was to take one serious turn with the death of King Edward IV. Elizabeth Woodville was an enemy of Richard and an enemy of England. The Prince could not allow the unpopular Queen to crown her underage son and rule through him. Accompanied by 200 mourners, Richard kissed his wife and child good-bye and set out to London. Edward IV had made Richard the protector of the new King, but Elizabeth had sent her brother and 2,000 soldiers to fetch him before Richard could get anywhere near him. Unfortunately for Elizabeth, her brother marched his army directly into Richard’s mourners. The new young King changed guardians and entered London with his uncle and protector. Richard delivered the young King Edward V right to the Tower of London and left him there with his servants. This may sound sinister yet it was anything but. The Tower of London was the home of England’s royalty as well as a prison and even a zoo. As with all monarchs who had come before Edward V, he had been housed in the tower awaiting his coronation.

This is where history leaves us wondering. Richard, who had up until this point been unbelievably loyal to his brother, now suddenly steals the throne from his nephew and crowns himself King. What had happened to bring this about? Critics of Richard say he was simply showing his true colors by usurping a child. Richard’s supporters claim that he was pushed by his wife to take the crown, just as her father - the Kingmaker - would have done. Or that maybe Richard simply saw a chance to be King and took it. I, personally, think it is a bit more complex than that. Richard was loyal to his brother, and his brother had once been loyal to England. Then Elizabeth Woodville showed up. Was Richard, who would have still been in mourning, simply honoring his brother’s original plan? If Edward V had been King, the Woodvilles would have ruled and who knew what they would have done to the country. But if Richard ruled, he could undo all the damage the hated family had done and get England back on track. Was Richard - who hated court, hated London, hated royal life - putting his feelings and freedoms aside to become King and save England? Once again, history’s lips are sealed.

Before George had been executed, he had started a rumor about Edward IV being pre-contracted to another woman, meaning Elizabeth was not his true wife and making their children illegitimate. Richard dragged this rumor from the grave, used it as evidence and had all of Elizabeth’s children illegitimated. Richard was now heir to the throne. He was crowned Richard III on July 6 1483. Unlike Shakespeare tried to tell us, Richard was a much loved prince - if anything he was the people’s favorite prince - and London celebrated their new King and Queen with joyous excitement. After nearly thirty years of civil war, no one wanted a child King. But the idea of a decorated war hero leading the country was one they could get on board with.

So Richard toured his kingdom, with his beautiful and beloved Queen. They were joined by their son, the Prince of Wales, when his health allowed a trip with his parents. And they were happy.

If only Henry Tudor had stayed in France.

 

By M.L King, a history enthusiast and part-time blogger. You can connect with her on Facebook here.

The final installment in the Wars of the Roses series is available by clicking here.

 

Do you want to try your hand at some history writing? If so, click here for more information and then get in touch!

 

References

  • British History by Miles Kelly
  • Measly Middle Ages by Terry Derry
  • www.english-heritage.org.uk
  • www.battlefieldstrust.com
  • www.learningsite.co.uk

We follow-up last week’s post and look at a deadly love story involving George, Elizabeth, Edward and Richard. This article follows our introduction to the Wars of the Roses available here and our article on Edward III’s descendants and the causes of the Wars of the Roses available here. Later were the battles of the war from 1455-1464 and the Kingmaker. The most recent article was on Prince George’s treachery.

 

George’s fate was finally sealed by the Queen.

18 February 1478 saw the legal execution of a Prince of the realm. This was the first for the Plantagenets who preferred to send their enemies to France (or murder them in the night). Thanks to Shakespeare we now think George was drowned in a barrel of wine as punishment for challenging Queen Elizabeth. On general principle, most historians disagree with anything Shakespeare said, but could there be some truth to this story? Royals in the tower were known to bath in the barrels. Could an executioner have come up behind the Duke mid-bath and drowned him? History tells us nothing.

Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers and William Caxton present the first printed book in English to King Edward IV of England

Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers and William Caxton present the first printed book in English to King Edward IV of England

Richard had seen first-hand what happened to men who tangled with the Queen, so perhaps that was why he spent the remainder of his life distrusting Elizabeth and working to protect himself and England from her.

By the time Elizabeth had given Edward ten children, his mistresses had given him five. That we know of. There were probably many, many more. Edward never let his marriage vows stop him from filling his bed with the pretty maids at court. And there was no end to pretty maids. There was an end to Elizabeth’s youth though. By the time she was middle-aged, something new was happening in England. A new mistress named Elizabeth Shore saw Edward more than the Queen did and the King’s favorite brother, Richard, had won a battle against the Scots making him the most popular man at court. So popular in fact, that Edward seemed to be ignoring Elizabeth and only listening to Richard. Was Elizabeth finally losing control of her husband?

And then Edward died in April 1483.

The official story is that Edward died of either pneumonia or typhoid, although this has been frequently brought into question. Edward had in no way taken care of his health. He had more than let himself go in the peaceful years of his reign. But he was merely unhealthy, not sickly. For him to suddenly take ill and die within days and for his physicians to be utterly clueless as to what was wrong is highly suspicious. Despite what Hollywood would have us believe, the medical professionals of the past weren’t as utterly useless as they are portrayed. Pneumonia and typhoid were known illnesses. Had Edward had one of those, his physicians would have said so. Heart attacks and strokes were also a known affliction. If Edward had had one of those, his physicians would have said so. The fact that his medical records state that he died of a mysterious illness suggests that something was quite wrong. Was he poisoned? And if so, by whom?

We know that Elizabeth is famous for her “quick action” after her husband’s death. This quick action being the arrangements of an army of 2,000 men escorting her son back to London. The sweet, newly widowed Queen should have been in mourning, not organizing an army. How sweet of her to sacrifice. Although one needs to wonder why she was organizing an army to bring the Prince to London. What was she fearing? And how did she rustle up 2,000 soldiers in a matter of days? And why then did she run into hiding when Richard and 200 mourners began their journey south? Could it be that the soldiers were arranged before the King’s death because the King’s death was actually planned? Did the Prince need an army to escort him because Elizabeth feared that the English would rise up against this Prince who would now be King but controlled by the highly unpopular Woodvilles? Did she go into hiding because she feared Richard? Why did she fear Richard? Plantagenet women, even unpopular ones, were never harmed. The worst that would have happened to Elizabeth had she been caught was exile. But people often don’t see things as they truly are. Did Elizabeth run because she assumed that Richard would have killed her, as she would have killed him if roles were reversed? History refuses to tell us what happened to Edward or why Elizabeth ran when Richard posed no obvious threat - we can only speculate and assume.

Officially Edward died of pneumonia or typhoid, but the circumstances are suspicious. Elizabeth’s actions are suspicious. Did the Queen finally lose control of the King and so poisoned him? Did she plan to rule through her son? He was only 12; he needed a protector to rule until he was 16. Edward ordered Richard to be this protector. Why not his wife and her brother? Did he know something we didn’t?

As ever, there are few answers, but many questions. All we know is that 1483 was one frantic year.

 

By M.L King, a history enthusiast and part-time blogger. You can connect with her on Facebook here.

Click here to read the next in the series - how a baby ended The Wars of the Roses.

 

Do you want to try your hand at some history writing? If so, click here for more information and then get in touch!

 

Selected references

  • www.thewarsoftheroses.com
  • British History by Miles Kelly
  • www.britannica.com
  • www.battlefieldstrust.com

In the next in our series on the Wars of the Roses, this article looks at the marriage between the naïve Edward IV and the very smart Elizabeth Woodville. And its very serious consequences for one of Edward’s brothers.

It follows our introduction to the Wars of the Roses available here and our article on Edward III’s descendants and the causes of the Wars of the Roses available here. Later were the battles of the war from 1455-1464 and the Kingmaker. The most recent article was on Prince George’s treachery.

 

Do you know those romantic love stories where boy meets girl, they fall in love, the heavens and the earth move for them, and they live happily ever after?

Well, this isn’t one of them.

Elizabeth Woodville, Edward IV's very powerful Queen

Elizabeth Woodville, Edward IV's very powerful Queen

Elizabeth Woodville was a twenty-seven year old widow and mother of two small boys when the lecherous Edward IV came upon her in the woods one day. There is no hard evidence to tell us what had happened to make this womanizer stop and promise marriage to this commoner. Myths about her beauty beguiling him as well as her unholy spells bewitching him have survived the centuries.  Personally I think that Edward was young and silly and far too full of lust. Elizabeth, older and wiser and trained from puberty to deal with silly medieval men, used that against him. She refused to be his mistress so he had no choice but to wed her if he wanted to bed her - Anne Boleyn would pull the exact same stunt on Edward’s grandson, Henry VIII, half a century later; the men in that family never learn. Edward, therefore, married Elizabeth and crowned her his Queen in May 1465, a year after their secret wedding.

Elizabeth’s beauty and piety were known across the land – she was the commoner who had enchanted a King and now she was Queen. But just how much had she enchanted the King? In almost record time, her sisters were married off to the most eligible men in the kingdom. Her brothers and father were put in positions of power. And estates reserved for the victorious Yorkists were suddenly in Woodville control. The insult there being that the Woodvilles had, of course, fought for the Lancasters. It seemed as though Edward was not working in the favor of England, but to better the name of Woodville. It seemed as though Elizabeth had the King wrapped around her little finger. The Queen was in charge of England and doing her best to strip the land of its riches and bestow it on her siblings.

The Woodvilles created many enemies on their short ladder to the top. Most famously, the Earl of Warwick and the Duke of Clarence. A little less famously was the King’s mother, the Duchess Cecily. Everyone has mother-in-law horror stories, but Elizabeth definitely has one of the worst. Medieval historian Dominic Mancini wrote, “Even his mother fell into such a frenzy that she offered to submit to a public enquiry and asserted that Edward was not the offspring of her husband, the Duke of York, but was conceived in adultery, and therefore in no ways worthy of the honor of kingship.” The woman disapproved of Elizabeth to such a point that she was willing to debate Edward’s paternity and right to be King. Of course, Mancini was writing on hearsay so we will never know if that actually happened. But it is very clear that Elizabeth and this marriage were neither liked nor wanted.

Cecily offered even more insults years later when she formed great friendships with the wives of her other sons – Isabelle and Anne Neville. The Neville girls were the daughters of the Earl of Warwick – Elizabeth’s greatest enemy and the murderer of her father. Battle took care of Warwick; the shrewd Queen didn’t have to bother herself with him. But Warwick’s one-time ally, the Duke of Clarence, was not so easy to dispose of.

The Duke of Clarence, Prince George, was a troublemaker and most believe he deserved what he got. But his story just highlights how unbelievably powerful Elizabeth was. The trouble started with the death of George’s wife, Isabelle. As heiress to the massive Warwick fortune, her death left George one of the richest men in England. It is unknown whether that fortune caused George the belief that he was untouchable or if he truly was just a tyrant. But his first stunt after Isabelle’s death was to accuse her handmaid of poisoning the duchess. Without trial or evidence, George convicted the handmaid and executed her. He had no right to do this. He then used his fortune to present himself as a prospective husband to Mary of Burgundy. He had no right to do this. He accused Elizabeth of witchcraft. He employed soothsayers to predict the King’s death. He resurrected the rumor of Cecily’s infidelity and Edward’s questionable paternity. He even brought up a new notion of Edward being pre-contracted to another woman named Eleanor Talbot, therefore making Elizabeth a mistress instead of a wife and Queen.

This, Elizabeth could not allow.

In 1477 George was convicted of treason. Not even Edward’s council were prepared for this, nor could they understand the King’s want to execute his own brother. The youngest Plantagenet hero, Richard, a man who had always backed his beloved brother Edward in everything, was so disgusted that he refused to come to court, refused to have anything to do with Edward’s murder of George.

But did Edward really want to execute his brother or was he simply in the habit of acting on orders from his wife? After all, Edward had forgiven George for many, many betrayals in the past - why would a smear campaign from the Queen suddenly warrant the death penalty?

18 February 1478 would see the outcome of this infighting. But that’s for next time.

 

By M.L King, a history enthusiast and part-time blogger. You can connect with her on Facebook here.

To read part 2 of A Love Story during The Wars of the Roses, click here!

 

Have you heard our audio podcasts about an equally fascinating civil war? Click here to go to our Spanish Civil War page.

 

Selected references

In the next in our series on the Wars of the Roses, this article looks at the terrible Prince George and his role in the downfall of the Kingmaker, The Earl of Warwick.

It follows our introduction to the Wars of the Roses available here and our article on Edward III’s descendants and the causes of the Wars of the Roses available here. Later were the battles of the war from 1455-1464 and most recently the Kingmaker.

 

Prince George – the Duke of Clarence – was the worst type of man. Born the third son, he was never happy with his lot in life. Unlike his younger brother, Richard, who was loyal to the Plantagenets through thick and thin, George supported his family only when it suited him best. After years of watching his lecherous brother, King Edward IV, run England’s monarchy and nobility into the ground, George began to get rather restless.

Prince George, Duke of Clarence

Prince George, Duke of Clarence

Queen Elizabeth Woodville had still not given the King a son despite being pregnant every year of marriage. This made Prince George heir to his brother’s throne. But it was a shaky arrangement as Elizabeth was almost supernaturally fertile and it was only a matter of time before she bore a boy and bumped George further down the line. This the turncoat Prince could not allow. When the Earl of Warwick began sniffing around for a new ally against the King, George jumped at the chance. In a secret wedding in Calais, the Duke of Clarence married Isabelle Neville – Warwick’s eldest daughter. This went against the King’s wishes. The plan was to kill the King and put George and Isabelle on the throne. Had George been a smarter, less egotistical man he would have understood that Warwick was using him, plain and simple. But George honestly believed that he deserved to be King and Warwick was simply helping him along. And so, on July 26 1469 at the Battle of Edgecote Moor, George captured his brother and took him prisoner. It took King Edward IV eight months to escape and rally an army to counter-attack his treacherous brother and Warwick. Edward’s army defeated his enemy so thoroughly that the rebels shed their coats as they retreated. Hence the name of the battle – Losecote Field.

After Warwick’s humiliation, he and George fled to Calais, leaving Edward back in charge. The rebels planned to make an alliance with their former enemy, Margaret of Anjou – the wife of mad King Henry VI and mother to the Lancastrian heir. In order to achieve this new alliance, Warwick had to literally beg on his knees. Margaret was not convinced, but she was in a precarious position as she was living on the charity of the French court and her household was becoming a drain on the French King. The French King is also believed to have encouraged the alliance. But Margaret wanted more than promises and apologies from a kneeling man. She wanted an emblem. Warwick suggested the marriage of Margaret’s son, Prince Edward, to Warwick’s youngest daughter, Anne Neville. Margaret accepted, although some historians believe that she was only using Warwick for his army and planned to put Anne aside as soon as Prince Edward was King.

This is where Warwick made his final mistake - he backed the wrong horse.  He simply put his plans with George aside and married his youngest daughter to Henry VI’s son. His new plan was to put Henry back on the throne, wait until he died (or kill him) and rule through the new King.

Although Warwick was a brilliant soldier, he was lacking in common sense. Simple truths were lost on him; most notably the truth that if George betrayed his brother, he would surely betray the kingmaker too.

 

The return of Warwick

Armed with his new ally, Warwick returned to England and led an army against Edward. But he forgot one vital little piece in this jigsaw puzzle of deceit He had trained Edward. The King was a great fighter just like him. We can, of course, never know what Warwick was expecting from his adversaries, but we do know that he severely under-estimated Edward and Richard. Edward and Richard’s Yorkists crept up slowly and silently in the night, hidden by mist and darkness. On the morning of April 14 1471, while the Lancasters were rising from slumber, the Yorkists attacked. In the confusion and fog, some of Warwick’s soldiers actually stabbed each other. When the word, “treachery” ricocheted across the battle, even more Lancastrians killed one another. And as for Warwick himself, the mighty Earl was pulled off his horse, had his armor pried open and was stabbed in the neck. Warwick was so influential that without him the Lancasters were simply lost. Those that weren’t mauled on the battlefield retreated and ran for their lives. The body of the kingmaker was hanged for four days to quell rumors of his survival and to further break the Lancastrian spirit. This battle, the Battle of Barnet, marks the downfall of the House of Lancaster.

It took three weeks for Margaret of Anjou and her son to get to England. They had been held back by winds across the channel. The news of the defeat and death of Warwick was such a blow that Margaret ordered the tired army to march to Wales in order to recruit more men. And where was George in all of this? He had gone back to his brother, begging forgiveness. Edward was said to have known that his brother would return with his tail between his legs. The three brothers then marched to Wales, hoping to intercept the Lancastrian army before they made it over the River Severn and joined the angry Welshmen on the other side.

Margaret of Anjou, her son, his new bride and all the Lancastrians they could summon, made it as far as Tewkesbury before England herself decided to end the pointless war. The River Severn was flooded; no one could get across. The army was trapped between drowning and the Yorkists. The Lancastrians were choice-less; they had to do battle in their starving and fatigued state. The Yorkists weren’t any better off; they had had to march at a run, recruiting soldiers as they passed through villages. May 4 1471 saw two exhausted armies make one more stand for the crown. Henry VI’s son, Prince Edward, was no stranger to battlefields despite being only 18, but he was no leader; he could not rally his troops nor control them. The Yorkists, being led by the Plantagenet brothers, had better command. Richard, also aged 18, had led the army at the Battle of Barnet. He was well respected, well trained and very clever. And under him the Yorkists walked away from Tewkesbury victorious. Prince Edward died in battle and his mother was taken as prisoner. Prince Edward’s new widow should have been taken hostage with Margaret but she was taken to the house of the Duke of Clarence, where she was kept as prisoner in everything but name by her sister and brother-in-law. That is, until Prince Richard snuck her away and married her.

The battle of Tewkesbury saw the end of the Lancastrian claim to the crown. Henry VI “mysteriously” died some weeks later in the tower. Was he murdered? And if so, by whom? History’s lips are sealed.

And so the Yorkists returned to a somewhat peaceful reign knowing that the Lancastrians had no heir to fight for ... Except for that distant relative called Henry Tudor who lived in France. But the Plantagenets didn’t seem too bothered about him.

Edward once again returned to his throne which he would pass on to his baby son once he was old enough. If only Edward had lived long enough for that to happen.

 

By M.L King, a history enthusiast and part-time blogger. You can connect with her on Facebook here.

The next article in The Wars of the Roses series is about a love story during the war - available here.

 

Do you want to try your hand at some history writing? If so, click here for more information and then get in touch!

 

 

References 

In the next in our series on the Wars of the Roses, this article looks at the importance of the Earl of Warwick, the kingmaker. It follows our introduction to the Wars of the Roses available here, our article on Edward III’s descendants and the causes of the Wars of the Roses available here, and the battles of the war from 1455-1464.

 

The Earl of Warwick was a great and noble man who understood the battlefield, understood soldiers, and understood men. Unfortunately Warwick did not understand women. And the fact that he did not understand women was, indirectly, the reason for his downfall and death.

Edward IV meets his future wife and Queen, Elizabeth Woodville (Elizabeth Grey)

Edward IV meets his future wife and Queen, Elizabeth Woodville (Elizabeth Grey)

 

Through blood and marriage, Richard Neville – the 16th Earl of Warwick, also known as ‘The King Maker’ – had inherited nearly all the lands in the north of England. This made him one of the richest men in the kingdom, richer even than the King. The Earl was a fair and much loved landlord, meaning his tenants would quickly and happily take up arms for him, something the King could not boast. Common sense would dictate that a wise King would keep the Earl as a close companion and heed what he had to say, but Edward IV was young and silly and more concerned with filling his bed than commanding his kingdom. All foreign and domestic powers knew that Warwick ruled England while the King bedded the women of England. Warwick liked it that way. If he could not be the King, he would rule through him instead.

In the middle ages, a King’s marriage was a very important contract between two kingdoms. Warwick made it his business to unite England and France to dispel any chance of a repeat of the Hundred Years War. England was bankrupt and the country was still healing from war with France and war within its own borders. It was reasoned that an alliance with the French would help to fill English pockets and heal the wounds of war. Warwick worked tirelessly to convince the French King that the silly English King was worthy of a French princess. It took months of planning and bargaining before Warwick could finally announce the fruits of his labour - only to have Edward stand up to announce that not only was he already married, but had been for four months and to a widowed commoner whose family had fought against Edward’s army. We’ll never know Warwick’s real thoughts, but after suffering this verbal slap in the face, one can assume he was not impressed. Edward’s new Queen – Elizabeth Woodville – was not someone to be taken lightly. The medieval Queens were always strong, powerful women – they had to be – but no medieval man would ever admit it. Their religious beliefs and male ego prevented them from seeing women as anything but baby-making property. And so, with blinkered eyes, they accepted their new Queen with no thought to her hidden agenda.

But hidden agenda she had. Within months, Elizabeth’s twelve brothers and sisters were married into powerful and rich families. Positions reserved for the men who had fought to put Edward on the throne were suddenly handed to commoners who had fought to keep Edward from the throne. Wealthy ladies were married off to men they would have hired to clean the stables. The King’s government now consisted of his father and brother-in-laws. Suddenly it was all too clear who ruled England and it wasn’t the silly young King or the powerful Earl of Warwick - it was the widowed commoner who somehow got a King to marry her and hand over the reins.

Warwick sat and watched this game from his lands in the north. He quietly watched the government be over-thrown by power hungry commoners. He silently watched as the King he had fought for, lost a father and brother for, risked his life for, grew fat and lazy, controlled by his Queen and her rabbit-brood family. But it was Edward’s refusal to accept a marriage contract between Warwick’s daughters and the King’s brothers that finally pushed The King Maker over the edge. The man who had put Edward on the throne now set out to destroy him.

 

By M.L King, a history enthusiast and part-time blogger.

The next article in The Wars of the Roses series is about the treachery of Prince George and the Kingmaker's downfall - available here.

 

Join the debate and hear about the next in the series! JOIN US and we’ll keep you updated! Click here.

 

References

  • The Wars of the Roses by Robin Neillands (published by Cassell)
  • British History by Miles Kelly (published by Miles Kelly Publishing)
  • Who’s Who in British History (published by Collins and Brown Ltd)

In the next in our series on the Wars of the Roses, this article looks at the key battles in the early years of the war. It follows our introduction to the Wars of the Roses available here and our article on Edward III’s descendants and the causes of the Wars of the Roses available here.

The grand old Duke of York, he had 3,000 men, he marched them toward London in order to fight for his right to be King.

Richard Plantagenet had an unbroken male line all the way to Edward III and so assumed he was more entitled to rule England than the mad king and his infant son. On May 22, 1455 Richard, leading the Yorkist army, marched on London. King Henry VI, leading the Lancastrian force, marched to intercept it and halted at St. Albans thinking an ambush would be in his benefit. He was wrong; the Yorkists defeated the Lancaster force in 30 minutes. Henry was now a prisoner and his Queen and their son were in exile. This was the first battle of the Wars of the Roses; its brutality would set the stage for the war that changed the face of England and changed the way the nation fought. It was also the first battle where Richard Neville – the Earl of Warwick – put fear in the enemy. Warwick would go on to have a near perfect battle record - his presence was like a secret elixir spurring the Yorkists to victory. That alone must have helped break the Lancastrian spirit as it took them four years to rally an army and stage a counter-attack. The battle of Ludford Bridge left the Yorkist army desecrated and running into the night. Indeed, there was a full scale retreat in the morning led by Richard of York, who fled to Ireland. As you can imagine, the Earl of Warwick did not attend this battle. Could that be why the Yorkists deserted in the night and why the Lancasters walked away with victory?

Shakespeare's King Henry VI, part III, act II. Warwick, Edward and Richard at the Battle of Towton

Shakespeare's King Henry VI, part III, act II. Warwick, Edward and Richard at the Battle of Towton

Nine months later, the Earl of Warwick, his father and the Earl of March led their army north to attack a Lancastrian army marching south. When the two armies met, Warwick chose discussion rather than battle and spent hours trying to reach a settlement with the King. Then finally, out of frustration, the Yorkist force attacked and won. The crown was now clearly under Yorkist control. England believed the civil war was over but the mad King’s Queen was assembling an army and planned to fight for her heir.

The battle of Wakefield is considered to be the end of chivalrous warfare. Until that point, those in retreat were not killed. Nor were nobles. There were rules to war. On December 30, 1460 those rules came to an end. Richard of York travelled to the city of York and took up a defensive position at Sandal Castle. For some unknown reason, Richard left his stronghold and directly attacked the Lancastrian force even though it was twice the size of his army. The Yorkists were brutalized; retreating soldiers were slaughtered as they ran. And Richard of York, the man who fought to call himself King, was killed in cold blood. The Lancastrians walked away victorious and to show their victory, they captured the Earl of Warwick’s father and brother and executed them. Nobles were not meant to be slain; those were not the ways of chivalrous warfare. Were the Lancastrians so desperate that they ignored chivalry or were the murders of Warwick’s father and brother a sign to him?

There were three more battles before the battle of Towton - one of the most important of the civil war. These three little engagements fuelled the fires of anger in both camps, especially since the Lancastrians managed to win one more battle. Interestingly enough, the Earl of Warwick was present at this engagement. Knowing full well what happened to his brother and father, Warwick fled, leaving his hostage King Henry VI under a tree. The sad old King was to be finally reunited with his Queen and son.

On March 29, 1461, the Yorkist forces attacked in a driving snowstorm, on a sloping hill at Towton. Using the snow and wind as an aid, the Yorkist archers were able to shoot further than their adversaries. The Lancastrians, believing that their best strategy was to charge, managed to weaken the Yorkist force. After hours of intense fighting, the Duke of Norfolk arrived with reinforcements which helped to defeat the Lancasters. Having lost their army, their weapons and their spirit, King Henry VI, his Queen and their son fled to Scotland, leaving a victorious Earl of March to be crowned King Edward IV. There were two more battles at Hedgeley Moor and Hexham over the next few years, but they did nothing more than further break the Lancastrian cause.

Edward IV may have been a ferocious and clever fighter but as a King and politician he was severely lacking. The Cousin’s War would have ended on the day he was crowned and the Plantagenets would more than likely still have been on the throne decades, if not centuries, later had Edward kept his nose clean and ruled the way he was advised to. But alas, fate had other ideas. And so after only eight years of peace, Edward’s own policies forced the civil war to rise from the dead. He forced the house of York and the house of Lancaster to once again do battle.

And as Shakespeare said, England hath long been mad and scarred herself; the brother blindly shed the brother’s blood, the father rashly slaughtered his own son; the son, compelled, been butcher to the sire: all this divided York and Lancaster.

 

 

What battle from The Wars of the Roses most intrigues you?

 

By M.L King, a history enthusiast and part-time blogger.

The next article in The Wars of the Roses series is the Kingmaker, the Earl of Warwick - available here.

 

Join the debate and hear about the next in the series! JOIN US and we’ll keep you updated! Click here.

 

References

Encyclopaedia Britannica: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/509963/wars-of-the-roses

http://www.warsoftheroses.com

The Road to Bosworth Field by Trevor Royle (published by Little, Brown)

 

This article follows our introduction to the Wars of the Roses available here.

 

What is the best way for a King to secure his throne?

Have a son.

What is the best way for a King to plunge his kingdom into years of brutal civil war?

Have too many sons.

One such King was Edward III, who had no less than eleven legitimate children. Five males grew to adulthood, leaving Edward with what he thought would be a strong reigning family. Instead, he got a long-line of feuding male descendants who all believed they belonged on the throne.

 

Edward III proudly receives his son, Edward the Black Prince, after success in the 1346 battle of Crécy. Edward the Black Prince did not survive his father though. Source: public domain image.

Edward III proudly receives his son, Edward the Black Prince, after success in the 1346 battle of Crécy. Edward the Black Prince did not survive his father though. Source: public domain image.

Edward’s eldest son and heir died before he did, leaving a child as the new heir. Edward himself died when this new heir, Richard, was only ten years old. This left England in the dangerous position of being under the rule of a King who hadn’t reached puberty yet. Richard’s uncles, especially John of Gaunt, ruled the country until Richard was old enough and wise enough to exile the men trying to rule through him. John of Gaunt’s son then led an army against Richard, kicked him off the throne, and ruled as Henry IV. Which just goes to show, when it comes to the throne of England, family loyalty does not exist. This incident was also the starting point of a strong belief that would continue for centuries – ‘if there is a weak King and you have some sort of claim to the throne, you are permitted to fight for that throne.’ It was a belief that would savage England, kill many innocent people and make anyone with royal blood a would-be murderer.

England at this time was involved in a very expensive war with France - The Hundred Years War. For five generations English soldiers were shipped over to France where they were trained to be as brutal and blood-thirsty as possible. When the war ended with France winning and re-claiming all of her territory, 116 years of violence and war-lust was returned and set loose upon England. Suddenly fifth generation soldiers with advanced degrees in torture were expected to be farmers, tailors, blacksmiths… peaceful people. Under the rules of Henry IV and Henry V, England had been full of happy warriors fighting for land, fighting to make England rich. It was, to them, almost like the golden days of Arthur and Camelot. Unfortunately, the loss of French territory, coupled with the crippling of the Royal treasury, meant Camelot was quickly replaced by a broken country. The feeble-minded Henry VI only added fuel to the fires of unrest that burned across the land.

When the black plague struck in 1348, the majority of the labor force was wiped out. This caused severe inflation of labor and products which did little to quell the unrest. The lack of man-power meant a shift in England’s ruling class. Small landowners could now buy up more land from the dead, creating more wealth for themselves. For the first time, the land owners were now richer than the King. This put the Royal Family in a precarious position as the land owner could call on their tenants to take up arms and fight at any time. A smart King would then need friends in the right places; alas, Henry VI was not a smart King. He kept company with very unpopular Dukes who were descendants of Edward III, as well as cousins of the King and his enemies. When madness struck the King – possibly caused by the loss of French territory - the unpopular Dukes were happy to step in and rule through him.

A shaky peace existed between 1450 and 1453 as the mad King had no heir and was expected to die soon. The next in line for the throne would be a cousin of Henry VI, the popular and respected Richard Plantagenet, the Duke of York. Richard had an unbroken male line all the way to Edward III. England was just playing a waiting game.

The birth of Henry VI’s heir in 1453 complicated matters. If the mad King were to die, he would leave a baby on the throne and the unpopular Dukes would surely rule through him. And so, the Duke of York and his followers took matters into their own hands. Remember those fifth generation soldiers schooled in brutality that came home to England with nothing to do? The House of York found a new job for those soldiers. And so began the Wars of the Roses, also known as ‘The Cousin’s War’. On May 22, 1455, the battle of St. Albans kicked off thirty years of war between the male descendants of Edward III.

 

 

By M.L King, a history enthusiast and part-time blogger.

The next article in The Wars of the Roses series is about the death of gentlemanly war and the battles from 1455-1464 - available here.

 

Join the debate and hear about the next in the series! JOIN US and we’ll keep you updated! Click here.

 

References

Britannica.com - http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/509963/wars-of-the-roses

Luminarium.org:

http://www.luminarium.org/encyclopedia/albans1.htm

http://www.luminarium.org/encyclopedia/warsoftheroses.htm

http://www.luminarium.org/encyclopedia/roseswarcauses.htm

Who’s Who in British History by Juliet Gardiner (published by Collins and Brown Limited)

Richard III: The Maligned King by Annette Carson (published by The History Press)

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AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones