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Wars of the Roses

From 1455, two branches of the royal family, the House of York and the House of Lancaster fought each several times other for the English throne, each believing they had a rightful claim.

Their battles were called the Wars of the Roses because the York supporters had a white rose as their symbol and the Lancastrians had a red rose.

  • Henry VI (a Lancastrian) was King of England in 1455.
  • The first attack from the Yorkists came at the First Battle of St Albans on 22nd May 1455.
  • Edward IV (a Yorkist) became King of England after defeating and virtually wiping out the Lancastrians in a fight for the crown at the Battle of Towton on 29th March 1461.
Preparing For War - geograph.org.uk - 568777
  • Following a secret marriage to a Lancastrian supporter, King Edward IV was forced to flee to France by the Earl of Warwick (a Lancastrian, backed by Henry VI), allowing Henry VI to regain the English throne on 30th October 1470 in an act known as the readeption.
  • Edward IV invaded England and took part in the Battle of Barnet on 14th April 1471. In thick fog at dawn, the Lancastrians accidentally shot each other and in the confusion the Earl of Warwick was killed by Yorkist soldiers. Edward IV became King of England again.
MS Ghent - Battle of Barnet retouched
  • Henry VI died a few weeks later on 21st May 1471, likely murdered under King Edward IV’s orders.
  • On 9th April 1483, King Edward IV suddenly died, leaving his son Edward V to inherit the throne from him.
  • On the 26th June 1483, Parliament declared that Richard, Duke of Gloucester was the legal king – King Richard III. Around this time Edward V and his brother were murdered.
Finally, on the 22nd August 1485, the Battle of Bosworth Field took place in Leicestershire. It was fought between the Yorkist King Richard III and the Lancastrian Henry Tudor who wanted to become king.

Battle of Bosworth by James Doyle

Many of King Richard's supporters changed sides and he was killed. Henry was then given the crown that Richard had been wearing over his helmet and Henry was crowned King Henry VII.

Henry married Elizabeth of York (the daughter of the previous King Edward IV and sister to the two princes murdered in the Tower of London). 

This united the two families together so he joined the red and white roses to make the new Tudor rose.