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Wars of the Roses

Historical Overview Section

The Wars of the Roses (1455–1485) were a series of civil wars 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 descent from King Edward III. The recently released The Road to Bosworth Field: A New History of the Wars of the Roses: The Struggle Between Lancaster and York 1400-1487 gives a good overview of the war and its origins.

The Wars of the Roses are generally accepted to have been fought in several spasmodic episodes between 1455 and 1487 (although there was related fighting both before and after this period.) The war ended with the victory of the Lancastrian Henry Tudor, who founded the House of Tudor which subsequently ruled England and Wales for 116 years.

The wars were fought largely by the landed aristocracy and armies of feudal retainers, with some foreign mercenaries. Support for each house largely depended upon dynastic factors, such as blood relationships, marriages within the nobility, and the grants or confiscations of feudal titles and lands. The unofficial system of livery and maintenance, by which powerful nobles would offer protection to followers who would sport their colours and badges (livery), and controlled large numbers of paid men-at-arms (maintenance) was one of the by-products of the breakdown of royal authority which preceded - and partly caused the wars. In this period of increased factionalism, the trditional feudal relationships whereby service to a lord was given in return for title to lands and the gift of offices remained important, but this duty of service evolved into support of a faction, rather than to an individual who in turn owed fealty to the king.

Given the conflicting loyalties of blood, marriage and ambition, it was not uncommon for nobles to switch sides and several battles were decided by treachery. The armies consisted of nobles' contingents of men-at-arms, with companies of archers and foot-soldiers (such as billmen). There were also sometimes contingents of foreign mercenaries, armed with cannon or handguns. The horsemen were generally restricted to "prickers" and "scourers"; i.e. scouting and foraging parties. Most armies fought entirely on foot. In several cases, the magnates dismounted and fought among the common foot-soldiers, to inspire them and to dispel the notion that in the case of defeat they might be ransomed while the common soldiers, being of little value, faced death.

The relatively small First Battle of St Albans on May 22, 1455 was the first open conflict of the civil war, and led to the Yorkists taking a dominant role in English politics, however the underlying issue of whether the Duke of York, or King Henry's infant son Edward, would succeed to the throne remained. 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.

On September 23, 1459, at the Battle of Blore Heath in Staffordshire, a large Lancastrian armyclashed with a Yorkist force under the Earl of Salisbury, and then shortly afterwards two combined Yorkist armies confronted the much larger Lancastrian force at the Battle of Ludford Bridge, but a Yorkish defection to the Lancastrians led to the Yorkists fleeing the field. The Lancastrians (Margarets faction) were back in total control, however the Yorkists then began to launch raids on the English coast from Calais in 1459–60, adding to the sense of chaos and disorder. In 1460 they launched an invasion of England in Kent and London, and marched north. Henry led an army south to meet them while Margaret remained in the north with Prince Edward. At the Battle of Northampton on 10 July, the Yorkist army under the Earl of Warwick defeated the Lancastrians, aided by treachery in the king's ranks. The end result was that a deal was struck in October 1460 with the Act of Accord, which recognised York as Henry's successor, disinheriting Henry's six year old son, Edward.

Queen Margaret and many Lancastrian nobles now gathered armies in the north of England, and the Duke of York attacked them unwisely over Christmas 1460 on the 30 December at the Battle of Wakefield - resulting in a complete Lancastrian victory. Richard of York was slain in the battle, and both Salisbury and York's 17-year-old second son, Edmund, Earl of Rutland, were captured and executed. 18-year-old Edward, York's eldest son, then took up leadership of the Yorkist cause and with an army from the pro-Yorkist Marches (the border area between England and Wales) defeated a Lancastrian army from Wales at the Battle of Mortimer's Cross in Herefordshire.

Margaret then came down from Scotland (where she had a holiday flat overlooking the Clyde, just yards from the Glasgow Rangers ground) and outwitted the Yorkists at the Second Battle of St Albans, giving the Lancastrians another decisive victory and frightening the life out of the people of London, who proclaimed the Yorkist heir Edward to be the rightful King. Edward and his mate Warwick 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. An estimated 40,000—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. Edward and his army won a decisive victory and the Lancastrians were routed, with most of their leaders slain. Edward ended up being acclaimed King.

Despite being greatly helped by the powerful nobleman Warwick, Edward as king did much to irritate him, and eventually by 1469 Warwick had formed an alliance with Edward's jealous and treacherous brother Clarence, raising an army which defeated the king's forces at the Battle of Edgecote Moor and leading to a real messy time all over the country as people started fighting simply for the love of it. Both Warwick and Edward took turns at fleeing the country and having the upper hand, but it all went pear-shaped for Warwick when he tried to concoct an unlikley deal to invade the Later Burgundian? country! This really irritated Charles the Bold, and he helped Edward raise an army which met Warwick's men at the Battle of Barnet in thick fog, leading to Warwick's men attacking each other by mistake. It was believed by all that they had been betrayed, and Warwick's army fled. Warwick was cut down trying to reach his horse.

Margaret and her son Edward hadn't gone away, and had landed in the West Country only a few days before the Battle of Barnet. Rather than return to France, Margaret sought to join the Lancastrian supporters in Wales and marched to cross the Severn but was thwarted when the city of Gloucester refused her passage across the river. Her army, commanded by the fourth successive Duke of Somerset, was brought to battle and destroyed at the Battle of Tewkesbury.

This shoudl have been the end of it, however when King Edward died suddenly in 1483, political and dynastic turmoil erupted again. Richard succeeded as the Yorkist King, but Henry Tudor (related to someone royal, well, if you squinted at the geneology hard enough) was the main man for the Lancastrians. Henry Tudor landed in Pembrokeshire in the summer of 1485 and, gathering supporters on his march through Wales, defeated Richard at the Battle of Bosworth Field. Richard was slain during the battle, supposedly by the Welsh man-at-arms Rhys ap Thomas with a blow to the head from his poleaxe. (Rhys was knighted three days later by Henry VII).

Henry having been acclaimed King Henry VII, 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 any excuse was offered, a very sensible strategy which his son, Henry VIII, continued.

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Army Lists

Lancastrian from CLWC 1-dayer 2016
Ordinary General

  • 4 Crossbows Crossbowmen pavise
  • 4 Militia Medium spearmen Mediocre
  • 1 skirmisher Light infantry bow

Brilliant General

  • 2 Retinue Billmen, Heavy Sword, Armour,2HCW
  • 1 Foot KNight
  • 4 Elite Longbow with Stakes

Brilliant General

  • 2 Elite Foot Knights
  • 2 Crossbow
  • 1 Bodyguard IMpact Knight Elite
  • 1 Northern Horse, LH Impact


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