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!



  • 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 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!




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.



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


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.



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





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)

AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones

Civil War is one of the focus areas of the site. In the first in a series, and following our article on the Bloody Tower Plot, here we introduce the Wars of the Roses.

King Richard III at the Battle of Boswoth Field by James Doyle

King Richard III at the Battle of Boswoth Field by James Doyle

The term ‘War of the Roses’ usually brings up Alice in Wonderland-like images of cards fighting for the Red Queen’s approval. The beautiful name does not do justice to the brutality that existed in England from 1455-1485. The Wars of the Roses were a series of gruesome battles fought for the ultimate prize – the throne of England.

The name was only coined in Victorian England when most were taking a heated interest in days gone by. Its original name was, ‘The Cousin’s War’. Blood relatives fought and killed each other, sold their daughters into slave-marriages to form unholy alliances, and moved in moonlight to suffocate a mad king locked away in a tower.

The wars were fought between two rival houses, the Lancasters and the Yorks. Both houses had roses for their emblems – red for the Lancasters and white for the Yorks.  Both houses were direct descendants of a King who had ruled nearly 200 years before. The Lancasters, who had held the throne since 1399, would probably have continued to reign in relative peace had they not had the misfortune of their strong Arthur-like King prematurely dying and leaving a baby on the throne. This baby then grew to be a feeble-minded king who lost French territory, allowed his Queen to rule and suffered bouts of insanity to the point of paralysis and amnesia.

The house of York seized their chance to fight for the throne. The battle of St. Albans was short but brutal and left the Yorks with the mad king hostage and the right to rule. This didn’t last long, as four years later, in the battle of Ludford Bridge, the Lancasters fought for and won their crown back.

And so it went on and on; battle after battle, just like games of checkers – Lancasters win, Yorks win, Lancasters win, Yorks win.

Wars are made by clever soldiers and none was more deserving of that title than Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick. The Earl was nicknamed, “The Kingmaker”. His alliance with the house of York put a young Edward IV on the throne and his amazing battle strategies and ruling mind crippled the Lancastrian force and strengthened the York claim to the throne.

With the Kingmaker backing the ruling house, England settled down to Edward’s rule and assumed the mighty York dynasty would lead the war-torn kingdom to peace and prosperity.  Well, it would have, if young Edward had not gone against the Kingmaker’s orders and married a gold-digging commoner, disrupted the government, and angered the very men who fought to put him on the throne.

The Yorks would have continued to rule without trouble had the Kingmaker not changed sides, married his daughter to the Lancastrian heir and fought the King he had put on the throne. If only the king had listened to the kingmaker, then the Wars of the Roses – the Cousin’s war – would not have continued. Nor would the king have been forced to order his brother’s execution; nor would he have broken all trust in him; or torn his Kingdom apart after fighting to unite it. The Princes would never have been in the tower and met certain death. The Lancasters would never have grown stronger. More unholy alliances formed, murder, poison, deceit – none of that would have happened. If only Edward had listened to the Kingmaker.

One would assume that the Lancasters, with their new alliance with the Earl of Warwick, were on their way to glory. One would assume wrong. For you see, the Kingmaker forgot one crucial point in this plot. He had trained the York brothers… They were his protégés. The Kingmaker’s skills weren’t so special when pitted against themselves. Not to mention, the armies were tired, the numbers were dwindling. The best soldiers had already been lost in former battles. The towns were by then almost empty of able-bodied men thanks to those battles. The leaders had to recruit what was left of the men at a run as flustered armies marched long and hard to meet other distraught armies. And England herself seemed sick of this war as she flooded the river Severn, stopping the Lancasters from crossing and forcing the exhausted armies to meet unprepared.

Both sides, the cousins – Lancasters and Yorks, both possessing the skills of the Kingmaker, both willing to fight to the death… Both unprepared, tired, starving, at the mercy of themselves and each other, both Yorks and Lancasters marched to certain doom.


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

The next article in the series is on Edward III's descendants and the chaos that emerged in England - available here.


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AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones

Civil War is one of the focus areas of the site. In this article, Myra-Lee discusses the intrigues behind the 1483 murder of the Princes in the Tower that led to the killing of Edward IV’s sons, an event that took place in an England that was in a period of civil war, The Wars of the Roses.


Edward IV

Edward IV

We’ve all heard the stories… King Richard III, a cruel, twisted, power-hungry maniac steals his nephews like some monster in the night, locks them up in the tower and kills them. Why? To secure the throne. Thanks to Shakespeare’s pioneering efforts, Richard’s reputation has faced six hundred years of slander. Modern historians would scoff at the thought of using Shakespeare as a historical reference, especially seeing as he wrote of the death of the Duke of Somerset at the hands of Richard when in reality the latter was only two years old. Yet some refuse to give up the claim that Richard, sensing glory, would kill his defenseless nephews for the crown. They fight tooth and nail to convict the long dead king. Others fight for Richard, claiming that his arch enemy, Henry Tudor, was responsible for their deaths.

Of course, the latter claim needs a huge leap of imagination as Henry was in Brittany at the time, had an almost non-existent claim to the throne, and had very little support and power in England. So how would he have done it? Well chances are he probably didn’t (unless he had some sort of teleporting power that history has forgotten to mention). As with all mysteries, there are other suspects, ranging from near royals to near paupers to everybody in between.

Henry Stafford, the second Duke of Buckingham, is one such suspect. Seeing his chance to inherit a throne, he murders the boys in the night (haven’t we heard this before?). In 1502, Sir James Tyrell, an ally of both Richard III and Henry VII (the world’s first double agent?), was arrested and executed. After his death a confession was found which claimed that he was responsible for the murder of the boys and was acting under orders from Richard (how convenient). It has to be noted that roughly the same time as this “confession”, there were two men alleging to be the princes. Both men had armies. Both men had to be fought off by Henry VII. And this is where the supporters of Richard III get excited… Could Henry VII have forged the confession because he knew that the boys were long dead and any pretender claiming to be one of the princes was just that, a pretender? Could he have known this because it was in fact he who killed them?


The other suspect

There are many suspects, even more theories, and a smorgasbord of unanswered questions surrounding the princes in the tower. For every question, there is a theory and for every theory there is a suspect, and for every suspect there are more questions. So in honor of this tradition, allow me to add my own suspect - Lady Margaret Beaufort.

Richard III

Richard III

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that she snuck in like a monster in the night (maybe tripping over her skirts – those staircases in the tower are small) and killed the boys in cold blood, something that would have been quite a task seeing as they were probably bigger than her. I’m merely suggesting that maybe, just maybe, Lady Margaret was the puppet master in an attempt to get her son on the throne. It has long been known that Margaret dedicated her adult life to the pursuit of putting her only son, Henry Tudor, on the throne. Is it such a stretch of the imagination to assume that she would stop at nothing, not even murder, to get this done?

Allow me to explain. The princes were taken to the tower on April 29 1483 after the death of their father Edward IV (he died of pneumonia after a fishing trip). The boys stayed at the tower awaiting Edward V’s coronation; however, due to the political situation, that never came to pass and Richard III was crowned. Only a small group of Englishmen disputed this. One assumes that after many years of civil war, England would have rather had an accomplished warrior for a king and not a sickly 12-year-old boy. Despite what Shakespeare would have us believe, Richard was extremely popular and respected.

This all meant that England didn’t really bat an eyelid when Richard was crowned and the boys continued to live at the tower. They were frequently seen playing on the grass. This is until after July 1483. Suddenly the boys seemed to have disappeared. At this point, Henry’s supporters jumped up and said that Richard was responsible for their deaths. But why? He was already King; killing them would be like shutting the barn door after the horse had run away. Richard had no need to kill the boys - he wasn’t even in London at the time. Even the boys’ mother, Elizabeth Woodville, didn’t think Richard had harmed them - she put herself and her daughters in his custody for protection. All of this ‘Richard-blaming’ is smoke and mirrors when you think that on July 20 1483, Lady Margaret and her followers staged a rescue mission for the boys. History tells us that it was unsuccessful and Lady Margaret then changed her strategy, instead meeting with Elizabeth Woodville to offer a marriage alliance between Margaret’s son and Elizabeth’s daughter.


The Princes in the Tower by Samuel Cousins

The Princes in the Tower by Samuel Cousins

History and the truth

But what if History was lying? What if the “rescue” mission was actually a success and Lady Margaret never actually changed strategies but instead kept on the path of a most perfect plan?  Did old Maggie kill the boys in order that their elder sister, Elizabeth of York, was made heir to the throne, so allowing her son to marry Elizabeth and become King? Did Lady Margaret simply take out the competition? Sure, Richard III was king, but he had no heir meaning Elizabeth of York and her husband would have ruled whether Henry Tudor had won the 1485 Battle of Bosworth Field or not. Is it such a stretch of the imagination to assume that Lady Margaret and her rescue mission had rescued nothing but the Tudor Dynasty? Also, take another one of the suspects on board – Henry Stafford, the second duke of Buckingham. Did you know that Henry’s uncle was married to Lady Margaret for two decades? Could Lady Margaret have used her family connections to have the boys killed? And what of the other suspect, James Tyrell? Was he just a pawn in this game too? Did Henry and his mother not like these pretenders and thought it best to do away with the rumors that the boys had survived?

Throughout medieval history women had the curse – and sometimes blessing – of going unnoticed. Could a smart woman with ambition and a serious agenda use that to her advantage? Did Margaret Beaufort move in the shadows to kill the boys, arrange her son’s marriage with the new heir, and have her son crowned King while everybody watched the men? Maybe, just maybe.

We will of course never know what happened to the boys. It is one mystery that history keeps for herself and watches as we sprout new theories and suspects. We have to resign ourselves to the fact that unless we build a teleporter, we will never know for sure. In the meantime, my money is on Maggie.


Do you agree? Who do you think killed the boys?


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

The next article in the Wars of the Roses series is an introduction to the Wars of the Roses - available here.


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Selected references

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

Tudor Queens – http://www.tudor-queens.co.uk/margaret-beaufort.html

Buckinghams Retinue – http://www.bucks-retinue.org.uk/content/views/302/330

Tudor History – http://tudorhistory.org/people/beaufort