Wars of the Roses

Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Wikipedia.

Roses, Wars of the

Roses, Wars of the, traditional name given to the intermittent struggle (1455–85) for the throne of England between the noble houses of York (whose badge was a white rose) and Lancaster (later associated with the red rose).

About the middle of the 15th cent. Richard, duke of York, came to the fore as leader of the opposition to the faction (William de la Pole, duke of Suffolk; Edmund Beaufort, duke of Somerset; and the queen, Margaret of Anjou) that controlled the weak Lancastrian king Henry VI. The Yorkists gained popular support as a result of discontent over the failure of English arms in the Hundred Years War and over the corruption of the court, discontent reflected in the rebellion of Jack Cade in 1450. Also in that year Suffolk was murdered, and the duke of York forced the king to recognize his claim as heir to the throne. In 1453 the king became insane, and the birth of a son to Margaret of Anjou displaced York as heir. The duke was appointed protector, but when the king recovered in 1454, York was excluded from the royal council. He resorted to arms.

The opposing factions met (1455) at St. Albans—usually taken as the first battle of the Wars of the Roses. Somerset was killed, leaving Queen Margaret at the head of the defeated royal party, and York again served as protector for a short period (1455–56). By 1459 both parties were once more in arms. The following year the Yorkists defeated and captured the king at the battle of Northampton. The duke of York hurried to London to assert his claims to the throne, which were, by laws of strict inheritance, perhaps better than those of the king himself. A compromise was effected by which Henry remained king and York and his heirs were declared successors.

Queen Margaret, whose son was thus disinherited, raised an army and defeated (1460) the Yorkists at Wakefield. York was killed in this battle, and his claims devolved upon his son Edward, but Richard Neville, earl of Warwick, became the real leader of the Yorkist party. Margaret's army rescued the king from captivity in the second battle of St. Albans (Feb., 1461), but Edward meanwhile secured a Yorkist victory at Mortimer's Cross, marched into London unopposed, and assumed the throne as Edward IV.

The Lancastrians, after their defeat at Towton (Mar., 1461), continued (with Scottish aid) to raise resistance in the north until 1464. The deposed Henry was captured (1465) and put into the Tower of London. Although the Lancastrian cause now seemed hopeless, a quarrel broke out between Warwick and Edward IV after the latter's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville in 1464. Warwick and the king's brother George, duke of Clarence, allied against Edward, fled to France (1470), and there became reconciled with Margaret of Anjou. Supported by Louis XI of France, they crossed to England and restored Henry VI to the throne.

Edward fled, but with the aid of Charles the Bold, duke of Burgundy, returned to England in 1471, regained London, and recaptured Henry. In the ensuing battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury (1471), Warwick and Henry's son, Edward, were killed. Margaret was imprisoned. Soon thereafter Henry VI died, probably slain at the orders of Edward IV. After 12 relatively peaceful years, Edward IV was succeeded (1483) by his young son Edward V, but soon the boy's uncle Richard, duke of Gloucester, usurped the throne as Richard III. Opposition to Richard advanced the fortunes of Henry Tudor, earl of Richmond, now the Lancastrian claimant. In 1485, Henry landed from France, defeated and killed Richard at Bosworth Field, and ascended the throne as Henry VII.

Henry VII's marriage to Edward IV's daughter, Elizabeth, united the houses of Lancaster and York. Except for various efforts during Henry's reign to place Yorkist pretenders on the throne, the Wars of the Roses were ended. It is generally said that with them ended the era of feudalism in England, since the nobles who participated suffered heavy loss of life and property and were too weak, as a class, to contest the strong monarchy of the Tudors. The middle and lower classes were largely indifferent to the struggle and relatively untouched by it.


See E. F. Jacob, The Fifteenth Century (1961); P. M. Kendall, The Yorkist Age (1962, repr. 1965); S. B. Chrimes, Lancastrians, Yorkists, and Henry VII (1964); J. R. Lander, The Wars of the Roses (1965); C. D. Ross, Wars of the Roses: A Concise History (1976); E. Hallam, ed., Wars of the Roses (1988) and Chronicles of the Wars of the Roses (1988); A. J. Pollard, Wars of the Roses (1995); A. Weir, Wars of the Roses (1995); S. Gristwood, Blood Sisters: The Women behind the War of the Roses (2013); D. Jones, The Wars of the Roses (2014).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Wars of the Roses


protracted (1455–85) internecine wars of feudal cliques which took the form of the struggle for the English throne between two lines of the Royal Plan-tagenet dynasty—the Lancasters, whose coat of arms bore a red rose, and the Yorks, whose coat of arms bore a white rose. The wars began in the context of the crisis of the large feudal estates and the decline of their profitability for the great feudal lords, who were eliminated from participation in economic life; the defeat of the English in the Hundred Years’ War (1337–1453), which deprived the feudal nobility of income from the plundering of France; and the suppression of Jack Cade’s rebellion (1450), as a result of which the forces opposing feudal anarchy were undermined. The Lancasters were supported mainly by the barons of the economically backward north and Wales, while the Yorks were supported by some of the great feudal lords of the more developed southeast and also by the new nobility and the rich townspeople, who were interested in the unhindered development of trade and commerce, the cessation of feudal anarchy, and the establishment of strong royal authority.

The battle at St. Albans on May 22, 1455, is generally considered the start of the war. Richard, the duke of York, had exploited the general discontent with the Lancaster clique, which ruled in the name of the feebleminded Henry VI, and had himself appointed protector. At the battle, he routed the partisans of the red rose. Eliminated from power shortly thereafter, he advanced claims to the English throne and in 1459 resumed armed struggle. After the death of Richard on Dec. 30, 1460, his son Edward became the leader of the Yorkists. Triumphant over Lancaster in the decisive battle at Towton on Mar. 29, 1461, he overthrew Henry VI and was proclaimed king under the name Edward IV. However, Edward’s striving to control the great feudal lords led to an uprising by his previous supporters, headed by Warwick (1470). Henry VI was restored to the throne. In 1471, Edward IV routed Warwick’s army and the army of Henry VI’s wife Margaret, which had come from France. Margaret relied on the support of the French king Louis XI. Overthrown for the second time, Henry VI was killed. After the death of Edward IV in 1483, the throne passed to his underage son Edward V; but the latter’s uncle, who became King Richard III, seized power. On his orders Edward V, who was overthrown that year, and his brother were strangled in the royal prison, the Tower. The executions and confiscations which Richard III ordered led both parties to rise up against him. They united around Henry Tudor, a distant relative of the Lancasters. Richard III was defeated and killed at Bosworth on Aug. 22, 1485. This battle concluded the war. Henry VII Tudor, the founder of the Tudor dynasty, became king. Marrying Elizabeth, the daughter of Edward IV and the York heiress, Henry merged the red and white roses in his emblem.

The Wars of the Roses, which were marked by extreme cruelty, were the last outburst of feudal anarchy before the establishment of absolutism. Internecine wars, oppressive taxes, the plundering of the treasury, the arbitrariness of the great feudal lords, and the disorganization of trade greatly worsened the situation of broad strata of the population. Both dynasties perished in the struggle. A significant part of the feudal aristocracy was exterminated, and its power was undermined by widespread confiscation of its land. The new nobility, whose landholdings and social importance had grown, as well as the emerging bourgeoisie, which required a strong central authority to struggle against popular movements, supported the new dynasty and thereby facilitated the establishment of Tudor absolutism.


Marx, K., and F. Engels. Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 22., p. 309.
Ramsay, J. H. Lancaster and York, vols. 1–2. Oxford, 1892.
Chrimes, S. B. Lancastrians, Yorkists, and Henry VII, 2nd ed. London-New York, 1967.
Lander, J. R. The Wars of the Roses. London, 1966.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
"It's important that we bring our history to life and we wanted a visual way of showing that Coventry was an important place during the Wars of the Roses.
Laura McMillan, director of operations and legacy for theCoventry City of Culture Trust, said: "We are delighted that the Walls of the Roses is going to be created to commemorateCoventry's part in the Wars of the Roses.
Wars Of The Roses Live takes place twice a day all this week and then from Saturday, July 22 to Sunday, September 3.
All in all this is a well-written survey of a turbulent period in English history, and students will find an engaging introduction to the main characters and events of the Wars of the Roses.
Googling a runner War Of The Roses 2.55 Bath The Wars Of The Roses were a series of civil wars fought over the throne of England between the houses of Lancaster and York, the red and white rose respectively.
QUIZ CHALLENGE: 1 Bird of paradise flower; 2 The Wars of the Roses; 3 Erich Honecker; 4 The Bay of Bengal; 5 Kelp.
The first battle of St Albans, widely regarded as the first battle of the Wars of the Roses, was, in modern parlance, nothing short of a military coup.
As Miss Castor writes, the letters 'offered a unique and compelling perspective on the dramatic events of the Wars of the Roses'.
At least four books entitled The Wars of the Roses have appeared in the last fifteen years.
Sources: Cole, Hubert, The Wars of the Roses. London, 1973.
(c1590 - 1592) The second play of a historical trilogy by Shakespeare, covering the early years of the Wars of the Roses. After his marriage to Margaret of Anjou, Henry is dominated by the queen and the duke of Suffolk, who plot the overthrow of the lord protector, Humphrey, the duke of Gloucester, by convicting Humphrey's wife, the duchess of Gloucester, of sorcery, and thus forcing his shameful retirement.