Questions About The Wars of the Roses

The Wars of the Roses, the dynastic battle between the Yorks and the Lancasters for the throne of England, last from 1455 at the 1st Battle of St. Albans until 1487 at the Battle of Stoke Field. This is one of my absolute favorite time periods to study because it not only marked the beginning of the Tudor dynasty, but it was also so complex and full of intriguing questions. I have decided to take the questions that you all sent me and answer them to the best of my ability to start off August, which I have dedicated to exploring this time period in honor of the Battle of Bosworth Field. I hope this will encourage more discussions about this series of wars that changed English history forever.

1.) How mad was King Henry VI and was his condition widely known in court, the country, and France? If Henry VI wasn’t mad would York still have rebelled?

There are a lot of theories about King Henry VI and what exactly his “madness, but the leading theories are that it was either catatonic schizophrenia or a severe case of depression. Catatonic schizophrenia limits a person’s movements, which would explain why he is also known as the “sleeping king”. Compared to normal people, Henry VI would seem rather mad, but compare him to say someone like Charles VI of France, the father of Katherine of Valois who believed that he was made out of glass and couldn’t remember his wife and children, Henry VI’s madness doesn’t seem that bad. Margaret of Anjou and others close to the king kept his secret very close so at the beginning, his madness was only known in the court. As the Wars of the Roses progressed and seditious propaganda was made against Henry VI, I think the common people would have learned about his madness. As for the country of France, I am not sure if they knew about Henry VI’s madness because they do offer Margaret of Anjou aid to restore him back to the throne.

I believe that York would still have rebelled because it wasn’t just Henry’s madness that made him a less than average ruler. Henry was a pious, religious man who didn’t really like fighting. He didn’t have the courage that was needed in order to be a medieval ruler of England. I believe that York knew this and decided to act. At first, he might have only been fighting his enemies in court, but I think he believed that his bloodline had a better claim to the throne and he wanted to make England better, so he rebelled against Henry VI. It wasn’t because he was mad, but because he was a weak ruler, that York rebelled.

2.) Why did Lord Stanley, who was a staunch supporter of Richard III, switch sides and support Henry Tudor during the Battle of Bosworth Field? He would not have benefitted from supporting  Henry anymore than he had Richard and all of his wife’s estates were declared forfeit to himself. So couldn’t have been for financial gain?

This was the biggest switch during the Wars of the Roses, and ultimately it is what established the victory for Henry Tudor. Richard believed that he had Lord Stanley on his side, but the morning of the battle, Lord Stanley faked being sick to avoid fighting. Lord Stanley and his son Lord Strange sat on the sidelines during the battle. Then, when all hope seemed lost for Henry Tudor, Lord Stanley and Lord Strange come to the rescue. Lord Stanley broke his own oath Sans Changer (Without Changing)to help a young man, who was virtually unknown, become King of England and helped create the Tudor Dynasty.

So the question is why did he do it. Why did Lord Stanley switch sides? I believe he might have switched because he saw how much his wife Margaret Beaufort believed in her son’s cause. Think about it. She risked everything to make sure he was safe. Even when she had lost everything, Margaret was still funding his rebellion. Even though Lord Stanley saw favor from Richard III, it must have been disheartening for him to see Richard III’s closest allies being either killed or exiled. I think this must have freaked Lord Stanley out. He wanted to make sure that he would have survived so he took a risk and bet on the young man Henry Tudor.

3.) Do you think Edward IV regretted marrying Elizabeth Woodville instead of going with a foreign bride which could have given him an alliance and back up during the war?

I don’t think Edward IV ever regretted marrying Elizabeth Woodville. I believe he loved her very dearly. In the Historie of the Arrivall of Edward IV. in England and the Finall Recouerye of His Kingdomes from Henry VI (which is a very interesting read that I recommend if you want to study the Wars of the Roses), there is a moment where Edward IV returns to his throne in 1471 and sees his family again after being in exiled. He is described as having tears in his eyes as he embraces his wife and children. I believe that this passage, whether it was embellished a bit or not, shows Edward IV never regretted marrying Elizabeth Woodville. Sure a foreign bride may have established an alliance and back up during the war, but Edward was popular with the English people, even if his wife wasn’t popular with the people. Even with his numerous affairs, Edward IV’s true love was Elizabeth Woodville.

4.) Had Elizabeth (Woodville)Grey not gone into sanctuary before Richard III’s coronation, would she have survived his purge of her family members?

I really don’t think that Elizabeth (Woodville) Grey was in danger of being killed. Sure Richard III disliked the Woodvilles, but I don’t think he would have killed a woman, even if she was indeed the cause of his hatred towards one family. Richard III may have slandered his mother’s name, but I don’t think he would have murderous intentions towards women. I believe that she would have survived the purge of her family members.

5.) What was the nature of the relationship between Elizabeth of York and Richard III? Was it more than uncle and niece?

Elizabeth of York was the eldest daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. She was the niece of Richard III and there are some who say that he was planning on taking her as his wife after Anne Neville died. I believe that Richard III and Elizabeth of York had a normal uncle and niece relationship. We must remember that the Wars of the Roses was not only a series of wars that were fought on the battlefield, but also through propaganda. What better way to defame Richard III a bit further than claim that he had a relationship with his niece? There is no evidence that they had a relationship other than that of an uncle and niece.

6.) Was Edward IV a usurper?

A usurper is anyone who takes a position of power through force or illegal means. By this definition, Edward IV was indeed a usurper. He won his crown first at the battle of Towton on March 29, 1461, and then again at the battle of Tewkesbury in 1471. He took the crown of England twice. However, just because Edward IV was a usurper does not mean that he was a bad ruler. Henry VII was also a usurper and he was able to establish the Tudor dynasty, thus ending the Wars of the Roses and brought back a time of peace and prosperity to England. Edward IV did something similar while he reigned from 1471 until his untimely death in 1483. England had a strong and stable ruler, the opposite of what Henry VI was,  with Edward IV even though he was a usurper.

One thought on “Questions About The Wars of the Roses

  1. I have often thought that the War of the Roses should really be called the War of the Disgruntled Queens. York proved over and over again that he was a man of great ability and integrity and would support Henry while he lived and do all he could to run the country effectively. He would have continued to do so if not for the antagonism of Henry’s Queen who fought him at every turn eventually leading to his death in a battle that never needed to have been waged. The country thrived under York’s leadership. Her best hope for her son to have become King would have been to work with York rather than against him. Once York was dead his son Edward’s course of action was pretty well set in stone. I can imagine Richard’s concerns about Edward’s son as a minor being king under the control of his mother and all of her rapacious relatives. Not a clearly positive notion.

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