The House of York and the War of the Roses in England

Last Updated on August 26, 2022

House of York

The House of York was a junior branch of the Plantagenet dynasty that ruled England. At the end of the 15th century, three of its members were crowned kings of England. The fourth living son of Edward III, Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York, was the male ancestor of the House of York.

When an heir of York married the heiress-descendant of Lionel, Duke of Clarence, Edward III’s second surviving son, it eventually also represented Edward III’s senior line. They asserted their claim to the English throne on the basis of these descents. It had a stronger claim to the English throne under cognatic primogeniture than its opponent, the House of Lancaster, but a weaker claim under agnatic primogeniture.

When Richard III of England was killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, this dynasty’s rule came to an end. With the passing of Edward Plantagenet, the 17th Earl of Warwick, in 1499, it become extinct in the male line.

Richard, Duke of York’s Royal Inheritance

The first Duke of York, Edmund of Langley, was King Edward III’s fourth son and the ancestor of the family of York. Since the second Duke of York had no children when he passed away at the Battle of Agincourt, his nephew Richard received the title.

In 1411, Richard, Duke of York, was born. His father had organised a plot against Henry V and had been put to death for it in 1415. Lionel Duke of Clarence, Edward III’s second son, was an ancestor of Anne Mortimer, mother of Richard Duke of York. John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, Edward III’s third son, was an ancestor of Henry IV, V, and VI.

Unfortunately, the regulations governing who would inherit the throne in the event that a monarch passed away without issue were not as clear-cut as you might anticipate.

In the earlier Middle Ages, it was frequently not the most immediate heir who was accepted as a king’s successor if he died without having children of his own. In addition, although Henry I and Edward I both declared that their daughters may rule after them, some kings attempted to establish the rule that only men could hold the kingdom and that it could only pass through an exclusively male line in the following years.

Because he was the older brother, some people thought that Lionel Duke of Clarence’s lineage may have a greater claim to the throne than the Lancastrian monarchs. The Lancastrian argument was more persuasive since several people believed that women should not inherit the throne.

The House of Lancaster’s Weakness — The War of the Roses Begins

Two issues during Henry VI’s reign increased the importance of the House of York. One was that Henry VI never had brothers and remained childless for a very long period. Since Richard Duke of York was a male descendant of Edward III’s next son, many people believed that he should succeed Henry as the king in the event of his death. Henry, however, had cousins who believed they ought to be his heirs. The strongest lords in the land began to argue as a result.

Henry VI of Plantaganet was a weak ruler who wed Margaret of Anjou, an ambitious French princess. At this time, there were numerous complicated rivalries and jealousies going on between strong noble families at court. Because of Henry’s last name, Lancaster, the Queen and her circle of nobility were referred to as Lancastrians. Richard, Duke of York, Henry’s cousin, who was also descended from King Edward III and thus also had a claim to the throne of England, led the faction of nobility who opposed the Queen and the Lancastrians. They had the moniker “Yorkists.”

Henry VI experienced episodes of madness. Richard of York was named “Protector of the Realm” in 1454, during one of these times. His initial move resulted in a lot of animosities when he fired some of the Queen’s Lancastrian advisors. A few months after the King’s recovery, York was abruptly fired. The sickly, frail king struggled to maintain control over his ambitious queen on the one hand, and the ‘kingmaker’ Yorkist Earl of Warwick on the other.

Soldier recruitment and preparation for battle began on both sides. The Hundred Years’ War in France had recently ended, and it was simple to get skilled warriors to battle. The White Rose represented York, while the Red Rose represented Lancaster. This dynastic civil war started in 1455, just two years after the Hundred Years War ended. There was a great deal of violence as both sides’ defeated forces were cruelly killed by the winners.

Edward IV

Together with his 17-year-old son Edmund, Richard Duke of York was murdered at the Battle of Wakefield in December 1460.

Edward, the 19-year-old eldest child of Richard Duke of York, now served as the leader of the York family. After a stunning victory at Mortimer’s Cross (near Leominster), he travelled to London in March 1461 and proclaimed himself King Edward IV. He then defeated the main Lancastrian force in Towton, which is close to York. Four years after going into hiding, Henry VI was apprehended.

An alliance between Margaret of Anjou and one of Edward IV’s own erstwhile allies, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick (the Kingmaker), resulted in his expulsion from the realm in 1470. They referred to Henry VI’s accession as a “readeption.” The Lancastrians were crushed at the Battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury when Edward came to England the following year. Henry VI’s son was killed in combat, and it’s likely that Henry was also killed. The family of York appeared to be fully established on the throne.

Richard III

When Edward IV passed away in 1483, his son was crowned king. Richard III, the younger brother of Edward IV, succeeded Edward V as king after a very tumultuous summer in which Edward V was eventually shown to be illegitimate. The last member of the House of York and the only monarch of England to lose his life while vying for the throne was Richard III.

People who believed Edward V should have stayed king banded together with Henry Tudor, a distant relative of Henry VI. By offering to wed Elizabeth of York, the oldest sister of Edward V, Henry Tudor won their allegiance. Richard III was defeated and slain by Henry Tudor’s army at the Battle of Bosworth on August 22, 1485. The following year, Henry married Elizabeth of York.

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