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The War of the Roses

ACT ONE: The Man Who Would Be King


The War of the Roses was a brutal Civil War between two powerful families over who would be the next English King.

After the Hundred Years War (1337-1453) had fizzled out under Henry VI, the weakling son of the great Henry V, the consensus was the man had lost his mind.  Henry VI was so incompetent that the English nobles appointed Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, to run the show.  The House of Lancaster had been in charge for the past 50 years.  They were not at all pleased to see a York man in charge.

The competition to replace Henry VI became the spark that ignited The War of the Roses (1455-1487), 32 year stretch when one man after another took his best shot at obtaining the throne.  Four different wars were fought and lots of people died in the process.

On one side was the House of Lancaster whose symbol was a red rose.  Opposing them was the House of York whose symbol was a white rose.  Hence the name.  One unusual twist to the rivalry was the fact that many of the participants were related to each other.  Since neither side had any better claim to the throne than the other, they decided to fight it out.  The carnage was incredible.

In the end, only one person came out smelling like Roses.  William Shakespeare wrote eight plays.  To him, this period was the gift that kept on giving.   


The houses of Lancaster and York correspond to the modern counties of Lancashire and Yorkshire

The War of the Roses saw the Yorks and Lancasters play musical chairs with the English throne.  Starting with Henry IV, the Lancasters had been in charge for 50 years.  Now the Yorks wanted their day in the sun. 

Both sides gained and lost power multiple times.  In total, the Wars resulted in five different rulers in the span of only 25 years, three of whom were killed or executed by their rivals. 

Have you ever heard of the Lannisters?   Have you ever heard of the Starks?  Lannisters = Lancasters, Starks = Yorks.

The exciting HBO series Game of Thrones was inspired by the wildly improbable twists and turns seen during the War of the Roses.

The War of the Roses was so brutal it made Game of Thrones look like kids fighting with wooden swords.  It even had dragons!!

Well, maybe not.   But it should have.


Catherine of Valois

1415. The jewel in the French crown, Katherine de Valois, is waiting under lock and key for King Henry V.

While the English superman is slaughtering her kinsmen at Agincourt, Catherine is praying for marriage to save her from her misery. But the brutal king wants her crown, not her innocent love.

For Catherine, England is a lion's den of greed, avarice and mistrust.

And when she is widowed at twenty-one, she becomes a prize ripe for the taking—her young son the future monarch, her hand in marriage worth a kingdom.

This is a deadly political game, one the dowager queen must learn fast.  She is an innocent pawn in a kingdom without a kingThe players—the Duke of Gloucester, Edmund Beaufort and Owen Tudor—are circling.

Catherine de Valois... Who will have her?  Who will ruin her?   A new dynasty will reign…  


As we shall discover, Catherine of Valois, was an unwanted Queen in her adopted country.  Largely ignored, she would pass through history virtually unnoticed yet leave a profound, everlasting effect.  As wife to powerful warrior-king Henry V, Catherine unwittingly played an important role in the upcoming War of the Roses. 

Catherine (1401–1437) was the daughter of Charles VI of France.  Catherine's older sister Isabella was queen of England from 1396 until 1399, as the child bride of Richard II.  Henry V had been betrothed to Catherine even after the great English victory at Agincourt. Despite the French humiliation, plans for the marriage continued.  Catherine was very attractive.  When Henry finally met her at Meulan, he became enamored. In 1420, after a peace agreement was made between England and France, Catherine and Henry were married.

Catherine went to England with her new husband and was crowned queen in February 1421. Four months later, Henry returned to France to continue his military campaigns during the Hundred Year's War.  One would think being married to the daughter of the French King would calm Henry down, but apparently not.  He was still determined to be the King of France.

Catherine was several months pregnant when Henry left.  She gave birth to Henry VI.  Her husband never saw their child. During the siege of Meaux, he became sick with dysentery and died on 31 August 1422.  Catherine was not quite 21 and was left a queen dowager.  What would the future hold in this foreign land?


Acclaimed author Anne O’Brien offers her thoughts on the French woman who found herself at the heart of a royal power struggle...

Has there ever been a Queen of England less acclaimed – so apparently unexceptional – than Katherine de Valois?

True, she was a Valois princess, daughter of Charles VI of France and Queen Isabeau; she became the beautiful young bride of England’s heroic King Henry V, victor at Agincourt Shakespeare wrote for her a splendid love scene in Henry V, where Henry declares: “There is witchcraft on your lips, Kate.”

But Katherine’s early life was not glamorous, being one of neglect and starvation, running unwashed and wild through the Hôtel St-Pol, her father suffering from bouts of madness, her mother unapproachable. When packed off to a convent, Katherine’s education was minimal. She learned to play the harp.

What she had was royal blood and so she became a matrimonial prize in the diplomatic maneuvering to bring peace between England and France. Henry wanted the French crown for his descendants, and that is what Katherine brought as her dowry. Henry would have wed her had she been the ugliest princess in Christendom.

This was no fairytale marriage, and Katherine of course had no choice in the matter. Nor did life improve for her as Henry’s young wife. Out of the 26 months of their marriage, she spent only five of them with him in England, and when left a young widow, she was allowed no role in the education or upbringing of her baby son, Henry VI. Her position was ceremonial, standing beside the young king when he was crowned or when he opened parliament.

to be continued...


Henry VI

Henry VI, son of Catherine of Valois.  Wow!  GOAT might stand for greatest of all time, but not Henry.  He was the other kind of 'goat'.   Poor Henry VI.  He was the King who was treated as a pawn.  Nice guy, but gullible and easily manipulated by his powerful wife Margaret of Anjou.  Unlike his warrior father Henry V, Henry VI was not suited for warfare.  He was much better at praying. 

Gentle, pious and retiring, he came to the throne as a baby.  In the process he inherited a losing war with France.  Under his watch, the Hundred Years War ended in 1453 with the humiliating loss of all French lands except for Calais.  All that fighting and nothing to show for it.  In August 1453, Henry VI suffered a catastrophic mental breakdown brought on by the news of the defeat at the Battle of Castillon in Gascony, the defeat which finally drove English forces from France.

Henry VI became completely unresponsive and unable to speak.  He had to be led from room to room.  This had happened before.  Mental illness was hereditary in his mother's family.  During these periods of insanity, he was incompetent to rule.  Previously when this happened, Margaret of Anjou, his wife, assumed control of his kingdom.  But this attack was far more severe.  The Council tried to carry on as though the king's disability would be brief, but eventually was forced to admit something had to be done.

Henry's ineffectual rule encouraged the nobles to scheme for ways to establish control over him.  In 1454, Richard, Duke of York, was made Protector of the Realm.  The House of York challenged Henry VI's right to the throne and England was plunged into civil war. 

The War of the Roses was about to begin. 


Richard of York, Man of Ambition


Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York, was a leading English noble who wanted to be King.  Due to his vast land holdings in Yorkshire, he was the wealthiest noble in England, second only to the king himself. 

Richard believed his royal lineage was stronger than any person in England, including the current King Henry VI.  He based his claim on the lineage of his two parents. 

Richard's grandfather Lionel preceded John of Gaunt in the birth order of Edward III.  Lionel had only one child, Philippa.  In 1368 Philippa married Edmund Mortimer, 3rd Earl of March.  Their son Roger Mortimer was the man Henry IV had 'cheated' out of the throne 50 years earlier.

Lionel's granddaughter, Anne Mortimer, married into the Yorkist branch of the English royal family and gave birth to Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York.  Richard of York based his claim to the English throne on this line of descent from Lionel, who was the eldest son of King Edward III to establish a lasting blood line.  


Second, Richard's father was Richard, Earl of Cambridge.  This made Richard of York the great-grandson of Edward III on his mother's side and the grandson of Edward III on his father's side.   Descent from not one, but two of Edward's sons made for a strong claim.

Richard also had a score to settle.  Henry V had beheaded his father Richard, Earl of Cambridge, for treason in 1415.  Richard had no love for the House of Lancaster or for Henry VI, son of the man who murdered his father.

Richard was certain he had just as much right to the throne as King Henry VI, the bumbling Lancaster.  Legal scholars agreed with Richard.  Unless Henry VI could produce an heir, Richard was next in line.

1453 was an important year in English history.   In January, Richard got the bad news:  the Queen was pregnant.  If her child was a boy, Richard's claims would be negated.  Then came more bad news:  England had just lost the Hundred Year's War.  Then came the strange news:  The King had gone mad.

Henry VI, a weak Lancastrian King, had overseen England's defeat in the Hundred Years' War.  This was the least of England's problems.  Due to poor leadership, the country was beset with social, political and economic problems.  Popular revolts were commonplace, triggered by the denial of numerous freedoms.  Lacking leadership, the rich and powerful English nobles took matters into their own hands.  They raised private armies, engaged in private feuds and openly defied Henry VI.  England was a land divided.


With Henry's mental breakdown in 1453, this was Richard's big chance. 

Richard was desperate.  Noting that Margaret was pregnant, he needed to take power now.  Even if the newborn child was a boy, it would be 16 years before the boy came of age.  Richard was willing to settle for that.  A lot can happen in 16 years.  Richard told anyone who would listen that Henry VI had to go sooner rather than later. 

The barons and nobles agreed.  They also agreed Richard of York was the best qualified man to run the state.  Richard of York was appointed to govern as Lord Protector during the madness of King Henry VI.  This move, of course, set in motion dangerous and far-reaching energies.

The House of Lancaster was not going sit by idly and let Richard run roughshod over them.  Henry VI was not dead, he was catatonic.  In the eyes of the Lancasters, Henry was 'resting'.  In their opinion, Henry VI should decide who the next king should be.  Furthermore, wasn't Richard overlooking something?  By amazing timing, Margaret of Anjou, wife of Henry VI, had just become pregnant.  If she were to have a son, the son's claim would supersede Richard's claim. 

Richard would have none of it.  He intended to pursue the throne, Margaret's pregnancy be damned.  His unquenchable ambition would soon lead England to the brink of war.

Matthew Lewis, biographer of Richard, points out that the enduring reputation of Richard as villain is unsympathetic and largely unfair.  To begin with, Richard had a legal claim.  Richard had every right to pursue his claim through political means.  He had served loyally as Henry VI’s lieutenant in France on two occasions and then later in Ireland.  Richard performed his roles solidly, though unspectacularly.  The turmoil of the 1450s were largely caused by Lancastrian paranoia and subsequent infighting to stop Richard.

No doubt Richard, Duke of York, was a complex man capable of good as well as evil.  That said, there can be no doubt that Richard would go down in history as the man whose ambition for the crown sparked the horrible civil war now known as the War of the Roses.  In the eyes of many people, Richard, Duke of York, would go down in history as one of the major villains. 


Queen Margaret of Anjou


Margaret of Anjou was the Queen of England.  As the wife of incapacitated Henry VI, she would be equally guilty of provoking the onset of the War of the Roses. 

Margaret was raised in France.  She married English King Henry VI at age 15.  Henry VI was not a successful king.  Henry was more interested in religion and learning than in military matters.  When he married Margaret, his mental condition was already unstable.  Margaret cursed Catherine of Valois.  As daughter to the mentally disturbed French King Charles VI, now doubt Catherine had passed on this hereditary condition to Margaret's son Henry VI. 

In 1452, England was falling apart.  Richard, the Duke of York was persuaded to return from Ireland, claim his rightful place on the council and put an end to bad government. His cause was a popular one and he soon raised an army at Shrewsbury.  The Lancaster group, meanwhile, raised their own similar-sized force in London.  Margaret took charge while Henry simply wrung his hands. 

1453 was much worse.  First Henry learned that England had lost the Hundred Year's War with France.  Then he learned that Margaret was pregnant which was fairly miraculous since Henry had not been intimate.  However, he was so out of it that Margaret was able to persuade Henry that he had merely forgotten their liaison. 

Shortly after his son Edward was born in 1453, Henry suffered a nervous breakdown.   Now rumors were rife that the new Prince of Wales was the result of an adulterous affair.  Perhaps it was this knowledge that pushed Henry VI over the edge. After his breakdown, Henry VI was judged incapable of ruling.  So Richard, Duke of York, was appointed to run the Kingdom.  Richard immediately assumed control.

Not so fast.  Margaret of Anjou, Queen of England, refused to accept any arrangement that deprived her newborn son - Edward of Westminster - of his birthright.  Queen Margaret was determined to secure the throne for her son Edward, but since he was just a baby, she had no choice but to allow the Duke of York to take over. 


Queen Margaret would stop at nothing.  Although the Lancasters were nominally aligned behind King Henry VI, his ill health ensured that he was never a major player in the coming War of the Roses.  The de facto leader of the Lancaster faction was instead Henry's cunning wife Margaret.  As the most skilled strategist of the Lancasters, Queen Margaret was hell bent on putting Richard in his place.


Edmund Beaufort


Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset, was Richard of York's main rival.  Edmund was just as ambitious to become King as Richard.  Like Richard, Edmund noted that Henry VI was still childless after seven years of marriage.  Were Henry VI to remain without an heir, who would be the next in line for the crown?  Edmund assumed he had a strong claim.  If Henry VI could trace his right to the throne by pointing to John of Gaunt and Blanche, well, then Edmund could point to John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford. 


Unfortunately Richard of York could make a better claim.  Richard could point to his mother's lineage from Lionel and his father's lineage from Edmund.  Therefore Richard's claim was stronger than Edmund's.  This explained why Richard was named Henry's heir presumptive. 

Edmund was disgusted.  To hell with Richard of York.  Edmund was going to get the crown by hook or crook.  One of his first moves was the 1427 seduction of Catherine of Valois, the widowed mother of Henry VI, age 5. 

As the daughter of French King Charles VI, Catherine was viewed with considerable suspicion by English nobles.  Afraid she would implant French sympathies into her son's gullible mind, they prevented her from playing a full role in her son's upbringing.  Largely cut off from her son and stuck in the court of a foreign land that did not like her, Catherine was pretty much bored, beautiful, and lonely.  Sensing easy pickings, Edmund Beaufort initiated a torrid affair in 1427.


This shook up the English Council.  The last thing they needed was a messy marriage and more heirs.  So they passed a law forbidding Catherine to marry without the King's approval.  

Although the current king, Henry VI, was quite likely to give his mother the necessary approval, there was a catch.  Henry was only 7 years old.  Until Henry came of age (16), he could not legally give approval.  Mom would have to stay single.  Very clever.

No problem.  Edmund used his position as Catherine's one-time sweetheart to become closer to Henry VI.  He did his best to become a a surrogate father to the boy. 

Later, Edmund would exploit his personal relationship by persuading the King to promote Edmund to various royal offices.


Richard had a huge wealth advantage.  Although Edmund was the head of one of the greatest families in England, his inheritance was worth only 300 pounds.  By contrast his rival Richard had a net worth of 5,800 pounds.  Henry VI made sure that Edmund was compensated with offices worth 3,000 pounds.  Not only did that bring Edmund deep within Henry's inner circle, Edmund had money to raise armies with.

This patronage served to offend Richard of York and many of the other nobles deeply.  As Edmund's quarrel with York grew personal, the dynastic situation got worse, especially in 1451 when Edmund became Henry VI's right hand man. 

Edmund used his inside track in another way.  Edmund was not only Henry's right hand man, he enjoyed the considerable advantage of sleeping with the King's wife.  When it was announced in January 1453 that Queen Margaret was pregnant after seven years of no results, the matter seemed highly suspicious. 

Henry VI displayed qualities that would have done credit to a monk, but not to a Medieval King who was expected to produce an heir. Henry was pious, naïve, chaste, and prudish.  In addition, Henry VI had a well-known aversion to physical contact. 

Seven years had passed without a pregnancy.  Therefore the pregnancy became seen as either a miracle or the product of adultery.  Henry VI himself did nothing to squelch the rumors.  When asked about the child's paternity, Henry declared that Edward must have been fathered by the Holy Ghost. 

Nor did it help that Edmund was made the child's godfather.  The odds clearly favor Edmund Beaufort as the father of this child.  However, what is more important is that Henry VI was not the father.  Richard of York knew this and so did everyone else.  Margaret and Edmund were trying to promote an illegitimate child to the throne.


The Plot Thickens


Despite the objections of Margaret and Edmund, in 1454 Richard of York was named regent as Protector of the Realm.

Richard of York, meanwhile, had gained a very important ally, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, one of the most influential magnates of the realm.  Warwick was an English nobleman, administrator, and military commander.  He was possibly richer than Richard of York himself.  Richard Neville became known as Warwick the Kingmaker due to his considerable influence during the infighting to replace Henry VI. 

Warwick was originally a supporter of King Henry VI.  However, a territorial dispute with Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, led him to collaborate with Richard, Duke of York, in opposing both Beaufort and the king.  The alliance between Richard and Warwick was aided by the fact that Richard's wife Cecily Neville was Warwick's aunt. 

Once Richard of York took power, the landscape changed immediately.  Queen Margaret was excluded from the Council completely. Edmund Beaufort's fortunes changed the moment his rival Richard of York assumed power as Lord Protector.  Richard had Beaufort imprisoned in the Tower of London and began looking for reasons to execute him.  Then Richard set about destroying Beaufort's reputation.  Richard's York supporters spread rumors that the king's child was illegitimate and that Beaufort was the father.  Then Richard got to work.  His months as regent were spent tackling the problem of government overspending.


Still, there was the curious issue of Margaret's pregnancy for Richard to deal with.  Margaret gave birth to a son in October 1453.  Margaret immediately took great pains to quash rumors that Beaufort might be his father. During her pregnancy, Henry had suffered a mental breakdown, leaving him in a withdrawn and unresponsive state that lasted for one and a half years. This medical condition, untreatable either by court physicians or by exorcism, plagued him throughout his life.

Unfortunately for Richard of York, the birth of baby Edward removed him from the succession to the throne.  The child was baptized Edward, Prince of Wales, with Edmund Beaufort listed as godfather.  If the King could return to consciousness, Margaret intended to persuade Henry to make Edmund Beaufort legal heir to the throne and protectorate of the Realm till the boy came of age.  Unfortunately, the King was too far gone to do any such thing, so Richard's dreams of being king were still on track. 

Then came the worst surprise of all... Henry woke up.

After a 17-month bout with mental illness, Henry VI remarkably recovered his reason in January 1455.  As historian Robin Storey put it: "If Henry's original insanity was a tragedy, his recovery was a national disaster." 

The first thing Henry did was demote Richard back to the ranks of civilian.  Then he lost little time in reversing most of Richard of York's actions.  This was a shame because Richard's decisions had drawn praise for his even-handedness and willingness to tackle long-standing problems.  Now his initiatives were cut short by Henry's return.  The reforms were swiftly undone and Richard’s intentions were eyed with suspicion by the court, members of whom were the ones who had been disadvantaged by the changes.

Henry then agreed to recognize baby Edward as his heir, putting to rest any concerns about a successor.  Richard was out of luck.

Edmund Beaufort's life was saved by the King's seeming recovery.  Edmund was freed from captivity and restored to his former position of power.  Having reconvened the court at Westminster by mid-April 1455, Henry and a select council of nobles decided to hold a great council at Leicester.  York and his closest allies anticipated that Edmund Beaufort would bring charges against them at this assembly.

Seeing Beaufort released and returned to favor was the last insult that York would take from his nemesis.   Richard of York was beyond bitter.  He was determined to depose of Beaufort by one means or another.  In May 1455 he raised an army and tracked down the Beaufort army headed to Leicester.  He confronted Somerset and the King in an engagement known as the First Battle of St Albans which marked the beginning of the Wars of the Roses. His son, Henry, never forgave York and Warwick for his father's death, and he spent the next nine years attempting to restore his family's honour.

Facing with being declared outlaws and traitors, the Yorks gathered an armed retinue and marched to stop the royal party from reaching Leicester, intercepting them at St Albans.


First Battle of St. Albans, 1455

On May 22, 1455, Richard, Duke of York engaged the forces of King Henry VI of England at the First Battle of St. Albans.

Richard's army outnumbered Henry's army 7,000 to 2,000.  Richard attempted to negotiate.  He told Henry to hand over Edmund Beaufort and he would walk away.  Henry stuck by his closest confidante and refused to give him up.

After two hours, Richard lost his patience and ordered the attack.   Dividing his forces in two parts, his first attack failed badly.  Warwick took the second unit through an unguarded part of the town's defenses, through back lanes and gardens. 


Suddenly Warwick discovered the market square where the main body of Henry's troops were talking and resting.

Henry's men were not yet expecting to be involved in the fighting.  Many were not even wearing their helmets.  Warwick charged instantly with his force, routing the Lancastrians.  Edmund Beaufort knew that Richard of York would never let him live.  When the Yorkists surrounded his building, Beaufort was killed in a last wild charge from the house where he had been sheltering.  Beaufort charged onto the main street and killed four men before being struck down himself.

His son, Henry, never forgave York and Warwick for his father's death.  He would spend the next nine years attempting to restore his family's honor.

The sudden attack and bravery shown by Warwick began his famous military career.  It would later help form his nickname as 'The Kingmaker'.

After the battle, Richard of York escorted King Henry back to London.  Richard was appointed as Protector of England by the parliament a few months later.  Henry VI sat in the Tower of London.  The War of the Roses had begun.


Battle of Wakefield, 1460


Over the next five years, there were rises and falls in the fortunes of both camps.  The Lancasters won the 1459 Battle of Ludford Bridge.  Warwick and Richard both fled across the English Channel for safety.

In December 1459 York and Warwick suffered 'attainder', a legal process that says their lives were forfeit and their lands reverted to the king.  Nor could their heirs inherit the lost estate. 

This was the most extreme punishment a member of the nobility could suffer.  Now Richard of York was in the same situation as Henry of Bolingbroke (the future King Henry IV) in 1398.  Only a successful invasion of England would restore his fortune.  Assuming the invasion was successful, York had three options: become Protector again; disinherit the king so that York's son would succeed; or claim the throne for himself.

It was finally agreed upon that Richard would not only rule, he would become king upon Henry's death.  Only one problem.  Within a few weeks of securing this agreement, Richard died in the 1460 Battle of Wakefield (as did Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury and father of Warwick the Kingmaker). 

Richard of York and his forces convened at Sandal Castle, Richard's stronghold.  A small detachment of Lancastrians were spotted nearly.  Instead of awaiting reinforcements, Richard led an impulsive charge on the Lancastrians.  It was a trap.  Two large forces of the Lancastrian army emerged from nearby woods and quickly destroyed Richard's men.  Richard, 49, and his son Edmund, 17, died in the battle.

Why Richard had exposed himself has never been clear.  One possibility is betrayal by some northern lords who Richard mistakenly believed to be his allies.  Another explanation was overconfident rashness on York's part.

On the order of warrior queen Margart of Anjou, the heads of Richard and his son Edmund were placed on pikes by the victorious Lancastrian armies and displayed at the Micklegate Bar in York.  Richard's head bore a paper crown.  The insult was clear... after all these years, Richard wore his cherished crown. 

Neither Warwick nor Richard's eldest son Edward, 19, was at this battle.  When Edward learned that he had lost his father and younger brother in the fight, he vowed to avenge the ambush. 


Battle of Towton, 1461

The death of Richard of York shook a lot of people up.  In a sense, the Lancasters had killed the future king.  This was not viewed well by the majority of people.  Richard had the same opportunity to murder Henry VI on two occasions, but had shown the restraint and respect not to do so. 

Instead, after the Yorkists had captured Henry in 1460, they had taken the political route.  Indeed, the English parliament passed an Act of Accord which would allow Henry to remain as king with the understanding that Richard would be Regent and would take over upon Henry's death.

The Act of Accord was a legally binding agreement.  In a sense, Margaret had broken the law.  Margaret did not care.  Margaret of Anjou would never accept the decision to remove her son's right to the throne under any circumstances.  Might makes right.  Along with fellow malcontents, she raised a massive Lancaster army that far out-numbered the York side.


After Richard of York was ambushed and killed at the Battle of Wakefield, nobles who were previously hesitant to support Richard's claim to the throne considered the Lancastrians to have reneged on the Act.   Edward found enough backing to denounce Henry and declare himself King. 

The Battle of Towton was to affirm the victor's right to bypass the law and rule over England through force of arms.  The battle was fought in the snow on 29 March 1461, near the village of Towton in Yorkshire.  This was the grudge match, winner take all. 

The York side was commanded by William Neville, Lord Fauconberg, a former Lancastrian who had changed sides to join his nephew Warwick.  Fauconberg faced long odds.  He was heavily outnumbered and part of their force under the Duke of Norfolk had not yet arrived. 

The initial fighting favored Lancaster, but Lord Fauconberg saw a way to turn the tables.  Taking note of the powerful wind at their back, Fauconberg ordered his archers to use the strong wind to outrange their enemies. 


This began a one-sided missile exchange.  The Lancaster arrows fell short of the Yorkist ranks while the York arrows forced the Lancastrians into abandon their defensive positions and retreat to safety. 

However, now that the York side had exhausted their ammunition, the stronger Lancaster army regrouped and prepared to charge.  Noticing the countless Lancaster arrows on the ground that had fallen short, the Yorkist archers plucked the fallen arrows in front of them and continued shooting.  The Lancaster side was hit with a crippling second barrage.

The ensuing hand-to-hand combat lasted hours, exhausting the combatants.  The 'better late than never' arrival of Norfolk's men reinvigorated the Yorkists.  Now they surged forward and routed their foes.  The fighting lasted ten hours.  Many Lancastrians were killed while fleeing; some trampled each other and others drowned in the river and snow streams, said to have run red with blood for several days.

Towton has been described as the largest and bloodiest battle ever fought on English soil.   According to chroniclers, more than 50,000 soldiers from the Houses of York and Lancaster fought for hours amidst a snowstorm on that day, which was Palm Sunday.  A newsletter circulated a week after the battle reported that 28,000 died on the battlefield.


Battle of Hexham, 1464

Following the 1461 Battle of Towton, Henry VI, Margaret, and her son Edward fled to Scotland to lick their wounds.  It turns out that Towton was not the end.  Margaret of Anjou still had fight in her.   Margaret of Anjou was hated by the English because she was so ruthless.  That said, did she have any choice?   Margaret's entire existence was wrapped around restoring Henry VI to the throne and protecting her son's birthright to be the future king.  It was up to her to fight her husband’s battles and her son's battles.

After the 1461 Towton battle, as acting head of the House of Lancaster, Margaret was able to get the families to regroup in the north, their base of power.  In 1463, Margaret instigated a rebellion to disrupt a peace process Edward had initiated with Scotland further to the north. 

Edward sent John Neville, Warwick's brother, to put down the rebel force.  John Neville was better known as Montagu since he was the 1st Marquess of Montagu.  Montagu effortlessly put down the poorly organized uprising. 

At the end of the battle Henry VI was captured again.  Strange as it must seem, this was now the third time the poor senile man was captured in battle.  Why they kept trotting this poor, senile figurehead out on the battlefield is a mystery.  How weird is it to keep using a mindless king as a mascot? 


There is an interesting story attached to the Battle of Hexham.  Margaret insisted on viewing each battle herself.  She was a warrior Queen if there ever was one.  She also insisted Edward always be at her side for fear as assassination.  Therefore young Edward’s life was spent hurrying from battlefields to either triumph or exile.

After the Lancastrians were defeated at the Battle of Hexham in 1463, Margaret, seized with mortal terror for the life of her boy, fled with him on foot into an adjacent forest.  Driven by dread, she took any path she could find just to get as far away from her enemies as possible.  Margaret and Edward, 10, were ambushed by robbers who took Margaret's jewels and costly outer robes. 

While the outlaws quarreled over who got what, Margaret snatched her son up in her arms and fled to a distant thicket to hide.  When the robbers could not find them, they gave up and left.  After waiting hours to be sure the men were gone, Margaret and Edward came out from hiding.  Wandering lost through the forest, they soon fell into the hands of another outlaw later that night.  Queen Margaret led her boy up to him and said, “Here, friend, save the son of your king.”

Surprisingly, the robber took pity on them and hid them in a cave for two days.  The outlaw spotted one of Margaret’s captains who was searching for them and told the man where the Queen could be found them.  The captain took Margaret and Edward to Scotland, whence they finally escaped to France where they would live with Margaret's relatives as exiles. 

After the battle, Montagu showed none of King Edward's conciliatory spirit.  Montagu had thirty leading Lancastrians executed in Hexham on the following day.  Maybe this cold-hearted treatment was necessary.  After all, Edward's penchant for showing mercy had not solved the problem.  Like zombies, after every battle, the Lancasters seemed to get back up and start fighting again.  Not any more.  These executions did the trick.  Warrior queen Margaret of Anjou had fled the country, Henry VI had lost his mind and the Lancaster leaders had lost their heads.   Lancaster resistance collapsed. 


Meanwhile, Edward IV took Henry’s crown and consolidated his 1461 claim to become England's first Yorkist king.  Edward did a smart thing.  By law, he could have confiscated the estate of virtually every Lancastrian noble.  Most of England's leading families had remained loyal to Henry VI or remained uncommitted in the recent conflict.  Edward did indeed seize the estates of all the Lancaster nobles who had died during the fighting, but offered to let the rest keep their lands on promise of loyalty.  This worked like a charm.  Peace came to the land for the time being.  England was done fighting, but only for a while. 

In the aftermath, the new regime relied heavily on the support of Warwick and the Neville family who had been so instrumental in bringing Edward to the throne.  Not long after Edward IV began his reign, Warwick the Kingmaker decided to become a Queenmaker instead. 

Now that the fighting had ended, Warwick began casting about for a suitable Queen for the bachelor king.  This endeavor would lead to one of the strangest stories in history.


Next Chapter:  War of the Roses II

Coming soon!


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