194 The Wars of the Roses

The start of it all- Lancastrians, Yorkists - and Nevilles
The start of it all- Lancastrians, Yorkists – and Nevilles

When to declare the Wars of the Roses all finished and done? There are as many choices as there are for start dates.

1485 and the Battle of Bosworth has been a favourite. After all, with hindsight the dynasty will no longer change.

1541 is another option, seemingly very late, with the execution of Margaret de la Pole, and the shedding of the last credible Yorkist blood.

In this episode, I plump for 1487. For this was the last battle fought by a Yorkist claimant on English soil.

But it’s worth noting that nobody at the time knew if this was the end or not – and with Perkin Warbeck, and Edmund and Richard de la Pole still to come, the fear of a Yorkist revival and the strife of the Wars of the Roses would last to the death of Henry VIII at the very least.

We then spend some time thinking about the causes and impacts of the Wars. The recognition that the medieval system utterly depended on an effective monarch; the rise of populism and slightly surprising appeal of the magnates to the people; the impact on the prestige of the royal house and consequences for Henry VII.


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4 thoughts on “194 The Wars of the Roses

  1. David,

    You say here that if you had the opportunity to have a pint with Richard III you would tell him that “you had it won! You had it won and you threw it away”! What exactly did Richard do to throw it away in your opinion? I may have to re-listen to the prior episodes if I had missed something. Was it his handling of the Princes (either having them killed or allowing them to be killed or the rumours to swell). Was it his reckless charge at Bosworth? Or his seemingly rash killing of Hastings et al?

    In regards to Henry VI and his ineffective reign – Do you feel any sympathy towards him? I tend to think that his father left him in an unwinnable situation with lands in France he couldn’t possibly maintain, shoes impossible to fill and a line of the monarchy that was doomed to fail eventually due to its usurpation of Richard II in the first place.

    If you look at some of the “worst” Kings in history it seems to me they all follow some of the greatest and most reknowned Warrior Kings in English history. John followed the Lionheart, Edward II followed Longshanks, Richard II followed Edward III and Henry VI followed Henry V… seems like if Henry VI would’ve been able to fight better or command an army he might’ve made better work of being King.

    1. Hi Ryan, and well I was thinking of the Yorkist cause generally; Edward IV had ruled well enough to embed the dynasty, despite the Woodville issue, he had two heirs, things were fine. Obviously Richard may have felt worried that his head was on the chopping board – but that was not for sure. So I was thinking of his decision to take Edward V into custody rather than crown him and stand at his side.

      I feel a lot of personal sympathy for Henry VI – what a nightmare to be trapped into a role for which you had no inclination or ability. A personal tragedy. However, I think it was his own failure; eve if we accept that losing France was inevitable (which I could argue I guess) that in itself was not enough to overturn the monarchy. I take your point about the flip flopping, but I think the essential skill was not military but the ability to manage the great families and tap into that partnership that held the medieval realm together, king and nobles. Henry was unable to do that – he effectively continually gave over his authority to a faction to take the pain away from him. Or so I would argue! And thanks for the question!

  2. Hi David,

    Thanks for the response! It’s a good point, the real key to a successful reign seems to be managing the great families, barons and magnates properly. I always wonder if the unrest was bubbling over beyond the point of salvage due to continuous losses in France. I think it undermined Henry’s rule before he even had a chance to take the throne and the initial losses in France were not his fault. I think it added fuel to the usurpation fire and by the time Henry was in a position to quell the unrest we discover he wasn’t a strong enough personality to be able to accomplish it.
    I do feel some sort of genuine sympathy for him, beyond his mental health issues, he was pious and non-violent and there was no place for a King in the 15th century who wasn’t exceedingly violent and willing to betray someone along the way (so it seems).
    Love your podcast! I have obviously found them very recently but I go through them as much as I can (I try to listen to them in conjunction with a book of the relevant time period). Thanks for always responding too it makes this more fun as a listener


    1. Yes I have personal sympathy or Henry VI too; but although politics could be brutal, actually the number of people being killed is relatively small – usually individuals; and usually because they were breaking, plotting to break, believed to be breaking the rules of the game. It’s very interesting that it is not the loss of France that causes Henry’s downfall, terrible for his reputation though that is; it is his continual and long standing incompetence.

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