The Wars of the Roses, known at the time and for more than a century after as the Civil Wars, were a series of Civil Wars fought over control of the English throne in the mid-to-late fifteenth century, fought between supporters of two rival Cadet branchesof the royal House of Plantagenet : Lancaster and York. The wars extinguished the male lines of the two dynasties, leading to the Tudor Family inheriting the Lancastrian claim. Following the war, the Houses of Tudor and York were united, creating a new royal Dynasty, thereby resolving the rival claims.
The conflict had its roots in the wake of the Hundred Years’ War and its emergent socio-economic troubles, which weakened the prestige of the English monarchy, unfolding structural problems of bastard feudalism and the powerful duchies created by Edward III, and the mental infirmity and weak rule of Henry VI, which revived interest in the Yorkist claim to the throne by Richard of York. Historians disagree over which of these factors were the main catalyst for the wars.
The wars began in 1455 when Richard of York captured King Henry VI in battle and was appointed Lord Protector by Parliament, leading to an uneasy peace. Fighting resumed four years later. Yorkists, led by Warwick the Kingmaker, recaptured Henry, but Richard was killed in 1460, leading to the claim by his son, Edward. The Yorkists lost custody of Henry the following year but destroyed the Lancastrian army, and Edward was crowned three months later in June 1461. Resistance to Edward’s rule continued but was defeated in 1464, leading to a period of relative peace.
In 1469, Warwick withdrew his support for Edward due to opposition against the king’s foreign policy and choice of bride, and changed to the Lancastrian claim, leading to a renewal in fighting. Edward was briefly deposed and fled to Flanders the following year, and Henry was reinstalled as king. Henry’s renewal in reign was short-lived however, as the Lancastrians suffered decisive defeats in battle in which Warwick and Henry’s heir were killed, Henry was reimprisoned, and much of the Lancastrian nobility were either killed, executed, or exiled. Shortly afterwards, Edward reassumed the throne, after which Henry either died or was assassinated on Edward’s order. Edward ruled unopposed and England enjoyed a period of relative peace until his death twelve years later in 1483. Edward’s twelve-year-old son reigned for 78 days as Edward V until he was deposed by his uncle, Richard III. Richard assumed the throne under a cloud of controversy, particularly the disappearance of Edward IV’s two sons, sparking a short-lived but major revolt and triggering a wave of desertions of prominent Yorkists to the Lancastrian cause. In the midst of the chaos, Henry Tudor, son of Henry VI’s half-brother, returned from exile with an army of English, French, and Breton troops. Henry defeated and killed Richard at Bosworth Field in 1485, assumed the throne as Henry VII, and married Elizabeth of York, the eldest daughter and sole heir of Edward IV, thereby uniting the rival claims.
The Earl of Lincoln then put forward Lambert Simnel as an impostor Edward Plantagenet, a potential claimant to the throne. Lincoln’s army was defeated and Lincoln himself killed at Stoke Field in 1487, ending the wars. Henry never faced any further serious internal military threats to his reign. In 1490, Perkin Warbeck claimed to be Richard of Shrewsbury, Edward IV’s second son and rival claimant to the throne, but was executed before any rebellion could be launched.
The House of Tudor ruled Englanduntil 1603. The reign of the tudor dynasty saw the strengthening of the prestige and power of the English monarchy, particularly under Henry 8 and ElizabethI, and the end of the medeival period of England which subsequently saw the dawn of the English Renaissance. Historian John Guy argued that “England was economically healthier, more expansive, and more optimistic under the Tudors” than at any time since the Roman occupation.
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