Read Wars of the Roses Online

Authors: Alison Weir

Tags: #Non Fiction

Wars of the Roses

BOOK: Wars of the Roses
8.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
A complicated story brilliantly told.”

Kirkus Reviews

“Elegantly written, revealingly detailed, and effortlessly narrated … Splendid work … Among her gifts, Weir has the two strengths essential to the historian: She writes with equal command about people as individuals and about the nature of power. Throughout, she is a canny and engaging guide to the unspeakably tangled workings of late-medieval political power. Military might, bloodlines, family alliances, regional loyalties, charisma, theatrics and image, revenge, greed, ruthlessness, and expediency all operated in tortuous formations and are here meticulously opened to scrutiny.”

—Boston Globe

“[A] perfectly focused and beautifully unfolded account.”

(starred review)

“Stimulating … A well-written, entertaining narrative.”

—Library Journal

A Ballantine Book
Published by The Random House Publishing Group

Copyright © 1995 by Alison Weir

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

Originally published as
Lancaster & York
in Great Britain in 1995 by Jonathan Cape, Random House, UK Ltd., London.

Ballantine and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 96-96058

eISBN: 978-0-307-80685-7




1 The Riches of England

Simplified Genealogical Tables



   Richard II, portrait by an unknown artist in Westminster Abbey c. 1395 (by courtesy of the Dean and Chapter of Westminster)

   John of Gaunt, late sixteenth-century portrait attributed to Luca Cornelli (by kind permission of the Duke of Beaufort; photograph by Peter A. Harding)

   Henry IV, electrotype of the tomb effigy in Canterbury Cathedral (National Portrait Gallery, London)

   Henry V, late fifteenth-century portrait by an unknown artist in the Royal Collection (© 1995 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II)

   Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester (kneeling before the Man of Sorrows), from a Book of Psalms made for him
. 1420–30 (by permission of the British Library: Royal 2 B I f.8)

   Cardinal Henry Beaufort, tomb effigy in Winchester Cathedral (by courtesy of the Dean and Chapter of Winchester)

   Henry VI, portrait by an unknown artist c.1530 (National Portrait Gallery, London)

   Henry VI, late sixteenth/early seventeenth-century portrait by an unknown artist (National Portrait Gallery, London)

   René, Duke of Anjou, portrait miniature by Nicholas Froment from the
Matheron Diptych, c
. 1476, in the Louvre Museum, Paris (© photograph R.M.N.)

   Margaret of Anjou, portrait medallion by Pietro de Milano,
. 1462–3 (by courtesy of the Trustees of the Victoria and Albert Museum)

   Richard, Duke of York, from a stained-glass window in the Trinity Chapel at St John the Baptist, Cirencester (by kind permission of the Vicar and Churchwardens of Cirencester Parish Church; photograph by Bryan Berkeley)

   The Falcon and Fetterlock badge of the mediaeval dukes of York, from the gates of Henry VII’s Chapel in Westminster Abbey (by courtesy of the Dean and Chapter of Westminster)

   Jack Cade’s rebellion of 1450, from
Les Chroniques de France, c
. 1500 (by permission of the British Library: Royal 20 E 111 f.28)

Plucking the Red and White Roses in the Temple Gardens
, 1910, by Henry A. Payne, House of Commons East Corridor (© RCHME Crown Copyright)

   Ludlow Castle (© RCHME Crown Copyright)

   Interior of Westminster Hall, looking south, c. 1925 (Farmer Collection, House of Lords Record Office)

   Edward IV, portrait by an unknown artist c. 1530 (National Portrait Gallery, London)

   Elizabeth Wydville, portrait by an unknown artist c. 1465 (by courtesy of the President and Fellows of Queens’ College, Cambridge)

   Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, portrayed as a weeper on a tomb in St Mary’s Church (photograph by Marianne Majerus)

   George, Duke of Clarence and his family, from the Rous Roll c. 1483–5 (by permission of the British Library: Add.48976 figs. 58–60)

   Edward IV sets sail from Flushing, from a fifteenth-century manuscript (by permission of the British Library: Harley 7353 no. 10)

   Edward IV watches the execution of the Duke of Somerset, from
Historie of the Arrival of Edward IV
, late fifteenth century (University Library of Ghent: MS 236)

   The Oratory in the Wakefield Tower at the Tower of London (Historic Royal Palaces Photo Library)



hen I was working on my last book,
The Princes in the Tower
, I was aware that in some respects I was telling only half a story. I was writing about the final phase of that conflict so picturesquely named the Wars of the Roses, a conflict that lasted for more than thirty years, from 1455 to 1487. There were, in fact, two Wars of the Roses; the first, lasting from 1455 to 1471, was between the royal houses of Lancaster and York, and the second, from 1483 to 1487, was between the royal houses of York and Tudor. Having touched only briefly on the former in
The Princes in the Tower
, which describes in some detail the second phase of the wars, I felt that a prequel might be an interesting book with which to follow it. This present book, then, is the story of Lancaster and York and the first of the Wars of the Roses.

During the course of my research, I have studied many sources, both ancient and modern, and of the modern ones nearly all focus primarily upon the practical and military aspects of my subject. This book will naturally touch upon those matters, and in some detail in parts, but my main intention has been to portray the human side of history – the people and personalities involved, the chief protagonists in one of the most fascinating and long-drawn-out feuds in English history.

At the centre of this bloody faction fight was the pathetic figure of the mentally unstable Henry VI, whose ineptitude in government and mental incapacity gave rise to political instability, public discontent, and dissensions between the great landed magnates that in turn led ultimately to war and a bitter battle over the throne itself. Henry’s chief rival was Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, the man who should have been king, according to the law of primogeniture as it was then understood. After York’s death, his claim to the throne
was inherited by his son, who became King Edward IV, a ruthless charmer who would in the end bring about the ruin of the House of Lancaster.

This book is also the story of a woman’s bitter and tenacious fight for her son’s rights. Henry’s queen, Margaret of Anjou – who was accused by her enemies of having planted a bastard in the royal nursery – took up arms in the cause of Lancaster and battled over many years and against seemingly insurmountable odds for the rights of her husband and child. This was remarkable in itself, for she was a woman in a violent man’s world, in which most members of her sex were regarded as movable goods, chattels and political nonentities.

There are many other human faces in the unfolding pageant of treason and conflict. Margaret’s son, Edward of Lancaster, inured to violence at an early age, shocked his contemporaries by his callous precocity. Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick – ‘Warwick the Kingmaker’ – was the archetypal over-mighty subject of the late Middle Ages, who raised and deposed kings, yet whose loyalty, in the final analysis, was only to himself. The Wars of the Roses would not only bring about the fall of a royal dynasty but also that of magnates such as Warwick.

I have tried to present the members of the royal houses of Lancaster and York as real people, identifiable by their personal characteristics and foibles, and not just names on a tangled family tree. The Beauforts, bastard descendants of John of Gaunt, lorded it as princes at court and, some said, in the Queen’s bed. The Tudors were also royal issue of dubious lineage, and – like the Beauforts – were staunchly loyal to the House of Lancaster, whose heirs they later claimed to be. There are the kings – neurotic and extravagant Richard II, the usurper Henry IV, whose reign was marred by rebellions and crippling ill-health, and that cold warrior, Henry V, the people’s hero, whose misjudged foreign policy led to disaster for his son, Henry VI. Then there are the queens: the chic, amoral Katherine of Valois, who found love with a Welsh squire after the death of her husband, Henry V; and Elizabeth Wydville, whose glacial beauty masked greed and ruthlessness. Besides these, our story is peopled with colourful, mysterious or tragic figures, from the notorious Jack Cade, who led a revolt, to the sadistic John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester; and from a host of mighty lords to Warwick’s fragile and ill-fated daughters, Isabel and Anne Neville. All were involved in one way or another in the conflict. This is indeed a history of factions, yet it was the people who made up those factions that make it a tale of absorbing interest.

The history of the Wars of the Roses has been told many times and by many historians, yet today it is unfashionable to follow the Tudor view that the origins of these wars lay in the deposition of Richard II, which took place more than fifty years before their outbreak. However, it is indeed possible to trace the roots of the conflict to that time, and in order to understand the causes of the Wars of the Roses and the dynastic heritage of the chief protagonists, we need to go back even further, to the founding of a race of magnates of royal blood by that most prolific of Plantagenet kings, Edward III. Thus this book tells not just the story of the Wars of the Roses but also that of the houses of Lancaster and York up to the year 1471.

BOOK: Wars of the Roses
8.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Fifty Bales of Hay by Rachael Treasure
Wumbers by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Safe Without You by Ward, H.
He, She and It by Marge Piercy
Gagged by Aubrey Parker
Disappearing Nightly by Laura Resnick
Under A Velvet Cloak by Anthony, Piers
The Assistant by Green, Vallen
The Devil in Amber by Mark Gatiss