Divided York & Lancaster

“Divided York and Lancaster” (V.5)

Background to the Wars of the Roses: synopsis of events, popular misconceptions. Text by Peter Hammond.
Illustrations: “Wheel of Fortune,” “Choosing the Red and White Roses,” Henry A. Payne; Battle of Stoke: 1987 poster.

The Wars of the Roses

The Wars of the Roses were, in essence, a long drawn out dynastic quarrel. In its course many hundreds of men were killed, including a large part of the nobility of England.dividedyork

The quarrel was caused, in a sense, by the usurpation of Henry IV, of the House of Lancaster, since by deposing Richard II he displaced the main Plantagenet line with his own junior branch. The senior heirs, the House of Mortimer, subsequently the House of York, acquiesced in this for some 40 or so years. The incapacity of Henry VI (grandson of Henry IV) and the resulting breakdown in law and order then gave the Duke of York an opportunity to present himself as the rightful king and the one man who could bring peace and justice to the country.

There were in a way two such wars, between York and Lancaster 1459-1471, with a five-year peaceful period from 1464-1469, and between York and Tudor 1483-1487. They were not unique in Europe. In a period when kingly authority was low, stability depended on the personal capacity of kings. An inefficient monarch or a disputed succession could cause upheaval.

In the period between 1459 and 1487 the series of battles, skirmishes and sieges between the Yorkists and their allies and the Lancastrians (and Tudors) and their supporters are what we know as the Wars of the Roses.


The actual name ‘Wars of the Roses’ was probably not used until the nineteenth century but by 1487 contemporaries certainly had the idea of the warring red and white roses.

The life of Richard of Gloucester, Richard III, (1452-1485) almost exactly spanned the period of the ‘Wars’ but they did not end with his death.

In 1487 the Earl of Lincoln, heir of Richard III, supported an uprising by Lambert Simnel, calling himself Edward Earl of Warwick (son of George Duke of Clarence). Lincoln landed in Ireland with an army in May, and Simnel was crowned in the cathedral at Dublin as Edward VI.

Simnel and his forces landed in Lancashire in June, and marked to Stoke, near Newark. Henry advanced against them and defeated them later in the same month. The Earl of Lincoln and most of the leaders were killed and Simnel was taken prisoner.

Stoke (not Bosworth) was the last battle of the Wars of the Roses.

The Wheel of Fortune

Illustration from “Divided York and Lancaster,” exhibition panel outlining the history of the Wars of the Roses. Adapted from Entertainment and Ritual 600-1600, Peter A. Bucknell (London, Stainer & Bell, Ltd., 1979).