The Yorkist Kings & The Wars Of The Roses: RICHARD III

Richard III

The term “Wars of the Roses” first came into common usage in 1829 with the publication of Sir Walter Scott’s Anne of Geierstein, which tells of the Swiss involvement in the Burgundian Wars in the wake of the battle of Tewkesbury. Scott had based the name on a scene in Shakespeare’s Henry VI Part 1 where, in the Temple Church Gardens, noblemen choose white or red roses to decide which faction—York or Lancaster—they will support. Otherwise, the civil conflicts were mostly referred to as “The Cousins’ Wars”, owing to the fact that almost all of the major protagonists were related to each other in some way. While the white rose was used as a symbol by the Yorkists, the red rose of Lancaster is not thought to have been introduced until after the battle of Bosworth. Neither did the rival factions have much in the way of connection with the cities of Lancaster and York. The Lancastrian lands and offices were mainly in Cheshire, North Wales and Gloucestershire, while those of the Yorkists were evenly spread throughout England and the Welsh Marches.

Edward III of England and Philippa of Hainault had thirteen children, among them five sons who reached adulthood. All five entered into arranged marriages with powerful English heiresses, as a result of which the first English dukedoms were created: Lancaster, Gloucester, Clarence, Cornwall and York. All of the descendants of these dukes would at some stage of their careers put in claims for the throne.

The eldest son of Edward III—Edward, the Black Prince—died in June 1376, and the king himself died one year later and was succeeded by his ten-year old grandson, the Black Prince’s son, who became Richard II. Childless, Richard named Roger Mortimer, 4th Earl of March, as his heir presumptive, but Mortimer died in 1398. The throne was usurped the following year by Henry Bolingbroke, Richard’s cousin, who became Henry IV—a move which saw a by-passing of the normal line of succession, and which would eventually result in the Wars of the Roses.

Henry Bolingbroke established the House of Lancaster, and the English throne remained relatively secure until his death in 1413, when he was succeeded by his son Henry V, arguably the greatest of the English warrior kings and one who enjoyed immense popularity on account of his triumphs over the French during the Hundred Years War (1337-1453). Problems—political, social and financial—came about as a result of his unexpected demise in 1422, aged just thirty-five, when the throne was inherited by his nine-months old son, Henry VI.

There had been one notable insurrection mounted against Henry V: the Southampton Plot of 1415, led by Richard, Earl of Cambridge, a son of Edward III’s fourth son, Edmund of Langley. Cambridge had been subsequently apprehended and executed at the start of the campaign which led to the battle at Agincourt. His wife was Anne Mortimer, a descendant of Lionel of Antwerp—Edward III’s second son. Their son was Richard Duke of York, the father of the future Edward IV and Richard III, whose right to the throne during the early years of Henry VI was, York believed, far stronger than that of any Lancastrian claimant in that he was descended from two of Edward III’s sons—Lionel of Antwerp and Edmund of Langley—while Henry was descended from just one, the king’s third son, John of Gaunt. The time was ripe, therefore, to take advantage of Henry’s minority and the fierce and bloody squabbles over his Protectorship.

There has been renewed interest in Richard III since the discovery of his remains beneath a Leicester car park in the autumn of 2012. Part of the mystery was solved on 4 February 2013, when it was announced that he was not the diminutive, hunchbacked monster of Tudor myth, but a tall, rather good-looking man who suffered from scoliosis of the spine, a condition which would not have been noticed as he went about everyday life. And if the Tudor propagandists perpetrated this myth—their theory being that to make themselves appear sanitized, it was necessary to blacken the name of the last Plantagenet king—who knows what else they made up? Richard remains the most controversial monarch to have occupied the British throne. During his brief reign he was well-loved and respected by his subjects. His prowess on the battlefield prior to this was second to none: his loyalty towards his brother, Edward IV, can in no way be disputed. A sickly child, he was raised extant of loving parents, and from an early age was compelled to find his own way in life in a violence-orientated world. He was the brooding archetypal loner who, even when acquired power, still preferred the quiet Yorkshire countryside to the artificialities and intrigues of the royal court in London, where no man was trusting of his fellow.

Edward IV’s unexpected death plunged England into chaos.  Richard, named by him as Protector of his young sons, Edward V and Richard of York, was faced with the dilemma that England would again succumb to the anarchy brought about by the last royal minority—that of Henry VI. He was also faced with the rapaciousness of the boys’ family, the much-hated Woodvilles. The boys were placed within the Tower of London, initially for their own protection, but were never seen in public again, setting in motion a mystery which has never been solved to this day. Did Richard kill his nephews, or were they dispatched by the Duke of Buckingham, or Henry Tudor himself aided by his nasty, scheming mother, Margaret Beaufort? What was the true nature of the relationship between Richard and Buckingham? Was Buckingham hoping to use what would today be called a “bromance” as a means of ensnaring Richard to be used as a scapegoat for the heinous crime he perpetrated? Or was Richard simply too trusting and gullible, caught out when he was at his weakest—mourning a brother he had adored? The fact that he still has many thousands of devoted followers, over five-hundred years after his death, only points to the fact that Richard III was more than just a king. He was a legend.