Created on: February 23, 2013 Last Updated: February 25, 2013
England's Hundred Years War with France may have finally ended in 1453, but it wasn't long before the land was plunged into yet another bloody conflict. House Lancaster and House York, two branches of the Plantagenet line descended from William the Conqueror, would initiate a power struggle over the throne of England that would bring decades of strife and the near-destruction of many a noble house.
Named “War of the Roses” for the red rose of Lancaster and the white rose of York, in truth this title was brought about by later Renaissance Era writers like William Shakespeare, who in “Henry VI, Part 1” had the various noble houses of England declaring their allegiance to one side or the other by picking a red or white rose from the Temple garden.
“And here I prophesy: this brawl to-day,
Grown to this faction in the Temple-garden,
Shall send between the red rose and the white
A thousand souls to death and deadly night”
It may not be historically accurate, but it captures the essence of the conflict that would see many of the land's nobility pay the ultimate price for serving the cause of Lancaster or York. The codes of chivalry that dictated warfare between knights would play little part here. This was a war for the throne, and for one side to be legitimate, the other had to be guilty of treason – the penalty for which was death. Nobles taken prisoner during the Hundred Years War could expect honorable treatment, followed by ransom back to their houses. During the War of the Roses, they could expect the gallows.
There were plots and betrayals, one claimant after another removed from the game. Battles were often decided by key nobles switching sides at pivotal moments, and often followed by mass executions. For a conflict so focused on who had what noble blood, a lot of noble blood ended up being spilled. And at the end, once the two factions had almost wiped each other out, the unlikely Lancastrian candidate Henry Tudor swooped in from the sidelines to win the throne and restore peace to the land. Or at least, that's how the bards might have seen it.
Reasons for the War of the Roses
Following the end of the Hundred Years War with France, English nobility no longer had the “foreign enemy” to unite them, and the knights whose prestigious position was based on military prowess required further means to justify that.
Infighting was a likely outcome, especially considering that the central
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