5 Battles that Decided the Wars of the Roses

For around 30 years England saw an epic battle between two families – the house of York and the House of Lancaster. The war would see the rise of the Tudor Dynasty and the fall of the Plantagenets. Here are the major encounters.

1. The Battle of St Albans, 1455

The opening battle of the War of the Roses saw Richard Duke of York lead an army of 3,000 men on London. He had been named Lord Protector while Henry VI recovered from a bout of insanity. However, he had been dismissed as the King’s wife Margaret sensed a threat to the hopes of her own son Edward.

A modern day procession as people celebrate the Battle of St Albans.

The King’s army set up a defensive position in the town of St Albans, but a surprise attack from the Ear of Warwick overran their defences. Henry was captured and taken to London.

2. The Battle of Wakefield, 1460

After an uneasy peace between the sides, Richard had been defeated at the battle of Ludlow. He escaped to Ireland but was soon back. His allies returned in 1460 and again captured Henry at the battle of Northampton. York returned and tried to claim the throne, but was refused. Instead he would serve as Lord Protector while his sons, rather than Henry’s, would inherit.

Meanwhile the Lancastrians were gathering their strength in the north. Richard, along with Richard Nevile, Earl of Salisbury marched north where he surprisingly attacked a much larger army. Richard’s forces were overwhelmed and he was killed.

3. The Battle of Towton 1461

Despite Richard’s death at Wakefield, his son Edward had still managed to make it to London where he had claimed the crown. He still needed to win it, though and attacked the Lancastrians at the town of Towton.

His archers held an advantage. By using the snow and the wind they were able to shoot further than their adversaries. The Lancastrian response was to charge, but just as it seemed the Yorkist line was about to break the Duke of Norfolk, John Mowbray arrived with reinforcements and Edward won the day. Henry VI and the Queen fled and he was crowned formally at Westminster.

A print of the Battle of Tewkesbury where Edward of York finally defeated the Lancastrians.

4. The Battle of Tewkesbury 1471

Edward had ruled for eight years, but his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville alienated many of his key allies, chief of which was the so called King Maker the Earl of Warwick. He changed sides and swore his allegiance to the Lancastrian cause. However, he was defeated and killed just as Margaret was on her way back to England to claim her crown. The Lancastrian forces fled towards the Welsh border. They were intercepted by Edward at Tewkesbury where Margaret’s son, Edward the Prince of Wales, was killed. Edward was now in complete control.

This engraving by James Doyle in 1864 depicts the Battle of Bosworth.

5. The Battle of Bosworth Field, 1485

After the death of Edward IV power should have gone to his son Edward. However, both the young princes were killed while in the Tower of London. Though widely suspected in the killing, Edward’s brother Richard became King.
Meanwhile the new Lancastrian claimant, Henry Tudor landed in Wales to challenge Richard for the crown. They met at Bosworth where Lord Thomas Stanley and his brother Sir William switched sides from Richard to Henry. The Yorkists were defeated and Richard was killed. Henry was crowned the first of the Tudor Kings. Although a further battle occurred in Stoke, the War of the Roses had effectively come to an end.


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