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The Wars of the Roses/Causes of the Wars of the Roses/Travel to the past

The Wars of the Roses/Causes of the Wars of the Roses/Travel to the past

donderdag 25 januari 2018 17:24
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Dear Readers,
 Much has been said about the Wars of the Roses, the Englishcivil war between 1455 till 1485 (although some let it end in 1471,with the battle of Tewkesbury), when the main royal lineof the royal Lancaster House was finished by the death ofEdward of Westminster, son to King Henry VI], which nearlyexterminated the old English nobility.
 Many colourful characters passed the bloody theatre, like the determined and hardQueen Margaret of Anjou  [although not harder than the meninvolved], her great adversary Richard, Duke of York, her favouritesEdmund Beaufort, the Duke of Somerset  and William de la Pole, the Duke of Suffolk.
And not to forget ”the golden boy” ‘Edward, the fourth Duke of York ,Richard, Duke of York’s son, who later became King Edward IV, as hiscousin and ally, Richard Neville, the 16th Earl of Warwick, the”Kingmaker”, who would ultimately became Edward’s adversary and end so tragically  in the battle of Barnet.
 I myself hold the opinion, that when King Edward would have concentratedon the military (he was an extremely capable military commander) and the Earl of Warwick on ruling and diplomacy, they whould have been made a deadly double and perhapsruled England happily together, if at least Edward had not fallen ill and diedso untimely.
  And last but not least, the pious and tragic King Henry VI, who,alas, had a mental illness his tendency to forgiveness andaversion of war and bloodshed, characteristics, which were admiredin Medieval women, but not in men, especiallynot Kings andnoblemen,  had to be brave warriors, as Henry VI’s father, King Henry V.
 Although I wrote about the Wars of Roses earlier, nowI want to focus in particular on the causes and events, that led to such adisastrous period in English history and the end of theimpressive Plantagenet dynasty  [in fact also the end of Medieval England]and the beginning of the also interesting Tudor dynasty.
    Most people know, that the Wars of the Roses was a civil war inEngland between the nobles of the two rival branches of the royal family,the House of Lancaster [descended from John of Gaunt, thirdson of King Edward III ,  the family line of KingHenry VI, and the House of York [with the Duke of York, descendantof both Lionel of Antwerp , second son of King Edward III andEdmund of Langley, fourth son of King Edward III.

The House of Lancaster and the House of York werebothbranches  of the House of Plantagenet.
The Lancaster branch consisted of King Henry VI, descendant of Johnof Gaunt [from his marriage with Blanche of Lancaster,as the Beauforts [descendants of John of Gauntand his mistress, Katharine Swynford , whom he later married]
A very important member of the Beaufort family was Edmund Beaufort,Duke of Somerset, later the bitter enemy of the Duke of York. The price of the fighting?
The throne of England, of course, which both the Beauforts asRichard, Duke of York claimed, especially after the  insanity of Henry VI showeditselfalthough then they were involved in a bitter fight already.Through his mother, the Duke of Yorkhad a superior claim to the throne, even above Henry VI, whowas descending of Henry IV, the usurper King , which Iwill explain below.
  But however dynastic rivalry played a role, is too simplisticto point it out as a major cause of the War of Roses. The major causes are more complicated

   The great losses in the Hundred Years War and the subsequentsocial problems.The diminishing of the royal mystic authority bythe usurping of thrones.
The weak reign of Henry VI. lie in the great losses in the Hundred Yearswar, the diminishing of royal authority by usurping a throne.and the weak  reign of King Henry VI.
 But first the deep rooted enmity, caused by variousclaims to the throne.King Edward III had five sons, The Black Prince  [originallynamed Edward of Woodstock], Lionelof Antwerp , John of Gaunt [first Duke of Lancaster], Edmund of  Langley [first Duke of York]  and Thomas of Woodstock. When King Edward III died , his grandson Richard II  [son of the Black Prince]inherited the throne.
However, his other sons had children too, like Lionelof Antwerp, John of Gaunt, Edmund of Langley and Thomas of Woodstock. Inheritance right stated, that the rights to the throne wentfrom the descendants of the first son of Edward III, then [whenthey remained childless] the second son, then the third and so on.
 So when Richard II should die childless the descendants of Lionelof Antwerp, the second son of Edward III, would inherit the throne,And in that spirit Richard II acted.
During his reign, he appointed Roger Mortimer, grandsonof Lionel of Antwerp[through his mother, Philippa Plantagenet],as heir presumptive.However, he died a year before Richard II.
When Richard II was deposed of the throneby his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke [the son of John of Gaunt] and was probably murdered,Henry Bolingbroke usurped the throne and became thenew king, Henry IV.The reign of the House of Lancaster  started.By usurpation.
 Not only Henry IV deposed Richard II, he also ignored the rightsof Edmund Mortimer, who, as the son of the late Roger Mortimer,had inherited the heir presumptive right.   Henry IV was only the son of the third son of Edward III, John of Gaunt,
  AND PAY ATTENTIONThe Roger Mortimer case had a direct connection withRichard, Duke of York , who would fight a bitter fightwith the House of Lancaster for the English throne.Because through his mother, Anne Mortimer , daughterof Roger Mortimer, he hada superior claim to the English throne.
He, his mother and Roger Mortimer weredescendants of Lionel of Antwerp , second son of King Edward III. Can you still follow it?
Yes, this explanation is necessary, otherwise the wholehistory is unclear.
 A medieval king was believed tohave given his authority by Godand anointing a King was an almost holy ritual.  So deposing a king, as Henry IV did with Richard IIand also passing the heir to the throne [Edmund Mortimer,son of the late presumptive heir, Roger Mortimer], wasa serious business, not undertaken lightly. Usurpation [replacing an anointed Kingby somebody else]  was a dangerous thing,  foreverytime it happened, the authority ofthe monarchy weakened. Indeed, the monarchy was not very stable under Henry IV,with subsequent plots and rebellions.and that usurpation thing, which happened in Englandbefore, lay the basis for the assumption, thatreplacing a King was not such a big deal, whichplayed a key role in the Wars of the Roses.
 But there was more.Because when it was only a matter of claiming the throne,at which Richard, Duke of York and his maternalfamily, the Mortimers, had a superior right, why notclaim that right earlier?
First there was that usurpation thing of course andthe fact, that Edmund of Mortimer was only a minor.And then, especially under Henry V, son of Henry IV,the monarchy was very successful, especiallymilitary, in the Hundred Years war with France.
Even when Henry V died in 1422 and baby Henry VIbecame King [and was at his weakest] there was no signof challenging the throne.
 But after being so victorious in  the Hundred Years War, disaster [for the English] finally came.First Jeanne d’Arc had military successes and made the dauphincrowned in 1431 ,as King Charles VII , an enormousrevival of French struggle for liberation, then piece by piece the English lost French possessions. One of the reasons laid in the reign of Henry VI , no warrior Kingat all, who had no interest in occupying France anymore andwanted peace.
This was shown by his marriage with Margaret of Anjou, on conditionto give up Maine and Anjou . And on that point, two Court factions were formed, but not yeton York/Lancaster basis.Queen Margaret, Lord Suffolk and Lord Somerset [EdmundBeaufort, Lancaster House] and Cardinal Beaufort [LancasterHouse] supported this peace policy,However,  Richard Duke of York and the uncle of the King,Humphrey of Gloucester  [Lancaster House] were fiercelyagainst it and took the hard line in defending English possessionsin France.
 Tensions rose and eventually it would turn out in a fightto the death between the Duke of York and Edmund Beaufort, Duke ofSomerset , who was a farvourite of Margaret of Anjou.
 The agreement, to give Main and Anjou back to France,had big consequences.With the subsequent losses of other territories inFrance, especially Normandy, led to rising unpopularityof the monarchy, since it was associated with the Dukesof Somerset and Suffolk, who were extremely unpopularbecause of their peace policy with France.English refugees [people who had lived in theEnglish territories of France] arrived, as English troops,who had often not been paid, spreading socialunrest in Southern England.
There was also big discontent of English landowners  about the financial losses resulting from the loss of their continental holdings.
 To intensify the tensions, the Jack Cade rebellionbroke out.The Jack Cade Rebellion stemmed from local grievances concerned about the corruption and abuse of power surrounding the king’s regime and his closest advisors.
And who were his closest advisors?Again, Somerset and Suffolk.Other causes were the considerable debts England suffered becauseof the costly war with France and since Normandy was lost[after Maine and Anjou] many people feared for a French invasion.In ”The Complaints of the Poor Commons of Kent”against corruption and extortion by the Kings councillors.Most rebels were peasants, craftsmen and shopkeepers. Initially succesful, Cade marched to London, but afterlooting and plundering in Londen, they were driven outby the citizens, who were initially sympathetic. The uprising, that began in may, ended somewhere in july, whenCade was arrested, despite he had been pardoned first. The link with the War of Roses is the demands of the rebels,to bring the Duke of York [who was sent to Ireland as King’sLieutenant, which many considered as an exile]back to England and to remove the Duke of Suffolk,whom they considered a traitor.
I quote from The Complaints of the Poor Commons of Kent:”His true commons desire that he will remove from him all the false progeny and affinity of the Duke of Suffolk and to take about his noble person his true blood of his royal realm, that is to say, the high and mighty prince the Duke of York, exiled from our sovereign lord’s person by the noising of the false traitor, the Duke of Suffolk, and his affinity. Also to take about his person the mighty prince, the Duke of Exeter, the Duke of Buckingham, the Duke of Norfolk, and his true earls and barons of his land, and he shall be the richest king Christian.”
 Part of the outbreak of the Wars ofthe  Roses lies in theperson and reign of King Henry VI.King Henry VI  had suited well as a monk, doing gooddeeds and charity, but not as a ruler and a King.He was generous, pious, forgiving and didn’t likewar or violence.Not suited to a medieval King.
He was in everything the opposite of hiswarrior father, King Henry V. Alas he had psychic problems, which resulted in variousnervous breakdowns, with as a consequence, that rivalnoblemen sought to control the crown.That was not so strange, since an incapacitated Kingmeant anarchy and unrest, and a strong governmentwas needed.
 Untill 1453 [when his only son was born], he had no children,what made the Duke of York [who had inherited the Mortimerclaim to the throne after the death of his maternal uncle,Edmund Mortimer  in 1425]  his heir presumptive.
 When King Henry VI was incapacitated, York becameProtector of the Realm  and Chief Councillor.He did a pretty good job in ruling the country, untillHenry VI wake up again [he was in a sort ofcoma], reversed York’s action, Somerset in poweragain and the country prepared for civil war.
According to the historian Robin Storey, “If Henry’s insanity was a tragedy, his recovery was a national disaster”
Unwisely the King was encouraged by his wife Margaret ofAnjou, who was a strong opposer of York, aligningherself with men like the Duke of Suffolkand the Duke of Somerset. The King was not able to control the rivalling noble factions[York/Somerset], nor other conflicts as the Percy/Neville feud,Queen Margaret of Anjou unwisely favoured Somerset, embitteringthe Yorkists, tensions flow to extremes, all hell burst out.A civil war. In his very interesting documentary about the causes of theWar of Roses, Marc Goacher rightly points out:A situation of an undermighty King and  overmighty subjects.  CAUSES OF THE WARS OF THE ROSESKING HENRY VI CHOOSES SIDES What not has been pointed out thouroughly, that King Henry VI,on purpose or not, was not ”above the rivalling parties”,but became party himself.
At first he took sides with the peace party in the French war, consistingthe Duke of SuffolkDuke of Somerset  and Queen Margaret of Anjou,against the ”war party”, consisting Humphrey of Gloucester, uncle tothe King and the Duke of York.In 1445 Henry sent the Duke of York to Ireland instead of prolonginghis function as Lieutenant in Francewhich could be considered as a sortof exile.
And in 1455, after the Duke of York ruled the country two years whenHenry was in coma, he dismissed the Duke of York, puttingSomerset in charge again.Result:Open war. And  Henry being a Lancaster himself, like the Dukeof Somerset [whose grandfather had been the half brother ofHenry IV, sharing the same father, John of Gaunt], quickly thewhole thing became not only Somerset against York,but Somerset AND the King against York, added the preference ofMargaret of Anjou for Somerset.
 In the first military confrontation in the First Battle of St AlbansDuke of Somerset was killed, the Yorkists were victoriousand King Henry VI came into the hands of the victoriousYorks.Fighting went on and on, when than one side, than the otherwon.
After a final attempt for reconciliation, the socalled´´Loveday´´ in 1458, fighting embittered and finallyat instigation of Margaret of Anjou, the Duke of York and hisallies,Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury  (brother of his wifeCicely Neville , and Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, the ´´Kingmaker´´ (the son of Lord Salisbury), suffered attainder, which meantthat their lands were reverted to the king and their liveswere forfeited, the gravest punishment for noblemen.  In 1460, the victorious York did an attempt in Parliamentto be acclaimed as King, which failed.However, he obtained the Act of Accord , meaning,that King Henry VI remained King, but that after his death,York and his heirs would rule.
This excluded Edward of Westminster, the son of theKing, which infuriated Margaret of Anjou.The struggle went on. At 1460, the Duke of York was killed in the battle ofWakefield, with his second son, Edmund, Earl ofRutland, as his brother in law, Lord Salisbury.It is assumed, that Rutland was executed after the battle.Certainly, Lord Salisbury was executed afterwards. But the tides were turning.York´s eldest son Edward, then Earl of March, was victoriousin the Battle of Townton  and became King Edward IV. Margaret of Anjou left the country (Henry VI was inYorkist hands and yearlong prisoner ofthe Tower) for exile in France, did a last attemptto conquer the throne (together with former Yorkistally, Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick, who choose herside out of conflict with Edward IV, but wasfinally defeated at Tewkesbury in 1471,where her son Edward of Westminster was killed and shewas imprisoned.
According some sources, he was executed after the battle. Shortly after that, Henry VI died in prison,probably murdered.Margaret was imprisoned for some years,ransomed by the French King Louis XI  anddied  in poverty in 1482.A sad and tragic end.
 Edward IV died in 1483, his brother Richard IIIsucceeded him, disinheriting Edward IV´s eldestson and heir, Edward V.He and his brother disappeared in the Tower,probably murderd, although it is not clear, whetherRichard III was involved.
 Rebellion against his reign took place, and 1485, Richard III was defeated in the Battle ofBosworth  by the later King Henry VII ,son of Margaret Beaufort  of the Houseof Lancaster, (niece ofthe Duke of Somerset  and descendant ofJohn of Gaunt) and Edmund Tudor.
 The victorious Henry VII married Elisabethof York , daughter of King Edward IV.They became the parents of King Henry VIII. So in a way, the House of Lancaster (the Beaufort branche) andthe House of York were united.The Tudor era began.Interesting is the Tudor emblem, a Red Rose with aWhite Rose covered in it. And through their granddaughter Elisabeth of York, all subsequent English monarchs, beginning withHenry VIII, are descendants of the Duke of Yorkand his wife Cecily.
 The way history is written [apart from the main undeniablefacts as ”there was a war” or ”that king ruled”] is importantin giving a positive or negative image of the persons involved.In the case of Margaret of Anjou, her image is very muchcoloured by Shakespeare´s play Henry VI, whereshe is portrayed as a ruthlless, murderous, vindictive and extraordinary cruelperson.
The Duke of York, in the contrary, was pictured as chivalrous, manganimous and brave, sides he undoubtedly posessed, but leadinga fight to the death against the Beaufort branche ofthe House of Lancaste first, and later openly against King Henry VI, whomhe forced to disinherit his own son, in favour of Yorkand his heirs, he must have been hard and ruthless, too.A warlord, like his Beaufort enemies.
 Coming back to Shakespeare’s Henry VIAfter the Battle of Wakefield, where the Duke of Yorkwas defeated, Margaret of Anjou personally stabssurviving York to death, after first humiliating and torturing him, showing hima handkerchief with the blood of his executed sonEdmund, Duke of Rutland, on it.
When he is dead, she orders to put his head on a pikeand to be crowned with a paper crown, to mockhis rights to the throne.
 That horrible image of Margaret of Anjou was shownin the work of many historians and influenced generationsand generations, including myself.
I myself  read in old Dutch history books, that Margaret ofAnjou personally ordered to put the heads of York his sonand brother in law, on pikes, tarnishing York´s head witha paper crown. But historical  fact is, that this is not altogether true.Margaret of Anjou could not have ordered the executionof York and the paper crown thing or torturing Yorkbecause she was not present at Wakefield, but in Scotland,asking Queen Regent Mary of Guelders military aid againstthe Yorkists.Modern historical investigation shows that.Probably York would have suffered considerably, when shecould have lain her hands upon him, but that´s ofno importance, because she did not. Moreover, most historians assume, that York has beenkilled in the Battle of Wakefield.
 The bad  image Shakespeare had of Margaret of Anjouis probably inspired by the picture of medieval women, whowere supposed to be mild, soft, forgiving, obedient wivesand caring mothers.Being a noblewoman and certainly a Queen, good works,charity and being  forgiving were other characteristics.Often it happened, that when the King conquereda city, his Queen plead for mercy of the citizens, whichas a rule could be granted. Women, who took a firm stand in men´s affairs (as politicsand war was seen in the Middle Ages) were viewed as´´unnatural´´ and ´´she wolves´´ 
 Therefore, apart from her personality, Margaret of Anjouprovoked little sympathy for her active politicalrole, which she probably not would have fullfilled,whether Henry VI was capable of ruling and there wereno rival branches in the royal family.Had she been the wife of warrior King Henry V, forexample, she probably would go in history unnoticed,a loyal wife, doing good works and trying to softenthe harder sides of the King sometimes.
 But her circumstances were extraordinary, with an incpacitatedhusband, a growing unpopularity (being a French Queen, allgningherself with unpopular nobles like Edmund of Beaufort, Dukeof Somerset and the Duke of Suffolk) and childless until 1453, standingagainst powerful men like the Duke of York, claiming the throne,with a superior claim indeed.
 As I see it, it was a difficult situation for her and when she reallywanted to play´´ the Game of thrones´´, she had to be tough. At the other side, her character limited her possibilities.Being a fierce woman, who saw no middleground, she demonizedthe Duke of York in an early stage (also  by her alliance with hisarch enemy the Duke of Somerset) and didn´t see the necessity ofa strong reign, since her husband was not able to do it.
The fact, that the Duke of York should be regent or Protectorof the Realm seemed natural considering his right tothe throne, but soon enough Margaret considered allhis action in a treacherous light, with escalating consequences. So the aversion of men for women taking power, combinedwith her uncompromising attitude, caused many of theproblems.
 There were two sort of critics on Margaret of Anjou The fact, that she was a womanHer uncompromising character and ruthless acts In my view,Shakespeare and  many elder historianswere especially influenced, not by cruel or unreasonableacts of Margaret of Anjou, but the fact, she was a woman.Admitted, she was hard and uncomprfomising, ordering executionsand forfeited her adversies of all their lands (which gave Yorkno alternative than eventually demanding the crown for himselfwith the Act of Accord), butshe did no worse than the men in that time.
I refer to the bloody executions on the order of Henry V, followingthe Battle of Agincourt, yet making him a war hero. Otherwise, you can condemn or criticize her hard and uncompromisingcharacter, alienating many and driving her enemies to the pointof no return.
But that is another stand than critic, because she is a woman. Considering the Middle Ages and later, that is what can be expected,but in present days actions have to be valuated, not whethermale or female. In each case unacceptable are the myths about Margaret,presenting as historical facts.
She was not present at the Battle of Wakefield, not orderingYork´s execution and her troops plundered and looted,but no more than the Yorkists did.And concerning her hardness and cruelty, honestyurges me to say, that she was hard and gave orders toexecutions after the battle (however the Yorkists did that too),but she also spared prisoners of war.At least three Yorkist prisoners of war, including John of Neville, The Earlof Warwick’s younger brother, were spared execution, probably asone of her commanders, the Duke of Somerset (son of Edmund Beaufort,York’s bitter enemy) feared that his own younger brother who was in Yorkist hands might be executed in reprisal.But that’s speculation.Fact is, she spared his life.
 So in her hardness, she had outburst of mercy too.In fact, she was no better or worse as the warrior men, Lancasteror York. But hardness and cruelty are no characteristics I can valuate,especially (I admit that) when there are women involved.Apart from that, following the timeline of events, it seemedto me, that, not denying the responsibility of the men involved,especially the Dukes of York and Somerset, she was more vengeful,embittered and prejudiced, pushing her policies to extremes, whena peaceful solution still possible.And that has nothing to do with a man/woman thing, but with character. So although her hardness is not sympathetic to me,one must pity her fate.Loosing both husband and especially son, for whom shefought so hard and died in poverty.
 You travelled with me to the past again, meeting themain players in the Wars of the Roses, their ambitions,dilemma´s and struggle.It was a disastrous time for the ancient English nobility,nearly terminating each other. It was a hard fight, from brother against brother(King Edward´s own brother George, Dukeof Clarence, rebelled against him) and familieswere divided in their loyalties to either Lancaster andYork, or switched sides. I have made an overwiew of the causes ofthe Wars of Roses, but especially wantedto focus one of the main players, Queen Margaretof Anjou, who is often villified as one of themain causes of the conflict. Although she played a major role in her favouritismof the Duke of Somerset and apparentdislike of the Duke of York,  I think, the warswould have broken out even when she had beenless outspoken in her sympathies and antipathies. Because the conflict was seeded by other causes already,the claims to the throne of Lancaster and York,the incapacitation of King Henry VI, the losses of the Hundred Year´s war with France, with as a consequencesocial unrest in England.
 The other villification of her is the reproach, thatEdward of Westminsterwas not the son ofKing Henry VI.
There is (as so often) no proof whatsoever andwe´ll never know, but the accusation of adulterywas the Medieval way to villify women of nobilityor noble blood.
 And at least, her cruelty was mentioned.I don´t deny, she was a hard woman, who orderedexecutions and that´s a dark sideof her indeed, as not ordering to remove thedisplayed heads of the Duke of York, his son andhis brother in lawLord Salisbury [father of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, the Kingmaker] but no worse then men in her
environment., which not excuses her behaviour, of course.  As to the ordering  the executions of the Duke of York, his sonand his brother in law Lord Salisbury  at the battle of Wakefield or ´´challenging the Dukeof York to fight with her at Wakefield ¨
In contrary to popular allegations and some olderbooks, that, isnot possible, since Margaret was in Scotland at  thattime , asking Queen Regent Mary of Gueldersfor military support. And regardless of one sympathises with her ornot, her end was tragic, losing her husband andonly son.  The Wars of the Roses were bloody and disastrous tothe old English nobility, but a remarkable periodin English history, the end of Medieval England, withhorrible events, but colourful players.
 Thanks for travellingwith me  to the past again.
  Astrid Essed

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