The Wars of the Roses were not a civil war but a dynastic struggle for the crown combined with regional disputes between landed magnates. During thirty years or so of upheaval England went through many complex social and political changes. In many ways the rise of the Woodvilles from common stock to landed gentry reflects these changes. The wars end with the rise of the Tudor dynasty and the dawning of the renaissance in England.

Here the story of the Woodvilles and of the Wars of the Roses will be shown together. The Woodvilles will be shown in yellow type and the wars will be shown in pale blue

It is important that you forget everything in the shakespeare plays about this period that you may have read!!


The Characters

Henry VI
Edward IV
Richard III
Elizabeth Woodville
Anthony Woodville
Richard Neville (Warwick)
Henry VII

The Beginning

Henry IV became King in 1399 upon the death of his cousin Richard II. Having lost in conflict with Henry, Richard after being forced to sign his abdication was confined to the Tower and then to Pontefract Castle where he died through "neglect", possibly constructive neglect. His skeleton was examined in 1871 but showed no marks of violence. Starvation was the most likely cause, although this has never been proven.

Henry IV was considered a usurper by many. Richard II was the son of the famous Edward 'Black Prince of Wales', his grandfather being Edward III. Henry IV's father was another son of Edward III, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. Henry IV was also known as Henry (of) Bolingbroke (as he was born at Bolingbroke Castle). Henry's mother was Blanche, heiress to the considerable Lancaster estates (her father was another Henry who was the 1st Duke of Lancaster), thus he as also known as Henry of Lancaster - see, simple.

Henry IV is, therefore, the first King of England from the Lancaster branch of the Plantagenets. The House of Lancaster has nothing to do with geographic Lancashire, and the House of York nothing to do with Yorkshire. In fact during the Wars of the Roses the majority of Yorkshire was Lancastrian, while the Yorkist pulled much of their support from the midlands and the Marches.

On seizing the crown Henry IV also ignored the claims of the Mortimer family who were descended from another of Edward III's sons, Lionel Duke of Clarence. Lionel had a daughter called Phillippa who married Edmund Mortimer. Their son Roger married Eleanora or Alianore Holland (daughter of the earl of Kent). Of their children, Anne married Richard Plantagenet, Earl of Cambridge (another of Henry IV's cousins) and Edmund died childless of the plague in Ireland having been partially involved in the Hotspur/Owain Glyndwr revolt, and having informed on

., and . This gave the Mortimers claim through the female line from Lionel Duke of Clarence. Richard and Anne had a son who later became Richard Duke of York, who ultimately became the head of the Yorkist faction.. This set the scene for many years of hostility.

Succeeding his father in 1413 Henry V led an invasion of France, finally defeating the French at Agincourt in 1415. It is during the reign of Henry V that our story begins.

The unlawful behavior of these later rebels can be seen as having been directly inspired by Jack Cade: he participated in similar behaviors during the initial riot (Bohna 563). These minor revolts did produce an amount of deaths and caused a shifting atmosphere of peace and then rebellion in England for years after the initial Jack Cade Rebellion. Also, the larger battles over the crown of England, known as the Wars of the Roses, were clearly inspired by views of Cade’s rebels, especially since one of the requests in Cade’s manifesto, the Requests by the Captain of the Great Assembly of Kent, outright informs the King that the mass of rebels and followers wished for the Duke of York to be returned from exile and to take the place of the corrupt Dukes under King Henry VI’s rule (Simons 179).

Richard Woodville (Wydville)

The rise of the Woodville family begins with the promotion of Richard Woodville. A squire to Henry V, Richard from Grafton Northamptonshire was a 'commoner'. Richard was noted for his bravery as at the Battle of Agincourt, he kept the king's lucky totem of a squirrel's tail tied to a lance "always within sight of the king" during the fighting. When Henry V unexpectedly died in 1422 the crown passed to his 9 month old son (Henry VI). Having Served Henry V, and John Duke of Bedford (Henry V's brother) Richard earned the title of Constable of the Tower of London in 1425.

A good year for Richard Woodville, 1425 was also significant for Richard Duke of York. His claim to the crown through the Mortimers had come of age for a number of reasons! Firstly Edmund Mortimer died, leaving Richard as the main alternate throne claimant


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thanks to Walter Cassimon for help with this article