Wars of the Roses – they got the lot

 Wars of the Roses – they got the lot

Yes “underlying causes” mattered but genetic lottery was the real driver?

Monarchy meant they got what kings they were given.

wor2    wor3

FRANCE (Georges Braque, 1929 Three Boats, oil on canvas. 24 x 35 cm, private collection)

and ENGLAND (Fernand Léger, 1917, La partie de cartes (Playing cards), 129 x 193 cm, Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo)


This English “civil war” lasted about 23 years, ~ 1455-1487, but with only a few years of serious fighting, especially July 1460-March 1461.

Two “houses” fought, but like many good fights it was within the family, for the two sides were “cousins”, both sides descended from Edward III (d. 1377), via two of his sons, the Dukes of Lancaster (John of Gaunt, d.1399) and York (Edmund of Langley, d.1402).

Yes there were “underlying causes”, tensions, challenges, especially: 1/ the loss of lands in France, vestigial from the Norman conquest, especially in the wake of the Hundred (100) Years War (1337-1453) in France; 2/ coping with, managing restless powerful barons or lords, especially the bloody rivalry between two northern families, the Percies and the Nevilles (led by “Warwick the Kingmaker”, d.1471), and 3/ even a restless peasantry, especially in the wake of the 1348 Black Death.

But the real driver of the outcome was the genetic lottery? Compelled by a monarchical system which meant you got what kings you were given, or not given. So people, individuals, mattered.

Thus the trigger for the outbreak of conflict was the hapless Henry VI, around 1455, after his mental breakdown and after about a decade of poor government.

The capable Yorkist Edward IV (at age only 19) then prevailed over Lancastrian Henry VI, and ruled 21 years (punctuated by a short hiatus, 1470-71, when Warwick restored Henry VI), and competently. But then he died early, 1483, at a shade under 41, of “excess”.

And if the successful earlier Henry V had not died even younger, of dystentry at 35 in 1422, then his French wife Catherine of Valois would not have married the Welsh leader, Owen Tudor, and history would have been deprived of Henry Tudor, who would likely not have acceded as Henry VII in 1485 if Edward IV had not died early, meaning Shakespeare would have reflected on another version of history.


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