16 Key Figures in the Wars of the Roses

Emma Irving

5 mins

22 May 2019

The Wars of the Roses was a bloody contest for the throne of England, a civil war fought out between the rival houses of York – whose symbol was the white rose – and Lancaster – whose symbol was the red rose – throughout the second half of the 15th century.

After 30 years of political manipulation, horrific carnage and brief periods of peace, the wars ended and a new royal dynasty emerged: the Tudors.

Here are 16 key figures from the wars:

1. Henry VI

All was not well in King Henry’s court. He had little interest in politics and was a weak ruler, and also suffered from mental instability that plunged the kingship into turmoil.

This incited rampant lawlessness throughout his realm and opened the door for power-hungry nobles and kingmakers to plot behind his back.

King Henry VI

2. Margaret of Anjou

Henry VI’s wife Margaret was a noble and strong-willed Frenchwoman whose ambition and political savvy overshadowed her husband’s. She was determined to secure a Lancastrian throne for her son, Edward.

3. Richard, Duke of York

Richard of York—as great-grandson of King Edward III—had a strong competing claim on the English throne.

His conflicts with Margaret of Anjou and other members of Henry’s court, as well as his competing claim on the throne, were a leading factor in the political upheaval.

Richard eventually attempted to take the throne, but was dissuaded, although it was agreed that he would become king on Henry’s death. But within a few weeks of securing this agreement, he died in battle at Wakefield.

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4. Edmund Beaufort

Edmund Beaufort was an English nobleman and Lancastrian leader whose quarrel with Richard, Duke of York was infamous. In the he 1430s obtained control—with William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk— of the government of the weak king Henry VI.

But he was later imprisoned when Richard, Duke of York became ‘Lord Protector’, before dying at the Battle of St Albans.

5. Edmund, Earl of Rutland

He was the fifth child and second surviving son of Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York, and Cecily Neville. #

By the laws of primogeniture, Edmund’s father, Richard of York had a good claim to the English throne, being descended from the second surviving son of Edward III, giving him a slightly better claim to the throne than the reigning king, Henry VI, who descended from Edward’s third son.

He was killed aged just 17 at the Battle of Wakefield, possibly murdered by the Lancastrian Lord Clifford who sought revenge for the death of his own father at St Albans five years earlier..

6. Edward IV

He was the first Yorkist King of England. The first half of his rule was marred by the violence associated with the Wars of the Roses, but he overcame the Lancastrian challenge to the throne at Tewkesbury in 1471 to reign in peace until his sudden death.

7. Richard III

The alleged remains of Richard III.

Richard III was the last king of the House of York and the last of the Plantagenet dynasty. His defeat at Bosworth Field, the last decisive battle of the Wars of the Roses, marked the end of the Middle Ages in England.

He is the Machiavellian, hunchbacked protagonist of Richard III, one of William Shakespeare’s history plays – famous for supposedly murdering the two Princes in the Tower.

8. George, Duke of Clarence

He was the third surviving son of Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York, and Cecily Neville, and the brother of Kings Edward IV and Richard III.

Though a member of the House of York, he switched sides to support the Lancastrians, before reverting to the Yorkists. He was later convicted of treason against his brother, Edward IV, and was executed (allegedly by being drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine).

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9. Edward, Earl of Lancaster

Edward of Lancaster was the only son of King Henry VI of England and Margaret of Anjou. He was killed at the Battle of Tewkesbury, making him the only heir apparent to the English throne to die in battle.

10. Richard Neville

Known as Warwick the Kingmaker, Neville was an English nobleman, administrator, and military commander. The eldest son of Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury, Warwick was the wealthiest and most powerful English peer of his age, with political connections that went beyond the country’s borders.

Originally on the Yorkist side but later switching to the Lancastrian side, he was instrumental in the deposition of two kings, which led to his epithet of “Kingmaker”.

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11. Elizabeth Woodville

Elizabeth was Queen consort of England as the spouse of King Edward IV from 1464 until his death in 1483. Her second marriage, to Edward IV, was a cause célèbre of the day, thanks to Elizabeth’s great beauty and lack of great estates.

Edward was the first king of England since the Norman Conquest to marry one of his subjects, and Elizabeth was the first such consort to be crowned queen.

Her marriage greatly enriched her siblings and children, but their advancement incurred the hostility of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, ‘The Kingmaker’, and his various alliances with the most senior figures in the increasingly divided royal family.

Edward IV and Elizabeth Grey

12. Isabel Neville

In 1469 Isabel’s power-hungry father, Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick, defected from King Edward IV after his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville. Instead of ruling England through Edward, he planned a marriage for Isabel to Edward’s brother George Duke of Clarence.

George also saw benefit in the union, as the Neville family was extremely wealthy. The marriage took place in secret in Calais, as part of the rebellion of George and Warwick against Edward IV.

13. Anne Neville

Anne Neville was an English queen, the daughter of Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick. She became Princess of Wales as the wife of Edward of Westminster and then Queen of England as the wife of King Richard III.

A watercolour recreation of the Wars of the Roses.

14. Elizabeth of York

Elizabeth of York was the eldest daughter of the Yorkist king Edward IV, sister of the princes in the Tower, and niece of Richard III.

Her marriage to Henry VII was hugely popular – the union of the white rose of York and the red rose of Lancaster was seen as bringing peace after years of dynastic war.

15. Margaret Beaufort

Margaret Beaufort was the mother of King Henry VII and paternal grandmother of King Henry VIII of England. She was the influential matriarch of the House of Tudor.

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16. Henry VII

Henry VII was the King of England and Lord of Ireland from his seizure of the crown on 22 August 1485 to his death on 21 April 1509. He was the first monarch of the House of Tudor.

17. Jasper Tudor

Jasper Tudor, Duke of Bedford, Earl of Pembroke, was the uncle of King Henry VII of England and a leading architect of his nephew’s successful accession to the throne in 1485. He was from the noble Tudor family of Penmynydd in North Wales.