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            The Wars of the Roses were a series of civil wars between supporters of the rival houses of Lancaster (red rose) and York (white rose) for the throne of England. Both houses were descended directly from Edward III. The wars are generally accepted to have been fought periodically between 1455 and 1487, although there were related conflicts both before and after this time period. The war effectively ended on August 22, 1485 with the victory of the Lancastrian Henry Tudor (Henry VII) over Yorkist Richard Plantagenet (Richard III) on Bosworth Field. The Tudors ruled England and Wales for 116 years.



            The House of York descended in the paternal line from Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York, the fourth surviving son of Edward III. The maternal line descended from Lionel, Duke of Clarence, Edward III's second surviving son. Based on this lineage, the Yorkists claimed the English throne.
The House of Lancaster descended from John of Gaunt, Edward III’s third surviving son. John married Blanche of Lancaster, who brought him great estates and immense wealth. He was first named Earl of Lancaster, and later elevated to Duke of Lancaster and Duke of Aquitaine. The Lancasters claimed the throne as John was the third son, while Edmund was the fourth son. Although Lionel was the second son, his line was discounted by the Lancastrians as being of maternal descent.
Richard II was the son of Edward, the Black Prince, Edward III’s eldest son. As the heir presumptive, Richard became the heir apparent, when his father died before ascending the throne. Richard became king in 1377 at the age of ten. His chief adviser was his uncle, John of Gaunt.
In 1387, the Lords Appellant took over the government until 1389 when Richard regained control. Richard appears to have bided his time until 1397 when he took his revenge by exiling or executing the Lords Appellant. Among those Richard exiled was Henry of Bolingbroke, John of Gaunt’s legitimate son by Blanche of Lancaster. Upon John’s death in 1399, Richard confiscated his estates, disinheriting Henry of Bolingbroke.
The ascension of the Lancastrians began several months later in June, 1399, when Henry returned to England with a small force, ostensibly to regain his estates. His force rapidly grew in numbers until he was able to take the throne during Richard’s absence in Ireland. Richard was forced to surrender to Henry, now Henry IV, and was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Finally, Richard was transferred to Pontefract Castle where he died or was murdered. It is interesting to note that at the time Richard was imprisoned there, the warden of Pontefract was Thomas Swynford. Thomas was the son of Catherine Swynford with her first husband, and the stepbrother of Henry of Bolingbroke.
Henry’s son, Henry V, is best known for his defeat of the French at the Battle of Agincourt on October 25, 1415, where English and Welsh longbowmen reigned supreme. Henry married Catherine of Valois, daughter of Charles VI of France. Charles was prone to periods of mental illness, which he presumably passed to his daughter, and she in turn, passed to her son, Henry VI.
Following the death of Henry V, his widow, Catherine, had a long term affair with Owen Tudor, a Welsh courtier. It is possible they were secretly married, and were the paternal grandparents of Henry VII.
Henry VI was an infant when his father died in 1422, and England and France were both governed by protectors. Due to the efforts of Joan of Arc, Henry lost all of France that his father had gained. With the news of the loss of Bordeaux in August 1453, Henry had a mental breakdown, completely losing touch with his surroundings. This breakdown lasted for more than a year, during which time, his son, Edward, was born. Even the birth of an heir failed to rouse Henry.
The Duke of York, Richard Plantagenet, also a descendant of Edward III, became protector of the realm. It was agreed that he would become king upon Henry’s death. However, within a few weeks of this agreement being reached in 1460, Richard died in battle. His sons Edward (Edward IV) and Richard (Richard III) eventually ascended to the throne.



           Henry Tudor dared to claim the throne of England through his mother, Margaret Beaufort, a granddaughter of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and his mistress, Catherine Swynford. Although the children born to John and Catherine before their marriage in 1396 were legitimized by papal bull, they were denied the right of succession. Using this tenuous connection as the basis for his invasion of England, Henry won the throne through right of conquest, and solidified his claim by marrying the daughter of Edward IV, Elizabeth of York.

Recommended reading:
  • Catherine by Anya Seton - This book was my first introduction to the story of John of Gaunt and Catherine Swynford.
  • Wheel of Fortune by Susan Howatch - Ms. Howatch is my favorite author. She fictionalizes historical figures and events by placing them in a very different setting from the actual occurrences. This book is the story of Edward III through Henry V, set in Wales, with the manor house of Oxmoon representing England.




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  Copyright 2010-2013 Margaret Lake