Potted History of the Key Players in the Wars of the Roses


Henry VI 1540 at the National Portrait Gallery
Henry VI 1540 at the National Portrait Gallery

Henry VI was the son of the warrior king Henry V, the victor of Agincourt, but he wasn’t a warrior – he was quiet and pious. Later in life it is said that he lost his wits. He was deposed by Edward IV in 1460 and murdered in the Tower in 1471. He was the last Lancastrian king, married to Margaret of Anjou, who ruled in his stead.

Margaret of Anjou from an illuminated manuscript c. 1445 by Talbot Master
Margaret of Anjou from an illuminated manuscript c. 1445 by Talbot Master

Margaret of Anjou was the wife of Henry VI. Part of the marriage agreement was that the English gave up Maine in France. She gave birth to one son, Edward, who was killed in battle in 1471, and she lost her husband the same year. She was the mother-in-law of Anne Neville, through the latter’s marriage to her son, the future wife of Richard III.

Edward IV c.1520 copy of a lost original c.1470
Edward IV c.1520 copy of a lost original c.1470

Edward IV was the king who usurped Henry VI with the help of Richard ‘Kingmaker’ Neville, the Earl of Warwick. He was the first Yorkist king. His two eldest sons were the Princes in the Tower, and his eldest daughter became Queen of England, as the wife of Henry VII. He married Elizabeth Woodville in secret and divided the court.

Elizabeth Woodville c.1471.
Elizabeth Woodville c.1471.

Elizabeth Woodville was a member of a prominent Lancastrian family. Her mother had been a lady to Margaret of Anjou, and she herself had been married to a Lancastrian who died in battle fighting against Edward IV. Rumour has it that she met Edward IV by the side of the road under an oak tree and they were married in secret.

Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, early 17th century
Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, early 17th century

Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, was known as the ‘Kingmaker’. He tried to put Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, on the English throne, but after his death, turned his attentions to Richard’s son, the future Edward IV. He became alienated from Edward after his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville. He died at the Battle of Barnet fighting against Edward.

George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence, 1700s, by Richard Godfrey
George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence, 1700s, by Richard Godfrey

George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence, was the brother of both Edward IV and Richard III. He married Warwick’s eldest daughter, Isabel, and their son was later killed on the orders of Henry VII. It is rumoured that when Clarence was accused of treason by his brother he chose his own method of execution – drowning in a vat of Malmsey wine.

Edward V, late 16th century at the National Portrait Gallery
Edward V, late 16th century at the National Portrait Gallery

Edward V was the eldest son of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. He was one of the Princes in the Tower, along with his brother Richard, Duke of York. They were killed at some point between 1483 and 1486 after Edward’s throne was usurped by his uncle, Richard III. Several killers have been suggested, including Richard himself, Henry VII and Margaret Beaufort.

Late 16th Century portrait of Richard III, housed in the National Portrait Gallery.
Late 16th Century portrait of Richard III, housed in the National Portrait Gallery.

Richard III was the youngest brother of Edward IV. He married Warwick’s youngest daughter, Anne Neville, as her second husband. It was supposedly a love match. He usurped the English throne from his nephew, Edward V, and there were rumours that he had the Princes in the Tower killed. When his bones were found in a Leicester car park, it was found he had a bend in his spine.

Anne Neville
Anne Neville

Anne Neville married twice, first on the orders of her father, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, to Edward, the Lancastrian heir. She married secondly to the future Richard III, supposedly a love match. She gave birth to one son, Edward, but he died in 1485, and she followed him to the grave a few months later, followed after a few months by her husband.

A portrait of Margaret Beaufort. None survive from the time, but she is always shown devoutly.
A portrait of Margaret Beaufort. None survive from the time, but she is always shown devoutly.

Margaret Beaufort was the mother of Henry VII and the Tudor dynasty. She served at the courts of Henry VI, Edward IV, Edward V and Richard III. She gave birth to Henry VII at the age of just twelve. When her first husband, Edmund Tudor, died, she remarried twice more. She lived to see her grandson, Henry VIII, succeed to the throne.

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3 thoughts on “Potted History of the Key Players in the Wars of the Roses

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      Like

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