The Cost of Bad Kingship During the Wars of the Roses

This is something I wrote while studying at Oxford. It was written in April 2018. I will note that I posted this on my old blog. It has been moved here as it fits better thematically.


The number one way to remind a country how important good leadership is is when your country’s leader does not want to do or is extremely bad at doing their job. This is true for the modern-day, as well as the past. It was especially true for England in the 15th century. Due to complex political structures, a bad kingship can cause a decrease in good living conditions, rebellions, and wars, which ultimately leads to death and destruction. Four kings ruled during the period 1450-1500. Each king caused death and destruction during their rule. However, the way some of this death and destruction was dealt out is more taboo than others, leading to certain kingships being overthrown sooner than others.



Portrait of Henry VI | Source: Wikipedia Commons


The first king who ruled during this fifty-year period was Henry VI. Overall, Henry VI was not a good king. However, this was not entirely his fault. Henry VI “succeeded his father in 1422 aged just nine months” (Horrox 234). To be a good king, one needs experience. A bad king does not have enough experience to know what they are doing. Nor do they care enough to try to either get the experience or ask several people who do have the same or similar experience. At nine months, a child does not even understand the concept of object permanence; let alone how to rule a kingdom. It also did not help that because Henry VI was crowned at such a young age, he had no frame of reference of how a good king should act, or rather, how a king should not act. In his minority, Henry VI could only go off of what his counselors told him. However, as he physically started to approach adulthood, it slowly “dawned on those around the king that he was never going to grow up” (Carpenter 92). Essentially, Henry VI either would not or could not be king. Either way, Henry VI’s lack of emotional maturity at this time caused “a group of grasping courtiers to take hold of his government” (Carpenter 93).

This ultimately led to a series of bad decisions and England was thrown into disarray in 1450, when the country lost Normandy, the duke of Suffolk was impeached, and Jack Cade’s rebellion occurred (Horrox 231). After these disasters, Henry VI’s counsel and court could no longer make it seem as though everything was fine with the king. After this truth was revealed to the public, “the court deepened its alienation from the realm, an alienation…a political opponent sought to exploit” (Harriss 7). It also did not help that in 1453, while the country was still facing these problems, “the recovery was fatally weakened by Henry’s mental collapse” (Horrox 231). Needless to say, one cannot be a good king when one is suffering from a nervous breakdown.

Another reason Henry VI’s kingship was terrible was because he did not like conflict. A good king cannot be afraid of conflict, especially in its early stages before it escalates into something deadly. Henry VI had a tendency to wait. After Richard of York argued that because of his ancestry he should have the throne, Henry VI somewhat agreed, telling York that he had to recognize him as king, but after Henry VI died, York and his descendants could have the throne (Crowland Chronicle 111-113). By trying to avoid conflict, Henry VI only caused more. He seemed to have completely forgotten that he already had an heir. This was a fatal mistake on Henry VI’s part. His proper heir would be killed in the battle of Tewkesbury while fighting for the Lancasters for the throne (Crowland Chronicle 127).



Portrait of Edward IV | Source: Wikipedia Commons


In contrast, Edward IV can be considered a relatively good king. Christine Carpenter even goes as far as to say, “he should be acknowledged as one of the greatest of English kings” (205). When comparing the second half of Edward IV’s reign to the entirety of Henry VI’s reign this is a safe statement to say. Unlike Henry VI, Edward IV was not afraid of conflict. After all, he had usurped Henry VI as king when Henry VI could not do a good job. Another way Edward IV was not afraid to get his hands dirty was when he managed to mend a large feud happening between noble families in the 1470s (Carpenter 216). When dealing with local conflicts Edward IV had the extremely valuable trait of being “prepared to change his mind…when he decided that he was backing the wrong party…once he realized that he was acting…against local wishes” (Carpenter 194).

However, he did make a few errors, especially in his early years, which resulted in fatalities. These fatalities can be easily chalked up to “the inexperience of youth” (Carpenter 92). When Edward IV first took the throne, he was eighteen years old and eighteen-year-olds are not known for their decision-making skills. One such mistake Edward IV made that ended up causing a domino effect into war was his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville. Elizabeth Woodville was not considered good queen material. She was the daughter of a knight, thus not high up in the social hierarchy, a widow with children, thus not a virgin, and she was English when most kings at the time married foreign women for political reasons (Laynesmith).

By secretly marrying Elizabeth Woodville, Edward IV ended up isolating his kingmaker, Warwick, who had arraigned Edward IV to marry a French princess (Carpenter 170). However, in the Crowland Chronicle Continuations, the author argues that it was not just Edward IV’s marriage that insulted Warwick. It was a combination of the queen “in accordance with the king’s will, arraign[ing] the marriage of [some family members] and many other affairs likewise, against the earl’s will” (115). Either way, Edward IV insulted Warwick and it is generally not a good idea to insult the person who made you king, for they can try to take your crown away, which is exactly what Warwick attempted to do. Warwick failed, but it resulted in several battles and many deaths.

Even so, Edward IV brought stability back to the country, even if it was extremely fragile (Horrox 232). However, this bloodstained stability was smashed to pieces thanks to his brother, Richard III. While both Richard III and Edward IV were usurpers and their crowns were gained by spilling blood, Richard III is widely to be considered an extremely bad king, even though “as king, it cannot be denied Richard did his best” (Carpenter 210). Unlike Edward VI, Richard III did not overthrow a regime that was slowly but surely tearing the country apart. Instead, after his brother’s death, Richard III was made “protector of the kingdom” (Crowland Chronicle 157) and as a result, he took the throne from Edward IV’s heir. Like Edward IV, Richard III killed the person who he usurped the crown from. However, Edward IV’s two heirs were children and killing children, especially the children of a beloved king, is generally frowned upon. Thus, Richard III was not particularly popular from the start of his rule.



Portrait of Richard III | Source: Wikipedia Commons


It should also be noted, when one is a usurper, the survivors of the previous dynasty and their allies need to be paid off or eliminated. Unfortunately for Richard III, “there was no relying on the loyalty of men who have been bought” (Carpenter 211). This caused a chicken and egg scenario where Richard III had enough resources for those loyal to him, but not enough for those who could be bought. Like Henry VI, Richard III “lacked…the political mastery without which the [kingship] was ultimately impossible” (Carpenter 211).

Following the fates of the kings before him, Richard III was usurped as well. He was killed in the battle of Bosworth and Henry VII took over the throne. Like the kings before him, Henry VII had claimed he was the rightful heir due to his ancestry. However, to further solidify his claim for the crown, Henry VII married Edward IV’s eldest daughter, Elizabeth of York as he had promised he would do if he defeated Richard III (Laynesmith 36). Henry VII was also considered a good king. His kingship “rested on a sound financial basis, on putting the nobles firmly in their place and on effective order, secured by wise legislation and the disciplining of nobility” (Carpenter 220-221). In short, Henry VII was the exact opposite of Henry VI.

In the end, good kingship was extremely important during 1450-1500, mostly because there was a huge lack of it. Kings either did not have the mental capabilities needed to rule, the good decision making needed to rule, the charisma, or the slightly better ancestry their rivals had. However, the Wars of the Roses really can be traced back to one person: Henry VI. Because Henry VI was mentally incapable of good kingship, either from general immaturity, mental illness, or perhaps even an undiagnosed mental disability that hindered his capacities, one event lead to another and the end result was a conflict that lasted nearly fifty years and cost many people their wealth, land, and lives.




Carpenter, Christine. The Wars of the Roses: Politics and the Constitution in England, C.1437-1509. Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Harriss, G.L. “The Court of the Landcastrian Kings.” The Landcastrian Court: Proceedings of the 2001 Harlaxton Symposium , edited by J. Stratford, 2003, pp. 1–18.

Horrox, Rosemary. “England: Kingship and the Political Community, 1377-c. 1500.” A Companion to Britain in the Later Middle Ages, Blackwell Publishing, 2003, pp. 224–241.

Laynesmith, J. The Last Medieval Queens: English Queenship 1445-1505. 2004.

Pronay, Nicholas, and John Cox, editors. The Crowland Chronicle Continuations: 1459-1486. Alan Sutton Publishing, 1986.





The Tyranny of Richard III and Henry VII

This is something I wrote while studying at Oxford. It was written in May 2018.

From ancient times to the modern-day, populations of countries have all had their fair share of tyrants. However, what is one person’s tyrant is another person’s fair and good leader. So what exactly makes a leader a tyrant? The not so easy answer is that it depends. In medieval England, the country had two obvious tyrants rule back to back: Richard III and Henry VII. Their blatant disregard for the law as well as social norms was what caused the two men to be considered tyrants during their respective kingships. After all, there is nothing more frustrating for the people than to be ruled by a lawmaker who does not think the very laws that they created do not apply to them.



Late 16th Century Portrait of Richard III | Anonymous Artist | Source: Wikipedia Commons


Richard III gained the throne through disregard for what was considered the status quo as well as breaking the law. While nearly all of the kings of the fifteenth century were either usurped, a usurper, or both, it was still frowned upon to depose a reigning king. In fact, the medieval idea of tyranny relied on the idea that “if it were believed that [the king] came to the throne by force and without right, then he would be judged a tyrant” (Pollard 152). This was certainly true for Richard III. He did not seem to particularly care about the status quo and usurped his young nephew, Edward V. While usurping a bad king has many risks associated with it, usurping the heir of a beloved king before the new king gives you a reason to, is always a bad idea. Combined with the fact Richard III used deception to gain access to Edward V by suggesting the two travel to London together “and the prince’s route was modified accordingly” (Horrox 97). This shows just how much Richard III did not think the rules applied to him.

Furthermore, by gaining access to the new king, it gave Richard III the chance to arrest Edward V’s “stepbrother Richard Grey and his chamberlain Sir Thomas Vaughan” (Horrox 97) as well as earl Rivers and “other Woodville kinsmen and connections [to] Edward V” (Ross 63). The people arrested were imprisoned and eventually executed (Ross 63). Like his father before him, Richard III manipulated the system and was named protector of the realm. Richard III, still ignoring social norms, had Edward V and his younger brother, Richard of York, declared bastards, thus disqualifying them for the throne, and put into the Tower of London (Mancini 97). Richard III then crowned himself king. This was all within weeks of Edward IV’s death.

Now, according to the contemporary source, the Vitellius AXVI Chronicle, after Richard III “had vnto the crowne, excityng the people to take hym for their kyng” (190-191). Confirming this is another contemporary source, Dominic Mancini’s Usurpation of Richard the Third where it is written that on the day of Richard III’s coronation he went “passing through the midst of the city attended by the entire nobility and a display of royal honours…he greeted all onlookers, who stood along the streets, and [Richard III] received their acclamations” (Mancini 101). So what changed? What was the event that changed the public perception of Richard III? Well, when people slowly realized that no one had seen Edward V and Richard of York for a while Richard III’s popularity began to free fall, especially when rumors flourished about Richard III murdering the princes (Ross 99). While usurpers are known to kill the king who came before them because “to keep alive a politically dangerous person, and especially a deposed king, was an act of folly” (Ross 98), murdering children, heir to the throne or not, is generally not looked upon in a good light. The rumors that Richard III had murdered Edward V and Richard of York would poison the rest of Richard III’s reign and cause several rebellions. He was especially unpopular in the south of England where they considered Richard III to have “rode roughshod over the sentiments and interests of a substantial part of the English political nation” for usurping the throne as well as trying to rule over the south of England (Pollard 162).

However, this did not mean everyone hated Richard III. He was still quite popular “with the city of York and with the north as a whole” (Pollard 153). Anne Crawford argues that the only reason Richard III was popular in the north was because of his marriage to Anne Neville, the daughter of the earl of Warwick (138). However, even after Anne died of what was probably tuberculosis—though there was a rumor Richard III poisoned her (Crawford 138), thus furthering the idea of being a tyrant—Richard III still had loyal northern followers. This is important because even after his death at the Battle of Bosworth, Richard III had Yorkist supporters who would rather another Yorkist be on the throne than Henry Tudor. This, of course, caused problems for Henry VII when he was crowned king of England.



1505 Portrait of Henry VII | Anonymous Artist | Source: Wikipedia Commons


Like Richard III, Henry VII also did not start his kingship out on a good note. He had usurped Richard III and as a usurper, he would have more difficulty keeping the throne than a king who did not usurp the throne. And he most certainly did. Richard III had not killed every Yorkist heir to the throne. There were several people who could be considered a more proper ruler due to their lineage. These people were “Edward, earl of Warwick, Margaret Beaufort, and even John II of Portugal” (Cunningham 47). Luckily for Henry VII, his “right to the throne was…not addressed by parliament” (Cunningham 47). Unluckily for Henry VII, Yorkist supporters did not agree. To them, he was still a tyrant due to the fact there were other more superior heirs. Besides the fact there were other people first in line for the throne, Henry VII was also a tyrant in the sense that while “the king had absolute power…[he] was not above the law” (Pollard 150). Henry VII did not exactly get the memo and often switched between disregarding the law completely and just doing what he wanted to following the law in a maliciously compliant way.

One way Henry VII disregarded the law, or at the very least the status quo, was how he treated the nobility and the gentry. He did not trust anyone that was not close to him. While he certainly had good reasons for this, the mistrust worked against him in regards to keeping the nobility and gentry happy. For example, when there was trouble in the north of England, Henry VII had the option of either selecting one northern noble “which could have brought the region under control” (Carpenter 23) or he could give the land to a few noblemen close to him. Henry VII chose the latter option. By ignoring the northern nobility, Henry VII furthered the problems he was trying to prevent. His decision “produced disorder, violence, murder, misuse of, and disrespect for, the king’s authority and considerable local disaffection” (Carpenter 23) in the north.

Henry VII also seemed to have forgotten that a northern noble would be much better equipped for the job. Due to living in the area, a northern noble would be much more aware of the problems facing the region then a person chosen merely because they were close to the king. It certainly would have solved Henry VII’s problem that he was “ruling a medieval polity whose needs he had largely failed to understand” (Carpenter 16). Still, the fact that Henry VII obviously chose people close to him instead of a person most qualified for the job was one reason the people, especially the unfavored nobility and gentry, considered Henry VII a tyrant. Though we still must take into account that the northerners were still loyal to the Yorkist dynasty. It did not help that Henry VII eventually gave the northern lands to his mother, Margaret Beaufort. After all, “kings could not guarantee to have an able and loyal mother around all the time.” (Carpenter 23-24). Kings “could, however, count on the services of the nobility if they knew how to get the best out of them” (Carpenter 24).

Henry VII’s relationship with his mother also caused a few issues during his kingship. Due to their separation since Henry VII’s childhood, once Margaret Beaufort and Henry VII were able to reunite in Henry VII’s adulthood, they immediately started to spend a lot of time with each other (Crawford 145). The letters sent between Margaret Beaufort and Henry VII display a “passionate devotion” (Crawford 148) between the two and apparently both mother and son rarely disagreed about anything (Crawford 148). As a result of this lost time and the way they got along so well, Margaret Beaufort was able to gain a lot of influence over her son. She used this influence to take lands that had either previously belonged to her or she thought she had a right to (Crawford 145, 148). While some of the land had previously been hers, both Margaret Beaufort and Henry VII claimed that much more land belonged to them then in actuality. Their “avarice and determination to pursue their rights” (Crawford 148) did not make Henry VII and his mother particularly popular, especially amongst those whom they took the land from.

Both Richard III and Henry VII were tyrants in their own right. Both men fell under the medieval ideas of tyrants, being kings who really had no right to the throne, as well as the modern-day idea of a tyrant: a ruthless leader who will do whatever it takes to stay in power. Now, while Richard was certainly more of a tyrant then Henry VII, especially in regards to eliminating his enemies, Henry VII was not so innocent himself. He too executed his competitors, but at least Henry VII waited until his political enemies were done with puberty (this being somewhat literally in the case of the earl of Warwick). Both Richard III and Henry VII had favorites as well, but what is really telling is the fact Richard III was overthrown within two years of taking the throne, while Henry VII was able to pass the throne down to his son. Perhaps that makes Henry VII more of a tyrant than Richard III or perhaps it means that Henry VII’s opponents were not willing to go as far as Henry VII did when he usurped the throne. 




Carpenter, Christine. “Henry VII and the English Polity.” The Reign of Henry VII. edited by B. J. Thompson. 1995, pp. 11-30.

Crawford, Anne, editor. Letters of the Queens of England. Sutton Publishing Limited, 2002.

Cunningham, Sean. Henry VII. Routledge. 2007.

Horrox, Rosemary. Richard III: A Study in Service. Cambridge University Press. 1989.

Mancini, Dominic. The Usurpation of Richard the Third. translated by C. A. J. Armstrong. Clarendon Press. 1969.

Pollard, A. J.. “The Tyranny of Richard III.” Journal of Medieval History, 3. 1977, pp. 147-165.

Ross, Charles. Richard III. Methuen. 1981.

Kingsford, C. L., editor. “Vitellius AXVI Chronicle.” Chronicles of London. 1905, pp. 189-232.

Déjà vu: How The Conflicts in the Wars of the Roses Were Similar Yet Slightly Different

This is something I wrote while studying at Oxford. It was written in May 2018.


The English conflicts occurring in 1459-1461 and 1469-1471 had several differences between the two. The main way these conflicts were different were the personalities of the two kings who ruled during this time. Henry VI and Edward IV could not be any more different from each other in personality, appearance, how they became king, and how they acted as king. Despite this, the conflicts in 1459-1461 and 1469-1471 during the Wars of the Roses have more similarities than differences.



Plucking the Red and White Roses in the Old Temple Gardens (based on a scene in William Shakespeare’s play Henry VI) | Painting by Henry Payne | Source: Wikipedia Commons


One way the conflicts were similar was the state of the economy before each rebellion happened. Throughout Henry VI’s reign, the economy of England gradually fell into increasingly terrible shape (Carpenter 32). England had been fighting a war with France since 1337, which England eventually lost during Henry VI’s reign. Needless to say, “the financial burden imposed by the Hundred Years War had had an effect upon the economic framework surrounding the position of the Crown” (Sadler 18). Due to the losses of English territories in France, taxpayers understandably did not want to give money to a war they knew they would no longer win (Carpenter 105). It also did not help that “despite [Henry VI’s] financial difficulties” and the setbacks the queen had when collecting her own income, “Margaret of Anjou’s household was larger and more lavish than that of any other medieval queen, save only Isabella of France” (Crawford 120). It should be noted that the state of the economy was not the primary cause of the Wars of the Roses. However, the economy was “one of the causes of [Henry VI’s] political weaknesses” (Britnell 56).

Before the second conflict occurred, Edward IV was tasked with trying to improve the economic disaster Henry VI left behind. This included paying off Henry VI’s massive debts. Unfortunately for Edward IV, he “had no solution to the economic crisis, which was still largely shaped by external factors” (Hicks 173). And like Henry VI’s government, anger with Edward IV’s government “coincided with a crisis in the export economy and involved clothmaking [sic] centres [sic] in the West of England” (Britnell 57). Also like Henry VI, Edward IV lived outside of his means. Michael Hicks reports that “Edward was urged…to reserve enough lands to cover his ordinary charges without recourse to his ‘…commons and subjects’” (175). Edward IV did not do this. Instead, he claimed that England would go back to war with France to regain their lost territories, collected his people’s taxes, and never actually went to war (Grummitt 221).

Another way the conflicts were similar was the way Henry VI and Edward IV punished those who tried to/eventually did overthrow them, especially those who were the leaders of the rebellion against their kingship. During the 1450s, Henry VI pardoned Richard, Duke of York several times after York attempted to overthrow the government while claiming he was doing so to protect the king from “the corrupt government of…traitors” (Grummitt 197). But York’s so-called protests looked very much like “treasonable rebellion” (Hicks 102). York was aware of this so “he formally swore allegiance to the king on the sacraments before witnesses…had his oath publicly certified, and dispatched the record to the king” (Hicks 102). While Henry VI did summon York to talk about his concerns, York refused to meet with the king (Hicks 102). Instead, York kept insisting “their lives were endangered by traitors about the king, they were marching for justice, both for themselves and for the commonwealth” (Grummitt 196).



Henry VI sits while Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York, and Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset, have an argument. | Caption from Wikipedia | Source: Wikipedia Commons


Apparently, this explanation was enough for Henry VI and the nobility to think York was not a traitor the first few times he led rebellions. Or at the very least, he was not legally considered a traitor. Even so, York was obviously a threat that Henry VI and the nobility repeatedly chose to ignore. And not only did they ignore the threat York posed, in March of 1454, “it was agreed in parliament that [York] should assume the title and duties of ‘protector and governor of the realm’ during the king’s incapacity” (Grummitt 173)! It should have been clear to everyone that York wanted the throne, or at the very least, York wanted a new king after he tried to rebel the second time. Even though “Lords were unwilling to convict noblemen like themselves” (Hicks 101), it makes one wonder exactly why Henry VI did not execute York after he went back on his word to the king, if not the second time, then the times after that.

Edward IV also forgave those who betrayed him. The major two traitors were Edward IV’s kingmaker, the Earl of Warwick and his brother, George Duke of Clarence. However we must keep in mind, unlike Henry VI who did not really do anything to actively frustrate his supporters—it was mostly his inaction—Edward IV’s actions did. Edward IV made the severe mistake of alienating his kingmaker and his brother. Hicks makes the observation that before Warwick’s coup in 1469, “Edward had to negotiate with Warwick like a separate potentate, just as had Henry VI with the Duke of York a decade earlier” (189). Warwick also used York’s arguments to say why his 1469 coup was not really a coup (Hicks 191). Despite all this, in February 1470 Edward IV pardoned the Earl of Warwick and his brother, Duke of Clarence for their coup. Unfortunately for Edward IV, Warwick still was not happy and rebelled again, this time overthrowing Edward IV and reinstating Henry VI as king. However, Edward IV managed to take back his throne and apparently before the Battle of Barnet, “the duke of Clarence, King Edward’s brother, was quietly reconciled with the king” (Crowland Chronicles125). Warwick was killed during this battle.

Another similarity between the conflicts is how each king got captured by the enemy. In the 1459-1461 conflict, Henry VI was captured and held in the Tower of London “where he was kept as a prisoner” (Grummitt 209). While in the 1469-1471 conflict, “King Edward…had been captured at a village near Coventry…and then he was sent to Warwick castle where he was held prisoner (Crowland Chronicles 117). However, one main difference between the two scenarios is that Henry VI was kept in the Tower of London for nearly half a decade after he was overthrown in 1461 (Grummitt 209) while Edward IV does not seem to have been held prisoner for that long. It is also important to note that Edward IV “managed not simply to escape but to get himself released with the specific approval of the earl of Warwick himself” (Crowland Chronicles 117).



The Battle of Tewkesbury | MS Ghent | Source: Wikipedia Commons


Now, while the conflicts were mostly similar in nature, they had a few other minor differences that resulted in major consequences. One such difference would be how long it took for each conflict to come to fruition. The rebellions in 1459-1461 took years for the tensions to boil over into an all-out civil war. This could because of the fact York’s rebellions kept failing and if he wanted to stay alive, he had to claim he was rebelling for the sake of the king, not against the king. However, once York’s true intentions were known, he could no longer pretend he was not committing treason. After all, once York acknowledged he committed treason, if he did not win the throne, then he would be killed. At that point, there was no going back for York. In contrast, the earl of Warwick and the duke of Clarence organized the rebellion against Edward IV in “only six months in 1469-1470—and perhaps much less, in 1469 itself” (Hicks 168). The urgency of this conflict could be because unlike Henry VI, Edward IV would know what was about to happen.

Now, the length of the two conflicts’ buildups could also have to do with the kings’ lineages. Even though Henry VI was not considered a good king, he came from an already established dynasty of kings. While Edward IV was also descended from Edward III, Henry VI’s father and grandfather had both been kings before him. However, both Henry IV, Henry VI’s grandfather, and Henry V, Henry VI’s father were usurpers (Carpenter 67-68). But what gave Henry VI the advantage in his own kingship, was the fact his father, Henry V, was considered an excellent king and was well respected (Carpenter 79). This was not the same for Edward IV. At least, it was not the same before the conflict of 1469-1471. Edward IV was a usurper. Unlike Henry VI, Edward IV could not rely on his pedigree alone to gain the respect of the nobility. Edward IV has to actually work for it. However, due to the conflict during 1469-1471, it is clear that during the first part of his reign Edward IV was not particularly worried about keeping the people who helped him get the throne happy.

The amounts of similarities between the two conflicts outweigh the differences. Both kings had to face the same struggles of being king, however, each king reacted in completely different ways to the problems. Henry VI essentially let England’s economy crumble while Edward IV made an attempt to fix it during his first reign. Granted, it was a very weak attempt and only during his second reign would the economy improve, but it was an attempt nonetheless. The ways Henry VI and Edward IV treated those who committed treason against them is also reflective of what kind of king they were. Henry VI acted very weakly under the guise of mercy, while Edward IV seemed to have a ‘fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me’ mindset. It is also interesting how each side treated the enemy king. The Yorks were not merciful while the Lancasters (or at least the Warwicks) were.





Britnell, R.H. “The Economic Context”. The Wars of the Roses. edited by A.J. Pollard. MacMillan Press, 1995. pp. 41-64

Carpenter, Christine. The Wars of the Roses: Politics and the Constitution in England, C.1437-1509. Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Crawford, Anne, editor. Letters of the Queens of England. Sutton Publishing Limited, 2002.

Pronay, Nicholas, and John Cox, editors. The Crowland Chronicle Continuations: 1459-1486. Alan Sutton Publishing, 1986.

Grummitt, David. Henry VI. Taylor & Francis Group, 2015.

Hicks, Michael. The Wars of the Roses. Yale University Press. 2010.

Sadler, John. The Red Rose and the White. Pearson Educated Limited. 2010.

Religion During The Wars of The Roses – The Nobility and The Church


It’s obvious that the Wars of the Roses had a massive impact on English royalty and nobility. However, what was its impact on religion and the Church during the time the Wars occurred? The Wars of the Roses must have had some sort of effect, even if it was only a subtle one. After all, religion was a major factor in the lives of medieval people. The Church had a massive influence on society and it shaped every aspect of a person’s life either directly or indirectly. So how exactly did religion cause the Wars of the Roses to change and vise versa?

One way religion factored into the Wars of the Roses was with the idea of divine right. Nobility often used the clergy to justify their claims to the crown (Davies 137). This could be in the form of sermons or official documents. One such document was a letter that was signed by the Archbishop of Canterbury as well as the bishop of Exeter (Storey 83). In 1461 “the archbishop…and…the bishop of Salisbury…[decided] that Edward of York should assume the crown” (Storey 83). After all, bishops and priests were considered to be voices for God. If they were saying that a certain nobleman should be king, that meant God wanted him to be king.

However, if you ignore divine right, the Wars of the Roses had a very small impact on the Church’s hierarchy and vise versa. Of course clergymen, especially higher up clergymen, supported different sides of the conflicts but very rarely did these men seem to be severely punished for doing so. Most of the time, “in terms of personal hurt, the episcopate was afflicted surprisingly little” (Davies 141). However, when bishops and other clergymen were punished their punishments were usually the equivalent of being gently slapped on the wrist and told what they did was bad and they should feel bad.

Of course, there were harsher punishments, but the clergyman usually had to push his luck a lot. For example, Archbishop George Neville “after Edward [IV] had bided his time, was seriously punished” (Davies 141) by being imprisoned. However, “the archbishop was released quite quickly…and in theory restored to full authority” (Davies 141). And just because clergymen were involved in politics, it did not mean they had enough experience to know what they were doing. In Edward IV’s case, he “could not use many of [the clergy] in public life, not for their lack of loyalty but for lack of the right skills” (Davies 138).


Davies, Richard G.. “The Church and the Wars of the Roses”. The Wars of the Roses, edited by A.J. Pollard, MacMillan Press, 1995, pp. 134-161.

Storey, R.L.. “Episcopal King-Makers in the Fifteenth Century”. The Church, Politics and Patronage In the Fifteenth Century, edited by R.B. Dobson, Alan Sutton Publishing, 1984, pp. 82-98.


Shinners, J.R., editor. Medieval Popular Religion, 1000-1500: A Reader, University of Toronto Press, 2007.