Useful Notes: Wars of the Roses

Three decades of blood and misery, but at least they got a nifty logo out of it.

For the novel/film, see The War of the Roses.

"There are only two ways to feel about the Wars of the Roses. Either the endless violent seizures of the Crown makes you thrill to one of the great English epics, or else it leaves you feeling slightly numbed. If you're in the dazed and confused camp, the temptation is to write off the whole sorry mess as the bloody bickering of overgrown schoolboys whacking each other senseless on the fields of Towton, Barnet and Bosworth."
Simon Schama, A History of Britain

The Wars of the Roses were a series of dynastic civil wars set in England between 1455 and 1485. They originated in a struggle between descendants of two of King Edward III Plantagenet's eight sons. Henry of the House of Lancaster stole the throne from his cousin, Edward's first grandson Richard II. Although his house had a couple of strong monarchs (see Henry V), Henry VI turned out to be a strange boy with mental issues. He was challenged for the throne by The Rival House of York (a cousin line descended from Edward III). After thirty years of conflict, in which almost all of the Lancastrians died, Henry VII from The House of Tudor was crowned. He was a cousin of the Lancastrian side, and married a daughter of the Yorkist faction, uniting the two sides. However some historians claim this wasn't the end of the Wars, as there were still threats to Henry from Yorkist Pretenders, which a lot of the nobility didn't seem ready to help him against.

On a side note, the "Wars of the Roses" were never called that by contemporaries. While the name does come from the White and Red Rose badges of the Yorkists and Lancastrians, respectively, it wasn't until Shakespeare and Walter Scott that the conflict became known by its now common name. Earlier commentators might have called it the English Civil War (a name later taken by a rather more ideological conflict) or perhaps as the War of the English Succession (which later became a now-disused name for the Nine Years' War). Until World War One, the Battle of Towton was the bloodiest single day for British soldiery; around 28,000 men perished on those snowy fields, a record that would not be surpassed until the opening day of the Battle of the Somme 450 years later.

Wars of the Roses in works of fiction and historical fiction:

  • Stormbird, a 2013 novel by Conn Iggulden begins a Historical Fiction series "Wars of the Roses". It takes place during the last years of The Hundred Years War and the reign of Henry VI, starting with his marriage to Marguerite d'Anjou, covering Jack Cade's rebellion and ending with Richard of York's appointment as the Protector.
  • Shakespeare's Henry VI and Richard III. To an extent Richard II and Henry IV also deal with them despite taking place a generation earlier: modern scholars tend to disagree, but Shakespeare portrays Henry Bolingbroke's usurpation of the throne from Richard II and crowning of himself as Henry IV as the first move of the wars.
  • The first season of Blackadder.
  • Philippa Gregory's Cousins' War series, which covers the period from the perspective of women who were prominent figures at the time but have been largely forgotten by history.
    • TV miniseries The White Queen shows the period from the perspective of Elizabeth Woodville, a common woman from a traditionally Lancastrian family who married King Edward IV and was the mother of Edward V and his brother Richard ("the princes in the Tower") and Elizabeth of York.
  • In Terry Pratchett's Nation, it's mentioned that one of Daphne's ancestors fought in the War of the Roses... wearing a pink rose and thus ended up fighting both sides at once. Because everyone thought it was bad luck to kill a madman, he lived through it. Fanshaws may be pigheaded and stupid, but they fight.
  • The second duology of Arcia Chronicles is a fantasy retelling of the Wars of the Roses, dubbed "War of the Daffodils".
  • Another fantasy retelling is the "War of the Lions" that drives the plot of the original Final Fantasy Tactics game.
  • ...and yet another in A Song of Ice and Fire, with Stark and Lannister Feuding Families being less than subtle clues.
    • And, even more directly, brief mentions are made of the Red and Green "Apple" Fossoways, who appear to have their own squabbles over titles and are two branches of a house.
    • The symbol of House Tyrell, one of the major power players in the series, is depicted in the TV adaptation Game of Thrones as a dead ringer for the Tudor double rose.
    • Still another reference comes in the Blackfyre Rebellions, where the Blackfyre claimants used a house sigil with Targaryen colors inverted.
    • The backstory even further reinforces this as per "the Dance of the Dragons," which saw House Targaryen in a family feud akin to the historical English dynasty of The House of Plantagenet, which will give rise to the Stark vs. Lannister (York vs. Lancaster) conflict later on.
    • The sigil of the Targaryens is a red dragon, rather like Henry Tudor's.
  • Gemfire is best described as "Romance of the Three Kingdoms in a Standard Fantasy Setting version of the Wars of the Roses," down to the king being from House Lankshire. And Ishmeria being shaped like England and Wales (including the Isle of Man) and the king's bastard heading up House Tudoria.
  • Avalon Hill had a game based on the war called Kingmaker.
  • Sharon Penman's The Sunne in Splendour, centered on King Richard III and Anne Neville.
    • Not to be confused with Jean Plaidy's The Sun in Splendour, also about the Wars of the Roses, but about King Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville.
  • The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson.
  • Subtly referred to in Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland.
  • The Battle of Epping Forest: "You ain't seen nothin' like it... not since the Civil War"
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! The Duelists Of The Roses has a plot loosely based on this war (changing characters to those from the franchise and turning battles into card games, but following the locations and general conflict.)
  • The video game War of the Roses by the Swedish indie studio Fatshark.

Tropes as portrayed in fiction:

  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Richard III. Though not so much anymore. Modern portrayals of the House of York tend to cast him as the mildest of the York brothers, an interpretation certainly more accurate than Shakespeare's.

Alternative Title(s):

Wars Of The Roses