The War of the Roses: the Historical Facts of the Tudor Myth (Shakespeare’s Histories)

  E. F. Jacob, The Fifteenth Century (1961); P. M. Kendall, The Yorkist Age (1962, repr. 1965); S. B. Chrimes, Lancastrians,

The War of the Roses: the Historical Facts of the Tudor Myth (Shakespeare’s Histories)

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rwick. Edward was unprepared for the arrival of Neville's large force from the north and had to order his army to scatter. Edward and Gloucester fled from Doncaster to the coast and thence to Holland and exile in Burgundy. Warwick had already invaded from France, and his plans to liberate and restore Henry VI to the throne came quickly to fruition. Henry VI was paraded through the streets of London as the restored king in October and Edward and Richard were proclaimed traitors. Warwick's success was short-lived, however. He overreached himself with his plan to invade Burgundy with the king of France, tempted by King Louis' promise of territory in the Netherlands as a reward. This led Charles the Bold of Burgundy to assist Edward. He provided funds and an army to launch an invasion of England in 1471. Edward defeated Warwick at the Battle of Barnet in 1471. The remaining Lancastrian forces were destroyed at the Battle of Tewkesbury, and Prince Edward of Westminster, the Lancastrian heir to the throne, was killed. Henry VI was murdered shortly afterwards (May 14, 1471), to strengthen the Yorkist hold on the throne.

The restoration of Edward IV in 1471 is sometimes seen as marking the end of the Wars of the Roses. Peace was restored for the remainder of Edward's reign, but when he died suddenly in 1483, political and dynastic turmoil erupted again. Under Edward IV, factions had developed between the Queen's Woodville relatives (Anthony Woodville, 2nd Earl Rivers and Thomas Grey, 1st Marguess of Dorset) and others who resented the Woodvilles' new-found status at court and saw them as power-hungry upstarts and parvenus. At the time of Edward's premature death, his heir, Edward V, was only 12 years old. The Woodvilles were in a position to influence the young king's future government, since Edward V had been brought up under the stewardship of Earl Rivers in Ludlow. This was too much for many of the anti-Woodville faction to stomach, and in the struggle for the protectorship of the young king and control of the council, Edward's brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who had been named by Edward IV on his deathbed as Protector of England, came to be de facto leader of the anti-Woodville faction.

With the help of William Hastings and Henry Stafford, Gloucester captured the young king from the Woodvilles at Stony Stratford in Buckinghamshire. Thereafter Edward V was kept under Gloucester's custody in the Tower of London, where he was later joined by his younger brother, the 9-year-old Richard, Duke of York. Having secured the boys, Richard then alleged that Edward IV's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville had been illegal, and that the two boys were therefore illegitimate. Parliament agreed and enacted the Titulus Regius, which officially named Gloucester as King Richard III. The two imprisoned boys, known as the "Princes in the Tower", disappeared and were possibly murdered; by whom and under whose orders remains one of the most controversial subjects in English history.

Since Richard was the finest general on the Yorkist side, many accepted him as a ruler better able to keep the Yorkists in power than a boy who would have had to rule through a committee of regents. Lancastrian hopes, on the other hand, now centred on Henry Tudor, whose father, Edmund tudor, 1st Earl of Richmond, had been an illegitimate half-brother of Henry VI. However, Henry's claim to the throne was through his mother, Margaret Beaufort, a descendant of Edward III, derived from John Beaufort, a grandson of Edward's III who was also the illegitimate son of John of Gaunt.

Henry Tudor's forces defeated Richard's at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 and Henry Tudor became King Henry VII of England. Henry then strengthened his position by marrying Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV and the best surviving Yorkist claimant. He thus reunited the two royal houses, merging the rival symbols of the red and white roses into the new emblem of the red and white Tudor Rose. Henry shored up his position by executing all other possible claimants whenever he could lay hands on them, a policy his son, Henry VIII, continued.

Many historians consider the accession of Henry VII to mark the end of the Wars of the Roses. Others argue that the Wars of the Roses concluded only with the Battle of Stoke in 1487, which arose from the appearance of a pretender to the throne, a boy named Lambert Simnel who bore a close physical resemblance to the young Earl of Warwick, the best surviving male claimant of the House of York. The pretender's plan was doomed from the start, because the young earl was still alive and in King Henry's custody, so no one could seriously doubt Simnel was anything but an imposter. At Stoke, Henry defeated forces led by John de la Pole, Earl of Lincolnwho had been named by Richard III as his heir, but had been reconciled with Henry after Bosworththus effectively removing the remaining Yorkist opposition. Simnel was pardoned for his part in the rebellion and sent to work in the royal kitchens.


2. Shakespeares histories Richard III


“The Life and Death of King Richard III” is William Shakespeares version of the short career of Richard III of England, who receives a singularly unflattering depiction. The play is sometimes interpreted as a tragedy; however, it more correctly belongs among the histories. It picks up the story from “Henry VI”, Part III and is the conclusion of the series that stretches back to Richard II. It is the second longest of Shakespeare's 38 plays, after Hamlet. The length is generally seen as a drawback and the play is rarely performed unabridged often cutting out various characters peripheral to the main plot.


The play begins with Richard eulogizing his brother, King Edward IV of England, the eldest son of the late Richard, Duke of York.

Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York

The speech reveals Richard's jealousy and ambition, as his brother Edward rules the country successfully. Richard is an ugly hunchback, describing himself as “rudely stamp'd” and “deformed, unfinish'd”, who cannot “strut before a wanton ambling nymph.” He responds to the anguish of his condition with an outcast's credo: “I am determined to prove a villain / And hate the idle pleasures of these days.” With little attempt at chronological accuracy (which he professes to despise), Richard plots to have his brother Clarence, who stands before him in the line of succession, conducted to the Tower of London as a suspected assassin; having bribed a soothsayer to confuse the suspicious king.

Richard next ingratiates himself with “the Lady Anne” Anne Neville, widow of the Lancastrian Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales. Richard confides to the audience, “I'll marry Warwick's youngest daughter. What though I kill'd her husband and her father?” Despite her prejudice against him, Anne is won over by his pleas and agrees to marry him.

The atmosphere at court is poisonous: the established nobles are at odds with the upwardly-mobile relatives of Queen Elizabeth, a hostility fueled by Richard's machinations. Queen Margaret, Henry VI's widow, returns in defiance of her banishment and warns the squabbling nobles about Richard. The nobles, Yorkists all, reflexively unite against this last Lancastrian, and the warning falls on deaf ears.

Edward IV, weakened by a reign dominated by physical excess, soon dies, leaving as Protector his brother Richard, who sets about removing the final obstacles to his ascension. He meets his nephew, the young Edward V, who is en route to London for his coronation accompanied by relatives of Edward's widow. These Richard arrests and (eventually) beheads, and the young prince and his brother are coaxed into an extended stay at the Tower of London.

Assisted by his cousin Buckingham (Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham), Richard mounts a PR campaign to present himself as a preferable candidate to the throne, appearing as a modest, devout man with no pretensions to greatness. Lord Hastings, who objects to Richard's ascension, is arrested and executed on a trumped-up charge. The other lords are cajoled into accepting Richard as king, in spite of the continued survival of his nephews (the Princes in the Tower).

His new status leaves Richard sufficiently confident to dispose of his nephews. Buckingham conditions his consent for the princes deaths on receiving a land grant, which Richard rejects, leaving Buckingham fearful for his life. As the body count rises, the increasingly paranoid Richard loses what popularity he had; he soon faces rebellions led first by Buckingham and subsequently by the invading Earl of Richmond (Henry VII of England). Both sides arrive for a final battle at Bosworth Field. Prior to the battle, Richard is visited by the ghosts of those whose deaths he has caused, all of whom tell him to: “Despair and die!” He awakes screaming for “Jesu” (Jesus) to help him, slowly realizing that he is all alone in the world and that even he hates himself. Richard's language and undertones of self-remorse seem to indicate that, in the final hour, he is repentant for his evil deeds, however, it is too late.

As the battle commences, Richard gives arguably the least motivational pep-talk in English literature (“Let not our babbling dreams affright our souls; Conscience is but a word that cowards use... March on, join bravely, let us to't pell mell; If not to heaven, then hand in hand to hell....”). Lord Stanley (who happens to be Richmond's step-father) and his followers desert, leaving Richard at a disadvantage. Richard is soon unhorsed on the field at the climax of the b

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