York vs. Lancaster
The House of York fought against the House of Lancaster during the English Wars of the Roses in the fifteenth century. This was a dynastic war fought in periodic episodes between 1445 and 1487. Both houses were descended from Edward III of the House of Plantagenet and based their claims to the English throne on this relationship.
Background: The Plantagenet Legacy
Edward III of the House of Plantagenet had five sons who survived to adulthood. The eldest son, Edward of Woodstock, died in 1376, a year before Edward III died. Upon Edward III's death, Edward of Woodstock's ten-year-old son Richard was crowned Richard II. He became increasingly unpopular and was deposed by his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, who became Henry IV, the first of the Lancastrian kings. John of Gaunt, Henry Bolingbroke's father, was the third son of Edward III and the Duke of Lancaster. Thus the English throne passed from the senior line of the Plantagenets to a junior branch of the family, and the House of Lancaster was established as the ruling family.
The House of York: Foundations
The founder of the House of York was Edmund of Langley, the first Duke of York. He was the fourth surviving son of Edward III and Philippa of Hainault. Thus the House of York could not base its claim to the throne entirely upon descent from Edmund of Langley, as his branch of the family was 'younger' than the Lancastrian branch. The Yorkist claim was bolstered by the marriage of Edmund's younger son, Richard, Earl of Cambridge, to Anne Mortimer, who was descended from Lionel of Antwerp, the second son of Edward III. Thus, the Yorkists could claim descent from two of Edward III's sons, one of whom was older than John of Gaunt.
The House of York: Richard Plantagenet
The Yorkist claim to the throne attracted supporters during the reign of Henry VI, the third Lancastrian king, who came to the throne in 1422. Some English nobles favored the Yorkist claim because Henry VI was a weak king and suffered from periods of insanity, which allowed his queen, the French Margaret of Anjou, his regents, and his advisors to take over the government. It was a policy to exclude rivals and opponents. Also, in 1453, English forces lost the Battle of Castillion in the Hundred Years War, and with it England's territory in France. This was certainly a blow to national pride, and it hurt England's trade with Bordeaux, which had long been an important market for selling English wheat.
Despite his large estates, administrative experience, and service during the Hundred Years War, one man that was actively excluded was Richard Plantagenet, the third Duke of York. He led the opposition to the king. When Henry VI suffered a serious mental breakdown in 1453, Richard was made Protector of the Realm. Then Henry recovered two years later and set about undoing all of Richard's actions. Richard lost his title of Protector of the Realm and wasted no time in gathering an army to fight the king. Richard was victorious this time.
Over the next five years, there was a series of battles and campaigns. While his initial aim was not the throne, Richard eventually claimed it in 1460. When he was killed in battle, his eldest son inherited and pursued the Yorkist claim to the throne and was crowned Edward IV. Richard's head, wearing a paper crown, was put on a pike.
The House of York: Edward IV
Edward IV, the first of the Yorkist kings, ruled from 1461 to 1470 and from 1471 to 1483. He inherited the claim to the throne, and with the help of the Earl of Warwick successfully defeated the Lancasters. Significantly, the Yorkist army captured London, which gave them a practical and symbolic advantage, and Edward was crowned in 1461.
Edward married Elizabeth Woodville rather than pursue a foreign and politically strategic marriage alliance. The elevation of the Woodvilles created animosity in England, particularly with the Earl of Warwick, who rebelled. This was the last serious opposition to Edward IV, as it resulted in the virtual elimination of the House of Lancaster. Only Henry Tudor remained as a rival, and he lived in exile on the Continent.
One of the greatest achievements of his reign was the restoration of peace, law, and order. Upon Edward IV's death, his twelve-year-old son Edward V became king. Edward IV's will named his brother Richard Lord Protector.
However, Edward V was never crowned. His uncle stopped the planning for his nephew's coronation on the grounds that Edward IV had been married before; therefore, his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was invalid and the children illegitimate. After Parliament declared them illegitimate, their uncle was crowned Richard III. Edward and his younger brother Richard were taken to the Tower of London and subsequently disappeared.
The House of York: Richard III
Richard III, long rumored to have been a hunchback with a withered arm, was the last Yorkist king. As Lord Protector, he had prevented the Woodvilles from assuming more power. In 1483, certain English noblemen conspired to rebel against Richard III and replace him with Henry Tudor, still living in exile in France.
Henry Tudor invaded in 1485. Richard III and his outnumbered army met the Tudor forces at Bosworth Field. Richard was killed in the battle. His body was recently discovered during an archaeological excavation. The study of his skeleton showed that while his arms were both normal, his spine showed signs of scoliosis and a significant curvature.
Henry Tudor's victory over Richard III's army allowed him to establish himself as Henry VII and found the Tudor dynasty. He cemented his position through his marriage to Elizabeth of York, the eldest child of Edward IV. This symbolically united the Houses of York and Lancaster and ended the Wars of the Roses.
The House of York fought for the English throne during the Wars of the Roses. The Yorkist claim to the throne was based on descent from two of Edward III's sons. However, although the Wars ushered in the end of the House of Plantagenet, they ultimately resulted in the establishment of the Tudor dynasty when Richard III was defeated by Henry Tudor.
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