Before the Tudors: The War of the Roses

Henry IV


This week we meet the Tudors. The Tudor family origins can be traced back to the widowed Queen Catherine Valois’s liaison with a member of her household, Owen Tudor. Catherine Valois, a daughter of the mad King of France, married the English King Henry V (of Joan of Arc fame) in 1420. Two years later, Henry died of dysentery (the curse of the battlefield) and Catherine returned to England with her young son who was crowned Henry VI of England.
     Catherine was kept under close supervision to prevent her remarriage, since her heirs by English standards had some rights of succession to the throne of France (despite the fact that France adhered to Salic Law which disallowed inheritance of women to the throne). Not close enough, however, because Owen fathered four or five children (depending on the source) before their relationship (and children) was discovered. Catherine was sent to a convent where she died soon afterwards and Owen was arrested and imprisoned but later released to live out a full life.   King Henry VI, Queen Catherine’s son, was a pathetic king who suffered fits of madness. They had one child—Edward—in 1453. Edward’s Queen-Margaret of Anjou-ruled in his stead-under the banner of the Lancastrians whose emblem was a red rose. The Duke of York whose emblem was the white rose opposed Henry and Margaret and sought the crown for himself. In the War of the Roses, possession of the King alternated between the Yorkists and Lancastrians with Earl Warwick-the Kingmaker-pulling the strings. When Prince Edward- the King’s only child-was killed after the Battle of Tewkesbury and King Henry most likely murdered later, the Yorkists under Edward IV Plantagenet gained the throne.  

Wedding of Henry & Catherine


     Edward was well-liked but had problems with women. He was a known seducer of women, married or unmarried. He secretly married a beautiful widow, Elizabeth Woodville (from a Lancastrian family), despite a previous betrothal which placed in question the legitimacy of their 10 children. When Edward died at 42, his brother Richard stepped in as regent for his young son Edward V.  Richard, however, declared his nephew Edward illegitimate and took the crown for himself. Richard III imprisoned young King Edward and his brother Richard the Duke of York in the Tower. The Young Princes in the Tower were most likely smothered by Sir James Tyrrell and their bodies buried beneath a staircase.
     King Richard fell to the Lancastrians at the battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 where Shakespeare famously had him running around the field yelling “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse.” Henry Tudor won the throne by right of conquest with only tenuous lines of inheritance. King Henry VII’s descendents—Henry VIII, Mary, and Elizabeth—ruled England in its Golden Age. More next week on the Tudors.  RitaVF   


6 Responses

  1. It definitely wasn’t safe to be a member of royalty, was it? Out of curiosity, how old were the Princes when imprisoned in the Tower? (And as ruler, I’d certainly never again trust anyone who willingly killed my competition for me. The NEXT competitor may offer them something more lucrative, and I already know what they’re capable of.)

    I have yet to find another person who can encapsulate history in such an interesting manner. I always look forward to your posts, Rita!

    • Thanks so much, Runere. A summary leaves out so much, trivializes important events, and usually fails to include different interpretations of events. For example, the Princes in the Tower were 12 and 9 years old IF they were murdered in 1483 under the orders of Richard III. If. as the Richard III Society is to be believed. If, as the Society asserts, other candidates (Henry VII, for example) were responsible, they would have been older. The skeltons discovered buried at the base of the stairs in the White Tower in the 17th century, however, when examined during the 20th century were consistent with the younger ages–but who knows. I personally don’t understand why anyone would want to be under such scrutiny-as the Royal Family is even today. RitaVF (ps Fixed the typos–late work is a killer.)

  2. Another great post Rita- Weren’t there also rumors that Richard killed his wife and wanted to marry his niece? He was quite the cipher, wasn’t he? Rumors of evil surrounded him for years.

    • THanks so much, sfcatty. Richard had known Anne Neville since childhood, although her father, Earl Warwick, had married her to Henry VI’s son Edward. Both she and their only child, Prince Edward predeceased him. RIchard had evidently been looking for a European Queen before he was killed at Bosworth..
      As much as I love TUdor history, they actually didn’t much of a claim to the throne except through conquest. Henry VII married Elizabeth, the daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville to strengthen his claim. Not surprisingly, he didn’t crown her queen until she delivered Prince Arthur. RitaVF

  3. More great information. The life of a royal, depicted in such glorious manner by Hollywood, sure sounds like it stunk!
    They were busy seducing, whoring, poisoning, beheading.
    What a life. You couldn’t trust anyone…

    Great, great post!

    • Thank you, Allison. I think you have to understand the love of power to appreciate these people’s lives. Many folks today don’t value it. But men like Warwick breathed for power. He married his children off, switched sides, and did whatever was necessary to keep it. This period is considered late medieval, so they and their thoughts and desires are even more foreign to us. Next week, we’re doing Henry VII who built the foundation of Tudor wealth and power but also contributed to the demise of the feudal nobility. He was a tad Machivellan. RitaVF

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