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The Wars of the Roses

Henry Bolingbroke's ascent to the throne was disputed by many. Henry was not next in line to the throne after Richard the Second, and he would face several rebellions during his 13-year reign.

Henry Bolingbroke, was crowned King Henry the Fourth of England in October 1399. His father, John of Gaunt, had been Duke of Lancaster and had adopted the Red Rose of Lancaster as his heraldic badge. Henry's seizing of the throne of England would, in later years, throw the red rose of Lancaster into conflict with the white rose of York – The Wars of the Roses.

King Henry the fourth spent much of his reign facing rebellions from other claimants to the throne. Henry was also ill for most of his reign, and finally succumbed, dying in March 1413. His son, also called Henry, and then aged 28, was crowned King Henry the fifth of England in April 1413.

Although he only reigned for nine years, King Henry the Fifth is one of the most famous of all English Kings. He sought to rule by consent of the nobles and restored many of those who had suffered in the previous reign to their lands. As a consequence, he faced no serious opposition at home. Henry also had the English language adopted as the language of government over French and Latin.

King Henry the Fifth is chiefly remembered for his military campaigns in France and, particularly, the great victory at Agincourt in 1415 over superior forces. He continued his campaign in France from 1417 to 1420, conquering Normandy and laying siege to Paris. The Treaty of Troyes in 1420 recognised Henry as the heir to the throne of France. Henry married the French king's daughter, and they had one son, also called Henry. However, France was not totally defeated, and Henry again campaigned in France in 1421 and 1422. In August 1422, King Henry the Fifth died suddenly, possibly from heatstroke. He was 35 years old.

The infant prince Henry succeeded to the English throne at the age of 9 months in 1422. He was not crowned until 1429 and did not take control of the government until 1437. While he was an infant, England was ruled by a regency council. He was crowned King Henry the sixth of England in 1429 and also crowned King of France in Paris in 1431, aged 10. However, he never controlled the whole of France. Inspired by Joan of Arc, who was burned at stake by the English in 1431, the French gradually regained control of their country. By 1453 Calais was the only remaining English possession in France. The Hundred Years war was over.

King Henry the sixth married Margaret of Anjou in 1445 as part of a short-lived peace treaty with France.

Disaffection among the nobles grew, and the Duke of York argued that he had a better claim to the throne than Henry. The Wars of the Roses began with the Battle of Northampton in 1460, where Henry was captured, but the Duke of York was killed in December 1460 and King Henry was rescued from captivity in February 1461.

The Battle of Towton, the largest and bloodiest battle ever fought on English soil, took place in March 1461. It is believed that around 50,000 troops fought there for up to 10 hours. Estimates of the dead range from 9,000 to 20,000. The Yorkist troops defeated the Royal Army, and King Henry the sixth fled to Scotland. The Duke of York's eldest son, Edward, was crowned Edward the fourth King of England in March 1461. He was nineteen years old.

Edward the Fourth reigned until 1470. With many nobles still loyal to Henry the Sixth, tensions remained high, but his downfall came at the defection of one of his closest advisers, Richard Neville Earl of Warwick, to the cause of Henry the Sixth. The Lancastrians mustered an army of 30,000 men, and King Edward the fourth fled to France, and King Henry the Sixth was restored.

But Henry was ill, and the Lancastrian alliance soon fell apart. King Henry the Sixth's second reign lasted less than six months. Supported by French troops, Edward returned to England in March 1471. He won victories against the Lancastrians in April and May and entered London unopposed. King Henry the Sixth also died in May 1461, possibly murdered on Edward's orders.

King Edward the Fourth ruled until 1483 bring some peace and stability to the kingdom in the latter part of his reign. He died of an unknown illness in April 1483. His 12-year-old son, also called Edward, was never crowned. Instead, the Duke of Gloucester seized the throne and became the infamous King Richard the Third.

Thank you for listening to this lesson. In the next lesson, we look at the reign of Richard the Third and the arrival of the house of Tudor.

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Written by

Ross Maynard