Wars of the Roses

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The Wars of the Roses were a series of dynastic civil wars for the throne of England, fought between supporters of two rival branches of the Royal House of Plantagenet: the houses of Lancaster and York (the "red" and the "white" rose, respectively). They were fought in several spasmodic episodes between 1455 and 1485, although there was related fighting both before and after this period. The final victory went to a relatively remote Lancastrian claimant, Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, who married Elizabeth of York, the daughter of the late Yorkist king Edward IV, to reconcile the two factions and founded the House of Tudor, which subsequently ruled England and Wales for 117 years, until the accession by the Scottish House of Stuart in 1603.

Henry of Bolingbroke had established the House of Lancaster on the throne in 1399 when he deposed his cousin Richard II. Bolingbroke (who was crowned as Henry IV) and his son Henry V maintained their hold on the crown, but when Henry V died, his heir was the infant Henry VI, who grew up to be mentally unstable and dominated by quarrelsome magnates and his queen. The Lancastrian claim to the throne descended from John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster, the fourth son of Edward III. Henry VI's inability to rule the kingdom ultimately resulted in a challenge to his right to the crown by Richard, Duke of York, who could claim descent from Edward's third and fifth sons, Lionel of Antwerp and Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York, and had also proved himself to be an able administrator, holding several important offices of state. York quarrelled with prominent Lancastrians at court and with Henry VI's queen, Margaret of Anjou, who feared that he might later supplant her son, the infant Edward, Prince of Wales.

Although armed clashes had occurred previously between supporters of York and Lancaster, the first open fighting broke out in 1455 at the First Battle of St Albans. Several prominent Lancastrians died, but their heirs remained at deadly feud with Richard. Although peace was temporarily restored, the Lancastrians were inspired by Margaret of Anjou to contest York's influence. Fighting resumed more violently in 1459. York was forced to flee the country, but one of his most prominent supporters, the Earl of Warwick, invaded England from Calais and captured Henry at the Battle of Northampton. York returned to the country and became Protector of England, but was dissuaded from claiming the throne. Margaret and the irreconcilable Lancastrian nobles gathered their forces in the north of England, and when York moved north to suppress them, he and his second son Edmund were killed in battle at the end of 1460. The Lancastrian army advanced south and recaptured Henry at the Second Battle of St Albans, but failed to occupy London, and subsequently retreated to the north. York's eldest son, Edward, Earl of March, was proclaimed King Edward IV. He gathered the Yorkist armies and won a crushing victory at the Battle of Towton early in 1461.

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