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Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York: Important Figure During the War of the Roses

Updated on March 12, 2014
The stain glass window depiction of Richard, Duke of York
The stain glass window depiction of Richard, Duke of York | Source

On September 21, 1411, one of the most important man of the War of the Roses was born. Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, was the Edward III’s great-grandsons and one of the reasons for the War of the Roses to start. He was the father of two British kings, Edward IV and Richard III, and the grandfather of the Princes in the Tower.

The Lead Up to Richard, Duke of York’s Birth

It wasn’t easy being part of the royal bloodline in the Middle Ages. At the time of Richard’s birth, the throne had been taken away from the House of York by Henry IV, the first Lancastrian king. It was supposed to be Richard II’s, who was the son of Edward, the Black Prince. Edward was the eldest son and heir apparent to Edward III’s throne but he died before his father.

Richard II was still young when he became King of England in 1377 and the throne was originally controlled by John of Gaunt, his uncle. His reign wasn’t a smooth one, between the Peasant’s Revolt and the uprising of some of the noblemen in his Court, Richard II continually struggled. Some of the nobles were forced into exile, including Henry of Bolingbroke, who later deposed Richard and made himself Henry IV.

Despite Henry IV being king, there were some who believed that it wasn’t right. The crown should have been Richard’s and passed down his line. Since Richard had no sons or brothers, the crown would pass to the next son of Edward III and that line. This meant Edmund Mortimer should have been king. Edmund became a focus for plots during the reigns of Henry IV and V.

The War of the Roses was between cousins from Edward III of England's line.
The War of the Roses was between cousins from Edward III of England's line.

Learn More About the War of the Roses

How Richard, Duke of York Became Part of the Plots

Richard’s father, Richard of Conisburgh, was part of one of the plots to place Edmund on the throne. He was beheaded after the Southampton plot. This should have brought an end to this line and its chances of becoming the most powerful one in England but it didn’t.

Richard of Conisburgh had married the sister of Edmund Mortimer, Anne and they had two children who survived into adulthood. One of those was Richard, Duke of York. Richard had a claim to the throne through his mother by being the great-great-grandson of Lionel of Antwerp. While it wasn’t through a continuous male line, it was seen to some to be stronger than the Lancastrian claim. It did help that there was a claim through a continuous male line through his father, who was grandson of Edward III through fourth son, Edmund of Langley.

Due to his father’s execution, Richard didn’t have many prospects at first. His mother had died in childbirth and he was left an orphan. A few months later, the 2nd Duke of York, Edward of Norwich, also died during the Battle of Agincourt. This was Richard’s uncle and the title would die out. Henry V, the king at the time, agreed after some debate that the young Richard could inherit the title Duke of York and would also inherit the lands upon reaching adulthood. He later inherited the title and estates of the Earldom of March when his uncle, Edmund Mortimer, passed.

Richard, Duke of York, was now the second most wealthiest man behind the King of England. The problem for Richard was that all the income was controlled by the crown, since he was an orphan.

Richard, Duke of York's marriage to Cecily Neville led to the crowning of Edward IV of England
Richard, Duke of York's marriage to Cecily Neville led to the crowning of Edward IV of England

Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York Becomes Ward of Ralph Neville

Ralph Neville saw the prospects in Richard and his wealth and Richard became his ward. Ralph had many daughters—he had 20 children who survived infancy—and decided that Richard would make the perfect husband for one of them: Cecily Neville. Cecilly was just nine-years-old at the time. On October 1425, Ralph died but it didn’t change the betrothal. His wife, Joan Beaufort, inherited the wardship and saw to it that Richard and Cecily married by October 1429.

Richard never initially made a bid for the crown. He was a supporter of Henry V, which led to him being knighted and being present at Henry VI’s formal coronation. He was even in attendance of Henry’s coronation in Notre Dame as King of France.

On May 12, 1432, he was finally given control of each of his estates. He was his own man but he also became a disappointment to the King of England. He lost some of the French lands that England wanted to keep and he overspent on his troops and needs. Richard soon found himself out of the King’s Council.

He did gain some of his power back and proved that he could lead. He was back on a campaign to France, which his wife followed him on. They had three children while in France, Edward, Edmund and Elizabeth. However, Henry VI married a French woman, Margaret of Anjou, who was not liked by the English people.

The Story of the War of the Roses

The Madness of Henry VI

Henry VI went through various stages of mental illness. While Margaret of Anjou was a very capable Queen Consort, the English people weren’t happy with the French regent. By this point Richard has lost many of his offices and powers and was looking for ways to gain that back. Margaret wasn’t happy but Richard became the Protector of the Realm until Henry became well enough to rule his country.

One of the things that Richard did was to promote his brother-in-law, Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury, to Chancellor. This helped to set up the support Richard would need later to put his son on the throne. However, many of Richard’s actions were reversed when Henry overcame his illness in 1455. Neville resigned as Chancellor and the Duke of Somerset was one person restored to favour.

Richard knew that his time was close to an end so he put together an army in the North. The army was his Neville family, along with other supporters, which was big enough to scare Somerset. To protect the king, Somerset had to put an army together quickly but he didn’t have enough time. Despite having 2,000 men, they were poorly equipped for the first official battle of the War of the Roses: The first Battle of St. Albans on May 22, 1455.

The end result was the capture of Henry VI of England. Richard, Duke of York, restored himself to full power.

Of course, this wasn’t the end of the War of the Roses; it was only just beginning. It was just the initial step that Richard took to get his son, Edward, on the throne. It took the deaths of Richard and his second son, Edmund, and another five years to see Edward crowned Edward IV. Due to Edward’s daughter’s marriage to Henry VII of England, all monarchs since then have been descendants of Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York.


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    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 4 years ago from Wales

      Very interesting and thank you for sharing.