The Hundred Years War & the War of the Roses
The Rose was the Emblem for both Houses in the War of the Roses
The 100 Years War led to the War of the Roses
The 100 Years War was essentially a series of separate wars, lasting from 1337-1453 between France and England for the French throne, which was vacant after the last of the Capetian dynasty died without a definitive heir. The instigators of the long conflict were the French house of Valois and the English House of Plantagenet (Also know as the House of Anjou.) The war lasted 116 years but it was not a consistent period of war. There were peaceful interludes lasting several years. The war was divided into several conflicts. The Edwardian War (1337-1360); the Caroline War (1369-1389); Lancastrian War (1415-1429); the final campaigns that began with the arrival of Joan of Arc (1412-1431).
The roots of the 100 years War go all the way back to the Norman Conquest of 1066, when William the Duke of Normandy, France, (who had his own legal claim to the English throne which was denied) led the successful invasion of England. The Norman occupation of England would change the course of English history forever.
Despite being a great conqueror and being crowned king of England, William was still a subject of the King of France. England would continue to pay homage to France for centuries.
The House of Plantagenet (founded by Geoffrey the fifth of Anjou) was the most powerful political family in England in the 12 century. Geoffrey, a descendant of William, became King. When Geoffrey’s son Henry the 2nd ascended to the throne, he refused to pay fealty to the motherland of France, wanting to control his own country and his own destiny. Wars broke out between Henry the 2nd and the French, the end result of which was England gaining new territory, including Normandy. By the time Henry’s son Richard the Lion-hearted (Of Robin Hood Fame) took the throne in 1189, he ruled more land in continental Europe than the King of France, Phillip the 2nd. After Richard died, his weak and less capable brother John (Known as evil Prince John in Robin Hood) became King. Phillip acted quickly to exploit John’s weakness. Phillip succeeded in wresting back most of the ancient territories Henry and Richard had taken from France. This left the English angry and vengeful.
In 1324, French King Charles the 4th fought the short War of St. Sardos in Gascony against his brother-in-law, Edward the second of England. The major event of that war was the brief siege on the English fortress of La Reole. The English lost. This increased their animosity against the French.
In the 14th Century, when the long unbroken line of the Capetian Kings (the longest continuous dynasty of medieval Europe) left France without a clear heir, a battle for succession occurred. The French saw Phillip of Valois (Grandson of Phillip the Third) as the logical successor. He had taken the regency after Charles the 4th death.
However, the English King Edward the 3rd pressed his claim to the throne, being the nephew of the late King and the eldest living male descendant of King Phillip the 3rd. By feudal law, this made him the legitimate heir to the throne.
The French balked at the idea of the King of England ruling France, but the English were determined to use the rule of law to regain the lands they had lost to the French. A temporary truce was initiated in 1329 when England was given control of Gascony in return of Edward recognizing young Phillip as King. The truce didn’t last. France soon wanted to reclaim Gascony and tried to use the technicalities of feudal law to get it. Edward wouldn’t relinquish it. It remained a point of contention between the two kings.
Edward had subjugated Scotland and Scots King David and his Queen had fled for refuge in France. Edward was dealing with Rebellions, (The revolt begun by William Wallace, as depicted in Braveheart) and the French came to Scotland’s aid under the terms of the “Auld Alliance” between Scotland and France. The French saw the opportunity to regain Gascony while Edward was distracted by the Scots. The French sent ships across the English Channel and war broke our between England and France. This was the first section of the 100 Years War.
The Edwardian War (1337-1360) proved that “Edward the Long-shanks” was a great military commander. He mounted a major invasion across the channel. The war went horribly for the French and Edward ran roughshod over them. At the same time, the English captured Scots King David, who had returned to Scotland only to be captured immediately by Edward’s forces. The impossibly high ransom Edward asked for David crippled Scotland’s war efforts. Things were going great for Edward and England.
Edward’s forces also invaded from Gascony, as his ships continued to come across the channel and his men moved north across France. The new French King John was captured and the French government started to fall apart. The country was in complete chaos.
The Edwardian campaign ended when the captive John signed a treaty with Edward in 1359, handing over to him the lands that England had once lost to France, as well as the much coveted region of Aquitaine. Edward’s kingdom was much expanded after his overwhelming victories in France and Scotland.
Combat resumed ten years later in what was called the Caroline War (1369-1389). By this time, Edward was too old and ill to fight a war. The Scottish War of Independence was under way, being led by Robert Bruce, and was taking up England’s resources. When Charles the Fifth acceded to the French throne, he made it a point to take back Aquitaine and other areas from England. Taking advantage of England’s current weakness, Chalres used a technicality of Feudal Law to break the treaty and declared War on England again.
Charles fought a very cautious war, avoiding head-to-head confrontations with English armies. He used a ‘Long Game’ strategy, taking France back in small pieces, recapturing many towns. Slowly, the English were pushed back, if only a small distance.
After the deaths of Edward and Charles, Edward’s weak, sickly and under-aged son Richard the 2nd didn’t have the skill or desire to fight a war with France while he was trying desperately to hang on to Scotland. He signed a treaty with France in 1389, conceding to them the land’s they’d taken.
Richard the Second was an unpopular King and his cousin Henry the Fourth had aspirations of taking the throne. Richard was eventually deposed and executed by Henry who became King. Henry had aspirations of invading France and rectifying the loses Richard had signed away, but these attacks never materialized. Henry the 4th's reign was short and marked by mental illness. Then came Henry the Fifth.
Combat resumed with the Lancastrian War (1415-1429), the most famous phase of the Hundred Years War. Henry the Fifth decided to carry out his fathers never-enacted plans of invasion. Henry # 5 had a much better military mind than his father and improved greatly on his father’s strategies. Henry tried a brief but doomed negotiation with the French, where he demanded that they return all the lands which once belonged to Henry the 2nd and Richard the First. Naturally, the French refused, and Henry declared war.
Over the next few months, Henry made a quick advance across France, culminating in the famous Battle of Agincourt, which was a disastrous defeat for the French. Henry regained the lands of Henry the Second and made Normandy an English property for the first time in centuries. Henry met with Charles the sixth who signed a peace treaty with England, surrendering the lands Henry the 2nd once took. Part of the agreement was the Henry’s son would ascend to the Crown of France once Charles the sixth died.
Henry the Fifth died in 1422. His son was only nine years old when he was crowned king. Rival factions within the English government battled to be the power behind the throne. Meanwhile, Scotland—who had won their independence from England—came to the aid of the French. When Charles died, the French were unwilling to accept young Henry the 6th as leader and supported the claim of Charles’ son, Charles the 7th. While the English were conflicted and basically leaderless, the French felt the English couldn’t or wouldn’t enforce the claim. They were wrong. Combat started once again.
Despite the internal battle for control of England, the armies of English soldiers did well against their French opponents. They pressed the French hard until 1429 when a French savior appeared. This new figure in the war, who appeared to be a young man (but was actually woman is disguise) rallied a French resistance by claiming divine guidance. She would become known as Joan of Arc.
While the English were quarreling amongst themselves, Joan convinced the Dauphin to allow her to lead some of the French troops, along with her own volunteers. She raised the moral of the troops who thought they had God on their side. She turned the tide of the war against the British.
While the English were losing on the battlefield, castle intrigue was increasing in the English court. A rivalry for control had broken out between the two most influential families in England. One was Henry’s House of the Lancaster/Plantagenet Clan and the other was the House of York, led by the Duke of York. They proceeded to plot, duel, debate, scheme, manipulate and otherwise vie for control of the throne, on which young Henry precariously sat.
Joan of Arc was eventually captured and executed. Her lose was demoralizing to the French. The English, in the meantime, were too busy fighting amongst themselves to bother trying to win back lands from France that they didn’t really need to begin with. Both sides were tired of the endless battle. Although there was no official declaration of peace, hostilities began to slowly decrease. Other matters had taken precedence.
In England, Henry the Fifths surviving brother Humphrey the Duke of Gloucester had been named the Lord Protector of England until Henry 6 became of age to rule. So far, he’d fended off the machinations of the York Clan, who were determined to gain ascendancy.
Henry reached the age of ascendancy in 1437. His first action was to finally end the 100 Years war and reach a peace with France. He was advised that the best way to end the long hostilities was through a marriage alliance. Henry therefore married Margaret of Anjou, nice of King Charles the Seventh. He signed an agreement that the lands of Maine and Anjou would fall back to France, who could also keep the rest of the lands Joan of Arc had won from England. This was known as the Treaty of Tours.
THE WAR OF THE ROSES:
With the 100 Years War behind them, the York and Lancaster clans were free to unload all their venom on each other. The House of Lancaster had thus far managed to hang onto the crown, but the York family was very determined. Both families had crests that prominently featured a rose, thus their rivalry became known as The War of the Roses.
Henry was afraid that if his own people knew the terms of the treaty he’d signed with France, they’d stop supporting him. He needed a scapegoat. He had the loyal Humphrey of Gloucester arrested by Parliament on charges of treason. Humphrey died of a heart attack in prison while awaiting trial. The action caused turmoil within the House of Lancaster. The Duke of York took advantage of the discord an attempted to raise public support against the Lancasters. Henry feared that a popular revolt was in the making.
Henry stalled the York’s plans by officially declaring the Duke of York (and his children) heir to the English throne. Henry got rid of the Duke by making him the regent of Ireland. With York miles away on another island, Henry hoped he could calm down the political game playing. He was wrong.
The rest of the Lancasters (And the Queen) didn’t like the fact that Henry’s agreement disinherited the Lancaster heir. Henry couldn’t take the pressure and had a break down, slipping into dementia. Henry’s reign became increasingly unpopular, even with the public, due to a financial crisis and a general break down of law-and-order in the streets.
Eventually, the Duke of York returned to rejoin the English court and put an end to bad government. He decided to raise an army in order to force the King to listen to him. The King’s advisers sent an equal sized force. They met at St. Alban’s in Shrewsbury. The Duke’s forces won and they presented their list of grievances to the King. It was Margaret who intervened and managed to create a compromise that left Henry in charge. York became Protector of the Realm in 1453.
York’s influence was growing and Henry was almost unaware of what was going on. Henry’s disenchanted nobles took matters into their own hands and decided to end the threat posed by the Yorks.
After a violent struggle between the two houses in 1461, Henry was defeated and imprisoned by the Yorks. Although Henry was freed by loyalists, the Yorks kept the throne. They gave Edward the 4th of York the crown. The Lancaster resistance continued under the leadership of Queen Margaret, but Henry was recaptured by Edward in 1465 and imprisoned again.
Margaret was in exile in Scotland. She managed to form an alliance with two of Edward’s once staunch supporter who’d had a falling out with Edward and were trying to depose him. The conspirators were Richard and his brother Clarence. After marrying his daughter to Henry’s son, Richard led troops to England that drove out the Yorks and put the insane Henry (And Margaret who was the real ruler) back on the throne.
Henry’s return lasted only six months. The Yorks came back with reinforcements and re-took the throne in the Battle of Tewkesbury. (Henry’s son, who was now old enough to fight, was killed in the battle defending his father.)
Henry was imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1471 and died soon after. It’s often suspected that Edward arranged for Henry’s murder. History has often given the credit—or the blame—to Edward’s younger brother Richard (Immortalized in “Richard the Third” by Shakespeare) for doing the deed.
That was the end of the War of the Roses. The House of York emerged victorious.
Of course, that wasn’t the end of the political machinations, as anyone who knows the story of Richard the Third can tell you. But that’s another story.