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England-Wars of the Roses


Richard took up arms to maintain himself. "Not against the king," he said, "but against those who falsely pretend to act in his name."

The Earl of Warwick, the wealthiest and most powerful man in England, joined Richard, and the "Wars of the Roses" began. They were to devastate England for thirty years. The peculiar name "Wars of the Roses" was given them because the badge of the party of the King, the Lancastrians, was a red rose, while that of the rebellious Yorkists was a white rose. Shakespeare has a famous scene in which he represents the quarrelling leaders as choosing their symbols. They stand in a London garden, and Richard of York, that is, Richard Plantagenet, cries out:

"Let him that is a true-born gentleman,

And stands upon the honor of his birth,

If he suppose that I have pleaded truth,
From off this brier pluck a white rose with me."

Somerset, leader of the Lancastrians, answers:

"Let him that is no coward, nor no flatterer,
But dare maintain the party of the truth,
Pluck a red rose from off this thorn with me."

Then the Earl of Warwick speaks:

"I love no colors; and, without all color

Of base insinuating flattery,

I pluck this white rose with Plantagenet."

This terrible civil struggle, which went on for thirty years, was, in truth, merely a shameless scramble for spoils, there being no real principle involved. In the first conflict at St. Albans, in 1455, the Yorkists gained a victory, as they did at Bloreheath, Staffordshire, and at Northampton, where Henry was taken prisoner, and Queen Margaret fled with the young Prince Edward to Scotland. Richard demanded the crown, but Henry made a spirited refusal. Finally a compromise was agreed upon, by which Henry was to remain in possession of his throne till his death, when Richard or his heirs was to succeed him.

The indignant Queen, however, refused to allow her son thus to be set aside. She hurried down from Scotland to the north of England, and was joined by several powerful lords. The Duke of York, with some five thousand men, set out in the winter of 1460, to meet her. He lodged in a castle near Wakefield, and Queen Margaret dared him to come out and fight her. His generals urged him to wait where he was until joined by his brave son, the Earl of March. Well would it have been for the duke had he heeded this

advice, but he was so stung by the taunts that he accepted the challenge. His forces were cut to pieces, and he was made prisoner. His exultant captors set him upon an anthill, twisted grass about his head, and mockingly bent their knees to him. "Hail, king, who has no kingdom! Hail, prince, without a people; we trust your Grace is well and happy!"

Then they cut off the head of the miserable man, fixed it on the end of a pole, and handed it to the delighted Margaret, who could hardly keep from dancing with glee. She had some paper doubled up in imitation of a crown, and placed it on the head, which was then fastened on the walls of York. From that time forward neither side gave quarter in their battles.

The next year the Lancastrians suffered a bloody repulse at Towton, where the snow was crimsoned by more than twenty thousand corpses. It is one of the incomprehensible mysteries of human nature, that these friends and neighbors should thus murder one another for no other object than to help the ambitious schemes of a set of wretches, who never should have been permitted to cumber the earth. But so it has been for centuries, and even yet the incredi ble folly has not disappeared from earth.

The Earl of Warwick, who commanded the Yorkists at Towton, earned the name of the "King-maker." He had made Richard almost King. Now he set the eldest son of the murdered duke firmly upon the throne, as Edward IV. Margaret and Henry took refuge in Scotland, and, refusing to obey the summons of the new government, were proclaimed traitors. Henry was captured four years later and imprisoned in the Tower of London, where he seems to have felt a great deal more contented than in trying to balance himself on the wobbly throne.


All through the reign of Edward IV. (1461-1483) the Wars of the Roses raged, with both sides as ferocious as so many ravening wolves. The King married Elizabeth Woodville, who had no rank or money, and he distributed grand titles and estates so lavishly among his lady's relatives, that the Earl of Warwick became jealous. To make good his rights as "King-maker" he managed to oust Edward from the throne and set Henry down in his place. few months later, however, Warwick was killed at the battle of Barnet (1471), and the wretched King Henry was sent back to the Tower, where he was secretly murdered on the same day that Edward resumed his briefly interrupted reign. Margaret kept up the struggle; but the fates were against her, and in the desperate battle of Tewkesbury (1471) her son was slain and she was made prisoner. After five years of captivity she was ransomed by Louis XI. of France, and died in her own country of Anjou.

Edward IV. lived a pampered life, with no fear of another rebellion, since the Wars of the Roses had carried off or ruined about all the barons.






England-Rule of the Yorkists

1029 added to his enormous wealth by compelling his subjects to give him large sums of money, which he called "benevolences." There was only one person whom he had real cause to distrust, and that was his brother, the Duke of Gloucester, a deformed monster of iniquity, who plotted for long years to obtain the throne of England. Miserable and worn out, Edward died in 1483, leaving his widow, five young daughters, and two little sons, Edward, the heir to the throne, and Richard, Duke of York. When the King died, these boys were staying with their mother's relatives at Ludlow Castle, in Shropshire. Edward, who is called Edward V. though he never received the crown, was only twelve years old, and was placed under the guardianship of his uncle, the hunchback miscreant Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who was appointed Lord Protector of the realm until the lad should become of age.

Meeting the princes on the road to London in charge of their half-brother, Sir Richard Grey, and their uncle, Lord Rivers, the hypocritical Duke of Gloucester insisted on taking personal charge of the young King. Then, on the pret ence that the prince would be safer in the Tower of London than at Westmin ster Palace, he sent him to the great gloomy prison to pine in solitude. The incredible villainy of Richard was not long in showing itself. Lord Hastings had voted to make him Protector, but he was too honorable to assist him in seizing the crown. In pretended passion, Richard abruptly accused Lord Hastings of treason, and had him beheaded without a hearing or trial. This left the way clear for the duke to carry out his atrocious purpose toward his two young nephews.

The Queen mother saw with horror the intention of her brother-in-law. She took her other son and his two sisters, and fled for protection to the sanctuary of Westminster Abbey, where she sat alone and sorrowful, with a breaking heart, on the rushes of the floor. After long persuasion, with profuse promises and partial force, Richard induced her to yield her other son to his care. She parted from him in despair, believing she would never see him again. She kissed and embraced the child repeatedly, and clung to him, until he was forced from her arms. Her presentiments were justified, for she never afterward saw either of her boys in this world. Some have hesitated to believe the awful charge that, by direct orders of Richard, the princes were smothered to death in the Tower of London, but the finding, a couple of centuries later, of the skeletons of two children corresponding in age to the princes, and buried or hidden at the foot of the stairs leading to the room where they were imprisoned, leaves little doubt as to the fate of the unhappy lads.

Richard gained enough influential friends to bring about his accession to the throne as Richard III. He strove to win the good-will of his subjects. summoned Parliament, and encouraged it to pass a number of satisfactory


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