Social change and dynastic struggle created the War of the Roses. By 1455, people no longer respected the government weakening the English monarchy. On top of this, a mentally unstable king emboldened rivals. Eventually, the Lancaster and York families, represented by the red and white rose, went to war over the throne and dragged England into civil war. The conflict between royal families lasted 30 years and ended with the death of a king on the battlefield.
The Great Plague in the fourteenth century changed society.The government and church proved powerless and worthless in the face of the calamity. In the pandemic’s wake, people grew cynical. People began questioning authority and even religion. Afterward, survivors improved their standard of living. The labor shortage weakened the nobility forcing them to raise wages or grant rights.
In England, these social changes combined with a large army returning from France. The new social mores, cynicism, and boredom led to chaos. The rule of law collapsed in some areas and the monarchy could do little. In 1422, nine month old Henry VI assumed the English throne. When the king reached adulthood, his weaknesses became apparent.
Henry VI suffered from bouts of mental illness. At various points, he was incapable of governing. He faced a revolt in 1450, which led to the occupation of part of London. Londoners evicted the rebels on their own. Henry pardoned most, but executed the leaders. Henry’s weakness emboldened rivals. In 1452, Richard of York demanded government reforms, which landed him in prison. He swore allegiance to the king and was released in 1453.
The countryside remained discontented and nobles began forming armies. At this point, Henry suffered another breakdown. His advisers formed a regency under Richard. However, Queen Margaret assumed leadership of the Lancaster family in Henry’s absence and forced Richard out. Richard feared arrest and turned to rebellion.
Henry recovered from his illness in 1455 and met Richard in battle at St. Albans. The First Battle of St. Albans opened the War of the Roses. Richard, Duke of York, inflicted a defeat upon the Lancasters. Several of Henry’s important advisers died in the battle. Henry was found cowering in a tanner’s shop suffering from a breakdown. Richard again assumed power as Lord Protector. However, his position remained tenuous and depended on Henry’s continued incapacitation. A tepid peace between families took root. However, the war would resume and last until 1485.
Societal change and a weakened monarchy led to the War of the Roses. The Lancaster and York families dueled for the English throne over 30 years. The two sides jockeyed for power as Henry VI battled mental illness and Richard of York. The conflict ignited in 1455 at St. Albans with a Yorkist victory. In the short run, the battle led to peace between families, but fighting eventually resumed.