Henry VI suffered bouts of insanity opening his kingdom to challengers. The York family, led by Richard, attempted to fill the vacuum. However, Henry and the Lancasters struck back. Eventually, Richard won a dramatic, but not decisive victory at St. Albans. The Lancastrians plotted vengeance and fighting resumed in 1459. The next dozen years witnessed conflict between the two great houses. The period ended in a temporary Yorkist triumph and the reign of Edward IV.
Richard, Duke of York, defeated Henry VI at the Battle of St. Albans in 1455. Afterward, Richard discovered Henry cowering in a tanner shop. York became Lord Protector of the realm while Henry recovered from another bout of mental illness. The king removed the Duke of York from power the following year. At the same time, chaos reigned in London as rival factions battled and French pirates attacked English shipping. Meanwhile, Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick, courted popular opinion and became a political power player. He later earned the nickname “kingmaker.”
In 1458, the Archbishop of Canterbury attempted to intervene in the York-Lancaster feud. He negotiated an end to the feuding and persuaded the two families to march together on Lady Day. Henry VI led the “Love Day” procession followed closely by members of each family. Unfortunately for England, the two families merely engaged in a public relations stunt and resumed plotting their next moves immediately.
Neville touched off the next stage of the conflict when he attacked neutral shipping. London recalled Warwick and launched a formal inquiry. He refused to comply and linked up with Richard in the Welsh Marshes. The Lancastrians marched to face the Yorks once more. The Yorkists fled the field leaving no doubt as to who controlled England. Richard and his supporters were labeled traitors.
Warwick returned to England with Papal support in 1460.Once again the two sides met in battle. This time, the Yorkist force bested Henry VI at Northampton. They captured the king once again and Richard moved to legitimize the York claim to the throne. He failed in his initial attempts since English lords had no desire to overthrow Henry VI. Eventually, a compromise left Richard the heir to the throne and essentially Lord Protector once more.
Richard controlled England, but not Queen Margaret. Margaret and her son fled to Scotland secured Scottish assistance, and marched to battle the Yorks. The Lancastrians won a total victory over the Yorkists. Richard died in battle while the victorious Lancastrians executed his son. At this point, the compromise left York’s son, Edward, the heir apparent. Margaret continued her march southward, but angered the countryside with looting. They won the Second Battle of St Albans and rescued Henry from the Yorkists.
The Yorkist position seemed untenable as Edward marched to confront the Lancastrian invasion force. He merged forces with Warwick and the surviving Yorkists prepared to make a stand. London welcomed the Yorks enthusiastically. Edward sought to legitimize his royal claim. The people and parliament quickly threw their support. Edward officially removed Henry from power claiming he forfeit the crown when Margaret took up arms. Then, he defeated the Lancastrians at Towton. Over 20,000 died in the conflagration. Margaret and Henry escaped while many supporters switched sides. Edward enjoyed his coronation in 1461.
Edward VI’s reign brought peace for a decade. He consolidated power and swept away the opposition. The Yorkists captured Henry VI again in 1465. The deposed monarch spent time in the Tower of London, the last Lancastrian stronghold fell in 1468, and Queen Margaret fled to France. The war appeared over.
By 1468, Edward VI had deposed Henry VI and eliminated the Lancastrian opposition. The Yorkists reigned supreme over England. The rivalry between noble families appeared settled. Edward ruled for a decade and presided over relative peace.