Lancastrians and Yorkists

Edward IV (York) King of England /

Edward IV (York) King of England /

There is more to the intense rivalry between Yorkshire and Lancashire than mere cricket, though one has to admit that these two large northern English counties seem to have produced more first-class cricketers than others.

Lancastrians are descendants or supporters of John (of Gaunt) Duke of Lancaster, second son of Edward III, younger brother of Edward the Black Prince. The reason why Gaunt did not become King when the Black Prince died young is that the throne had by then been usurped by Hereford, becoming Henry IV. The usurper did away with Richard II, grandson of Edward III, but Gaunt was crafty enough to survive, and important enough to get himself into Shakespeare’s plays in a big way. The ‘This sceptr’d isle!’ soliloquoy is spoken by a dying John of Gaunt.

Lancastrians held the throne of England as Henry IV, Henry V (Agincourt) and Henry VI. Their badge was a red rose. During the Wars of the Roses, a series of cruel battles fought by private armies for the throne, which lasted from 1455 to 1485, the Lancastrians suffered defeat by the replacement (and subsequent murder) of the pious but feeble Henry VI by the dashing, glamorous Edward IV of the House of York (white rose, 1461).

The Lancastrian survivors managed to get to France where they took refuge, tended their wounds, and plotted. Margaret of Anjou helped them by invading England and winning battles. Her weak husband Henry was put back on the throne, pausing for a moment to found Eton College in October 1470, but he did not last long. His armies were thrashed at Barnet and Tewkesbury. The latter conflict put paid to most of the remaining Lancastrians, many of whom were butchered by the Yorkists while seeking sanctuary in the cathedral.

Despite all this, and the Yorkist Edward IV taking the throne back, the Lancastrians were ultimately successful, because they supported the claims of the first of the Tudors, who became King by right of conquest, his armies defeating those of Richard III (House of York) at Bosworth Field (1485).

Henry VII was this first Tudor, and the British had to bear with him, and his dreadful son Henry VIII, and the latter’s dangerous and merciless daughter Mary I, before at last finding a Tudor who was worth something in Gloriana, Queen Elizabeth I, the last of the Tudors.

The Yorkists were descendents or supporters of Edmund of Langley, fifth son of Edward III and, from 1385 Ist Duke of York. Followers of his grandson Richard, IIIrd Duke of York adopted the white rose as their badge.

The 3rd Duke was killed in battle at Wakefield in 1460, but nevertheless his ‘party’ (The Yorkists) was successful against the Lancastrians as we have seen above, and Edward a son of that Duke of York became Edward IV King of England. He was famous for many things: he was tall and handsome, when most men in that part of the century were of small stature and had faces marked by the smallpox; he was a lady’s man, marrying secretly, and then again –bigamously – publicly with Mistress Woodville, which could mean that the children of this second marriage, being bigamous – were illegitimate. This is important to remember, as two of Edward’s children were Edward Duke of York (aged about thirteen) and his young brother Richard (around 11). These two youngsters would become pawns in the game later.

Edward IV died suddenly comparatively young, and his son Edward should have been crowned Edward V, but he and his brother had been placed in the Tower of London (then used mainly as a royal abode), and there they vanished. Brother Richard of Gloucester became Richard III (last of the Plantagenets) but was defeated after his usurpation of the throne by another usurper with no claim at all to be king apart from the fact that he was descended from a French Princess who had married Henry V. Catherine of France it was who married a groom of the bedchamber called Owen Tudor when Henry V died unexpectedly. Henry VII, as he was styled, was fruit of the loins of another Tudor called Edmund, who had married a Beaufort girl; the Beauforts themselves were illegitimate (until made legitimate by Henry VII) as they sprang from from Edward III’s mistress Swynford. Much later it must be said that Edward III made a third marriage with this Swynford.

Richard III became the stuff of black legend thanks to Henry Tudor’s paid historians and squimbies like Saint Thomas More who should have known better – he wrote that Richard was born with black flowing hair to his shoulders, teeth, and a hunchback. None of this was true. Later William Shakespeare wrote a splendid piece of pantomime called Richard III (‘Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious Summer by this Sonne of York’ which has been wowing the crowds in theatres and cinemas ever since.

Richard met Tudor at Bosworth Field in 1485, with a much larger and better trained army, but thanks to theturncoat Lord Stanley and the doubts of Northumberland he was defeated, killed, and thrown naked over the back of a mule. He had perhaps foolishly decided on a frontal cavalry attack, led by himself. The king rode directly towards the miserable ‘Tydder’ whose retinue had stayed on a hill to watch the foot soldiers slog it out. Much to his horror Henry Tudor saw ‘a black-haired, toothy, lame and hunchbacked fiend from Hell’ accompanied by his knights galloping at high speed towards him. Luckily for Tudor Stanley decided that was the point when he would show his true colours, and his soldiers surrounded Richard and cut him to pieces (‘My horse, my horse, my kingdom for a horse!’).

Henry VII was no fool, and once he had successfully usurped the throne and was crowned he stopped the Wars of the Roses by the simple expedient of marrying the Yorkist heiress, brother Edward IV’s eldest daughter, Elizabeth of York. The marriage worked well and Henry managed to produce one of the very worst kings any poor kingdom has ever had throughout History – Henry VIII. God save us all.

About the Author:

‘Dean Swift’ is a pen name: the author has been a soldier; he has worked in sales, TV, the making of films, as a teacher of English and history and a journalist. He is married with three grown-up children. They live in Spain.

Leave A Comment