Monday, October 4, 2010

Wars and Battles: The Wars of the Roses

You may wonder what a post about about a ficticious Indiana divorce case narrated by actor-lawyer Danny Devito is doing on a blog called BritishSpeak. Well you may.

This post is about different wars fought by different roses, but I couldn't find any suitable pictures. In fact, the only pictures I could find of Richard III looked like a cross between Picasso on a bad day with both eyes on the same side of his face and something out of a deck of playing cards. I considered using Charles Laughton's Quasimoto, but figured you'd be on to me.

No, the Wars of the Roses that this post is about were fought in the 15th century and lasted about 50 years (1435-1485 for those who have a thing about accuracy) though there was considerable pushing and shoving before and after these dates.

The wars were fought over the throne of England and Wales, so the stakes were high.

No, I'm not REALLY going to try to tell the entire story of the Wars of the Roses here in a blog post. I'll just try to give the headlines.

The Duke of G:
"Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that low'r'd upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried."

"Dicky, please stop speaking like that and wash up for supper, K?"

The above is one of only 4 or 5 passages of Shakespeare that I can actually quote. Please be kind enough not to look it up in case I got it wrong. Some versions of the play don't include this Dick's mother's lines.

If you would prefer to learn about the entirety of the Wars of the Roses simply by reading words that are hard to understand, then I refer you to Shakespeare's Henry VI (all three plays) and cap it off with Richard III. But I assure you MY version is much more entertaining and plausible (if not more coherent) than Shakespeare's, especially since I may tell you about some things Shakespeare forgot to put in his plays. My version may be a bit longer than those 4 plays, though.

"This above all, to thine own self be true..."

The above line represents another figment fragment of my quotable knowledge of The Bard. Although it has nothing at all to do with the War of the Roses, I DID learn it in another Danny Devito movie. Thus, while not exactly pertinent to this post, it is at least obliquely relevant. Some say I am The Bard's pard. Not many, though. Most simply say, "He's a poet 'n don't knowit but his feet showit. They're Longfellows." Children can be cruel.

::takes deep breath and plunges forward::

The house of York (white rose, I think) and the House of Lancaster (that would then be the red rose on the coat of arms and battle flags) were bickering [read: "killing each other"] about who would finish off the last gasp of the Plantagenet dynasty. But of course you knew that. Here will follow a lot of Henrys and Richards and Edwards, so your close attention is requested for two minutes.

Long story short: (as if)

The infant Henry VI becomes king upon the death of Henry V, Henry the IV having dispatched Richard II sometime prior. I know it is not politically correct to use the term feeble-minded, especially when you are talking about infants, but my mind is churning for a synonym without success. So we will just call Henry VI feeble-minded. No, wait. NOT feeble-minded, as in licking the windows; more like DEE ranged, as in marrying a camel and then jumping off the castle parapet wearing nothing but a superman cape. Oh Christ. That doesn't capture Henry VI, either. How about... and this is PC, too... "mentally unstable." Hey? Can I get you another beer?

Anyway, Henry VI was a Lancaster dude, to be sure. The Lancastrian claim to the throne (after Richard II... um.... retired) was through the fourth son of Edward III, whom the history books never mention by name. Wait. John of Gaunt. I guess the history books DO mention him. Nevertheless, this is only a hysterical historical side-trip and you will not be tested on this.

The point is, Henry VI's inability to rule all that well because of his mental challenges and his general desire to be doing something else for a living resulted in a challenge to his throneship by his relatives the Yorkites. Yorkians. Old Yorkers. (Picture Foster Brooks succumbing onstage to one-too-many alcoholic beverages and sinking loudly to his knees with a final frustrated moan: THE HOUSE OF YORK GODDAMITT!!!)

Enter the Wars of the Roses.

Hurry, you say?

Ok. Moving right along. The House of York successfully (for a while) asserts their claim to the throne and Edward IV becomes king. Then back to Henry VI again, then back to Edward IV. Then Edward V, who is just a kid and stongly dominated by the ever-present uncle Dick. Finally this last Dick becomes king as Richard III, hump and all, despite enduring a winter of discontent and despite Shakespeare putting far too many allegorical fantasies in his mouth - it is not possible to bury clouds in the ocean, which has no bosom to begin with; c'mon Will, the guy was a real Dick but holy cow, huh? - but not for very long. Two years. That's right, two lousy years. I swear. All of that for two years on the throne for Dick III.

Well, Richard III is killed in the almost-last battle of the Roses, as you know, and so that's why he only got 2 years on the throne. Now enter Henry Tudor, a remote Lancastrian, sort of, relative ('cause there's only girls left, I think. A bit foggy here. And don't you DARE start talking about France.) And Henry becomes Henry VII but marries a Yorkian chick lady by the name of Elizabeth of York, and so the two dynasties are untied united and they lived happily ever after. The end.

P.S. And Henry VII and Elizabeth begat Henry VIII who coveted Ireland, and his older sister whose name I can't remember, but who went to live in Scotland because of marriage and by all that's holy here comes the house of Stuart lurking in the wings and I am more than finished now.

Richard Nixon: Golly, Molly, old Max is starting to actually make sense in a semi-surreal way, doncha think? He's almost tying all this togeth.... ::walks toward helicopter::

In point of fact, the era of the Wars of the Roses was a very important time in England, and affected the future of the kingdom for many, many years. Richard III was killed in the penultimate battle of those wars, the Battle of Bosworth Field. Historians consider the Battle of Bosworth Field to be the end of the Plantagenet dynasty, a distinct turning point in English history. It ushered in the House of Tudor. Other kings killed in prior battles of the Wars of the Roses were Henry VI and Edward IV.

The Battle of Bosworth Field lasted about 2 hours. Richard III was the last English king to die in battle. Henry VII was crowned king immediately after the battle, on crown hill (using Richard's circlet.) The exact location of the battle is in dispute today, though they know within a couple of miles. Bosworth is approximately in the center of England as you look at a map.


  1. I'd like to point out that you've found some exceptionally flattering pictures of the Royal Family. They don't all, or usually, look quite so fetching.

  2. English imperialists fighting with one another, so what's new?

  3. Oy! I know it's all in fun, but what a headache this was to read!

    As a descendant of the Plantagenet line (through Edward I aka Edward Longshanks)and a devotee of history, my head just missed exploding.

    There's an interesting book, Simon the Coldheart, by one of my favorite authors, Georgette Heyer (though it touches on Henry V, not his unfortunate heir). Still, by focusing on it, I can prevent (I think) the aneurysm.

  4. Please don't go out of your way to prevent an aneurism just on my account.

  5. You are descended from Longshanks? I'm sure Adullamite will love to hear that. Or ANY Braveheart fan for that matter. :)

  6. Longshanks, a stereotypical murdering imperialist bully boy. Typical English football hooligan.

  7. I'm not quite biblical enough to beg forgiveness for my ancestors. Edward had good points and bad points and he was hardly the most reprehensible at the time. And the Scots got the last laugh, didn't they? I'm descended from Alfred the Great, too, so I have plenty of "native" blood as well, not just Norman scum.

    Given the unlikeness of Edward II being actual father to Edward III, I probably have more relation to Edward I than most of the monarchs since then. Ironic, no?

    As for the aneurysm, well, there's still time. Maybe you'll get lucky.

  8. Adullemite, perhaps typical with at least one notable exception. He seemed dedicated at least to his first wife, Eleanor. How often does that happen? Not since William the Conqueror, I'd say.

  9. @A. - Why, thank you! I did my best to find photographs which showed them in their best light. Of course I meant no disrespect; this post is all in fun.

    @Adullamite - Ah, but they aren't imperialists yet. Just an English king who, in the end, was willing to trade his kingdom for a horse.. Much like the current Prince of Wales, I'm told. Try to be calm. :)

  10. @Stephanie Barr - I apologize for the aneurism wisecrack. I don't want that to happen. As far as you know.

    Norman scum??? Last month you were descended from William the Conqueror. Oi.

  11. I think the Stephanie point is that, one way or another, we're all descended from the same small bunch of apes.
    Given the way in which people like to be selective of their geneology, we mostly like to pick out and point at the more famous ones.
    Edward Longshanks was born in 1235 ?, died 1307ish. That's 20 or so generations back. If we do the simple but tedious arithmetic, we find the further back we go, the bigger the number of ancestors we have in each generation. One generation back, we have 2. Then,4,8,16,32,64, (the sixty four happens around 1770)128,256, see where this is going? the number explosion? by the time you get to Longshanks, you would have him and 8,388,608 others to choose from.
    Back in Alfie the great's time this number gets up to 137,438,953,472.
    Of course, there weren't that many people in the world back then, in all probability.
    There comes a point in family trees, not too far back, where several share the same ancestors, and we realise that pretty much everyone we look at is some sort of distant cousin.
    If Stephanie can trace one of her her lines back to Alfred, I ca tell you for sure that other threads link her to pretty much anyone else alive in Afred's time.

  12. Which brings me to "Hi, Stephanie- we're cousins! ta-daaaa!"

  13. @ Relax Max - Edward I is descended from William the Conqueror. It's a two for one deal (as Soubriquet explains).

    Actually it's a many for one deal since I'm also descended from Alfred the Great since he plugged into the same line.

    @ Soubriquet, you were right. Edward I is, in fact, exactly twenty generations back for me. You make a great point. Not to mention that going back just a couple of generations, paternity might not always be that black and white.

    What I'm trying to say is, "Hey, cuz! How's it going?"



Related Posts with Thumbnails