16: The Wars of the Roses
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The reign of Henry V. was a reign of brilliant victories in France,
and the reign of Henry VI. one of disastrous defeats. During both
reigns the lords were becoming more powerful in Wales as well as in
England. The hold of the king over them became weaker every year;
they packed the Parliament, they appointed the Council, they overawed
the law courts. If a man wanted security, he must wear the badge of
some lord, and fight for him when called upon to do so. In the
marches of Wales there were more than a hundred lords holding castle
and court; and it was easy for a robber or a murderer to escape from
one lordship to the other, or even to find a welcome and protection.
In Wales and in the marches the lords preyed upon their weaker
neighbours, and the country became full of private war.
The selfish families, all fighting for more land and more power,
gradually formed themselves into two parties—the parties of the Red
Rose and of the White Rose. The leading family in the Red Rose party
was that of Lancaster, represented by the saintly King Henry VI.; the
leading family in the White Rose party was that of York. In the Wars
of the Roses, York and Lancaster fought over the crown, and those who
supported them over a castle or an estate.
Wales was divided. The west was for Lancaster, from Pembroke to
Harlech, and from Harlech to Anglesey. The east was for York, from
Cardiff and Raglan to Wigmore, and from Wigmore to Chirk. Lancaster
held estates in Wales and on the border—the castles of Hereford,
Skenfrith, Ogmore, and Kidwelly being centres of strength and wealth.
York's chief country was the march of Wales, with Ludlow as its
centre. The Welsh barons took sides according to their interests.
Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke, held the west for his half-brother,
the king. Sir William Herbert, who was very powerful in the country
south of the Mortimers, took the side of his powerful neighbour.
Others wavered, especially Grey of Ruthin and the Stanleys in North
One battle was fought between the Welsh Yorkists and the Welsh
Lancastrians. This was the battle of Mortimer's Cross, near Wigmore,
in February 1461. The victor was the young Duke of York, who was
crowned king as Edward IV. later in the year. An old man, Owen
Tudor, the father of Jasper Tudor, and the grandfather of the boy who
was "to rule after them all" as Henry VII., was taken prisoner. They
took him to Hereford, and there they cut his head off and set it on
the market cross. The battles of the Wars of the Roses were very
cruel ones; the noble prisoners that had been taken, even children of
tender age, were murdered in cold blood on the evening of the battle.
"By God's blood," said one, as he killed a child, "thy father slew
mine, and so will I do thee."
The Welsh barons led their men to nearly all the important battles.
North Wales archers, wearing the three feathers of the Prince of
Wales, fought for Lancaster in the snow at the great defeat of Towton
on the Palm Sunday of 1461; the archers of Gwent, led by Herbert,
fought vainly for York at the battle of Edgecote, in the summer of
1469. And the Welsh waverer and traitor was seen in battle also—
Grey of Ruthin led the van for Lancaster at the battle of Northampton
in 1460, and caused the battle to be lost by deserting to York at the
be ginning of the fighting. In Wales itself, also, the war was
fought bitterly; and the stubborn defence of Harlech for the
Lancastrians became famous through the whole country. The last
battle fought between Lancaster and York was the battle of
Tewkesbury, in May 1471, and Lancaster lost it; the Prince of Wales,
the king's only son, was killed; and his heroic mother, Margaret of
Anjou, gave the struggle up. A young Welsh noble—Henry Tudor, Earl
of Richmond—became the Lancastrian heir. The fortunes of his house
were hopeless, however; and his uncle, Jasper, sent him in safety to
The Yorkist kings, Edward IV. and Richard III., in spite of cruelty
and murder, ruled well. They broke the power of the barons, and they
made the people rich—by maintaining peace, by repressing piracy, by
protecting the woollen industry of the towns.
In Wales their rule was for peace and order. They made a Court for
Wales at Ludlow, the home of their race. From Ludlow they began to
force the barons to do justice and to obey the king. It seemed as if
the rule of the Yorkists was to be a long one, for they were very
popular in London and the towns.
But the nobles were not willing to see their power taken from them
day by day. Jasper Tudor appealed to the loyalty of the Welsh, and
the men of West Wales wanted a king of their own blood; for the laws
had been made unjust to them ever since the time of Owen Glendower.
Many attempts were made, and they failed. But at last, on August 7,
1485, the fugitive Earl of Richmond came to Milford Haven. He
marched on to the valley of the Teivy, and he was joined by Sir Rees
ap Thomas, and an army of South Wales men; he journeyed on through
the valley of the Severn, and the North Wales men joined him; English
nobles joined him as he marched by Shrewsbury, Stafford, Lichfield,
and Tamworth. Richard's army was also on the march. At Bosworth,
August 22, 1485, the two armies met in the last battle of the Wars of
the Roses. Richard fought fiercely, wearing his crown; and when he
was defeated and killed, the crown was placed on Henry's head.
The people of England did not care who ruled, Richard or Henry, as
long as he kept order, for they were very tired of civil war.
But the people of Wales welcomed Henry as a Welshman who would rule
them kindly and justly.
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