The Wars of the Roses was dominated by the actions of a number of significant people. These personalities of the Wars of the Roses dictated the policies and actions that triggered the wars. They organised armies and military campaigns. Some made arrangements for diplomatic marriages that prolonged the wars. Other people stand out because of the records that remain about their lives. The Paston Family are one such example. On this page, we highlight the people and personalities of the wars. Their individual stories tell us lots about the nature of society at the time.
This list of significant individuals is far from extensive.
King Henry VI – Henry became king as an infant. His uncles ruled in his stead until he reached his majority. His rule was weak and he became influenced by favourites. This led to unrest and contributed to the outbreak of war. Henry suffered from mental health problems in the run-up to the war and during it.
Edward IV – Son of Richard, 3rd Duke of York. He took up his fathers claim to the throne and secured the crown at the Battle of Towton. His marriage to Elizabeth Woodville ultimately led to a resumption of the wars as it antagonised the Earl of Warwick. Edward overcame this rebellion and ruled until his death in 1483.
Edward V – Son of Edward IV the child king was never crowned. Instead, he is remembered as one of the famous Princes in the Tower. Debate continues to this day as to the fate of Edward and his younger brother, Richard.
Richard III – much maligned over the years due in large part to Shakespeare’s negative portrayal of him. In recent years there has been a revision of Richard’s role. The discovery of his remain and subsequent burial in Leicester increased interest in his life. Ricardian historians have now created a large number of more positive interpretations of Richard’s life and kingship.
Henry VII – Henry Tudor. A relatively unknown noble who grew in importance as other males with royal blood died. Eventually, he became the main claimant to the crown held by Richard III. Supported by some disgruntled nobles, French soldiers and men from his families lands he was victorious at the Battle of Bosworth.
Queen Consorts and Women in the Wars of the Roses
Queen Consorts and Women of the Wars of the Roses are covered on this page.
Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. Uncle of Henry VI. He acted as the infant’s guardian and along with the Duke of Bedford held considerable power during the regency. Humphrey held strong opinions on the policy in France and had disagreements with some senior nobles. He withdrew from public life after his wife was found guilty of sorcery. Humphrey died in suspicious circumstances whilst under arrest.
Henry Percy. In fact 3 of them. The 2nd Earl of Northumberland was killed fighting at the first battle of St. Albans. His son, the 3rd Earl of Northumberland died at Towton. The 4th Earl survived the fighting but was killed by peasants in 1489.
George, Duke of Clarence. Brother of Edward IV. George is not loyal to his brother’s cause throughout the course of the Wars of the Roses. His defection altered the political landscape and his reconciliation contributed to the balance of military power changing in 1471. This had a major impact on the way in which the wars of the roses were fought out at that time.
Margaret of Anjou. Henry VI’s Queen. She was a dominant force in the court. In times of Yorkist supremacy, it was Margaret who organised and led much of the opposition, raising armies herself on several occasions.
Richard, 3rd Duke of York. Lord Protector in Henry VI’s first bout of incapability. Upon Henry’s return to ruling it was Richard who instigated the war. He died in the Battle of Wakefield in 1460. His son, Edward, took up the cause and became Edward IV. He was also the father of Richard III. Richard’s political decisions and ambitions contributed to factionalism and the start of the Wars of the Roses.
Richard Neville (Warwick the Kingmaker). The most powerful non-royal in the country with wealth to rival that of the competing factions. Known as the Kingmaker due to the lengths he went to to get Edward IV onto the throne. Played a pivotal role in winning the Battle of Northampton. Eventually changed allegiances to support the Lancastrians and was killed fighting at the Battle of Barnet.
John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford. John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford fought at the Battle of Barnet. Following the Lancastrian defeat, he went into exile in France, from where he launched raids on shipping, attacked the Port of Calais and captured St. Michael’s Mount. Following his surrender at St. Michael’s Mount, he was imprisoned. He escaped in time to join with Henry Tudor, for whom he fought at the Battle of Bosworth.
John de la Pole, 1st Earl of Lincoln. John de la Pole, 1st Earl of Lincoln was the most senior Yorkist to have survived the Battle of Bosworth. He initially made his peace with Henry Tudor but soon became involved in the plan to overthrow him. This saw John becoming one of the senior commanders in the army that was raised in Ireland, fighting at the Battle of Stoke Field in 1487, during which he died.
John of Gloucester / Pontefract. John was the illegitimate son of Richard III. He was appointed as Captain of Calais in the latter stages of his father’s reign. Henry Tudor replaced him shortly after his seizure of power but John received an annuity from the crown. He vanishes from the record books.
Francis Lovell. Viscount Francis Lovell was one of Richard IIIs closest friends and advisors. He held command positions in the months leading up to the invasion by Henry Tudor and fought at Bosworth Field.
John Neville, Lord Montagu. Brother of the Earl of Warwick, John Neville became well known for his role in the Percy-Neville clashes. As the Wars of the Roses began he found himself captured by the Lancastrians as he joined in the pursuit of fleeing men following the Battle of Blore Heath. He was created Lord Montagu for his services in the North, then became the Earl of Northumberland following his victories at Hexham and Hedgeley Moor. Once the Percy family had their titles restored, John Nevill, Lord Montagu, chose to switch his allegiance and he joined his brother in rebelling. He died at the Battle of Barnet.
Richard de la Pole. Richard was the last Yorkist claimant to pose a serious threat. He was supported by Yorkist exiles and funded by the French Crown. Two invasion forces were assembled to invade England with the intention of restoring the House of York to the throne, with Richard as King. Neither of these forces set sail. He died fighting for the King of France at the Battle of Pavia.
Thomas Rotherham, Archbishop of York and Chancellor of England in the reign of Edward IV.
Causes of the Wars of the Roses – Battles of the Wars of the Roses – Personalities of the Wars of the Roses – Women in the Wars of the Roses – Timeline of the Wars of the Roses – Infographic: Key Facts on the Wars of the Roses – Primary and Secondary Sources on the Wars of the Roses – Nathen Amin – the Rise of the Beaufort’s and Tudor England