Misconceptions about the Wars of the Roses and Battle of Bosworth

17th Century depiction of the Battle of Bosworth Field
17th Century depiction of the Battle of Bosworth

The Battle of Bosworth is a hugely significant event. Richard III‘s death ended the rule of the House of Plantagenet. In came Henry Tudor and the beginning of the Tudor Age. It’s an event that gets lots of mentions in the media. One that people ‘think’ they know lots about. Yet the press make mistakes on this, sometimes getting even the basic facts about the Wars of the Roses, it’s participants and its scale wrong. Here we address a few of the misconceptions and mistakes that we’ve seen in the press or online.

17th Century depiction of the Battle of Bosworth Field
17th Century depiction of the Battle of Bosworth

Bosworth ended the Wars of the Roses

No it didn’t. Though the Battle of Bosworth resulted in the death of Richard III and Henry Tudor being crowned, it was not the end of the Wars of the Roses. The last battle of the Wars of the Roses was the Battle of Stoke Field. This victory wasn’t even the end of opposition and plotting against the Tudors by Yorkists. Lambert Simnel had been pardoned and given work in the Kings service, another pretender to the throne appeared in the guise of Perkin Warbeck in the 1490’s.

The Yorkists lost the War of the Roses

This is far too simplistic a statement to make. When Richard III became king a series of events followed that led to the circumstances in which the Tudor invasion was viable. Those circumstances were orchestrated by Yorkists as well as Tudors own supporters. The Royal Household of Edward IV had seen their roles and prominence diminished under Richard’s rule. This had led to the Buckingham led rebellion of October 1483. Buckingham and many other rebels had, until this point, been Yorkists. They opposed the way in which Richard was ruling and wanted to replace him with Henry Tudor as king with Elizabeth of York as a potential bride. That is collusion between the two factions. During the Bosworth campaign, most Yorkist nobles simply did not answer the call to arms. Make of that what you will but it’s not as simple as saying one side was entirely defeated.

Richard III’s death ended the house of York

Simply not true. Richard’s brother, George Duke of Clarence had been attained (outlawed) which disinherited his children: they were still from the house of York though. Even if that line is disregarded due to the attainder, there are other Yorkists who remained alive and active after the death of Richard III at Bosworth. John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, is believed by some historians to have been named the heir to Richard III. He was the nephew of Richard and Edward IV. It was Lincoln who organised the rebellion that led to Simnel being ‘crowned’ in Dublin. He was killed at the Battle of Stoke Field. Most significant of the house of York after the death of Richard was Elizabeth of York. As the senior member of this line she had political importance. Henry Tudor married her, a significant factor in bringing the wars to an end.

Bosworth was the biggest battle

Not by a long way. The number of people who fought in many medieval battle is hard to gauge accurately. Chronicles were prone to exaggerate and records are sparse for lots of the campaigning of the Wars of the Roses. From the sources available estimates range from a total of 12000 to 20000 taking part in the Battle of Bosworth. Not all of these men actually fought though. Percy did not engage his men. The men under Stanley did engage but quite late in the battle. The numbers involved make this a significant battle but it by no means the largest. The Battle of Towton saw more killed than even took the field at Bosworth. The Battle of Barnet has estimates that are larger than those at Bosworth, as has the Second Battle of St. Albans. Even lesser known battles such as Stoke Field have similar estimated numbers.

The Wars of the Roses was thirty years of fighting

Far from it. There seems to be a popular belief, at least in some newspapers, that the Wars of the Roses were some sort of non stop battle. It was far from it. One of the longest periods of peace in Medieval England can be found during these wars. There is on average less than one major battle per year during the Wars of the Roses. Indeed, if you add up the total number of weeks in which campaigning is known to have been undertaken on a grand scale, by the major nobles, it comes out at less than a years worth of campaigns over a 32 year period.

The Wars of the Roses was Lancashire v Yorkshire

This misunderstands where the names come from. This isn’t so much a newspaper error but more a general misconception. It’s one I saw people having at the start of the University of Oxford course on the Wars of the Roses. It is easy to think that the wars were geographically based around Lancaster and York. They are quite simply titles though. Land in both counties was held by supporters of both sides. The Neville family, for example, held a large amount of land in the north. Towton is a good example of this not being the case. The House of Lancaster had used York as a base from which they took to the battlefield at Towton. The Battle of Ferrybridge and Dingtindale both saw the Yorkshire based ‘Flower of Craven’ fighting on the side of the House of Lancaster. Huge swathes of land were controlled in this way. Even at the height of Richard, Duke of Gloucester’s power in the north there were supporters of the house of Lancaster in Yorkshire and Yorkists in Lancashire.

Richard Duke of Gloucester was guardian of Edward V

Not the case. Suggested by David Durose on the British Medieval History group. Many people believe that Richard was named as the guardian of Edward V. This would have seen him in charge of the young kings safety and would worsen claims made against him in relation to the fate of Edward and his brother. However, Richard wasn’t the guardian of Edward. Richard’s position following the death of Edward IV was Protector of the Realm. The appointed guardian of Edward was Earl Rivers.

Causes of the Wars of the Roses – Course of the War of the Roses – Events of the War of the Roses

Battles in the Wars of the Roses

First Battle of St. Albans  – Battle of Blore Heath – Battle of Ludford Bridge – Battle of Northampton – Battle of Wakefield – Battle of Mortimer’s Cross – Second Battle of St. Albans Battle of Ferrybridge – Battle of Towton – Battle of Hedgeley Moor – Battle of Hexham – Battle of Edgecote Moor – Battle of Losecote Field – Battle of Barnet – Battle of Tewkesbury – Battle of Bosworth – Battle of Stoke Field

Documents, Maps and Evidence

The Rous Rolls – Paston Letters – Edward IV Roll

People and periods

British History – The Wars of the Roses – The Plantagenets – The Tudors – King Henry IV – King Henry V – King Henry VI – King Edward IV – King Edward V – King Richard III – King Henry VII – Margaret of Anjou

Schoolshistory – teaching resources for Key Stage 3, GCSE and A Level history


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