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The Wars of the Roses was a series of dynastic civil wars set in England between 1455 and 1485. It started off with the Plantagenet King Edward III had too many legitimate children. Henry of The House of Lancaster, stole the throne from his cousin and Edward's first grandson Richard II. Although they had a couple of strong monarchs (see Henry V), Henry VI turned out to be a strange boy with mental issues. And so he was challenged for the throne by The Rival House of York (a cousin line descended from Edward III). Long story short, Henry VII from The House of Tudor was crowned after thirty years of conflict. He was from the Lancastrian side, but married the daughter of the Yorkist faction and united the two sides.

On a side note, "Wars of the Roses" were never called that by contemporaries. While the name does come from the White and Red Rose badges of the Yorkists and Lancastrians, respectively, it wasn't until William Shakespeare and Walter Scott that the conflict became known by its now common name.

Not to be confused with The War of the Roses, a novel (and film adaptation) with a similar title that has nothing to do with this period of history.

Tropes invoked during the Wars of the Roses include:
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Played Straight; a number of those participating are.
  • Asskicking Equals Authority: Though this was not talked about overmuch at the time lest someone be embarrassed, this was effectively Henry Tudor's chief claim. As everyone was tired of a constant Gambit Pileup, that was considered enough.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking. And sometimes because of the above.
    • Though there's a notable exception in Henry VI, who is mostly known as Henry the Pious. Religious? Yes, oh hell yes. Good with a sword? Not so much.
  • Battle in the Rain: The nightmarish battle of Towton (rain and snow, actually).
    • The number of casualties varies wildly, but one number often spouted is 28,000 casualties. If this is true, it would represent almost 1% of England's entire population.
  • The Chessmaster: Warwick the Kingmaker.
  • The Clan: Lancaster and York.
    • The Neville-Percy feud was it's own little sub-war that entangled itself into the larger conflict. Hatred between these two families ran so deep that when the Nevilles switched sides from York to Lancaster, the Percies did vice versa.
  • Clear My Name: A number of people consider it Serious Business to do this for Richard of Gloucester.
  • Dark Horse Victory: Does King Henry VI end up on the throne? What about his son? Or one of the Yorkists? Nope, it's some distant cousin of the old Lancastrian king who was living in Wales.
  • Deadly Decadent Court
  • Doomsday Device: Gunpowder was just coming into fashion and was probably thought of as something like this.
  • Enemy Civil War: The French would view it as this.
  • Feuding Families: Lancaster and York.
  • Gambit Pileup
  • God Save Us From the Queen: Margaret of Anjou, consort of Henry VI, also known as "the She-Wolf of France".
  • Kingmaker: Warwick is probably the Trope Namer.
  • Knight in Shining Armor: Subverted quite often.
  • Off with His Head: A common means of dealing with prisoners after a battle. At one notable time it was a way of dealing with an incompetent or treacherous officer.
    • While in the Hundred Years' War noble prisoners were usually spared to be ransomed for large amounts of money, the Wars of the Roses did not play by those rules.
  • The Power of the Sun: The Sun of York was actually more commonly used as the Yorkist symbol than the white rose (often the white rose is seen on the sun). This led to friendly fire incidents because it was easily confused with the Star of Oxford and Oxford was aligned with the Lancastrians.
  • Rape, Pillage and Burn
    • Partially subverted, both sides preferred to fight pitched battles rather than ruin the country with long, drawn out sieges.
  • Rain of Arrows
  • We ARE Struggling Together!
  • The Woobie: The Princes in the Tower.
    • Henry VI arguably counts as well. He was pretty much little more than a feeble-minded puppet who was captured and re-captured during various points of the wars, suffered from frequent bouts of (likely hereditary) mental illness, and really had little stomach for war, being more interested in religion and learning when he was actually of sound mind. Henry was less a king than he was The President's Daughter, a pawn to be used in the machinations of the Duke of York and Margaret of Anjou. To top it all off, he was likely murdered while in captivity, a few weeks after his only son and presumptive heir had already been killed at the Battle of Tewkesbury. Sometimes, it just sucks to be the king.
Wars of the Roses in works of fiction and historical fiction:

Film

Literature

  • In Terry Pratchett's Nation it's mentioned that one of Daphne's ancestors fought in the War of the Roses... wearing a pink rose and thus ended up fighting both sides at once. Because everyone thought it was bad luck to kill a madman, he lived through it. Fanshaws may be pigheaded and stupid, but they fight.
  • The second duology of Arcia Chronicles is a Fantasy retelling of the Wars of the Roses, dubbed "War of the Daffodils".
  • A fantasy retelling in A Song of Ice and Fire, with Stark and Lannister Feuding Families being less than subtle clues.
    • And, even more directly, brief mentions are made of the Red and Green "Apple" Fossoways, who appear to have their own squabbles over titles and are two branches of a house.
  • Sharon Penman's The Sunne in Splendour.
  • The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Live-Action TV

Music

  • "The Battle of Epping Forest", by Genesis: "You ain't seen nothin' like it... not since the Civil War"

Theatre

  • William Shakespeare's Henry VI and Richard III. To an extent Richard II and Henry IV also deal with them despite taking place a generation earlier: modern scholars tend to disagree, but Shakespeare portrays Henry Bolingbroke's usurpation of the throne from Richard II and crowning of himself as Henry IV as the first move of the wars.

Tabletop Games

  • Avalon Hill had a game based on the war called Kingmaker.

Video Games


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