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Anne Herbert: A Life in the Wars of the Roses

This two-part activity has been devised as an introduction to mid-fifteenth century society and the Wars of the Roses. Beginning with an individual’s life story - and the story of a woman at that - may seem an oblique way into a topic filled with politics and battles but Anne’s experiences can give the topic a humanity that it may otherwise lack. Students may also find relating to an individual simpler in the first instance than to a more general pattern of events and reigns. There’s also mystery, drama, anxiety – all human life is here!

The whole activity is based on my article Anne Herbert, a life in the Wars of the Roses which was published in The Historian in Feb. 2014. That article is provided for your use here ….

There are two parts to the activity:

1. Getting started – introducing Anne and the fifteenth century

An introduction based around a short series of PowerPoint slides. It aims to whet students’ interest in Anne’s life through a puzzle, to build up a sense of period and to provide information about her family. This requires the teacher to feed in information about the images on the slides and about Anne and her family. That information and suggestions for how to use this introduction are provided below ….

2. Anne Herbert’s experiences 1449-1486

This is the core activity exploring the major events in Anne’s life. Students are asked to reflect on her possible feelings and reactions to those events. The information sheets for this activity and suggestions for how to use this activity are provided on below ….

Debriefing questions and follow-up activities are provided here …


A formatted version of this activity should print from your browser (omitting this support section) or, a WORD version of this activity and accompanying resources can be downloaded:

• For a WORD version of this introduction and the two activities  click here… 

• For the PowerPoint for Activity 1  click here… 

• For the resource file for Activity 2  click here… 

• For the Anne Herbert article (8MB) click here… 

Activity 1 – Getting started:
Introducing Anne and the fifteenth century

This first activity is built around the slides on the accompanying PowerPoint sequence – it aims to whet students’ interest in Anne’s life through a puzzle, to build up a sense of period and then provide brief information about her family.

This requires the teacher to feed in the information and questions below about Anne, her family and the images on the PowerPoint.

All that is provided below – and you will find more background in the article Anne Herbert, a life in the Wars of the Roses.

Slide 2 – The Raglan Ring – a puzzle

Explain that in 1968 this large gold ring was found near Raglan Castle. It’s a signet ring used to authenticate documents or close letters. The design on the ring is a lion and it’s delicately decorated with a floral pattern. Two initials - W and A – are also inscribed on the ring together with the words ‘to yow feythfoull'.

Ask students what questions they want to ask about the ring - e.g. where’s Raglan? Who did it belong to? When does it date from?

Ask them what they might suggest from the information so far in answer to their questions.

Do not tell them when it dates from!

Slide 3 – The manuscript illustration of William and Anne Herbert kneeling before Henry VI

Explain that this illustration dates from about 1460 and shows Sir William Herbert and his wife Anne kneeling before King Henry VI. This was drawn as the opening illustration in a book they were going to present to the king.

Can students spot any possible links to the ring? [their initials are the obvious link – the lion on William’s tabard is another but less likely to be spotted unless you lead them to it!]

What questions do they want answered to help prove a link? [e.g. where did they live, when does ring date from?]

Reveal that experts date the ring to 1440-1475 so contemporary with William and Anne and they lived at Raglan castle in this period.

Ask students how certain they feel that the ring belonged to William and Anne? An exercise in the vocabulary of certainty – I’d say ‘almost certain’ – do they agree?

[See the resources provided for Activity 2 about William and Anne’s relationship, especially the wording of William’s will]

Slide 4 – Graham Turner’s modern ‘portrait’ of Anne Herbert

This modern portrait is by the artist Graham Turner who specialises in historical reconstructions. It is called Reverie and shows Anne in the Great Tower at Raglan. The coat of arms in the window contains the Herbert and Devereux badges [Devereux was Anne’s maiden name] and can also been on their clothing in the contemporary manuscript – slide 3.

Ask students what they can deduce from the painting about life in the mid-fifteenth century?

Graham Turner’s website can be found here…

Slide 5 – CADW reconstruction drawing of Raglan castle

This shows a modern reconstruction drawing of Fountains Court at Raglan castle where there had been considerable rebuilding in the 1460s.

Ask students what they can deduce from the painting about life in the mid-fifteenth century?

They’ll read the details of the rebuilding later.

Slide 6 – illustrative plan of Raglan today

This is simply to give a stronger sense of the castle today. The Turner ‘portrait’ shows Anne in the Great Tower – bottom left. The CADW reconstruction drawing of Fountains Court – this is the grassed area top left.

Slide 7 – map of Welsh border

A map of places around Raglan including Anne’s childhood home at Weobley. This is purely so they have an idea of which part of the country we’re dealing with.

Slide 8 – Anne’s immediate family tree

This family tree shows Anne’s parents, brother and sister. Anne was born Anne Devereux around 1433, the daughter of Sir Walter Devereux and his wife Elizabeth whose main home was at Weobley in Herefordshire. Her mother, Elizabeth, died when Anne was 5, perhaps giving birth to Anne’s sister, Katherine. It was unusual for her father, who was widowed aged about 27, not to marry again as he could have gained more land and wealth through a judicious marriage.

The following information may also be useful to you.

 – pass onto students if you think it helpful.

The Devereux and Merbury families are typical of the gentry who filled key roles in regional and county government and upon whom every king depended for maintaining good order and raising royal armies. Elizabeth Merbury was the daughter of John Merbury, a Herefordshire landowner and leading royal servant in south Wales under Henry IV and V.

The Devereux family demonstrates the gentry’s commitment to fighting for their kings. Anne’s great-grandfather was killed fighting against Owain Glyndwr. Her grandfather fought at Agincourt and her father also served in Normandy under the banner of Richard, Duke of York. Anne’s brother’s military experience was, however, very different. Instead of fighting in France, he fought in three, possibly as many as six, battles of the Wars of the Roses.

Anne’s childhood is invisible to us apart from one detail. In 1438 her grandfather John Merbury made his will, leaving the large sum of £100 to 5 year-old Anne, to be used towards her wedding.

Activity 2:

There are 3 ‘resources’ for this activity, bundled together into 1 document, included in the Resource section:

• A table for completion

• Five information sheets about Anne’s life. Each covers a different group of years.

• A set of background information for students’ reference. This includes the map and family-tree from the PowerPoint sequence.

The idea is straightforward. Students read the information sheets and complete the table, recording the core events in Anne’s life and suggesting her possible feelings and reactions. The latter, of course, is necessarily conjectural and subjective but that subjectivity and connection with the real life of a known individual may create greater interest in the period and help students identify the pattern of reigns, of warfare and of battles as well as gaining an insight into the thinking and way of life of the period. The real aim therefore is not deep knowledge of Anne’s life but to use her life to gain an initial understanding of the period that can be deepened in the rest of the course.

How to use the material?  The approach most likely to produce the desired overview is to give students, working in pairs, all the material and a set amount of time to complete the activity. Every pair completes the whole table, then have pairs report back – comparing conclusions from more than one pair on each sub-period.

Note that not all battles are mentioned because the Herbert and Devereux families were not present at them all or we don’t know if they were. The most notable absences are Barnet and Tewkesbury in 1471. William Herbert had been executed after Edgecote in 1469. Anne’s brother, Walter, may have fought in them as he was made a Knight of the Garter shortly afterwards but there’s no record of him being there.

For debriefing questions and follow-up activities see the introductory document to this whole activity. Students should be much more able to read the whole article Anne Herbert, a life in the Wars of the Roses after being introduced to names, places and events in this activity. It may provide them with a good introduction to extended reading at A level.

Debriefing Questions

Questions to ask once students have finished working on Anne’s life include:

• What have they learned about 15th century standards of living? Has anything surprised them?

• What have they learned about the motives and behaviour of men and women of the period?

• What kinds of sources give us information about the lives of the nobles and gentry of the period? What do they tell us and what can we NOT know about the people of the time?

• Why do we have to be very careful about drawing conclusions about individuals’ motives and thoughts?

• What questions do you want to ask about the people and events of the period that have been prompted by this activity?

Follow-up Activities

• Compile a timeline of the periods of warfare and battles of the Wars of the Roses, beginning with the information in this activity and then adding more detail from books.

• Recount the pattern of the reigns from 1440s to 1485 in 1 minute including a 5 word description of each king.

• Recount the pattern of the periods of warfare in 1 minute – which were the most intense periods of fighting, which were the longest periods of peace?

• Give students the full article to read as an introduction to extended reading.

I’m sure there are lots of other questions and follow-up activities – do let me know what works.


Constructive feedback is always welcome, particularly anything that will help other teachers.

This Page



Activity 1

Activity 2

Debrief Questions

Follow-up Activities