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The Wars of the Roses – a light-hearted outline!


This very structured role-play started life as one of my SHP Conference Saturday nights – I’ve added it to the website in case it provides A level teachers with a quick (an hour or so) overview of events from 1450 to 1485. It could be used as background with students starting an A level course that begins in 1483 or 1485 or with students studying the Wars of the Roses who’d benefit from an overview before they move into the detail. It’s meant to be fun (hence chronicle prophecies etc), there’s plenty of scope for class participation and it’s not meant to include everything! It’s very adaptable so add and take out according to taste!

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This activity is based on the ’Role Play’ style of model; for more examples of this model, click here.

Setting Up

The props needed for this activity are:

  • Full set of tabards with names on (Could also have emblems to symbolize white and red roses)
  • 2 crowns (or more if available)
  • 1 cuddly toy to be prince Edward of Lancaster
  • Lots of cuddly toys to be Elizabeth Woodville’s relatives

Whenever a character is killed remove his/her tabard and return him/her to class group

Keeping track of the events will be helped by having a copy of the table of events in my book, The Wars of the Roses, page 74.

The Activity

Part 1:            1450

Introduce and set out in room:

Henry VI, Queen Margaret and Suffolk (together in London)
Somerset (on one side of room – Normandy)
York (on other side of room – Ireland)

Your script:

England is in turmoil because of defeats in France, lawlessness, crown impoverished
The question is – who's to blame? King Henry (but blaming him is treason) or Duke of Suffolk (his chief adviser – to many people an upstart because his grandfather was a merchant)?
ASK CLASS – who do you think people blamed? [answer – Suffolk]

ASK HENRY - What will you decide to do with Suffolk – your favourite? You have 3 choices:
a) execution b) exile abroad c) imprison him in the Tower?
But first let’s hear what a chronicler wrote;
‘It was prophesied that the Duke of Suffolk would be safe from his enemies if he stayed away from the Tower.’

So, Henry, what will you do with Suffolk?     [Henry chose exile]

And so Suffolk took ship for France but was waylaid by a ship full of cut-throats – a ship called The Nicholas of the Tower.
ASK SUFFOLK – reaction to this ship called the Nicholas of the Tower?     Doomed!
And the rebels cut off Suffolk’s head and threw his body onto beach near Dover.

Soon afterwards, Cade's rebellion broke out in Kent – a massive protest about failures of government. London was seized by rebels and what did Henry do?
He fled – leaving Londoners to deal with rebels.
ASK CLASS – what do you think of Henry’s actions?

But the rebels were defeated by Londoners and Henry returned to face his next big decision.
ASK HENRY – who is to be your new chief adviser – York or Somerset? Both have royal blood but York is more closely related to you. Many people think he should be named your heir but there are also suspicions he was involved in the background of cade’s rebellion. Somerset has always been a good friend of your family. Both men have good records as soldiers despite Somerset’s recent defeats in Normandy.

ASK CLASS – who would you recommend?
ASK HENRY to make choice [he chose Somerset]
ASK YORK – what do you think of this? How's your chance of inheriting the crown?

End of 1450 - York politically isolated, he’s still a possible heir to the crown but no allies.
[Imagine him waving his white rose in solitary splendour in Ludlow.]

Part 2:            1450-1455 – the road to St. Albans

Keep existing set up:

King Henry, Margaret and Somerset in London
York to side of room in political isolation

Introduce Salisbury and Warwick (Neville family) and Northumberland and eldest son (Percy family) – place in north (another part of room)

Attention moves to the north of England, to the two dominant families – the Nevilles and the Percies. As rivals they’ve been quarrelling over land and in summer 1453 the Percies attack a Neville wedding party in Yorkshire [ photos, cake, dresses spoiled!!].
ASK NEVILLES – what do you want? [Answer - Percies to be punished]
ASK CLASS - Who should deal with the lawbreakers? [Answer – King Henry]

So what's happening to Henry?

He's fallen into a coma – on receiving news of final defeat in Gascony in south of France
So who's going to rule the country while he’s ill? Somerset or York?
ASK CLASS: Who do you think the nobles chose? [Answer – the man who was King’s closest relative – York]

MOVE York in from isolation to become the Protector and move Somerset to the Tower
ASK NEVILLES – who's going to help you deal with Percies? [Answer York]
MOVE Nevilles next to York so they’re clearly supporting him.
ASK PERCIES – will you support York? [Answer – No, because of Nevilles]
MOVE Percies near to Somerset

Even stranger things are happening – Prince Edward born in October 1453.
GIVE Queen Margaret a cuddly toy as prince.

York remained Protector for 18 months until, around Christmas 1454, Henry recovered.
ASK HENRY - who do you want to see near you? [Answer – Somerset, his old adviser]
But Somerset’s in the Tower.
MOVE Somerset next to Henry and Margaret and MOVE Percies next to Somerset.
MOVE York back into isolation and MOVE Nevilles with him.

ASK YORK – do you feel in danger? [Answer – Yes, Somerset might take revenge for being out in Tower]
ASK SOMERSET - do you feel in danger? [Answer – Yes, if Henry falls ill again York will come back into power]
And so stage is set for the first battle at St. Albans – both York and Somerset feel in danger so both decide to get their retaliation in first before the other attacks.

Time for another prophecy! A chronicle prophesied that the Duke of Somerset would die in front of a castle.
ASK SOMERSET – there’s no castle at St. Albans – how do you feel about the battle?

Hours later he died – slain in front of a tavern called The Castle.
Fewer than 60 died. But Northumberland died too.

One entertaining moment came when, according to a chronicle, the earl of Wiltshire ‘fought mainly with his heels’ i.e. he ran away because he was said to be the handsomest man in England and was afraid of losing his beauty.

York won – should he take the crown or swear undying loyalty to King Henry?
ASK CLASS – what should he do [Answer – loyalty to the King]

York knelt and swore loyalty and was soon protector again.

First part of Wars of Roses – York v Somerset (Beaufort) – not a battle for the crown.

Part 3:             1455-61 – Peace then Total War

Set up:

King Henry, Margaret and Prince Edward on one side of room
York and Nevilles on the other

Bring in a new Somerset and make surviving Percy the new Northumberland – place with King etc

Bring in York’s eldest son, Edward of York (impossibly handsome) – place with York.

Who hates York? The new Somerset and Northumberland – their fathers killed fighting against York.
Who's suspicious of York – Margaret – fears York a threat to her son as heir to crown
Who's not with it at all? Henry who’s increasingly ill.
Who wants war? Vast majority of nobles (c.70)

The events of the next few years are fascinating as the two sides jockey for position – York and Lancaster won’t attack for fear of pushing neutrals into support of their opponents - but we'll miss that out and get to the bloodshed. Another chronicler prophesied bloodshed when he wrote:
Blood has fallen from the sky near Dunstable, ruining a woman's washing. A great cock with a huge red crest and legs half a yard long has walked out of the sea in Dorset and crowed to north, south, east and west before walking back into the sea. This means war.

And so it did – 18 months – 5 major battles – we could march you round the country but we'll keep this simple:

Two sides cheer if you win
Yorkists fled into exile after being accused of treason but returned and confronted Henry's army at Northampton – Yorkists won after the Lancastrian guns were bogged down in the mud. Wiltshire ran away again – still beautiful. 1-0 to York

Wakefield Xmas 1460 - Lancastrian win. Score now 1- 1
York and Salisbury were killed. [remove tabards and join rest of class]

Who's left – Warwick and Edward.
ASK EDWARD – will you give in or take the crown? [crown!]
Edward faced a Lancastrian army at Mortimer’s Cross – as they waited three suns seen in the sky
ASK EDWARD – Can you think of a way to make this sign help you? [Answer –it means God is on my side]
Edward won – 2-1 to York.

But Lancastrians beat Warwick at St. Albans 2, equalising at 2-2
Warwick escaped, had Edward crowned in London. They marched north to decide the war.

And so to the battle of Towton – fought all day long on Palm Sunday March 1461 – Edward won. Wiltshire ran away but this time was captured and executed. Northumberland was executed.
Henry, Somerset and Margaret fled north. Yorkists had won 3-2.

Seat Edward in throne with crown.

End of second part of wars – this really was Lancaster v York for the crown.
[I know I left out Blore Heath and the Parliament of Devils but can’t fit everything in]

Part 4:  Edward and Warwick            1461-1471

Bring in new characters:

Edward’s brothers – George Duke of Clarence, Richard, Duke of Gloucester
Edward’s best friend, William, Lord Hastings.

And so they all lived happily ever after – except they didn't.

It took Edward a few years to tidy up the opposition – he eventually beat Somerset at Hexham and had him executed. Henry was captured and put in the Tower (MOVE to Tower) and Margaret fled to France (MOVE to France).

ASK CLASS – if you’d been nobility what would you have wanted – peace or more civil war? Peace - But trouble was brewing. Warwick had been given lots of rewards for making Edward king but as that chronicler warned:

Now take heed what love will do.

Edward, aged 22 by 1464, needed a wife – and sent Warwick to France to negotiate for the hand of a French princess (who was negotiating for the other bits isn't recorded.)

But unknown to Warwick Edward then secretly married Elizabeth Woodville, widow of a Lancastrian killed at St Albans II.
BRING IN Elizabeth Woodville
As you introduce the next bit, throw one cuddly toy per relative for Elizabeth to catch (that’s 14 in total!). No-one ever forgets she had lots of relatives after that.

Elizabeth had 2 sons by her marriage but that wasn't all – she had a father, 5 brothers and 6 sisters. To please his new wife Edward gave many of them rich marriages and other rewards as befitted new members of the royal family.

ASK WARWICK – what’s your reaction to this marriage? [answer – embarrassed, angry, not consulted]
ASK WARWICK – you have no son so your heirs are your two daughters. Who do you want them to marry? The options are:
Foreign princes? King's brothers? Noble heirs? Or they become nuns? [answer – foreign princes or king’s brothers]

But Edward said he would not let Warwick’s daughters marry his brothers or foreign princes.

ASK WARWICK – reaction? [Answer - angry!]
So Warwick rebelled, persuaded Edward’s brother Clarence to join him but they were beaten and fled to France – MOVE Warwick and Clarence to France to join Margaret …
… where they met Margaret and Prince Edward, now grown to be 17. [create a new Prince]
Warwick changes sides to make bizarre alliance of Margaret and Warwick.

So Warwick and Clarence gathered an army, helped by the King of France [who wanted to cause Edward trouble] and invaded England. Margaret and Prince Edward stayed behind to let Warwick do the hard work.

Success! Edward, his brother Richard and Hastings fled to Burgundy [MOVE THEM to side of room]
Warwick got Henry out of Tower, dusted him off and made him king again. CROWN HENRY

ASK EDWARD – are you going to stay in poverty-stricken exile or return to win back your crown? [Answer – return]
And Edward did return and beat and killed Warwick at the battle of Barnet (April 1471) – and put Henry back in the Tower. [TAKE OFF HENRY’S CROWN]

And then, very conveniently, Margaret, Prince Edward  and the Lancastrian army arrived – and Edward beat them at the battle of Tewkesbury in May 1471 – Prince Edward and yet another Somerset was killed. Margaret fled back to France.

What of Henry VI – aged 50. He died – according to Edward ‘of pure displeasure and melancholy’ after he heard the news from Tewkesbury but really he was murdered.

And so that stage of the wars was still York v Lancaster but with the Nevilles swapping sides, leaving York to join Lancaster.

[If you’re covering 1483-1485 in detail you could stop there and go on to use a different, more detailed structured roleplay on 83-85]

Part 5:             1471-1485       The last bit!

Create royal family – add Edward’s sons (Edward and Richard) and his eldest daughter, Elizabeth. Also bring in their uncle earl Rivers, the Queen’s brother.

And so they all lived happily ever after – for 12 years at least. King Edward and Queen Elizabeth had a growing family, headed by their two sons (called Edward and Richard) and their eldest daughter, Elizabeth.

They were supported by the Queen’s brother, earl Rivers, and the king’s two brothers the Duke of Clarence and Richard of Gloucester. The Yorkists were secure on the throne.

While reading para below – introduce Henry Tudor, give him a tabard and place him at side of room in Brittany.

The leading Lancastrians were dead – all except 14 year-old Henry Tudor who was taken to Brittany for safety. [MOVE HT TO SIDE OF ROOM] He was a very distant relative of Henry VI.

In fact the only major problem in the next few years came from the King’s brother, Clarence. He’d been forgiven for his earlier treason but wouldn’t stop causing trouble and in the end Edward ordered his execution. He may have been ­ drowned in a butt of wine – wine barrels were used as baths.

Now let’s fast forward to 1483 when all still seemed well – King Edward was still young, aged only 40 and in full control of the country. His eldest son, Edward was 12 and would soon be old enough to rule if his father died.

So who’s doing what? [place people around the country as follows]
King Edward, Queen Elizabeth, Prince Richard and Hastings are in London
Prince Edward and Rivers are in Ludlow (Prince’s base as Prince of Wales)
Richard of Gloucester in Yorkshire where he rules north for his brother, King Edward.
He’d taken over Warwick’s affinity (supporters), married Warwick’s daughter, Ann, and become extremely powerful.

And then Edward died suddenly, worn out by wine, women and possibly song. 12 year old Edward became Edward V.

What does Uncle Richard of Gloucester in the north think about this?
We don't know – and we don’t know if what happened next was a clever plan or a cock-up

Young King Edward and his uncle Rivers set off for London.
Richard swept south, intercepted Edward and Rivers and took control. He sent Rivers north as a prisoner.
Edward V and Duke Richard arrived in London and nothing much happened for 6 weeks. Young Edward was in the royal palace in the Tower awaiting his coronation.
The suddenly Richard ordered the execution of Hastings and arranged for the King’s little brother to join him in the Tower.

A story was then spread that the Princes were illegitimate and that Richard should be king.
He sent orders north to have Rivers executed.

The Princes were never seen again. Richard was crowned king as Richard III.

Everyone was too shocked to protest – but soon a rebellion began across the south led by Yorkists, former supporters of Edward IV. They wanted to make young Edward king but then they heard he was dead so they had to find a new leader – they chose Henry Tudor in Brittany.

But Richard beat this Yorkist rebellion and the rebels fled to join HT – so Henry, the Lancastrian, had lots of Yorkist support.

For two years there were rumours of an invasion by Henry Tudor – it came in August 1485 when Henry Tudor led a bizarre alliance – Henry’s Lancastrian remnant, a lot more Yorkist rebels, and French and Scottish soldiers paid for by the King of France who wanted to destabilize Richard to stop him attacking France.

Monday 22 August 1485 – the battle began. Richard saw the battle going badly and decided to charge straight at Henry to end the battle quickly
For a few seconds Richard crossed swords with Henry – before the Stanleys charged in and Richard was killed.
His body was carried away for a hasty burial – where it lay hidden for over 500 years until excavated in 2012.

And so Henry Tudor became Henry VII
And that last period was NOT York v Lancaster but York and Lancaster allied against Richard.



The Wars of the Roses

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The Wars of the Roses