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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Wars of the Roses - It's All In The Color!

The War of the Roses – or more correctly, the Wars of the Roses is a complicated period in English history for a new to the era history lover to follow. During the period of roughly 1455 to 1485 the house dominating the throne switched back and forth and there were several battles and other events taking place as well. I’m not going to even attempt to enlighten you as to the politics of these wars as I struggle to follow them as well. I thought I would take some time today to discuss why it is called The Wars of the Roses.

To get to the very heart of this discussion, I would point out that it’s all in the color. The House of York was represented by the White Rose, while the House of Lancaster was represented by the Red Rose. Sounds simple? Well, it’s not quite that simple. While these roses were the badge of their houses, when they went out into battle, the different groups fought under the personal badges of the lord that they served under – not the overall House badge. For example, if you were fighting as part of Richard III’s army, you would likely be under a symbol of a white boar. So where did this widespread usage of the Wars of the Roses come from?
Well, it looks like history after the fact is at its best again here. During the time of the Wars, this naming system was not used. At the time of the actual occurrences it was just known by the different battles between the ruling factions of the House of Plantagenet. It seems that Shakespeare may have had something to do with our modern understanding of the Wars of the Roses (he seems to poke his nose in everywhere). There is a scene in Henry VI, Part 1 that takes place in the Temple Garden. In this scene, Richard Plantagenet (Duke of York) and the Duke of Somerset have a huge argument and ask for the nobles present to select either a white or red rose to choose which side they have allegiance with. Then in the 19th century, author Sir Walter Scott used this scene in discussion the Wars of the Roses in his book Anne of Geirerstein or Maiden of the Mist. And we have a name!

As the Wars of the Roses came to an end with the Battle at Bosworth Field and Henry Tudor established the House of Tudor, he made his own Tudor Rose. As you can see, this is an amalgamation of the York White Rose and the Lancaster Red Rose. What a way to end a war – bring the two sides together!

Copyright © 2010 by The Maiden’s Court


  1. Great post! I only know the very basics about this period and how it ended, but not how it was named. That's very interesting! Shakespeare did poke his nose everywhere, it seems.:) I am now tempted to read "Anne of Geirerstein or Maiden of the Mist".

  2. I love Historical fiction, thanks! for sharing.

  3. Irena - He poked his nose into everything. Thanks for the comment!

  4. Great post, Heather. I absolutely love the stories behind the Wars of the Roses, and there are so many angles and people involved I don't think I would ever be bored with it.

  5. Marie - I totally agree with you, there are SO many angles to this story that authors can spin off with that I think it could be neverending, but always new and interesting.

  6. Though very complicated, I find the Wars of the Roses very interesting, and it also has such a "romantic" end with the uniting of the two roses into one. I actually have the Tudor rose tattooed on my arm. When people ask what it symbolises, I give a brief summary of the background. Bringing the history out to the people, oh yes! ;)

  7. Malena - That is so cool - real committment to your love of history!


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