1) Division between the Houses of York and Lancaster; the usurpation of Richard II (Yorkist) by Lancastrian claimant Henry Bolingbroke (Henry IV)
2) Henry V (Henry VI's father) was a very effective ruler who had managed to conquer large amounts of French land through battles such as Agincourt in 1413. When he died he left his son Henry to succeed him on 1422, although he was crowned King of France and Paris in 1431 he suffered a very difficult period of ruling, in which many of the English nobles were unpleased, leading to the first battle in the Wars of the Roses in St Albans in 1455.
In the 1450s it became obvious that there was a growing division leading to disorder between the noble families. The House of York supported Richard, the Duke of York and believed he should become King after he had become Henry's Protecter in his first bout of madness (due to Catatonic Schizophrenia) in 1453.
The Neville's were a rich, Yorkist noble family who had a strong dislike of the rich, Lancastrian noble family named Percy in the north of England. In 1454 there were skirmishes between the two families.
Richard, Duke of York had a strong dislike of William de la Pole, the Earl of Suffolk who was a good friend of Margaret of Anjou who was already liked by many of the noble families as she was French.
Each "House" posed a threat as through the process of retaining, the richer and more powerful/influential of the noble families could have their own strong military presence, no matter how big or small.
The feuding magnates could not be controlled through government as there was no strong King to guide them, the lack of an impartial figure allowed the nobles to be unconstrained and more dangerous.
Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou
Shakespeare describes Henry VI as "a pious fool of God", it is obvious that he was less physically and mentally capable as his father Henry V was, he was not at all warrior-like which disappointed many important people. He was easily mislead and influenced by the wrong people, he was also too generous which created more friction between the nobles. He handed out titles and land like it wasn't important, for example he gave stewardship of the duchy of Cornwall to the Earl of Devon (a very powerful Courtenay) even though William Bonville already held this title, moreover the two families did not get along. Henry was not interested in War or France which displeased many noble families, his uncle and the Duke of Gloucester, in 1450 he lost Normandy to France, further, in 1451 he lost Gascony to France.
Margaret of Anjou believed that through Henry's bouts of madness she should be made protector as was the French tradition, she was the aggressive defender of her young son Edward, Prince of Wales and this is what supposedly pushed Richard's nose out.
Richard, Duke of York
He could be the heir to the throne through both sides of his family, he was the heir until 1543. Richard was an arrogant, demanding and stubborn man who preferred confrontation and challenge over friendship and patience. He was the closest living male relative of the King (Henry VI) yet he was excluded from royal power, he was not trusted by the Queen, he opposed the King's chief advisors (William de la Pole, the Duke of Suffolk and the Duke of Somerset) furthermore, the Duke of Somerset replaced York as the military commander in France in 1447 which lead to a bitter feud between the two men. The Duke of York also owed money to the Crown (a total of £38,000). Despite this, the Duke led the protectorate with the Neville's during the King's bout of madness between 1453 and 1454 although his recovery in the latter of those two years is removed from paperwork, leading Margaret of Anjou to become suspicious. The Duke of Somerset was released from the Tower and reinstated as the Captain of Calais, in which time (1454) the Duke of York and Warwick flee to the north of England to prepare their armies for the first battle in the Wars of the Roses.
French War and Royal Debt
The King was reckless and to generous, he gave away to much land that belonged to the Crown, leading to him having to rely on loans from the nobles to pay his way. Parliament attempted to pass two Acts of Resumption to regain the lost lands but there was limited success. In 1453 Bordeaux was captured by France, leading to all territories but Calais being lost, these were not won back as Henry never lead troops into French battle
The Yorkist Strategy and Leadership
Warwick was wealthy and very powerful, he was also good in battle, he was an adept military leader and organiser. He raised money through acts of piracy against foreign merchants and created effective propaganda against Margaret of Anjou. Richard, Duke of York's son Edward, Earl of March (later to be Edward IV) was also a good military leader and turned around the Yorkist fortune after Richard died. The victory at the Battle of Mortimer's Cross in 1460 over Jasper Tudor and later Towton lead to Edward deposing Margaret and Henry.
Wealth and Resources of the Yorkists
Warwick's piracy helped to raise money for the Yorkists, furthermore in the Welsh regions the Yorkists had a vast wealth. Even though the Yorkist magnates (Warwick, Earl of Salisbury and Richard, Duke of York) were outnumbered by the Lancastrian, they were by far the richest.
The Yorkist Strategic Strengths
Warwick was Captain of Calais in 1456 and Calais had a large navy which could be used to Warwick's advantage. The Yorkists also had bases in Dublin which allowed them to flee safely and co-ordinate future invasions. Furthermore, after the Battle of Northampton they had control of London.
After the Battle of Northampton, Lord Grey of Ruthin became a "turn-coat" (he swapped from the House of Lancaster to the House of York) and was then involved in the death of some Key Lancastrians
The House of Lancaster
The Lancastrian army was weak under a weak leader with poor strategy, furthermore, they were ill-disciplined. Despite this, the Lancastrians were victorious after the Battle of Wakefield in 1460 and they went south on a rampage of looting and murder. After the Battle of St Albans in 1461, Margaret of Anjou was withdrawn form London due to concerns of Londoners and opposition to her troops in the North.
Merchants and the Nobility under the Lancastrians
The Lancastrians favoured foreign merchants (known as trade recession), the Calais Lords were sympathetic to Richard, Duke of York as Henry VI had weak policies in France. In 1459 Margaret of Anjou created the Parliament of Devils which barred Yorkists from succeeding to their estates, forcing them into opposition and angering other nobles who saw laws such as sacrosanct. Furthermore, Londoners were concerned about the behaviour of Margaret of Anjou's troops.
Edward was good in war and popular in the Kingdom, particularly in the South, the North was still sympathetic to the Lancastrian regime. He married Elizabeth Woodville for love, disobeying Warwick who wanted him to marry a French princess, showing that he was not willing to be controlled by others.
Edward's First Reign
Edward proved to be very good at the "Carrot and the Stick policy", especially when dealing with the Lancastrian-believer families. He would restore their land but this didn't always pay off (Ralph Percy was returned his castle but joined the Lancastrian regime during the Battle at Hedgeley Moor, although he died in battle. Margaret continued to reopen hostilities between the too factions, she had aid from Louis XI of France although this worked to her disadvantage in England, especially as she had promised Calais in return for their support. Edward managed to overcome this by securing a truce with Louis in 1463 declaring that he is to stop funding the Lancastrian cause, leading to Warwick looking for a French bride for Edward to further secure the truce. Edward gave Warwick titles like the Captain of Calais, the Admiral of England and the Constable of Dover Castle. Even though he had these titles, he was not given the complete power that he believed he should have had during Edward's reign, other pro-Yorkists were highly rewarded for their support too, e.g., William Herbert who was made the Lieutenant of South Wales. In 1464 Edward secretly married Elizabeth Woodville for love despite knowing that Warwick had almost secures a politically influential marriage with a French princess,securing an alliance between the French and the English, furthermore Elizabeth was a "commoner" who already had two children, through their marriage the female Woodvilles were married to many important magnates, meaning a rise in the Woodville influence and a decline in the Warwick influence. This divided foreign policy even more as Edward favoured Burgundy over France, whereas Warwick felt the opposite. Warwick tried to arrange a marriage between his daughter Isabel to Edward's brother Clarence but Edward forbid it.
Henry VI returns
Warwick and Clarence (Edward's brother George) joined forces in 1469 with the aim of removing the Woodville's from court, Clarence had the intent to become King and remove Edward and Warwick with the aim of controlling the King. Later in the same year, Clarence married Isabel Neville in Calais despite Edward forbidding it. After the wedding Warwick issued a manifesto declaring his intent to "relieve England from the tyranny of a poor government". Edward did not follow the commands that Warwick had declared and so came Warwick's invasion which lead to the Battle at Edgecote, Warwick won this battle and he captured Edward. Many Yorkist rebellions and uprisings spread across England which forced Warwick to release Edward. Kindly, Edward forgave Warwick and Clarence yet they rebelled again at Losecoat Field where Edward was victorious leading to his opponents fleeing to France, where Margaret and Warwick join forces. Neville then has the support of the French in return for England supporting France when they later invade Burgundy (after Henry VI's restoration.) This alliance was sealed by the marriage of Edward Prince of Wales to Anne Neville. As Henry is unable to rule alone, Margaret promises Warwick that he will become Regent and Governor of England, furthermore George will be promised the throne if Edward (P. of Wales) dies without a son. The two men arrive back in England in 1470 and Edward flees to Burgundy after his supporters start to desert him. In October of the same year Henry VI was released from the tower, reinstated and started war with Burgundy (without the consent of parliament) meaning that Warwick couldn't rely on public support. In 1471 Edward IV returned and gained support moreover joined forces with his brother Clarence whom Edward had forgiven and restored his estates to. Henry was returned to the Tower and Edward received a warm welcome back in London
The Unsuccessfulness of Edward's First Reign
He created over-mighty nobles (Warwick) and alienated many noble families through his marriage to Elizabeth. He was overly determined to ally with Burgundy even though Warwick wanted a French alliance. His opposition was still alive (Henry/Margaret/Edward) meaning that there was always the chance for him to be overthrown. There was little control over law and order in the country due to the number of rebellions in his 9 year reign.
Edward's Second Reign
J.R. Green:"a new monarchy" Edward set out to restore central power and reduce noble power but most modern historians disagree and see his second reign as more of the same. He allowed powerful magnate families to rule parts of the country, leading to a similar considerable lawlessness. He had a luxurious court and gave his friends and favourites lavish gifts, he conducted many foreign campaigns that placed a substantial burden on royal finances. He had learnt from his second reign that it was unwise to upset his kingdom, this time he didn't heavily tax people to fund his audacious lifestyle, instead relying on 'voluntary' payments from benevolences. The Treaty of Picquigny in 1475 was a success in Edward's finances, he could secure a pension which gave him the ability to live off his own accord. By 1478 Edward was able to pay off his debts (was solvent) and had achieved a good organisation in the royal finances. He had moved from the Exchequer System to the Chamber System, allowing him to keep an eye on his finances personally. Richard of Gloucester (later to be Richard III) was rewarded with English territories in the North (making George jealous,) but to Clarence's advantage, Richard was stripped of his title as Great Chamberlain of England in 1472 and it was given to Clarence. A year later Edward issued acts of Resumption against his brothers and took their lands, 5 years after this Clarence was executed for treason.
Foreign Policy in Edward's Reign
In 1475 when he invaded France he laid siege to the French throne as he believed it was his ultimate objective whereas Louis XI wanted to control the whole of France and annex into other countries such as Burgundy and Brittany. Edward had two major campaigns abroad during his reign, in Scotland and in France, he invaded France in 1475 which was paid for through benevolences (obligatory gifts, money that he demanded from nobles to keep in his favour) although this was over within weeks and was settled by the Treaty of Picquigny, Louis payed Edward £15,000 and as an annual pension, France gave England £10,000. Unfortunately for Edward, he had supported Burgundy through their invasion of France in 1477, the Duke of Burgundy had promised that he would supply the pension that Louis was giving Edward, but Scotland invaded England in 1480 interrupting these plans. The English managed to push the Scots back, and even captured James III in Edinburgh at the same time, but due to poor planning and leadership, only one Scottish town was retained by Edward. In the mean time, Louis XI managed to invade Burgundy, this resulted in the Treaty of Arras and the pension stopping, moreover, valuable alliances were lost by 1483.
The Reign of Richard III
In 1483 Richard (Edward's brother) usurped the throne. This is odd as he had been loyal to his brother's regime and had witnessed the power struggles of the Wars of the Roses. He did have experience in ruling, during Edward's reign he was a magnate in the North ruling over the Courtenays. He had feared his position in court due to the influence and control that the Woodville's had over many. Edward had made Richard protector of his sons (the heirs to the throne) despite Elizabeth wanting it to be her brother Anthony. 3 weeks after his death, Richard took Prince Edward into his custody, meanwhile the Duke of Buckingham challenged the legitimacy claiming that Edward IV was contracted to marry someone else before Elizabeth, at St Paul's Cathedral sermons were preached to spread the propaganda and it was effective. Parliament submitted a petition to the Royal Council requesting Richard to take the throne. On the 16th June 1483 Edward V was dethroned and sent to the Tower of London with his brother , by autumn of that year the boys had disappeared from public view and were rumoured to be murdered by their uncle, if the boys were to survive it was likely that Elizabeth would put her son back on the throne when he came of age and remove Richard. He had a strong political ambition which could have been his reason for doing so. He may not have done it though, as he was so loyal to his brother during his reign, he could have got someone (e.g. Buckingham) to do it for him, furthermore there was no proof who had done it.
Richard was a pious, God-fearing and just monarch who only became King through the 1483 act Titulus Regius (illegitimacy of nephews on other card) which some saw as usurpation and disliked him for. Furthermore, he divided the nobility with his ruthless disposal of his enemies (e.g., Lord Hastings, Buckingham after his 1843 rebellion) Buckingham was an over-mighty subject whom Richard had created himself. Throughout his reign, Richard had alienated the South by over rewarding and relying upon the North. He promised to outlaw corruption, restore peace and reform the legal system, he was a capable and energetic King who founded the Council of Requests and Supplications which helped the poor people in search of justice. Though it strained the royal finances, Richard was able to win over the nobility through offering financial rewards, lands and titles although the execution of Buckingham showed them that he was not afraid to deal with those who had betrayed him, this is supported by the fact that no English peers openly declared their support for Henry Tudor after the Battle of Bosworth. During Richard's reign there was only one meeting of parliament in January of 1484, this meeting had three aims, to solidify Richard's claim to the throne, to pass 114 acts of attainder for traitors and to reform legislation to stop the abuse of power by local officials/improve justice. Richard made felons innocent until proven guilty which demonstrated how just he was. Early in his reign he outlawed benevolences but relied upon them when Henry VII invaded which the nobility were unwilling to fund. He sought stability with the finances that Edward left him and raised much of his revenue from acts of attainder on those who committed treason.
Richard III continued
The crown was still financially weak after his reign but there was a measure of stability and efficiency to his collection. He became more unpopular when his son died in 1484, quickly followed by his wife (Anne Neville) the following year. He then made plans to marry his niece which exposed him to accusations of incest and alienated enemies of the Woodville’s who had become more popular as Richard declined. He felt obliged to make a public announcement of denial, which was followed by rumours spreading that he had murdered his wife
The Battle of Bosworth
Henry Tudor (son of Margaret Beaufort) had spent most of his exile in Brittany but Richard had promised the Duke of Brittany the support of archers in their fight for independence from the French in return for Henry's arrest. Henry feared for his safety and fled to France, he was welcomed by Charles VIII who promised to fund Henry's invasion of England as revenge for Henry interfering with Brittany. In August 1485 Henry arrived in England with an army of French soldiers and other English exiles, but Richard had been preparing for this invasion since December 1484. On the way to Bosworth Henry gathered recruits and managed to persuade the Stanley's to support him (but Richard had George Stanley as hostage). Henry's army was tired and hungry after 3 weeks forced march, they were not professional soldiers, they were lightly armed, mainly consisting of archers and spearmen. He had a calvary in the form of nobility on horseback which gave his army the necessary mobility on the battlefield but he relied too much on his Uncle Japer's military knowledge. Richard's Army was well rested and better equipped, he also had more calvary and had heavier artillery. He had the best position in the battle (high ground) The turning point in the battle was when Richard chose to take down Henry for himself after he had spotted him towards the Stanley's, Henry only had a small band of men protecting him so his step-uncle William Stanley ran to his rescue. Richard was overwhelmed and refused to leave the battlefield. Henry won the Battle of Bosworth and went on to become King Henry VII.