It has fallen to me to end that which I did not begin. It is God’s work and I accept it, it fills me with a resolve stronger than any steel. All of the days of my life have been consumed by these conflicts. If I am a result of this war of cousins then I am ready and determined now to take control of my fate and cease this constant buffeting by the winds of fortune.
Why have we torn ourselves apart these last thirty years? It is hard to remember in the fog of so much betrayal and loss, but I am reminded of my mother’s words to me when I was a young boy asking why the king hated my father so. She always had such a way of soothing me, her soft voice drawing the fretfulness from me. So I shall tell myself her tale again in the hope of settling my mind once more.
Edward, the third of that name, was king. The garden of England was set to blossom. It extended into France with the recovery of vast tracts of the Angevin Empire. Although blighted by the Black Death, England grew settled at home, prospering and revelling in glory in France. Yet all was not as it seemed. After 50 years tending his growing, flourishing garden, Edward had grown tired and weeds had begun to encircle his precious flowers. Corruption sought to infest his estate and seeds would be sown a hundred years in the reaping.
King Edward III died on 21st June 1377. Barely a year earlier, his eldest son and heir Edward, the Black Prince had also died of an illness contracted during his glorious campaigns in France. Edward had other children – four more sons and four daughters too. He had worked hard to secure strong, profitable marriages amongst the great families of England and the royal houses of Europe, but the Black Prince was the man intended for the Crown.
The new King of England was Richard II, a boy of ten years, son of the Black Prince. His uncles were to care for his inheritance until he was old enough to rule himself. One uncle, though, was eyed with suspicion by the others. Lionel, Duke of Clarence, Edmund, Duke of York and Thomas, Duke of Gloucester grew concerned that their brother John, Duke of Lancaster coveted the throne. He had fought to claim the crown of Castile by right of his wife and failed. His brothers feared his ambitions yet he never rose up against his nephew.
When the boy king came of age he took control of his kingdom and, surveying it, he admired its splendour. All were filled with joy at the promise of their new king. When the Peasants’ Revolt sought chastise the king, he defeated them and restored harmony. The boy had become a man and now took on all of his grandfather’s works. But the king grew arrogant in possession of his throne. He guarded it jealously and grew distracted by fine clothing and jewels. That road led only to tyranny. When two of his subjects, Thomas de Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk and the king’s cousin, Henry Bollingbroke quarrelled King Richard arranged for them to settle the matter in trial by combat. As they were about to begin their duel to the death, the king had the two men arrested and thrown out of the country, into exile.
Henry was the son of the king’s uncle John, Duke of Lancaster. He was exiled in 1398 and when his father died the following year was denied the opportunity to attend the funeral. Later that same year, he landed at Ravenspur in Yorkshire pleading with the king that he wished only to claim his inheritance and to return to favour in the garden of England. But King Richard was deceived. As Henry neared London, men came to him, dissatisfied with the manner in which Richard ruled. What the nobles had seen as strength in the face of the Peasants’ Revolt had been revealed as dark tyranny. Henry saw an opportunity. Richard was swept from power and replaced by King Henry, the fourth of that name, son of the Duke of Lancaster. The garden was sown with the red rose of Lancaster. Richard died a year later after attempts to free him made his continued existence a threat. Rumour spoke of the former king being starved to death in captivity.
King Henry would find it hard to enjoy his prize. He saw threats all about him. The Percy family in the north rebelled. At the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403 Harry ‘Hotspur’ Percy was killed and the king’s own son and namesake was wounded by an arrow through his cheek. In Wales, Owain Glyndwr inspired a push for freedom that threatened to spill over into England. King Henry guarded the borders of his gardens well but it was wearisome work. He died in 1413 aged 46. His son, bearing the scar of defending his father, became the fifth King Henry. Great grandson of King Edward III, he was a warrior strong and fearsome. France trembled as he trampled her flowers and grew Lancaster’s red rose in their place.
The mighty warrior king was felled by illness in France in 1422 and the crown once more rested upon the head of a child, this time only 9 months old. King Henry VI’s minority would be long, longer than Richard II’s, and times were difficult enough as France fought back against the gains made by Henry V. And so, as it had been before, the new king’s uncles ruled in his place. In England, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester was the Protector of the Realm, in France John, Duke of Bedford fought to maintain the child’s inheritance.
After 15 years, in 1437, the king was proclaimed of age. He had little interest in fighting to keep his vast estate, preferring peace and prayer. He saw God in all things and had no taste for war. France did have a taste, though. France wanted back what had been taken. Without John, Duke of Bedford, who had died in 1435, the fight was all but lost. The king was advised by his friends to seek peace, to give up the French lands and to marry the French king’s niece, Margaret of Anjou. Happy not to have to fight, Henry agreed to the match. He took no dowry and gave back Maine and Anjou, keeping the agreement secret from Parliament for as long as he could, knowing how unpopular it would be, what a betrayal of all of his father’s hard work he would be guilty of.
Richard, Duke of York, my father, was a great grandson of King Edward III through the line of Edmund, Duke of York. Having fought long and hard for the king in France, he was unwilling to surrender so easily. He counselled the king to fight, but the king’s friends, led by William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk and Edmund Beaufort, Earl of Somerset, had his ear and the king’s natural instinct for peace prevailed. In his rage, York scattered the seeds of his white rose into the king’s blooming red and the two began to compete for space.
My father sought to serve the king, be of no doubt on that score, but the king had other advisors more precious to him. As tensions grew, King Henry grew ill and retreated altogether from his God given position into a world of his own, of silence, where birds did not sing, the breeze did not rustle the leaves and he could not hear the arguments that raged throughout his kingdom. His absence left father and Edmund Beaufort, Earl of Somerset to fight for control. Somerset had the queen on his side, but was not loved. York, a hero of the wars in France, had the support of England’s great men. Selected as Protector of the Realm, father proved a steady hand. Henry recovered and shooed him away, preferring to revert to the company and advise of Somerset. The king slipped away once more and York again cared well for his garden.
This time when the king returned, my proud, noble father would not be so easily cast off. He had ruled well, all said it of him, but he had a taste for Henry’s position that demanded to be fed. He could not criticize the king. To do so was treason, and so he took against Somerset and the two struggled for influence over the feeble king. The two sides eyed each other with barely veiled distain and secretly gathered their strength.
And so it began. For that was only the beginning. The white rose began to grow alongside the red and as they fought for ground, the garden of England was about to be trampled by the heavy boots of war.