A Brief History Lesson

The background for both of my novels is the series of dynastic conflicts between the royal houses of Lancaster and York, now known as “the Wars of the Roses.”  The Protector takes place in 1483 near the end of the period while The Neville Inheritance (1469-1473) covers some of its middle portion.  Much history has already transpired by the time it begins, so I thought it might be helpful to review what brought us to this point.

The roots of the troubles go back to 1399 when Henry Bolingbroke took the throne from King Richard II and became Henry IV.  Both were grandsons of Edward III, who ruled England for fifty years from 1327 to 1377.  It might be said that Edward had too many sons, for five of them would survive infancy and live to produce offspring who would battle their cousins for the throne for many years to come.

Unfortunately, Edward III’s eldest son, Edward the Black Prince, died before his father, so his only son Richard, a 10-year-old boy, inherited the throne in his stead.  Richard II was at best a problematic king, so there was surprisingly little resistance when, twenty-two years later, Henry Bolingbroke seized the crown.  However, there was a problem.  Even after casting Richard aside, Henry was not the next in the line of succession.  He was a son of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, the third surviving son of Edward III.  Richard II had no children, but he had named his cousin, Roger Mortimer, a descendent of Lionel, the second son of Edward III, as his heir.  (In a system of primogeniture, birth order is all important!)

For a while, this did not seem to matter greatly.  Henry IV was an able king if not a stellar one, and his son, Henry V, who succeeded him in 1413, was a great war hero and won the hearts of the English people by conquering much of France and marrying the French king’s daughter, Katherine of Valois.  (He was also the model for Shakespeare’s lovable scamp Prince Hal.)  Trouble began when Henry V died of dysentery at a young age leaving the throne to his nine-month-old son who became Henry VI.

This Henry was not at all like his father even after he came of age.  He was more of a monk than a soldier, and managed to lose just about all the territory his father had conquered in France.   More devastating, he also suffered from a mental illness probably inherited from his French grandfather, Charles VI.  From time to time, he fell into a catatonic stupor that could last for months if not years.   His wife, Margaret of Anjou tried to reign in his stead, but this was not a widely-accepted ploy, particularly not with Henry’s chief rival for the throne.

Beginning in 1455 that rival, Richard, Duke of York, who was descended from Roger Mortimer (and thus from Edward III’s second son Lionel), asserted his own possibly superior claim.  In this he had the invaluable assistance of his nephew-by-marriage, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, who came to be known as “the kingmaker.”   Even though Richard of York was killed in battle before he could take the throne, Warwick fought on beside York’s eldest son, Edward of March, captured Henry VI, and had the youth crowned Edward IV in 1461.

The handsome young monarch proved to be immensely popular with the English people until his clandestine marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, the beautiful widow of a Lancastrian soldier, was revealed in 1465.  That marriage and its unforeseen consequences would create further unrest, particularly with Edward’s once great and good friend, the Earl of Warwick.   That is where The Neville Inheritance, begins.

Categories: History

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