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The Wars of the Roses

The Wars of the Roses were a series of civil wars fought in medieval England from 1455 to
1487. The name Wars of the Roses is based on the badges used by the two sides, the red rose and
white rose. The Wars of the Roses were fought primarily by the great magnates of the landed
aristocracy. These were a greater number of barons, knights and other powerful people. Besides
the huge estates they controlled, many enhanced their wealth by investment in trade and
expanded their influence through political alliances.

England in the fifteenth century was ruled by kings who claimed divine right and were believed
by the people to be the Lord's anointed, directed and guided by the hand of God. Although the
king wielded vast power by ruling as well as reigning, the complexity of government in a nation
of some 3 million people had led to increasing allocation of power through a growing number of
state departments. That created complexity in controlling different departments. Because of this
complexity and, in spite of the prevailing sense of divine rights in case of being King of the
country, from 1399 to the end of the fifteenth century however, the crown became the object of feuds.
There were too many powerful people who had a claim to the throne or who hoped to achieve the power
behind it. As a result, a new and disturbing element was added to the determination of the royal
succession. That given birth of Civil War. The King was unable to avoid the Civil War as the king did not
maintain a standing army. Rather, he relied upon his nobles to furnish him with troops when necessary, so
it was vital that he maintained good relations with aristocracy who, if provoked, might use their armed
strength against him. So, the war continued.

The fifteenth century was an age of escalating change in society with a middle class grown more
prosperous and influential through its mercantile interests and a lower class that increasingly
questioned the established order. Among the consequences were a degree of social anarchy and a
lessening of respect for authority and the law. The issues escalated from the beginning of Henry
VI's reign in 1422 with widespread complaints about corruption, public disorder, riots and the
maladministration of justice. By the 1450s, the situation had become urgent with law and order
in a state of collapse and crime on the increase. The prevailing disorder of the period did not
stem the creation of wealth by the merchant class. The wool trade slowly declined after 1450 but
this was offset by increased demand from abroad for woollen cloth, tin, lead, leather and other
products.

With their heavy casualties among the nobility, the wars are thought to have continued the
changes in feudal English society including a weakening of the feudal power of the nobles and a
corresponding strengthening of the merchant classes, and the growth of a strong, centralised
monarchy under the Tudors. It heralded the end of the medieval period in England and the
movement towards the Renaissance.