Our Island Story  by H. E. Marshall

Henry VI. of Windsor—The Red Rose and the White

Y OU remember that Henry IV., who took the crown from Richard II., was descended from John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, the fourth  son of Edward III. But there was some one who had a better right to the throne. That was Edmund Mortimer, who was descended from the third  son of Edward III. Now in the time of Henry VI. there was still living a descendant of Edmund Mortimer. He was called Richard, Duke of York.

The Wars of the Roses began because Richard claimed to be the rightful heir to the throne. At first Richard said he only wanted to be made protector of the kingdom because he saw how weak and easily led the King was. It seemed indeed as if the King needed a protector, for he was not only weak and foolish, but at times he was quite mad and unable even to speak for days. The Duke of York hoped that if he was protector during Henry's life, the people would make him King after Henry died.

The people would very likely have agreed to this had not a little son been born to Henry. This little son was called Edward, and many of the nobles turned from the Duke of York for his sake. Although Henry was quite unfit to rule, they hoped that his little son would grow up wise and good and more like his grandfather, Henry V.

So some of the nobles sided with the Duke of York and others with the King, and the quarrelling between them became very bad. Many at first were afraid to speak out and say openly on which side they were, but soon the quarrel grew to be so bitter that not only the nobles but the whole nation took sides.

One day while walking in the Temple gardens in London with some other nobles, Richard, Duke of York tried to persuade them to join his cause. "Ah," he said at last, "I see you are afraid to speak out. Well, then, give me a sign to show on whose side you are."

Let him that is a true-born gentleman,

And stands upon the honour of his birth,

If he supposes that I have pleaded truth,

From off this brier pluck a white rose with me.

Saying that he pulled a white rose which grew on a bush near and stuck it in his cap.

Then the Duke of Somerset sprang forward and, tearing a red rose from another bush, said:—

Let him that is no coward, nor no flatterer,

But dare maintain the party of the truth

Pluck a red rose from off the thorn with me.

Then one after another all the nobles who were there plucked red or white roses. Those who were for Lancaster, that is the King, because he was descended from John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, wore red roses in their caps; those who were for the Duke of York wore white roses in theirs. And ever after, during all the years that the wars lasted, red and white roses were the sign or badge of the two parties, and the wars were called the Wars of the Roses.


One after another all the nobles plucked red or white roses and put them in their caps.

The first battle was fought at St. Albans in 1455 A.D. The White Rose won this battle and King Henry was taken prisoner. The Duke of York treated Henry very kindly, and, as he became quite mad for a time, the duke ruled the country.

The next year, however, the King recovered from his madness. He sent the duke away, and once more ruled the kingdom himself, or rather it was the Queen who ruled, for she was very fond of power, but did not care in the least to do what was best for the people. So she was greatly hated, and it was not long before war again broke out.

This time, too, the White Rose was successful. Queen Margaret fled to Scotland with her little son, and Henry was again taken prisoner.

The Duke of York now claimed the throne in earnest. He entered London in great state. Trumpets were sounded, the sword of office was carried before him, and he was followed and surrounded by a train of soldiers and servants. He rode straight to Westminster, where Parliament was sitting, and did not pause until he reached the House of Lords. There he marched up to the throne and laid his hand upon the cloth of state with which it was covered, as if he meant to show that he had taken possession of it. But he did not sit on the throne.

He stood for some time in silence looking at the empty seat, keeping his hand still upon the cloth. Then turning he looked at the nobles, as they crowded before him. Still silent he stood wondering and as if asking himself, "Are they glad or sorry to see me?"

Then in the silence the Archbishop of Canterbury stepped forward. "My lord duke," he said, "will you come to see the King?"

The Duke of York drew himself up proudly. "I cannot remember, my lord archbishop," he said, "that there is any one in this kingdom who should not rather come to me than I go to him." Then he turned and boldly sat upon the throne.

Sitting there, the duke made a long speech to the lords. He reminded them that Henry IV. had taken the crown by force, and tried to show that he, the Duke of York, had a better right to the throne than Henry VI.

"Therefore," he said, "according to my just and free title I have and do take possession of this royal throne and, with God's help, I shall keep it for His glory, my own honour, and the good of all my people."

When the duke had finished there was a deep silence. The lords sat as if struck dumb. In their astonishment they seemed afraid even to whisper or utter one word.

"It is good," said the duke at last, "that you should think well of what I have said," and rising he went away, not very pleased at their silence, yet not quite displeased either.

He went to the royal palace, took possession of Henry's own rooms, and lived there more like a king than a duke.

Left to themselves, the lords and the commons, after a great deal of talking, decided that while Henry lived he should still be called King, but that the Duke of York should be protector, and that when Henry died the duke should be the next King.

Henry, who was weak and idle, was quite satisfied with this. So was the duke, for he was a wise man who really loved his country. He meant to rule well, and hoped in this way to become King without further fighting. But Queen Margaret was very angry. She loved to rule and she hated the Duke of York, and she would not be ruled by him nor have her son set aside for him. She came from Scotland, where she had been hiding with her little boy and gathering an army, fought another battle with the Duke of York and his followers.

It was a terrible battle. This time the Red Rose won, and the Duke of York himself was taken prisoner.

After the battle was over the Red Rose soldiers set the duke on a little mound. They crowned him with bulrushes and then knelt before him crying, "Hail king without rule! Hail king without heritage! Hail duke and prince without people or possessions!" and after this cruel mocking of a helpless prisoner they cut off his head.

The wicked Queen Margaret laughed with joy when she saw it and, to mock the dead man still further, she placed a paper crown upon the head and stuck it upon the walls of York.

One of the duke's sons, a pretty boy of only twelve, was killed too. He was trying to run away with his tutor when he was caught by one of the Red Rose soldiers.

"Oh please, please do not kill me," sobbed the boy, the tears running down his cheeks, "I do not want to die." But the soldier had a cruel heart and would not listen. Dumb with fear, the poor little boy fell upon his knees, holding up his hands to beg for mercy. But the soldier had no mercy. "Your father killed mine," he cried, "I will kill you." So the poor little boy died.

Queen Margaret had no mercy either. She seemed mad with revenge. She killed as many of the White Rose nobles as she could, and the White Rose cause seemed lost.

But although Richard, Duke of York, was dead, he had a son called Edward, who now became duke and the head of the White Rose party, and more terrible battles were fought.

The people hated the Queen for her cruelty and her wickedness. She had no money with which to pay her soldiers, so she allowed them to plunder, and they too were hated and feared wherever they went. The gates of London were closed against them, the people refusing to give them even the plainest food.

But Edward of York was young, brave, and handsome, and, when he came to London with his army, the people threw open the gates to him welcoming him as their King.

Then the Bishop of Exeter, standing up among the great crowds who had gathered to meet him, reminded the people of all the cruel wrongs which they had suffered during Henry's reign. "Will you have him still to rule over you?" he asked.

"No! no!" shouted the people. "No! no!"

"If you will not have Henry, whom will you have?" asked the bishop. "Will you serve, love, honour, and obey Edward, Earl of March and Duke of York, as your only King and sovereign lord?"

"Yes, yes," shouted the people. "King Edward, King Edward, long live King Edward!"

So with shouting and cheering and clapping of hands the people chose Edward of York to be their King.