The Wars of the Roses

Red Roses

Symbolism of Roses Today

Today red roses are closely associated with passion and romance and are without a doubt the most popular choice on Valentine’s Day (learn further the history and celebrations of Valentine’s Day 2014 here). White roses symbolise purity, innocence and reverence, making them a popular choice for weddings. The symbolic interpretation of roses has been a source of interest since early civilisation. Perhaps due to their simple beauty, roses continue to fascinate us even in the current rapidly advancing technological climate.

The Rose in History

Roses have a long and interesting history that actually predates human life. The symbolic use of roses in poetry, literature and art can be seen throughout history, however the symbol of the rose is also attached to a period of intense struggle for power in 14th century England. The Wars between the House of York and the House of Lancaster is an exciting story with the symbol of the red rose and the white rose at its heart.

Wars of the Roses

The Wars of the Roses were a sequenceof civil wars fought during England’s medieval period, spanning the greater part of the late 14th century. The two waring factions were The House of York and The House of Lancaster with both parties battling for power over the throne. The reason for its name is due to the badges of both royal houses. The red rose was for the House of Lancaster and the white rose for the House of York. The White Rose of York is the Rose alba and the Red Rose of Lancaster is the rose gules. A scene in Shakespeare’s Henry VI set in the garden of a church portrays an event where a group of nobles and a prominent lawyer choose between a red and a white rose displaying their loyalty to either house.

The Reasons for the Wars

  • The ‘Hundred Years War’, or ‘The French Wars’ had ended and England was defeated. Generations of Englishmen had fought and occupied France and many had owned land in France. The loss of life and finances were great and many people were disillusioned.
  • Adding to this was the Black Plague which had been re-emerging since the mid 13th century. The loss of labourers caused crop failures and famine. Those that survived were able to monopolise the surrounding land creating a shift in wealth.
  • Soldiers, now out of work since the French victory were able to form instant and large armies for lords opposed to the King. King Henry V had passed and King Henry VI was a great disappointment. In Shakespeare’s play he shows how the king became so weak in conviction that his wife, Queen Margaret, commanded armies on his behalf.
  • Nobels were content when it was clear that there would be no successor after Henry VI’s eventual death. When an heir was born to him however, the unrest began. Henry VI lost all mental capacity at this time and the throne was taken by the House of York. He apparently recovered from this state and regained the throne bringing about the first War.

 The end of the Wars of the Roses saw an end to medieval England and an imbalance between the classes. The French had made good use of the civil war, playing factions off against each other to lengthen the unrest and protect themselves. Henry VII was credited for bringing the war to an end and peace to England by marrying Elizabeth York. The shift toward the Renaissance had begun.

Henry VII created The Tudor Rose which was a combination of the White Rose of York and the Red Rose of Lancaster. The Tudor Rose was a sign of peace being restored to England and remains the plant badge of England today.