I’m pretty sure the War of the Roses (1453-1485) is what Game of Thrones was based on. In order to teach it, I divided my room into thirds: one third for the Yorkists, one third for the Lancastrians, and one third to represent France. I then found and printed pictures of all our major players, and passed them out randomly at the beginning of class. I did this with my freshman world history class, then again with my two afternoon AP English classes, as the wifi was out so they couldn’t continue their research (they were quite excited about it, actually). I played narrator, directing the actors as we went. Here is the story, basically (it’s even more complicated than I taught) of the War of the Roses. I bolded our major players that were depicted by students. Here’s a crazy link with the family tree if you want to try to sort it out on your own.
Henry VI was known as “more of a monk than a monarch” (to which one of my babies asked, “So he was bald?”) and was known for his eventual madness. He married Margaret of Anjou as part of a peace treaty with France. We decided Margaret was kind of a “Hillary Clinton” of the 15th century, perfectly happy and capable of involving herself in politics…and also fully capable of making enemies. In his 30s, Henry VI started exhibiting strange symptoms of mental illness, earning him nicknames like the “Mad” king. Modern day historians think it was a type of schizophrenia or depressive psychosis, which resulted in trances that lasted for years. A nobleman, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, known to history as the “Kingmaker,” helped to name the king’s cousin, Richard, Duke of York, a.k.a. another great-grandson of Edward III, as protectorate over the throne while Henry VI was indisposed. Richard would have become king, except that somehow, after 8 years of no children, Queen Margaret managed to deliver a boy, Edward of Lancaster, in the middle of the king’s “bout of imbecility.” The protectorate lasted two years, until 1455 when the king got better, returning his wife’s party to power as well and dumping Richard of York as regent. Richard had three sons (remember them later): Edward, George, and Richard. The Kingmaker Earl of Warwick had two daughters, Isabelle and Anne. They come in soon.
Unhappy with his new status, and Warwick equally upset to lose his in with the throne, Richard lay claim to throne through his royal blood, beating the Lancasters at the battle of St. Albans in 1455. There was a truce for four years, with the queen attempting to make sure no York ever made it to the throne. In 1459, the Yorks beat the Lancastrians at the Battle of Blore Heath, only to lose three weeks later at Ludford Bridge when a bunch of Yorks defected or deserted. The kingmaker fled to Calais, France, only to return the following year with Richard of York’s eldest son Edward. They beat the Lancastrians at Northampton when one of King Henry VI’s men, Lord Grey, defected to join the Yorks.
King Henry VI was captured, but Queen Margaret still commanded forces to the north, and the armies sparred again in December of 1460 at the Battle of Wakefield. Richard of York was killed and the Yorkists defeated, but Richard’s son Edward got revenge at the Battle of Mortimor’s Cross in February of 1461. There was a second battle of St. Albans two weeks later, where the queen’s Lancastrian army overwhelmed the kingmaker, requiring him to retreat and leaving deposed King Henry VI hanging out under a tree to be rescued. The Yorkists won at the battle of Towton on March 29; Henry, Margaret and baby Edward fled to Scotland, and Edward of York was crowned Edward IV.
BUT WAIT it gets better. Since Warwick the Kingmaker now had made a king, he attempted to secure the York lineage with a French marriage. But as he comes back to London to present his marvelous negotiations, he discovered that Edward went rogue. Edward IV had secretly married a woman named Elizabeth Woodville, who was, among her many sins, a commoner (wealthy but no title); a widow (ironically, her first husband was killed fighting for the Lancastrians in the Second Battle of St. Albans in 1461); and one of many children, who all magically found titles and positions within the English court after he marriage. Edward and Elizabeth promptly began having lots of babies.
MEANWHILE, the birth of a little prince Edward (WHY are so many named Edward and Henry? So confusing) means the next York brother in line, George, Duke of Clarence, is bumped from the succession. So he and Warwick start conspiring. First, they accuse the queen’s mother of witchcraft. Then they start rumors that Edward IV’s mother, Cecily Neville, Warwick’s aunt, was unfaithful to her husband and thus Edward was a bastard, making him and his children ineligible for the throne. At the same time, Warwick tries to get the king to allow his brother to marry Warwick’s eldest daughter Isabelle Neville, and when the king refuses the two marry secretly. Warwick and George capture the king briefly at the Battle of Edgecote Moor in 1469, but Edward returns to power shortly and Georgie, Warwick, and very pregnant Isabelle flee to France. Poor Isabelle goes into labor and delivers a stillborn boy on the voyage across the channel.
BECAUSE WHY NOT
Who should be hiding out in France but the former king, queen, and now teenage Edward Plantagenet? And hey, since King Henry VI has a single kid, and Warwick has a single daughter left, why don’t they get married?! Anne Neville marries Edward Plantagenet, cementing the SECOND time Warwick has dumped a king. So with this new alliance with the old king, Warwick, George, and King Henry go BACK to England to attack Edward. They put old, mad Henry VI on the throne for a bit, until Georgie Porgie has a change of heart, changes sides AGAIN and goes back with his brother for the Battle of Barnet in 1471, leaving the Earl of Warwick to get killed and King Henry VI captured. That same day, Queen Margaret of Anjou and her son Edward finally make it across the channel, and they are accosted and Edward is killed at the battle of Tewkesbury. King Henry VI is mysteriously murdered in the Tower of London shortly after. No more Lancasters… OR ARE THEY?!
NOW WIDOWED, Anne Plantagenet-Lancaster marries Richard, the youngest York brother, and they have a sickly little boy who sadly doesn’t make it past his 14th birthday. Isabelle dies, and her widower George attempts to marry the crazy rich Duchess of Burgundy but is continually denied by the king. Georgie, Duke of Clarence, is tried for treason, found guilty, and [rumor has it] was drowned in Queen Elizabeth Woodville’s favorite malmsey wine (I don’t actually know what that is).
EDWARD IV DIES. His young son is crowned Edward V, with his uncle Richard serving as regent. Richard manages to get Parliament to pass a bill saying that, because it was secret, Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville’s marriage was never valid. Richard is crowned Richard III, and sometime in 1483 the two young nephews, Edward and Richard, mysteriously disappear, and history is pretty certain they were murdered as well, though it is just one of many controversies of Richard’s rule.
Richard III rules for a whopping two years, but is killed in the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 when Henry Tudor, a distant Lancastrian relative, returns from France. Henry is crowned Henry VII, marries Elizabeth Woodville and Edward IV’s daughter Elizabeth, thus joining the Lancastrian and York claims to the throne, and ending the War of the Roses.
Thus, rumors of witchcraft, infidelity, multiple defections, lots of husbands, and several Shakespeare plays. The end.