On This Day: Began the ‘Cousin’s War’
May 22nd, 1455: The Wars of the Roses began.
The Wars of the Roses began not on a battlefield but with a bloody clash fought on foot through the streets of St Albans which, at the time, was a modest market town that lies 20 miles north-west of London.
Unrest in England had been building since Henry VI inherited the throne in 1422 when aged about nine months. During his long minority, the country was ruled by a council of nobles between whom the bitterest rivalries arose. Henry’s queen, Margaret of Anjou, was also deeply unpopular - not least with Richard, Duke of York who, like Henry, was descended from Edward III and also had a strong claim to the throne.
In May 1455, York and his ally Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, mustered a private army in northern England and marched South towards London. Henry’s supporters (the ‘Lancastrians’) moved North to St Albans to where troops were already stationed. After brief negotiations on May 22nd, ‘Yorkist’ troops attacked, and brutal fighting spilled onto the streets, narrow lanes and even gardens of the town. Henry’s men were soon flagging under a withering rain of Yorkist arrows. The leader of the Lancastrian forces, Lord Buckingham, was injured, as was the king who was captured and taken to London. Six months later Richard was made lord protector of England and so began a power struggle between the houses of York and Lancaster that would last three decades.
Carr, H., (2022), ‘Anniversaries’, BBC History Magazine, May 2022 edition, p. 12.