This page introduces players in the Wars of the Roses according to their houses. Some participants may be listed in two different houses.
Since this page is organized by houses, I recommend using your browser’s search function (for example, using CTRL + F to locate the name you seek.
House of York
Richard, Duke of York – the leader of the house of York before his death in 1461. Richard was an extremely competent administrator who had few friends in the nobility and sometimes came off as haughty, but might have actually been shy or reserved. His humiliating death spurred his son to overthrow the “mad king” Henry VI. Ned Stark may be partially based on Richard of York.
Cecily Neville – Richard Duke of York’s wife and the mother of Edward IV and Richard III among others. Cecily came one of the most powerful noble families in the North of England, the Nevilles. She was one of twenty two children who married into other noble houses. An ancestor with Cecily’s matrilineal DNA was used to identify Richard III’s remains. Cecily was known to be proud, have a temper, and be religious. All English monarchs since Edward IV, including Elizabeth II, are descended from Cecily. Cecily Neville may have been one of George RR Martin’s inspiration’s when he created Catelyn Stark.
Edward IV – king of England and leader of the house of York. Edward came to the throne at age 18 and ruled until he died at 41. An undefeated military leader, he was a brilliant strategist and business man. He restored England’s economy to unprecedented prosperity. He was extremely popular with his subjects, especially London merchants; he had the “common touch.” Edward, like his grandson Henry VIII, married for love. Edward loved feasting, wenching, drinking, hunting, and clothing. He introduced the lavish court for which the Tudors became famous. Before he became king, he was known as Edward, Earl of March.
Elizabeth Woodville – Edward’s extremely controversial and, arguably, ill-chosen wife. Elizabeth was exceedingly beautiful but frequently described as grasping, greedy, proud, haughty, and vindictive. Even Edward himself may have described her as “wily.” However, this negative assessment of Elizabeth is controversial amongst historians. Elizabeth Woodville may have served as a partial basis for Cersei Lannister. Elizabeth Woodville is the main character in Phillippa Gregory’s The White Queen.
Edmund, Earl of Rutland – Edmund was likely Edward’s closest brother and was raised with him in Ludlow Castle. John Clifford, the “butcher” of Lancaster, executed him or ordered him executed after the Battle of Wakefield, allegedly to avenge the death of Clifford’s father. Much to Edward IV’s fury, Edmund and his father’s heads are put on a gate in the City of York (Micklegate Bar) like traitors.
George, Duke of Clarence – Edward’s closet (in age) brother and, for a while, heir is an entitled prince. Edward lavished estates, furs, horses, velvets, titles, and wealth on George. But, he would never give him the power he craved. Consequently, Warwick lured him into rebelling against Edward. Surprisingly, Edward forgave him only to execute him eight years later—perhaps, as Shakespeare, suggests by drowning in a vat of Malmsey wine.
Margaret of Burgundy – at age seventeen, Margaret of York, married Charles the Bold (Duke of Burgundy). Margaret became powerful enough to be considered troublesome and had a knack for dabbling in European and English affairs. Louis XI would have liked to have assassinated her. Henry VII, whom she hated for (indirectly) killing her brother Richard and reducing her income, referred to her as the “diabolical duchess.” Margaret had a soft spot for Clarence, her favorite brother, and tried to save him from execution.
Anne of York – Edward’s elder sister who was the third highest-ranked woman at court for the first six years of his reign. Anne, somewhat scandalously and likely secretly, lived with a commoner who was not her husband for possibly years. This ended when she finally managed to divorce her husband in 1472. It is Anne’s living descendant whose matrilineal DNA was compared to the remains of Richard III.
Edward and Elizabeth had ten children during their marriage. The most important children are:
Edward V — Edward IV’s heir, who was born in 1470. He is one of the two sons whom Richard III placed in the Tower of London only to vanish. These boys are often referred to as the “Princes in the Tower.”
Richard of Shrewsbury – Edward’s second son, who also disappeared in the Tower.
Other children include Mary, Cecily, Margaret, Anne, George, Catherine, Bridget, and at least five illegitimate children.
The Woodvilles were an exceptionally fertile clan who married into the House of York when Edward secretly wed Elizabeth Woodville, a beautiful young widow with whom he fell in lust. Warwick, Clarence, and Richard III bitterly hated, resented, and feared them. They are likely partially inspired the wealthy Lannisters – except the Woodvilles weren’t exceedingly rich.
Elizabeth’s parents may have been like the Posh and Becks (Victoria and David Beckham) of the day. Her mother was as the wife of a duke, essentially a princess, and her father was a top jouster who some proclaimed to be the “handsomest man in England.” Since people would come from around England to see jousting matches, they may have been a glamorous and famous couple in the eyes of the commoners. However, some nobles, notably Warwick, sneered at them as “parvenus.” Once Elizabeth’s mother married a commoner, she lost her pedigree and the Woodvilles were forever seen as grasping commoners and social climbers.
Richard Woodville, 1st Earl Rivers — reputedly very handsome and at one time the best jouster in England, Richard Woodville rose up from his position as chamberlain in the Duke of Bedford’s household to holding important positions in first Henry VI’s counsel and then that of Edward IV. He locked horns with the Warwick the Kingmaker after Woodville was appointed to a counsel investigating Warwick for charges of piracy. Ultimately, Warwick would be his undoing, and Warwick executed Woodville in 1469 after capturing him in battle.
Jacquetta, Duchess of Bedford – The daughter of a Belgian count, Jacquetta came to England to marry the extremely powerful but aged Duke of Bedford during the reign of Henry VI (the “mad king”). As the wife of the duke, Jacquetta outranked all other woman at court except the queen. However, after Bedford died, she secretly married Richard Woodville without the king’s permission, which she required. A furious Henry VI fined her £1000. Jacquetta was possibly seen as haughty by her contemporaries. Accused of witchcraft, Jacquetta may have seen Joan of Arc when she was imprisoned by her family when Jacquetta was a child.
Anthony Woodville – originally Lord Scales and later, after his father’s death, Lord Rivers, Woodville was the top jouster in England. However, he also was erudite, pious, and Caxton’s first patron in England.
Elizabeth had twelve siblings in total who make occasional appearances.
Ralph Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland, had two large families with two different women: (1) Margaret Stafford and (2) Joan Beaufort, who was the more illustrious of his two brides. Joan persuaded him to overlook his heir (John Neville) from his first marriage to Margaret Stafford in favor of her son, Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury (later Warwick’s father).
This decision ultimately led to a blood feud between his two sets of children (known as the “Stafford line” and the “Beaufort line”). This feud, combined with many other events, created a spark that ultimately ignited the war of the roses.
Ralph Neville also successfully managed to marry most of this enormous brood into the major noble families across England, particularly in the North, creating a spectacular land/power grab.
As a result, the Nevilles were so powerful that between 1450-1455 they had six men (five brothers and one nephew), five sons-in-law, and seven of Ralph Neville’s grandchildren all sat in the House of Lords. However, they didn’t cooperate or function as a coalition because they of their differences over inheritance (esp. John’s disinheritance) and property. Ralph Neville may have provided one starting point for Lord Walder Frey.
The main people to watch from the Nevilles are:
Cecily Neville – also listed above. Richard of York’s wife and the mother of Edward IV and Richard III.
Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick – Cecily Neville’s nephew. Today, most people call him simply “Warwick.” Warwick helps put Edward on the throne in 1460, but then Warwick ultimately rebels against Edward after he feels disrespected. Initially his rebellion is successful, and he places Henry VI on the throne.
Warwick had no sons. His only had two daughters would inherit his spectacular wealth and some of his titles. In keeping with family tradition, he wanted them to make brilliant marriages and increase the family’s power and wealth even more. However, the Woodvilles and Herberts, another gentry family risen up to prominence, thwarted this by snapping up all the eligible grooms. This blow to his ego and ambition led him to become so disillusioned and discontent that he rebelled against Edward – likely seeing him as ungrateful.
Isabel Neville-the eldest daughter would marry Clarence despite Edward’s attempts to stop the match. (Edward feared it would make his brother dangerously powerful.) Unlike many of his contemporaries, he may have actually loved Isabel. There is no evidence he ever cheated on her and may* have been devastated when she died.
Anne Neville- the youngest daughter would marry Richard III and one day become queen. However, before she gets there, her brother-in-law (Clarence) hides her in the kitchen disguised as a scullery maid to prevent Richard III from marrying her and seizing her inheritance. See Hidden as a Scullion Maid for Anne’s story.
John Neville, 1st Marquess of Montagu and Earl of Northumberland. Initially, he resisted in joining Warwick’s schemes against Edward IV, but he ultimately sided with Warwick and paid the ultimate price in 1471 at the Battle of Barnet.
George Neville – Warwick’s youngest brother. Supposedly brilliant and Edward IV’s chancellor until Edward realized that George was working more in his brother Warwick’s interest and less in Edward’s.
House of Lancaster
Rule of Henry VI
Henry VI – the son of the glorious Agincourt war hero, Henry VI became king when he was only nine months old. However, when he reached his age of majority, he was still ill-equipped to rule – he had neither the psychological stamina and the emotional grit nor the warrior-like leadership the job required. Tudor propaganda portrayed him as deeply pious, a veritable saint. This is likely an exaggeration. While religious, he had other interests, including education. Perhaps due to living in his father’s shadow, he lapsed into a catatonic stupor for over a year after his troops lost the French territory Bordeaux. His lack of administrative ability led to near financial collapse.
I, frequently, refer to him as a “mad king” throughout this blog. However, while he suffered from periods of insanity, he also had periods of lucidity. I use the term “mad king” as a memory aid and because it ties into the Aerys Targaryen plotline in Game of Thrones.
Margaret of Anjou – Margaret was Henry VI’s French bride who was widely hated by the people. She asserted a lot of power and led the country at various times when her husband was incapable. The granddaughter of the formidable Yolande of Aragon, she shared Catherine of Aragon’s indomitable will and sense of duty. Margaret believed that her ultimate duty was to raise a son and heir to the throne, and she ferociously defended his place in the succession when Richard of York threatened it (by getting himself appointed heir to the throne.
In age where the king could not be blamed, Margaret may have been an easy substitute because she was foreign and a woman, which falls into the theme of blaming others (such as “evil counselors”) for inept or unpopular rule.
Edmund of Westminster – the allegedly blood-thirsty heir of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou, Edmund is famous for asking for the heads of two captured knights to be chopped off. Edmund may have been the inspiration for Robin Arryn or Joffrey Baratheon.
Margaret Beaufort— Margaret whose burning relentless drive and (likely) deep love for her son led her to orchestrate Richard III’s downfall – or at least give him the finally shove – and plant her son the throne. Proud, shrewd, cunning, an excellent administrator/business woman, and deeply strategic, she is the ultimate survivor in the war of the roses.
However, Margaret had a brutal start in life. Her father committed suicide when she was a child – a deeply shameful act for the entire family in the middle ages. Margaret likely was shaped by a need to overcome a feeling of inferiority. (Later in life, she initially refused to give precedence to Elizabeth of York and only walked a half pace behind her.) When Margaret was 12, Henry VI arranged for her to marry his half-brother, Edmund Tudor, from an illegitimate line. As soon as Margaret was legally old enough for intercourse, Edmund (likely) raped her. He died leaving her seven months pregnant. At 13, she gave birth to the future Henry VII. However, the birth was likely too much for her tiny immature body. She never had children again.
Henry Tudor (later Henry VII) – Henry VII was the exiled son of Margaret Beaufort who resided in France for half his life. As an heir to the House of Lancaster, he feared for his life. He hired missionaries, landed in England, and overthrew Richard III at Bosworth Field. He may be a partial inspiration for Daenerys Targaryen.
Other Folks of Note
Hastings – Edward’s best friend, frequent wenching companion, chamberlain, and lieutenant to Calais. Hastings was born into a gentry family about ten years before Edward was born. Edward knew Hastings from before the time he was king. Hastings was widely respected by courtiers as being fair and not hoarding access to the king. Hastings fell in love with Edward’s mistress, Jane Shore, after Edward died. Hastings met with a sudden and terrible end. In the days before Richard III seized the throne, Richard accused Hastings of conspiring against him and immediately had his guards take him to the courtyard and behead him.
Louis XI – the king of France during Edward IV’s reign.
For the Nevilles, Kings and Nobles, p. 32.