Friday Fast Forward Rewind

Another Friday brings another batch of fantasy-related articles that you might enjoy.

I’m going to be away next Monday, so no Masterclass until the week after.

Monday Masterclass: The Wars of the Roses, Part Two

This week I continue my summary of the Wars of the Roses, a civil conflict in 15th century England between the House of York and the House of Lancaster, on which George R R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire is somewhat based.

The First Battles

The first fight of the Wars of the Roses was the First Battle of St Albans (in Hertfordshire, north of London), which occurred on 22 May 1455. Here, Richard, Duke of York, faced the Lancastrian King Henry VI and beat him. The Yorkists found Henry in a tent, wounded and lapsed into his mental illness. Richard set himself up, once again, as regent, and gave Margaret of Anjou care of her royal husband. Richard, of course, wanted himself to succeed Henry; Margaret wanted her and Henry’s son, Edward to succeed.

When Henry recovered the next year, he relieved Richard of his post as regent and sent him back to command English forces in Ireland. The country was beset by various problems. The Archbishop of Canterbury tried to resolve the York/Lancaster feud by holding a Grand Council, but it had little long-term effect.

After an attack on foreign forces by Richard Neville – Earl of Warwick, commander of the English garrison in Calais and a Yorkist – York, Warwick and another noble, the Earl of Salisbury were summoned to London, but didn’t go, fearing arrest. When the Yorkists tried to marshal their forces the Lancastrians intervened, resulting in a series of battles in 1459 and 1460. The upshot of these fights was that York was defeated and the Lancastrians had control of England.

Shortly afterwards, Warwick invaded England from Calais and defeated Henry VI at the Battle of Northampton (in the East Midlands). Richard returned from Ireland and took the throne, to the surprise of even his own supporters. After producing genealogical evidence supporting his claim, Parliament narrowly defeated his attempt to become king, but made him Protector of the Realm and Henry’s heir with piece of legislation called the Act of Accord.

Queen Margaret took her young son, Edward, to Scotland, where she agreed to marry him to James II of Scotland’s daughter in exchange for an army.

The Duke of York returned to northern England to quell Lancastrian resistance, but he was killed at the battle of Wakefield; his son Edmund and the Earl of Salisbury were executed by the Lancastrians afterwards. The Act of Accord meant that the heir to the throne was now York’s eldest son, Edward.

Edward beat Jasper Tudor at the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross. An atmospheric phenomenon called parhelion or sundogs occurred, where ice crystals in the air made it seem like there were three suns. Edward bolstered his forces’ courage by telling them they were the Holy Trinity.

The Earl of Warwick was defeated at the Second Battle of St Albans by Margaret’s army. The fleeing Yorkists left behind Henry VI, who was found sitting under a tree. Queen Margaret had the seven-year-old Prince Edward decide how to execute Henry’s Yorkist bodyguards. Her forces looted the Home Counties and were denied entrance to London.

Margaret’s army moved north. York’s son, Edward, Earl of March, joined forces with Warwick and entered London, where he was acclaimed by the populace. Parliament declared him King Edward IV. The Yorkists then gathered a huge army and followed the Lancastrians north.

The Battle of Towton, near York, on 29 March 1461 was the largest of the Wars of the Roses. Both sides agreed that it would be decisive battle and 20,000-30,000 men died in the course of the fight. The Yorkists won and Henry and Margaret fled to Scotland.

Edward of March was crowned in June 1461 and ruled for ten years, during which time the last of the Lancaster-supporting nobles were defeated – often after long sieges – Henry was captured once again and held in the Tower of London, and England and Scotland resolved their differences, forcing Margaret to leave for France.

The Last Battles

The Earl of Warwick became increasingly discontented during this period. He had been arguing that the king should marry a French princess to cement an alliance with France, but Edward IV had already married Elizabeth Woodville in secret. When this became public, the Woodvilles became more favoured than the Nevilles (Warwick’s family) at court. Edward would also not allow his brothers the Duke of Clarence and the Duke of Gloucester to marry Warwick’s daughters.

In 1469, Warwick, allied with the Duke of Clarence defeated Edward IV at the Battle of Edgecote Moor. Having captured the king, however, Warwick allowed him to return to London, the two men apparently reconciled. After putting down further rebellions, Edward IV declared Warwick and Clarence to be traitors and they fled to France.

Louix XI suggested that Margaret and Warwick – formerly mortal enemies – ally with each other. Margaret once again betrothed Prince Edward – this time to Warwick’s daughter Anne – and Warwick invaded England in 1470. As Edward IV was in northern England quelling rebellions, Warwick was able to easily enter London and parade Henry VI as the restored king. Warwick’s brother, the Marquess of Montagu, turned sides and turned on Edward IV – forcing Edward to flee to Holland. The Yorkists were declared traitors and Lancastrians returned from exile.

At the behest of Louis XI, King of France, Warwick declared war on Burgundy; Charles, Duke of Burgundy and brother of king Edward, lent his support to Edward IV in another invasion of England. Clarence changed sides again and Edward captured London. At the Battle of Barnet, north of London, Warwick and Montagu were killed.

Queen Margaret attempted to join her supporters in Wales, but was defeated at the Battle of Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire. In the fight, Prince Edward was also killed; as a result, Henry VI was murdered shortly afterwards. Edward IV was restored to the throne on 11 April 1471.

Edward died suddenly in 1483, but on his deathbed he named Richard of Gloucester Protector of England. Thus began a period of intrigue between Gloucester and Edward’s queen, Elizabeth Woodville. Elizabeth took refuge with her younger children. Meanwhile, Edward V, the 12-year-old heir, was taken from his stewards (who were later executed) and imprisoned in the Tower of London. The Archbishop of Canterbury persuaded Elizabeth to also give up her younger son, the 9-year-old Richard.

Richard of Gloucester had Parliament agree that Edward and Elizabeth’s marriage had been illegal and that therefore the two young princes were illegitimate. Gloucester was named King Richard III. The two boys subsequently disappeared – their fate being one of the most famous controversies in English history.

The Duke of Buckingham, who had previously supported Richard, rebelled, declaring his support for the claim of Henry Tudor to the throne. The Lancastrian Henry’s claim was tenuous, but he was descended from Edward III. Buckingham’s rebellion ultimately failed.

Buckingham’s supporters rallied to Henry Tudor’s cause. Henry invaded England from France, by way of Wales, where he was unopposed, and fought Richard III’s forces at the Battle of Bosworth Field in the East Midlands. Richard was killed during the battle and Henry became Henry VII.

He married Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV, and had many of his remaining rival executed – a policy that was continued by his heir Henry VIII. During Henry VII’s reign there were further uprisings, a couple involving pretenders who claimed to be heirs who were either dead or in custody, such as Perkin Warbeck, who claimed to be Richard, Duke of York, the younger of the two princes of the Tower. None of them succeeded.


The Tudor period saw the end of the Medieval era and the beginning of the Renaissance. The power of the nobility in England was much curtailed as rebels and claimants continued to be killed off and their military powers stripped from them. Even Henry VIII’s break with the Roman Catholic church was tied into the Wars of the Roses and their effects.

The Wars of the Roses were a period of complex intrigues, battles, claims, counter-claims, alliances and betrayals – all of which are some of the best features of A Song of Ice and Fire. There are few direct analogues between the history and the fiction. However, some incidents seem like direct parallels.

Queen Margaret’s promising of her young’s hand in marriage in exchange for military aid has obvious similarities to Catelyn Stark’s betrothal of her son Robb to one of Walder Frey’s daughters. Catelyn’s rather deranged sister and nephew, Lysa Arryn and Robert, also bear some resemblance to Margaret of Anjou and Prince Edward – especially the episode where Margaret makes the young boy decide how some Yorkist knights should be executed.

The ruthlessness of the civil war and the various executions of captured nobles is well reflected in scenes from the books such as the beheading of Eddard Stark (whose first name is surely no coincidence) by the boy king, Joffrey.

On the other hand, the land of Westeros is more monolithic than England. The Seven Kingdoms is a unique place in its world – the lands to the east, dubbed Essos, are exotic and alien; the lands to the north of the Wall are even more forbidding and strange. England, by contrast, was surrounded by various nations with similar cultures, histories and interests as itself – France and Burgundy to the south, Ireland to the west, Scotland to the north.

And, of course, there were no dragons in Late Medieval Europe.

What are your thoughts on the Wars of the Roses and their reflection in A Song of Ice and Fire? What do you think of the relationship between history and fantasy literature? Post your comments for the whole world to see.

Monday Masterclass: The Wars of the Roses, Part One

As George R R Martin’s fortunes continue to wax due to the popularity of A Song of Ice and Fire and the TV series based on it, Game of Thrones, I thought I’d take a look this week at one of the main inspirations behind the epic fantasy story: the Wars of the Roses.

The Wars of the Roses were a series of conflicts in the late 15th century over the succession to the throne of England. They were fought between the houses of Lancaster and York, the eventual winner being the House of Tudor, a branch of the Lancaster family.

Houses and Roses

The  House of Plantagenet was the ruling dynasty of England from the 12th century to the 15th century. It was a French family, originating in Gâtinais and Anjou. Its empire, the Angevin Empire (‘Angevin’ is a Victorian coinage), comprised, at one point, western France, the whole of England and eastern Ireland. There were fifteen Plantagenet monarchs of England, including John (who signed the Magna Carta), Henry V and Richard the Lionheart.

The House of Lancaster was a branch of the Plantagenet family. After the death of the first Duke of Lancaster, Edward III (Plantagenet) made his third surviving son, John of Gaunt – a man whose marriage to Blanche of Lancaster had made him a wealthy landowner – the next Duke of Lancaster. The house provided three kings of England: Henry IV, Henry V and Henry VI. Although Lancaster is a city in north-west England, Lancastrian land was held in Gloucestershire, North Wales and Cheshire.

The House of York was another branch of the House of Plantagenet and also gave England three kings: Edward IV, Edward V and Richard III. The first Duke of York was another son of Edward III, the fourth surviving son, Edmund of Langley. Later Yorks were able to claim a line of descent from Lionel of Antwerp, Edward III’s second surviving son, thus giving the house a legitimate claim to the throne of England. York itself is a city in Yorkshire, but York lands were spread throughout England and the Welsh Marches.

The House of Tudor was descended from the House of Lancaster by the maternal line and illegitimate offspring. Henry Tudor became Henry VII and married Elizabeth of York, uniting the two families of York and Lancaster. His second son succeeded him to the throne, becoming Henry VIII, whose daughter, Elizabeth I was the last Tudor. The house originated from Anglesey in Wales, but also owned Richmondshire located between Lancaster and York in the north of England.

The Roses
The name ‘the Wars of the Roses’ appears to have been coined by Sir Walter Scott, 19th century novelist. The roses – the Red Rose of Lancaster and the White Rose of York – are the badges we associate with each family, but they may not have been used often at the time. Livery badges of each soldier’s respective lord would have been used – Richard III’s, for instance was a white boar.

When Henry Tudor ascended to the throne at end of the civil war he adopted the combined red and white of the Tudor Rose to symbolise the union of the two families, which has been used by English monarchs ever since.

Background to the Wars

Edward III, ancestor of all the claimants to the throne of England in the Wars of the Roses, ruled England from 1327 to 1377, making him one of England’s longest-serving monarchs. He was a successful king, overseeing the development of government and initiating the Hundred Years War against France, gaining much French territory in the process. He lived so long that he was succeeded by his grandson, Richard II.

Richard II’s father was Edmund, the Black Prince, who died when Richard was nine. The following year, Edward III also died. Councils of nobles ruled for Richard II in his early years, and his later reliance on certain noblemen caused unhappiness amongst others, who then took control of the government. Later still, Richard, having taken back control, exiled or executed these men.

When his uncle, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster died, Richard disinherited John’s son, Henry of Bolingbroke. Henry invaded England from exile in 1399 and was able quite easily, with growing support amongst the nobles, to seize and depose Richard II, making himself Henry IV, the first Lancastrian king. Henry’s claim to the throne was not cast-iron, as he was descended only from Edward III’s third surviving son. He quickly faced rebellions and died in 1413.

Henry IV was succeeded by his son Henry V, who successfully continued the Hundred Years War (immortalised in Shakespeare’s play bearing his name). Henry faced the Southampton Plot during his reign, aimed at putting Edmund Mortimer, another descendant of Edward III, on the throne; this plot failed when Edmund told Henry about it.

Henry V died suddenly in 1422 and was succeeded by his baby son, Henry VI. Henry’s regents were unpopular, losing a lot of land back to France. Henry also suffered from mental illness that incapacitated him for periods and allowed the nobles to vie against each other to take over the running of the country. These noblemen included the Duke of Gloucester, popular with commoners and who was arrested for treason and died in captivity; also, the Duke of Somerset wanted to sue for peace with France; the Duke of York, lieutenant of the English forces in France, wanted a stronger war effort.

Henry was weak and granted much power and lands to the Lancastrians. After another bout of mental illness, Richard, Duke of York became regent and imprisoned Somerset and other Lancastrians. When the king recovered, his queen, Margaret of Anjou, headed the Lancastrian fight back, forcing York out of the court.

Richard of York, in fearing that he would be arrested for treason, made the suspicion a reality by marching on London with an army in 1455. This resulted in the First Battle of St Albans, the opening battle of the Wars of the Roses.

Next Time, On Elements of Fantasy

Next week I’ll give a summary of the Wars of the Roses themselves and their outcome.

Friday Fast Forward Rewind

Another selection of fantasy-related articles from the past week:

Wednesday Word of the Week: gallipot

Prizes are available for interesting sentences using the word ‘gallipot’.

gal·li·pot noun \ˈga-li-ˌpät\

Definition of GALLIPOT

1 : a small usually ceramic vessel

archaic : druggist

Origin of GALLIPOT

Middle English galy pott

First Known Use: 15th century

Source: Merriam-Webster.

‘To gather herbs,’ Drotte told him. ‘We are physicians’ gallipots.’

Source: The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe.

Monday Masterclass: The Medieval Village and Its People

Once again, this week, I’m going to take a quick look at an aspect of life in a medieval village – information that comes, appropriately enough, from Life in a Medieval Village by Frances and Joseph Gies.


As noted previously, the village in the 12th to 14th centuries was almost entirely geared towards food production, whether it be crops, livestock or dairy. Many villagers worked both on their own land and on their lord’s demesne. Cotters, who had little  or no land of their own, worked as labourers. Other villagers were free, land-rich men who hired others to work their furlongs. Most were somewhere in between.

Craftsmen were generally based in the towns, but there were plenty of itinerant traders and workers who provided services. Just about every villager was a farmer of land and livestock – but there were plenty of other occupations, too, either full-time or part-time.

Almost as important as producing food, was the production of ale. A lot of the barley grown in a village was used for producing the malt for ale – although other cereals were also used. Malt was dried in a communal kiln, but ale was brewed in large cauldrons in people’s homes – most often by women. Once a batch was brewed, the family would put a sign outside their house and establish a temporary tavern.

Ale-taster was an important rôle in the village; ale-tasters were elected on an annual basis – and were also often female. Ale had to come up to certain standards of strength and measure, otherwise the seller could be fined.

Bread – or, more specifically, the milling of flour and the baking of bread – was an important source of revenue for the lord. Mills and ovens were seigneurial monopolies. Villagers were fined for baking their own bread, while millers were regulated quite strictly and could also be fined for inappropriate behaviour, such as accepting payment in kind.

Religion and Village Life

Every village had a church, or, at least, was part of a parish centred around a church belonging to a bishop, a monastery or even a wealthy layman who commissioned a church for his family and tenants. The priest was employed by the church’s owner and, as a literate man, was useful to villagers for witnessing documents and suchlike. Funds raised by the church went to the owner.

Villages were also visited by travelling preachers, who could often be more entertaining than the local pastor. The parish vicar would give the mass in Latin, which, of course, the villagers did not speak. The mass would become something of a social event, with women being fashionably late, and lots of gossiping and flirting going on.

Mendicant friars, Franciscans and Dominicans, gave more engaging sermons. Life in a Medieval Village gives this amusing example:

[T]hese roving brothers preached in the parish church with the permission of the rector, or failing that, in the open air, where their sermons offered a lively alternative  to the routine of Sunday services. Illustrated with personal experiences, fables, and entertaining stories, the encouraged the participation of the congregation. A preacher might call out, “Stop that babbling,” to a woman, who did not hesitate to reply, “What about you? You’ve been babbling for the last half hour.” Such exchanges brought laughter, applause, and more friendly heckling.

In this period of the Middle Ages, the family had become the most important social unit, superseding previous clan and other loyalties. Families resembled the modern ideal of a nuclear family – mother, father and two or three children. Old people may have lived with their families or may have continued to live by themselves. Some even paid pensions to be looked after in their old age by monks at a monastery.

Marriage was achieved by the bride and groom making vows to each other and didn’t need witnesses, although, of course, the Church preferred such vows to be in public. A wedding would typically have the couple say their vows at the church door, followed by a mass inside the church and a ‘bride ale’ in a tavern or house.

Clandestine marriage also occurred, with the couple saying their vows in secret in the woods or elsewhere – which led to men sometimes taking advantage of a woman, speaking vows he didn’t mean in order to have sex with her. Pre-marital sex was illegal and subject to the typical sixpence fine, but wasn’t especially stigmatised. Women may have deliberately allowed themselves to become pregnant before marrying their partner in order to establish their fertility.

Another important area where religion affected everyday life was the regular cycle of feast days. On such days, the lord would lay on feast for some of his villeins, and the villagers would prepare special foods, play games and sports, sing and so on. Christmas was a two-week holiday, while Easter lasted a week. Other holidays included All Hallows (1st November), Martinmas (11th November), Rock or Plough Monday (first Monday after Epiphany), May Day, Whitsunday (Pentecost – seven weeks after Easter), St John’s Day (24th June), Lammas (1st August) and a Wake Day celebrating the local saint’s day.


While the medieval villager’s life was dominated by farming and related trades, there were also plenty of diversions from such hard work. Frances and Joseph Gies book, Life in a Medieval Village, was an interesting read that corrected a few erroneous ideas and put a lot of flesh on the stereotypical image one has of life at that time. I certainly recommend it, and I’d like to move on to some of their other books, such as Life in a Medieval Castle.

What thoughts do you have on the village and on the medieval era? Speak your brains in the comments section.

Friday Fast Forward Rewind

Another batch of fantasy-related articles to tickle your fancy.