The Rose of England

   Describing one of the last campaigns of the Wars of the Roses, The Rose of England is the earliest of the ballads inspired by the Battle of BOSWORTH FIELD.
   Although the ballad was likely written in late 1485 only months after the battle, the earliest extant copy dates from the mid-seventeenth century. The prominence in the story of Thomas STANLEY, Lord Stanley, and his brother Sir William STANLEY, indicates that The Rose of England, like another later Bosworth ballad, THE SONG OF LADY BESSY, was composed by someone in the Stanley family circle.
   The poem is an extended allegory, casting England as a garden wherein grew a rose bush (the house of LANCASTER) that was destroyed by a White Boar (RICHARD III). Driven into exile, the last sprig of rose (Henry Tudor, earl of Richmond, the future HENRY VII) returns to England with the Blue Boar (John de VERE, earl of Oxford) and summons to his assistance the Old Eagle (Lord Stanley). Winning the support of Rhys ap THOMAS and other Welshmen (see Wales), Richmond marches to Shrewsbury, where he is denied admittance until Sir William Stanley instructs the town bailiff to open the gates. This possibly authentic detail is the only indication we have that it was the Stanleys who delivered the town to Richmond. When Richmond meets the Stanleys at Atherstone, the ballad adds another possibly authentic detail to its description of the earl’s greeting: “How earl Richmond took his hat in hand / And said, ‘Cheshire and Lancashire, welcome to me!’” (Rowse, p. 252).
   The battle description consists mainly of praise for the skill and valor displayed by Richmond’s chief captains, Oxford (“He was both wary and wise of wit”) and the Stanleys (“How they laid about them lustily”). Like The Song of Lady Bessy, this ballad recounts the near beheading of Stanley’s son, Lord Strange, who was preserved to “come to his nest again” when the start of the battle caused Richard to delay Strange’s execution (Bennett, p. 170). The defiant bravery of the king, depicted in 236 THE ROSE OF ENGLAND both THE BALLAD OF BOSWORTH FIELD and The Song of Lady Bessy, is here passed over for a simple declaration of Richard’s death. But now is the fierce field foughten and ended, And the White Boar there lieth slain. (Bennett, p. 170)
   The poem ends with a joyous exclamation that the red rose (Henry VII) flourishes again and with a prayer that God may confound the king’s foes and love him “night and day.” Thus, except for some small details of the Stanleys and their forces (e.g., they wore coats of “white and red”), the ballad is of slight use as a source for the battle itself, and may be, as some modern historians have suggested of all the Bosworth ballads, purely fiction.
   Further Reading: Bennett, Michael, The Battle of Bosworth (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985); Rowse,A. L., Bosworth Field: From Medieval to Tudor England (Garden City,NY: Doubleday, 1966).

Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. . 2001.

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