Wars of the Roses, Naming of

   “Wars of the Roses” is a modern term used to describe the intermittent civil conflicts that occurred in fifteenth-century England between partisans of the houses of LANCASTER and YORK. Sir Walter Scott is usually credited with coining the term in his 1829 novel Anne of Geierstein, although Sir John Oglander had published a 1646 pamphlet entitled The Quarrel of the Warring Roses and David Hume had written in his 1762 History of England about “the Wars of the Two Roses.” Although the phrase “Wars of the Roses” was unknown to contemporaries, who referred occasionally to “Cousins’ Wars,” the idea of a civil conflict symbolized by two competing rose emblems originated in the late fifteenth century. During the civil war, the white rose was one of the chief BADGES of EDWARD IV and the house of York, but use of the red rose as a symbol for Lancaster or of the idea of competing rose emblems is hard to find before 1485. But after that year, the red rose as a symbol for the TUDOR FAMILY and, by extension, for their Lancastrian relatives, is found scattered throughout English literature, art, and architecture, usually intertwined with the white rose as a representation of the union of Lancaster and York brought about by HENRY VII’s 1486 marriage to ELIZABETH OF YORK, daughter of Edward IV. The concept of a union of warring roses became such a commonplace of Tudor PROPAGANDA that the 1509 coronation of Henry VIII, the offspring of this union, was greeted with numerous verses that, like the following lines from John Skelton, extolled the peaceful blending of the two formerly hostile emblems: The rose both white and red In one rose now doth grow. (Ross, p. 15) Some eighty years later, William Shakespeare, following these early Tudor leads, wrote the memorable, if entirely fictional scene that prompted the later coining of the term “Wars of the Roses.” In act 2, scene iv of HENRY VI, PART 1, Shakespeare has the rival dukes of Somerset and York meet in the Temple gardens, where their followers pick red or white roses as symbols of allegiance to their respective causes. Thus, although less than two centuries old, the term “Wars of the Roses” has today become the widely accepted designation for an English civil conflict fought over five hundred years ago.
   Further Reading: Gillingham, John, The Wars of the Roses (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1981); McFarlane, K. B.,“The Wars of the Roses,” in England in the Fifteenth Century: Collected Essays (London: Hambledon Press, 1981); Ross, Charles, The Wars of the Roses (London: Thames and Hudson, 1987);Weir, Alison, The Wars of the Roses (New York: Ballantine Books, 1995).

Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. . 2001.

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