Several prominent Lancastrians died at the hands of the Yorkists. Henry was again imprisoned, and Richard of York resumed his role as Lord Protector. Although peace was temporarily restored, the Lancastrians were inspired by Margaret of Anjou to contest York's influence, and a deadly feud between the two branches of the royal family ensued.
Fighting resumed more violently in York and his supporters were forced to flee the country , and Henry was once again restored to direct rule, but one of York's most prominent supporters, the Earl of Warwick , invaded England from Calais in October and captured Henry VI yet again at the Battle of Northampton. York returned to the country and for the third time became Protector of England , but was dissuaded from claiming the throne, though it was agreed that he would become heir to the throne thus displacing Henry and Margaret's son, Edward of Westminster, from the line of succession.
Margaret and the remaining Lancastrian nobles gathered their army in the north of England. When York moved north to engage them, he and his second son Edmund were killed at the Battle of Wakefield in December The Lancastrian army advanced south and released Henry at the Second Battle of St Albans but failed to occupy London and subsequently retreated to the north. He gathered the Yorkist armies and won a crushing victory at the Battle of Towton in March After Lancastrian revolts in the north were suppressed in , Henry was captured once again and placed in the Tower of London.
Edward fell out with his chief supporter and adviser, the Earl of Warwick known as the "Kingmaker" , after Edward's unpopular and secretly conducted marriage with the widow of a Lancastrian supporter , Elizabeth Woodville. Within a few years, it became clear that Edward was favouring his wife's family and alienating several friends closely aligned with Warwick as well.
Furious, Warwick tried first to supplant Edward with his younger brother George, Duke of Clarence , establishing the alliance by marriage to his daughter, Isabel Neville. When that plan failed, due to lack of support from Parliament , Warwick sailed to France with his family and allied with the former Lancastrian Queen, Margaret of Anjou, to restore Henry VI to the throne. This resulted in two years of rapid changes of fortune before Edward IV once again won complete victories at Barnet 14 April , where Warwick was killed, and Tewkesbury 4 May , where the Lancastrian heir, Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales was killed or perhaps executed after the battle.
Queen Margaret was escorted to London as a prisoner, and Henry was murdered in the Tower of London several days later, ending the direct Lancastrian line of succession. A period of comparative peace followed, ending with the unexpected death of King Edward in His surviving brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester , first moved to prevent the unpopular Woodville family of Edward's widow from participating in the government during the minority of Edward's son, Edward V , and then seized the throne for himself, using the suspect legitimacy of Edward IV's marriage as pretext.
Yorkist revolts, directed by John de la Pole, 1st Earl of Lincoln and others, flared up in under the banner of the pretender Lambert Simnel —who claimed he was Edward, Earl of Warwick son of George of Clarence , resulting in the last pitched battles. Though most surviving descendants of Richard of York were imprisoned, sporadic rebellions continued until , when Perkin Warbeck , who claimed he was the younger brother of Edward V , one of the two disappeared Princes in the Tower , was imprisoned and later executed.
From the 9th century, the term was used in a much narrower context and came to refer exclusively to members of the house of Cerdic of Wessex , the ruling dynasty of Wessex , most particularly the sons or brothers of the reigning king.
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According to historian Richard Abels " King Alfred transformed the very principle of royal succession. Before Alfred, any nobleman who could claim royal descent, no matter how distant, could strive for the throne. After him, throne-worthiness would be limited to the sons and brothers of the reigning king.
Following the White Ship disaster, England entered a period of prolonged instability known as The Anarchy. However, following the ascension of Henry of Anjou to the throne in as Henry II , the crown passed from father to son or brother to brother with little difficulty until Although Edward III's succession seemed secure, there was a "sudden narrowing in the direct line of descent" near the end of his reign. Since Richard was a minor, had no siblings, and had three living uncles at the time of Edward III's death, there was considerable uncertainty about who was next in line for the succession after Richard.
Clarence's only daughter, Philippa, 5th Countess of Ulster , married into the Mortimer family and had a son, Roger Mortimer, 4th Earl of March — , who technically had the best claim to succeed. However, a legal decree issued by Edward III in introduced some complexity into the question of who would ultimately take the throne. The letters patent he issued limited the right of succession to male heirs, which placed his third son, John of Gaunt, ahead of Clarence's descendants because the Mortimer line of descent passed through a daughter.
Richard II's reign was marked by increasing dissension between the King and several of the most powerful nobles. Throughout his reign, Richard had repeatedly switched his choice of the heir to keep his political enemies at bay  and perhaps to reduce the chances of deposition. Nevertheless, when Bolingbroke returned from exile in , initially to reclaim his rights as Duke of Lancaster , he took advantage of the support of most of the nobles to depose Richard and was crowned King Henry IV, establishing the House of Lancaster on the throne.
Their name derives from John of Gaunt's primary title of Duke of Lancaster, which he held by right of his spouse , Blanche of Lancaster. They had received explicit preference from Edward III in the line of succession because they formed the most senior unbroken male line of descent from him. Henry IV's claim to the throne was through his father, John of Gaunt. At the onset of Richard II's reign, Gaunt was the official heir presumptive , but due to the intrigues of his turbulent rule, the succession was unclear by the time of his deposition.
However, there was little support at the time for his counter-claim. Certainly, many people believed it to be the case. There were uprisings in support of the Mortimers' claim throughout Henry IV's reign, which lasted until A peculiarity of Henry IV's seizure of the throne is demonstrated in the way he announced his claim. Henry IV seems to have been exploiting a legend that Henry III's second son Edmund "Crouchback", 1st Earl of Lancaster , was his eldest son but had been removed from the succession because he had a physical deformity, which gave origin to his nickname.
There is no evidence for this legend, and Edmund's nickname did not stem from a deformity. An important branch of the House of Lancaster was the House of Beaufort , whose members were descended from Gaunt by his mistress, Katherine Swynford. Originally illegitimate, they were made legitimate by an Act of Parliament when Gaunt and Katherine later married. However, Henry IV excluded them from the line of succession to the throne.
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Henry IV's son and successor, Henry V , inherited a temporarily pacified nation, and his military success against France in the Hundred Years' War bolstered his popularity, enabling him to strengthen the Lancastrian hold on the throne. Nevertheless, one notable conspiracy against Henry, the Southampton Plot , took place during his nine-year reign. This was led by Richard, Earl of Cambridge , who attempted to place Edmund Mortimer, his brother-in-law, in the throne. Cambridge was executed for treason in , at the start of the campaign that led to the Battle of Agincourt. Their family name comes from Edmund's title Duke of York , which he acquired in However, the superiority of their claim is not based on the male line, but on the female line, as descendants of Edward III's second son Lionel of Antwerp.
Anne's grandmother, Philippa of Clarence , was the daughter of Lionel of Antwerp. The Mortimers were the most powerful marcher family of the fourteenth century. Trevelyan has written that "the Wars of the Roses were to a large extent a quarrel between Welsh Marcher Lords , who were also great English nobles, closely related to the English throne. Anne de Mortimer had died in When her brother Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March, who had loyally supported Henry, died childless in , the title and extensive estates of the Earldom of March and the Mortimer claim to the throne thus passed to Anne's descendants.
Richard of York , the son of Cambridge and Anne Mortimer, was four years old at the time of his father's execution. Although Cambridge was attainted , Henry V later allowed Richard to inherit the title and lands of Cambridge's elder brother Edward, Duke of York , who had died fighting alongside Henry at Agincourt and had no issue. Henry, who had three younger brothers and was himself in his prime and recently married to the French princess, Catherine of Valois ,  did not doubt that the Lancastrian right to the crown was secure.
Henry's premature death in , at the age of 36, led to his only son Henry VI coming to the throne as an infant and the country being ruled by a divided council of regency. Henry V's younger brothers produced no surviving legitimate issue, leaving only distant cousins the Beauforts as alternative Lancaster heirs. As Richard of York grew into maturity and questions were raised over Henry VI's fitness to rule, Richard's claim to the throne thus became more significant.
The revenue from the York and March estates also made him the wealthiest magnate in the land.
From early childhood, Henry VI was surrounded by quarrelsome councillors and advisors. His younger surviving paternal uncle, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester , sought to be named Lord Protector and deliberately courted the popularity of the common people for his own ends  but was opposed by his half-uncle Cardinal Henry Beaufort. On several occasions, Beaufort called on John, Duke of Bedford , Humphrey's older brother, to return from his post as Henry VI's regent in France , either to mediate or to defend him against Humphrey's accusations of treason.
Sometime after, Cardinal Beaufort withdrew from public affairs, partly due to old age and partly because William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk , rose to become the dominant personality at court.
Humphrey felt that the lifetime efforts of his brothers, of himself, and many Englishmen in the war against France were being wasted as the French territories slipped from English hands, especially since Suffolk and his supporters were trying to make large diplomatic and territorial concessions to the French in a desperate attempt for peace.
In this, Gloucester enjoyed little influence, as Henry VI tended to favour Suffolk and Beaufort's faction at court due to its less hawkish and more conciliatory inclinations. The Duke of York, Bedford's successor in France, and at times also described as a skeptic of the peace policy, became entangled in this dispute as Suffolk and the Beauforts were frequently granted large money and land grants from the king, as well as important government and military positions, redirecting much needed resources away from York's campaigns in France.
Suffolk eventually succeeded in having Humphrey of Gloucester arrested for treason. Humphrey died while awaiting trial in prison at Bury St Edmunds in Some authorities date the start of the War of the Roses from the death of Humphrey. At the same time, Richard of York was stripped of the prestigious military command in France and sent to govern the relatively distant Ireland , whereby he could not interfere in the proceedings of the court. However, with severe reverses in France, Suffolk was stripped of office and was murdered on his way to exile.
Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset Cardinal Beaufort's nephew , succeeded him as leader of the party seeking peace with France. The Duke of York meanwhile represented those who wished to prosecute the war more vigorously, and criticised the court, and Somerset in particular, for starving him of funds and men during his campaigns in France.
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In all these quarrels, Henry VI had taken little part. He was seen as a weak, ineffectual king. Also, he displayed several symptoms of mental illness  that he may have inherited from his maternal grandfather, Charles VI of France. By many considered Henry incapable of carrying out the duties and responsibilities of a king. In , there was a violent popular revolt in Kent, Jack Cade's Rebellion , which is often seen as the prelude to the Wars of the Roses.
After some of them fell to looting, they were driven out of London by the citizens. They dispersed after they were supposedly pardoned but several, including Cade, were later executed. Two years later, in , Richard of York returned to England from his new post as Lieutenant of Ireland and marched on London, demanding Somerset's removal and reform of the government. At this stage, few of the nobles supported such drastic action, and York was forced to submit to superior force at Blackheath. He was imprisoned for much of and  but was released after swearing not to take arms against the court.
The increasing discord at court was mirrored in the country as a whole, where noble families engaged in private feuds and showed increasing disrespect for the royal authority and the courts of law.
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In many cases, feuds were fought between old-established families, and formerly minor nobility raised in power and influence by Henry IV in the aftermath of the rebellions against him. The quarrel between the Percys—long the Earls of Northumberland—and the comparatively upstart Nevilles was the best-known of these private wars and followed this pattern, as did the Bonville—Courtenay feud in Cornwall and Devon. Nobles engaged many of these to mount raids, or to pack courts of justice with their supporters, intimidating suitors, witnesses, and judges. This growing civil discontent, the abundance of feuding nobles with private armies, and corruption in Henry VI's court formed a political climate ripe for civil war.
With the king so easily manipulated, power rested with those closest to him at court, in other words, Somerset and the Lancastrian faction. Richard and the Yorkist faction, who tended to be physically placed further away from the seat of power, found their power slowly being stripped away. Royal power and finances also started to slip, as Henry was persuaded to grant many royal lands and estates to the Lancastrians, thereby losing their revenue.
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In , Henry suffered the first of several bouts of complete mental collapse, during which he failed even to recognise his new-born son, Edward of Westminster. Henry was incapable of nominating a successor. York soon asserted his power with ever-greater boldness although there is no proof that he had aspirations to the throne at this early stage. He imprisoned Somerset and backed his Neville allies his brother-in-law, the Earl of Salisbury , and Salisbury's son, the Earl of Warwick , in their continuing feud with the Earl of Northumberland , a powerful supporter of Henry.
Henry recovered in and once again fell under the influence of those closest to him at court. Directed by Henry's queen, the powerful and aggressive Margaret of Anjou , who emerged as the de facto leader of the Lancastrians, Richard was forced out of court. Margaret built up an alliance against Richard and conspired with other nobles to reduce his influence. An increasingly thwarted Richard who feared arrest for treason finally resorted to armed hostilities in The relatively small First Battle of St Albans was the first open conflict of the civil war. Richard's aim was ostensibly to remove "poor advisors" from King Henry's side.
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