- Because most civil war armies comprised the same types of troops, wielding the same types of WEAPONRY and wearing similar ARMOR, the battles of the WARS OF THE ROSES rarely offered much opportunity for the exercise of creative or resourceful generalship by army commanders. However, the personal bravery, martial prowess, and military reputation of a commander, whether a king, prince, or nobleman, could give an army a decided edge in the hand-to-hand combat that characterized most civil war encounters (see Battles, Nature of).Because fifteenth-century commanders were expected to personally lead their men into battle and to inspire them with deeds of valor, the house of YORK enjoyed a distinct leadership advantage early in the war, for it possessed the two most vigorous and inspiring leaders of the conflict—EDWARD IV and Richard NEVILLE, earl of Warwick. Young and strong, Edward, as his 1471 campaign showed (see Edward IV, Restoration of), was capable of speed and decision, and possessed boldness, self-confidence, and an ability to inspire men. Never defeated in battle, Edward was also blessed with good luck, a reputation for which could itself greatly boost morale among such a commander’s troops. In 1471, for instance, Edward was fortunate that Queen MARGARET OF ANJOU and her son Prince EDWARD OF LANCASTER did not arrive in England until after Warwick had been defeated and killed at the Battle of BARNET.Although not the battlefield commander that Edward IV was, being more conservative and defensively minded, Warwick knew how to inspire men and possessed a great reputation for military success. His elaborate defensive preparations before the Battle of ST. ALBANS in 1461 proved useless, but his political/factional leadership was largely responsible for the Yorkist successes of 1460 and for the Lancastrian restoration a decade later (see Edward IV, Overthrow of). Until Warwick joined them, the Lancastrians’ most vigorous leader was Queen Margaret, who could inspire men but who could not, as a woman, lead them into combat. HENRY VI was present on numerous battlefields, but never as a commander. Captured no less than three times (NORTHAMPTON and the two battles at St. Albans) and held captive on a fourth occasion (Barnet), Henry apparently lacked the wit to flee a losing field.With his son too young to command, Henry left the leadership of his armies to prominent Lancastrian noblemen like the Dukes of Somerset and Humphrey STAFFORD, duke of Buckingham. By the Battle of HEXHAM in 1464, the Lancastrians no longer brought Henry to the field, but deposited him some miles away at Bywell Castle from which he could be quickly spirited away.Because commanders themselves engaged in combat, many were killed in battle or taken and executed later. Three Dukes of Somerset (see under BEAUFORT), two earls of Northumberland (see under PERCY), two earls of Devon (see under COURTENAY), a Lancastrian Prince of Wales, and a king of England (see Richard III, King of England) all died in battle or on the block afterward. Between 1459 and 1487, combat and execution claimed the lives of forty-two noblemen, excluding Richard III and Edward of Lancaster. Many battles ended when the commander of an army was slain. Henry VI’s men laid down their arms upon the death of Edmund BEAUFORT, duke of Somerset, at the 1455 Battle of ST. ALBANS, while royal troops quickly scattered or surrendered upon Richard III’s death at the Battle of BOSWORTH FIELD. Although civil war commanders usually had little scope for imaginative generalship, their presence and conduct on the field were of great importance to the outcome of battles.Further Reading: Gillingham, John, The Wars of the Roses (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1981); Goodman, Anthony, The Wars of the Roses (New York: Dorset Press, 1981); Ross, Charles, The Wars of the Roses (London: Thames and Hudson, 1987).
Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. John A.Wagner. 2001.