A hearty welcome to Leanda de Lisle! As I said in my last post, I thoroughly enjoyed her new book, Tudor: The Family Story. And now, here is Leanda:
The Wars of the Roses are so over. The power struggle between the red rose House of Lancaster and the white of York, has a new, and supposedly more ‘authentic’, name. Philippa Gregory, Sarah Gristwood and Alison Weir, have relabelled the era ‘the Cousins War’. They tell us this was the term used by contemporaries. But we are never told who these contemporaries were or where they used it. So which is the more ‘authentic’ term?
When I wrote my new dynastic history, ‘Tudor’ I believed that ‘the Wars of the Roses’ was a term first coined by the nineteenth century novelist Sir Walter Scott. The historian Dan Jones has since traced these exact words back to the eighteenth century historian David Hume. But as I note in Tudor, the origins of the phrase are much older than the form of words we now use.
The ‘wars of the roses’ were being referred to as ‘the quarrel of the two roses’ in the mid seventeenth century Before then you have Shakespeare’s play Henry VI, part I, with the scene in which Richard, Duke of York quarrels with the Lancastrian leader, Edmund, Duke of Somerset. The two men ask others to show their respective positions by picking a rose – red for Lancaster and white for York.
The simple five-petal design of the heraldic rose of the fifteenth century was inspired by the wild dog rose that grows in English hedgerows, and was used in different colours. The earliest association I found linking a red rose with the House of Lancaster was when Henry Bolingbroke – the future Henry IV, and first king of the House of Lancaster, had red roses decorating his pavilion at a joust in 1398.
At the height of the Lancastrian struggle with the House of York, the red rose appears again in a striking context. The deposed Lancastrian Henry VI was re-adapted briefly as king in 1470, and the Grocer’s Company in London planted red roses as a mark of their loyalty to him. Although the red rose was not a favourite Lancastrian badge, it marked a contrast with the white rose badge used by Henry VI’s enemy and rival, Edward IV of the House of York – the Grocer’s Company had ripped up white roses, to plant the red.Detail of a Tudor rose, from British Library Royal 20 E III f. 30v.
In 1485 Henry Tudor chose the red rose as his favoured badge in the knowledge that he was to marry Elizabeth of York, the heir of the white rose dynasty. Within weeks of this marriage the royal mint had issued a coin featuring the double union rose, commonly termed the ‘Tudor rose’, in which the red petals of the Lancastrian rose, surround the white petals of the House of York. It became immensely popular with artists and poets, symbolising as it did, national healing after the civil wars.
Does the term ‘the Cousins war’ really have the same meaning or resonance? Certainly the House of Lancaster and York were cousins, the two families being descended from Edward III. But as royal houses intermarry, and as European nations were ruled by monarchies for most of their history, half the wars in Europe’s past could be described as ‘cousins wars’ – down to and even including World War I.
Should we really edit out the Wars of the Roses for a term as dull and woolly as ‘the Cousins war’? Does it actually have any history predating the works of Gregory, Gristwood and Weir? And in what way is it more authentic?