The Wars of the Roses were a series of wars fought in 15th century England between two rival factions of the royal Plantagenet house until the ascension of the Tudor house with Henry VII in 1485. It was during the Wars of the Roses that the bloodiest and biggest battle on English soil was fought: the Battle of Towton. Although some see the Wars of the Roses as beginning in 1455, this fails to factor in the many issues leading up to the first battle in 1455. It was these issues which set the necessary pre-conditions for Cade’s rebellion in 1450 and sowed the seeds of war within England. However, to begin explaining the significance of Cade’s rebellion as a cause for the Wars of the Roses, it is necessary to shed light on the key figures who played a major role within the conflict.
The Plantagenet royal house during the Wars of the Roses was split between two rival factions: the Lancastrians and the Yorkists. At the beginning, the Lancastrians were headed by the ruling monarch at the time, King Henry VI, whilst the Yorkists were headed by Richard, Duke of York. Both descended from King Edward III, yet the Lancastrians descended from his third son (John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster) whereas the Yorkists were descended from his second son (Lionel, Duke of Clarence) through York’s mother as well as his fourth son Edmund, Duke of York, giving them an arguably greater claim to the throne. Cade’s rebellion can be seen as a cause of the Wars of the Roses as it is during the rebellion when the conflict between the two factions began to simmer.
Jack Cade’s rebellion began in May-June 1450. A mark on the ground at the beginning of a long bloody journey. Cade’s rebellion displayed the cracks in the foundations of Henry VI’s rule and exposed the Lancastrians to rival claimants for power. There are a wide variety of causes of Cade’s rebellion, from economic to social to political, highlighting the many failures of the king. England’s losses in France, such as Maine, Rouen and Normandy from 1448-1450 caused disgruntled and defeated soldiers to sail back to Kent, where Cade’s rebellion began.
The theme of the peoples of England losing faith in the rule of King Henry VI is one that would remain throughout the Wars of the Roses. Corruption within the government of Henry VI and his officials was rife. Henry VI was a weak, unfit king who was more interested in scholarly and religious pursuits, having notably founded Eton College, than fighting wars and leading government. This drastic difference from his father, Henry V, led the peoples of England to fester in discontent which eventually blew up with the rebellion of Jack Cade. As he had no interest in ruling the realm, the task was left to his closest companion William de la Pole, the Duke of Suffolk, who maintained his dominance through keeping the king away from all except a select few chosen individuals. However, Suffolk was soon imprisoned and sent away to quell tensions as a scapegoat of government, being murdered on his way to imprisonment near Kent. Corrupt officials such as William Ayscough, the Bishop of Salisbury and the hated sheriff of Kent, William Crowmer, were also killed during the rebellion.
Alongside these events was a significant issue during Cade’s rebellion which would eventually lead to the major conflicts of the Wars of the Roses. Jack Cade had changed his name and proclaimed himself with the surname Mortimer. Richard of York, a man who had an arguably greater claim to the throne through his mother Anne Mortimer, was seen as a grasping power-hungry man by the court. In addition, Cade had stayed in the White Hart Inn in London, which was seen as the symbol of the deposed Richard II. York being linked to Cade, regardless of his adamant claims of fealty to the King and lack of presence in England, was seen as treasonous. Cade was killed on the 12th of July 1450, yet the effects of his rebellion lingered.
Overall Cade’s rebellion is seen as a significant cause and often the beginning of the Wars of the Roses, since the king failed to resolve the many issues that created the rebellion. Corruption and favouritism continued as seen in the dominance of the new ‘favourite’ of the king Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, who was also a rival of York’s. Tensions exacerbated which ultimately led to the first military confrontation of the Wars of the Roses at Dartford in 1452 wherein York asked for the removal of corrupt persons, such as Somerset, from the King’s presence. It also led to the first battle of St. Albans in 1455 wherein Somerset was killed by the Yorkists. A weak monarch unable to administer government, solve rising debt, nor lead battles was a recipe for disaster and would spell the end for Henry VI and the rise of the Yorkists. Henry VI himself left London during the rebellion, a move which he repeated during the Wars of the Roses and eventually, as some historians argue, turned him back into a noble instead of a monarch. York’s claim to the throne and his proclaimed passion for the ‘communitas’ and ‘commonweal’ would prove to be stronger than the monarch himself.
By Maimoonah Yaasmeen