Did the participants in the Wars of the Roses really wear red and white roses?

The scene in Shakespeare's Henry VI Part One, where at the start of the conflict members of the rival factions chose red or white roses in the Temple Garden to symbolise the side they supported, is great drama - but pure invention

© Elnur | Dreamstime.com
© Elnur | Dreamstime.com

The Yorkist faction did indeed use a white rose as one (but not the only one) of its symbols but the so-called red rose of Lancaster appears to have been introduced much later by Henry Tudor. It was soon combined with the Yorkist white rose to form the Tudor rose, which symbolised the union of the two houses when he married Elizabeth of York after Bosworth.

More often than not, retainers wore or fought under the livery badges of their lords. These were simple devices that were easy to recognise, and much cheaper to produce than complicated family coats of arms.

Edward IV favoured a sun, The Earls of Northumberland a crescent, the Beauforts a portcullis, the Earl of Warwick a ragged staff and the Earl of Oxford a star. Richard of Gloucester (later King Richard III) famously used a white boar, although 25 years earlier this had been the badge of the Lancastrian Earl of Devon.

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