22 May 1455: The Wars of the Roses begin

Yorkist forces triumph at the first battle of St Albans


The Wars of the Roses began not with a battlefield clash but in bloody urban warfare fought on foot through the streets of St Albans, a modest market town some 20 miles north-west of London.

Unrest had been building in England since Henry VI inherited the throne in 1422, aged about nine months. During his long minority, the country was ruled by a council of nobles between which bitter rivalries arose. Henry’s powerful queen, Margaret of Anjou, was also unpopular – not least with Richard, Duke of York. Like Henry, York was a descendant of Edward III with a strong claim to the throne.

In May 1455, York and his ally Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, mustered a private army in northern England and marched south towards London. Henry’s supporters (now known as Lancastrians) moved north to St Albans, where troops were already stationed.

After brief negotiations on 22 May, Yorkist troops attacked, and brutal fighting spilled onto the streets, narrow lanes and even gardens of St Albans. Henry’s men were soon wilting; arrows rained down on the Lancastrian forces, injuring their leader, Lord Buckingham, as well as the king, who was captured and taken to London in Yorkist custody. Six months later, Richard was made lord protector of England – and so began a power struggle between their houses that continued for the next three decades. | Written by Helen Carr

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