O! Pity, pity; gentle heaven, pity.
The red rose and the white are on his face,
The fatal colours of our striving houses...
Wither one rose, and let the other flourish!
If you contend, a thousand lives must wither.
Was ever son, so rued a father's death?
Was ever father, so bemoan'd a son?
Was ever king, so griev'd for subjects' woe?
III King Henry VI; Act ii, Scene v
England hath long been mad, and scarr’d herself:
The brother blindly shed the brother’s blood;
The father rashly slaughter’d his own son;
The son, compell’d, been butcher to the sire.
All this divided York and Lancaster...
...Abate the edge of traitors, gracious Lord,
That would reduce these bloody days again,
And make poor England weep in streams of blood!
King Richard III, Act v, Scene iv
Etymology: Middle French, from Latin fratricida , from fratr - frater=brother + - cida=killing
1 : one that murders or kills his or her own brother or sister or an individual (as a countryman) having a relationship like that of a brother or sister
2 : the act of a fratricide — frat·ri·cid·al /"fra-tr&-'sId- & l/ adjective
Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Law, © 1996 Merriam-Webster, Inc.
Put simply, it all began because Edward III had too many sons. Had his brood been a smaller one, it would not have expanded as it did into a family with so many ambitious men of noble blood, when there was so very little of England to go around. To be sure, innumerable factors led to the Wars of the Roses, and many were of more importance, but, of necessity, the story must always begin with Edward and Philippa's prolific procreation.
They married quite young and Philippa, who was just sixteen at the birth of her first child, kept breeding for the next quarter of a century! So sit up straight and pay attention, as there's a whole lot of begats to plow through and a lots of twists and turns in the royal family tree branches.
Their eldest son was Edward, the Black Prince, hero of Crecy and Poitiers, who was a reckoning military force but who died in his late thirties, probably of stomach cancer. He married a cousin, Joan, the Fair Maid of Kent, daughter of his grandfather's half-brother Edmund, Earl of Kent, who had been executed by Roger Mortimer's command when Edmund attempted to break Edward II out of his prison (which is a whole 'nother story I'm not telling now). Joan and Edward's elder son, Edward of Angouleme, died at the age of six, but the younger lad, Richard of Bordeaux, succeeded to the throne upon the death of Edward III. Primogeniture, you see. Thankfully there was no further issue to this line, because...
The second son, Lionel of Antwerp, Duke of Clarence, predeceased his father and brother by tripping over a loose paving stone and hitting his head while honeymooning in Italy with his second wife, Violante Visconti. He was said to be six foot six, so it was quite the fall. He left a daughter, Philippa, by his Irish heiress first wife, Elizabeth de Burgh...
Philippa wed Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March, Roger Mortimer's son; their son Roger had a daughter, Anne; Anne married Richard, Earl of Cambridge, a cousin as we shall soon see; their son was Richard, Duke of York (aha! there's our white rose); who married Cecily Neville, who was descended from Edward and Philippa on the distaff Beaufort side as we shall also see; their children, of which there were legion, included Edward IV and Richard III...
Which brings us to the third son, John of Gaunt, where it REALLY gets complicated!
John, Duke of Lancaster (aha! here's where our red rose begins), was married three times. By his first wife, Blanche of Lancaster, who fulfilled her begats duty by presenting John with a baby a year until she demised all worn out from that nonsense at age twenty-two, we have three poor little infants all named John who died; Philippa, who became the Queen of Portugal; Elizabeth, who first married John Hastings, Earl of Pembroke but managed to get an annulment because the groom was much younger and she was fooling around with the man who would be her second husband, John Holland, Duke of Exeter, who managed to get himself executed for rebelling against his wife's brother, and by then she had been fooling around with the man who would become her third husband, John Cornwall, Baron Fanhope and Milbroke, so three spouses all named John, which was convenient with all the fooling around she did; and finally Henry IV, he who began this internecine strife by deposing cousin Richard II and assuming the throne...
Henry IV’s first marriage to Mary de Bohun produced mighty warrior king Henry V; three more lads, all on the council of their infant king nephew, who despite marrying did not add any more offspring to this already convoluted family, Thomas, Duke of Clarence (married Margaret Holland, Duchess of Somerset, his half-uncle's widow), John, Duke of Bedford (married twice but no luck begatting, to Anne of Brittany and then to Jacquetta of Luxembourg; Jacquetta would later marry Sir Richard Woodville and have a dozen children, one of whom, Elizabeth, would marry Edward IV...maybe), and Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, (whose first marriage to Jacqueline of Hainault was annulled so that he could marry Eleanor Cobham, who was accused of witchcraft and made to do public penance for it in the streets of London); and two daughters, Philippa, who would become the Queen of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden (they were all together under one ruler at the time, King Eric I) at the tender age of five but who would not commence begatting until she was twenty-eight and then demised not long after she gave birth to a stillborn son; and Blanche, who ventured into what's now Germany to marry King Rupert of Bohemia's heir, Louis, by whom she had a son, Rupert, who died in his late teens sans offspring, but poor Blanche demised of one of those fevers whilst expecting her second child. Poor Mary de Bohun began breeding when she was fifteen, fulfilling her begats duty by presenting Henry with a child a year, until she died all worn out from that nonsense at age twenty-one and he couldn't even be bothered to name the baby after her, but his similarly demised mother. Henry IVs second marriage to Joanna of Navarre was thankfully not fertile at all, though she also had six children by her first husband, so there are no more begats from him...hooray.
Henry V’s brief marriage to Catherine de Valois produced Henry VI, whose incompetence and bouts of mental illness reopened the family conflict. The great hero of Agincourt supposedly came down with that soldier's bane, dysentery, whilst besieging away trying to conquer France, and died when his only son was a mere nine months old, making Henry VI the youngest king to succeed to the English throne...
Henry VI was married to Marguerite d’Anjou, warrior queen, mother to Edward, Prince of Wales, whom Henry, upon awakening from one of his states of catatonia, thought was brought by the Holy Ghost, forever assigning doubt to the lad's paternity. Edward was killed at Tewkesbury, leaving the House of Lancaster sans legitimate heirs...which would not totally be a problem, as we shall see...
John’s second wife (no, we're nowhere near finished with the prolific Duke of Lancaster yet), Constance of Castile, gave him her claim to the Spanish throne, which he aggressively pursued, to no avail. John just wasn't as awesome on the battlefield as Dad and the Black Prince had been, alas.
Constance and John's firstborn, another John, died in infancy like all the poor little Johns who preceded him. The daughter of this marriage, Catherine, would marry the son of the rival claimant to Castile to resolve the throne issue and disappear into history for our purposes here (though I will mention she was an ancestress of Catherine of Aragon), which is good, as the tale of John’s third wife needs the space!
Her name was Catherine Swynford, and her sister Philippa was the wife of England's first poet laureate, Geoffrey Chaucer. Catherine, a widow with two young children, was appointed the charge of the nursery of John and his first wife, Blanche. Catherine soon became John’s mistress. Their four children, Henry, John (finally a John that lived!), Thomas, and Joan, were styled Beaufort due to their illegitimacy and barred from the succession to the throne by half-brother Henry IV, which in the end didn’t matter, as we shall see...
John and Catherine married after the procreative fact, blessed by Richard II who legitimized their offspring, and lived happily ever after until he died three years later. John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, & his descendents would support Henry VI and be killed in the wars for their efforts; Thomas Beaufort, Duke of Exeter, whose only son died young, would be on the baby king's governing council; Henry Beaufort would be appointed Bishop of Winchester and a Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, also one of the little king's guardians; Joan would marry Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland, and give birth to a dozen children, the youngest of which was Cecily Neville, who would wed Richard, Duke of York...o, the inbreeding!
Somerset's great-granddaughter Margaret would marry Edmund Tudor, illegitimate son of Queen Catherine of Valois and Owen Tudor...o, the forking of this tree...and managed at age thirteen to give birth to the future Henry VII after her husband expired...so besides being just a plain old bastard, Henry VII’s family tree flourished under the bar sinister as well.
On to son four of Edward and Philippa (not done with them yet, either), Edmund of Langley, Duke of York. He married the sister of John of Gaunt’s second wife Constance, Isabella of Castile. Their son Edward, Duke of York, was killed at Agincourt; their daughter Constance must've had a little of her Aunt Isabella and cousin Elizabeth of Lancaster in her, as she was married to Thomas le Despenser, Earl of Gloucester (who was executed by Henry IV for supporting Richard II in the Epiphany Rising and was turned in to Henry by his brother-in-law Edward...maybe doing Constance a favor?), but she had a torrid affair with the also-married Edmund Holland, Earl of Kent, and had an acknowledged daughter by him, Eleanor, after dutifully producing half a dozen le Despensers who mostly died young, save for her son Richard, who married Joan Beaufort's daughter Eleanor Neville but did not breed, and Isabel, who married Richard de Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, and did breed, becoming the great-grandmother of Anne Neville, Richard IIIs queen; Edmund and Isabella's younger son Richard, Earl of Cambridge, married Anne Mortimer, great-granddaughter of Lionel, as mentioned already...
Richard fathered a daughter, Isabel, who would marry Henry Bourchier, Earl of Essex, and spawn eleven children, two of whom would be killed in the wars; and a son, Richard, Duke of York; before being executed for treason by his cousin Henry V for plotting to replace Henry with Richard's brother-in-law, Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March. Edmund got cold feet and sold him out to Henry, but Mortimer would die young and sans issue of his marriage to Anne Stafford, and his earldom would pass to the York line. Richard, Duke of York, was really the first of this long line of Plantagenets to actually use Plantagenet as his surname. With being orphaned by the age of four, he was brought up in the household of Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland, Joan Beaufort's husband, which is how he got betrothed to their daughter Cecily. Richard fathered a pair of kings, Edward IV and Richard III...
So we see that the Yorkists had a damn fine double claim going here, with descent from both Lionel of Antwerp's line and Edmund of Langley's line, all legit, I might add, with not a bastard in the lot...
Finally, the (usually truculent) youngest son, Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester, who felt he did not receive the power and recognition due him as a prince of the blood royal; as one contemporary said of him, “…he is a man of choleric temper and militant tastes whose misfortune it is to have been born too late…"
He married Eleanor de Bohun, sister to nephew Henry IV’s first wife, purely because the damsels Bohun were great heiresses and Thomas was not about to let that ripe plum slip through his fingers. While their son Humphrey thankfully died without issue, their much-married daughter Anne is the mother of all Staffords and Bourchiers, having an amazingly resilient uterus with offspring numbering in the teens. Thomas meddled in politics and spearheaded the Merciless Parliament against nephew Richard II, getting himself detained in the stronghold of Calais and never emerging to see the light of day again.
Five royal children, William, Philippa, Catherine, William, and Richard, thankfully for the purposes of this tale, died in infancy or childhood. No major Wars of the Roses players emerged from the collective loins of Edward and Philippa’s surviving daughters, Isabella, Joan, Mary, and Margaret, either. Isabella, termed the Princess Royal, was Daddy's little darling and wed astonishingly late for medieval times, having been betrothed quite a bit and always putting her pampered foot down and refusing to leave home; she was thirty-three when she finally chose a husband, the French knight Enguerrand de Coucy, by whom she had two daughters, Mary and Philippa. Poor Joan was sent to Spain to marry one of Isabella's spurned suitors, but since this particular king would go down in history with the name of Pedro the Cruel, it was probably for the best that Joan caught a case of the plague en route and died. Mary wed John V, Duke of Brittany, but never actually went there and made her spouse stay in England with her; she died without issue two and a half years into the marriage. This was a double tragedy for the royal family as Margaret, Countess of Pembroke through her wedding to John Hastings, a grandson of the infamous Roger Mortimer (and son of the John Hastings already mentioned above), had predeceased her sister by only a couple of weeks, also after approximately the same duration of marriage and also with no children. They were buried together, freeing up their spouses to remarry and breed non-royals who had no claim to the throne, hallelujah.
Phew! That's a lot of royal begatting!