In 1455, tensions between the rival houses of York and Lancaster for control over the English government led to violence at the town of St. Albans – the first of many battles in the prolonged Wars of the Roses. Eventually, the conflict became a matter of claiming the throne itself, culminating in the death of King Richard III at Bosworth Field and the accession of Henry Tudor of the House of Lancaster in 1485.
In a time before a national standing army could be established, each major combatant in the war maintained their own private armies, including their personal household troops/bodyguard, tenants, mercenaries, and unpaid volunteers who fought in exchange for protection from their benefactor. As one of the main causes of the war, this chaotic system would leave the King – armed only with a bodyguard of knights and sergeants – constantly vulnerable to unruly nobles who could muster enough manpower to attempt to overthrow him, as happened at the war’s conclusion in 1485.
The picture above depicts the final moments of Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset – a staunch ally of the Lancastrian King Henry VI. With Yorkist troops flooding into the town centre, Somerset and his men took cover in the Castle Inn as the main Lancastrian force panicked and retreated. Aware that he had little chance to negotiate his surrender or to escape, Somerset charged out of the Castle Inn with his surviving men, fighting his way through before eventually being cut down in the street. The overall battle was a disaster for the House of Lancaster – the King had been captured, and several of his senior nobles, including Somerset, had been killed.
By Ibrahim Zamir