Wars of the Roses

Royal Mail issued a set of eight stamps on May 4 commemorating the Wars of the Roses, the series of bloody struggles for the throne which engulfed England from 1455-85.

Specifically, the issue is timed to coincide with the 550th anniversary of the Battle of Tewkesbury, one of the defining battles in a period which witnessed the deposition of three kings, and the violent death of two of them.

The Wars of the Roses were fought between the rival houses of Lancaster and York, which were both cadet branches of the royal house of Plantagenet. Many years later the conflict was named after their emblems: the red rose of Lancaster and the white rose of York.

Following the English defeat to France in the Hundred Years War, rival nobles struggled for control of the weak Lancastrian king, Henry VI. Richard, Duke of York, laid claim to the throne, and when he was killed in battle his son Edward took up the Yorkist cause.

From 1461 he ruled as Edward IV, until a rebellion led by his cousin, the Earl of Warwick deposed him and reinstated Henry VI in 1470. Returning the following year, Edward defeated Warwick, killed Henry and reclaimed power.

A decade of peace followed, but Edward’s death in 1483 led to the usurpation of the throne by his brother, who reigned as Richard III and locked up his nephews in the Tower of London, from which they never emerged. 

In 1485, Richard’s reign was cut short on the battlefield by another usurper, Henry Tudor, a member of the Lancastrian branch. Reigning as Henry VII, he cemented his claim to the throne with a dynastic marriage to Elizabeth of York.

The stamps were designed by Royal Mail Group, based on stunningly detailed oil paintings by military artist Graham Turner. Reimagining eight key battles, in line with historical evidence, these are best understood in reverse order of value.

Printed in litho by International Security Printers, they are available in four horizontally se-tenant pairs.


The first blows of the Wars of the Roses are struck in the streets of St Albans, when Richard, Duke of York, and his allies attack the royal party on May 22, 1455, taking Henry VI prisoner. York has himself appointed Lord Protector for a brief period, before Henry retakes control.


Edward, Earl of March, the future Edward IV, proclaims his loyalty to Henry VI after the Yorkist victory on July 10, 1460. But Henry is a prisoner once more, allowing Edward’s father Richard of York to press his claim to the throne.


On December 30, 1460, the sons of the Lancastrian lords who had been killed at St Albans five years earlier cut down Richard, Duke of York, leaving his son Edward to inherit his title and dynastic claim.

£1.70 BATTLE OF TOWTON, 1461

On March 29, 1461, Yorkist archers fire volleys of arrows into the advancing Lancastrians during a snowstorm, in what is thought to have been the bloodiest battle ever fought on English soil. The Lancastrians are routed, Henry VI flees to Scotland, and three months later the Duke of York is crowned Edward IV.


The Earl of Warwick, leading a rebellion against his former ally, defeats the forces of Edward IV on July 26, 1469. As a result, he briefly holds not one but two kings in his custody. He and Edward are briefly reconciled, before Warwick allies with Henry and restores him to the throne.

1st class BATTLE OF BARNET, 1471

On April 14, 1471, Easter Sunday, Edward IV leads his army into battle against the Lancastrians in thick fog, defeating and killing Warwick ‘the Kingmaker’ and taking back effective control of the country.

2nd class BATTLE OF TEWKESBURY, 1471

Edward IV’s authority is confirmed on May 4, 1471, when he intercepts a second Lancastrian army, led by Queen Margaret. Her son Prince Edward, the Lancastrian heir to the throne, is killed, and 17 days later her husband King Henry is murdered.

2nd class BATTLE OF BOSWORTH, 1485

Having usurped the throne from his brother Edward IV’s children, immortalised as ‘the Princes in the Tower’, Richard III faces a renewed challenge from the Lancastrian branch, now led by Henry Tudor. On August 22, 1485, he prepares for a battle which will result in his death, and the crowning of Henry VII.


The presentation pack, written by historian Dr David Grummitt, includes a timeline of the Wars of the Roses and a summary of each featured battle. A first day cover and stamp cards are available as usual.


Set of 8 stamps   £11.52

Presentation pack   £12.40

Stamp cards   £3.60

First day cover   £14.50



Although a key period in English history, this tumultuous conflict has not previously been commemorated in any detail


The illustrations are lavish, if a little samey, evoking something of the spirit of the age


Will the images have much impact at stamp size, and will the layman understand their historical significance?