Women’s political influence during the Wars of the Roses

Written by Orla Coleman

This is a topic that has always interested me. I have researched it to a great extent and am particularly interested in it. Throughout the time period 1450-1499, it is thought that women didn’t have much influence. However, there are some examples that in fact show different.

I will start a little before this time period in 1428. This was when Joan of Arc started to have influence. She tried to join the French army to go and serve in the Hundred Year’s War after having religious visions in 1428. At first, she was declined entry but later she gained support from villagers and in 1429 she was accepted. She then fought in the Hundred Year’s War where she eventually saved Orleans in a series of battles against the English. She was eventually captured by the English and executed by burning for sorcery. Her fighting in the Hundred Year’s War is a clear example of a woman being influential because she fights during a war which was traditionally seen as a man’s job.

One particular woman, who was influential was Margaret of Anjou. She was born in March 1430 and was raised by her mother, Isabelle and grandmother, Yolande of Aragon. She grew up in a society where women had a lot of political power and influence. When she married Henry VI of England, as soon as she arrived in England from her hometown in Anjou, she started to create alliances with English nobles such as the Duke of Somerset and the Duke of Suffolk.

When Henry VI began to show signs of illness in 1453, she started getting involved in English politics to stabilise both her position as Queen, and her son, Edward Prince of Wale’s position has heir to the throne. In 1460 when the Duke of York was made Lord Protector of England due to Henry VI being mentally incapable of ruling, she gathered supporters in England and Scotland which eventually lead to the Battle of  Wakefield and the Second Battle of St Albans.  Before the battle of Towton, Margaret had gathered troops in the North before heading to Towton to take on Edward, Earl of March (soon to be Edward IV).

After the defeat of her Lancastrian army at Towton, in 1462 she was busy plotting with the French to attempt to overthrow Edward IV and in return, give the French Calais. However, soon Edward heard of this and gathered a huge army back in England. Margaret retreated to Scotland realising there was no way she could take on Edward as she didn’t have enough support. She spent time off the scene hiding until 1471 when she landed in Weymouth ready to attempt to take on Edward after he had successfully defeated the Earl of Warwick in the Battle of Barnet. She marched for Wales joining forces with Jasper Tudor. However, Edward’s men were marching in the direction of them. This eventually led to the Battle of Tewkesbury where she was defeated by Edward. This clearly shows that Margaret was a highly influential women throughout the time period 1455-1471. She did things such a fight in battles which was not typical of women at this time. To add to this, her upbringing influenced her a lot as both her mother and grandmother were highly influential females and, in her family, women were seen as powerful which definitely wasn’t typical for this time.

The influence of women is quite an understudied and under researched topic during the Wars of the Roses. However, there is possible evidence to suggest that some women may have dressed up as men to go and fight in the war very much like Joan of Arc. It was also typical for some women to become involved with political decision making. For example, the Duchess of Suffolk became involved in political decisions between Edward IV and George, Duke of Clarence in 1470-71. However, many of the women that were involved in politics were women of nobility. Not many commoners were involved in politics. However, this is typical of this time as it was very rare for commoners to be involved in political matters anyway regardless of their gender.

In conclusion, women did in fact have quite a lot of influence during the Wars of the Roses. This is clearly shown due to people such as Margaret of Anjou and Joan of Arc. I think that there should be more research done into this particular topic as many people don’t realise quite how much impact women had during the Wars of the Roses. Also, with more research we may be able to find out about other women who had political influence during the Wars of the Roses.




AQA Wars of the Roses 1450-1499 A/AS level textbook  

Featured image courtesy of https://commons.wikimedia.org/. Image licence can be found here. No changes have been made to this image

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