The Battle of St. Albans, 1455, is the original conflict which began a series of confrontations that came to be known as The Wars of the Roses. It occurred due to several factors, including the overarching aspect of King Henry VI’s weakness as a ruler due to his misuse of patronage, obvious favouritism of specific nobles, and suggested mental instability. However, similar to any noteworthy historical event, other short-term causes must also be recognised. In this instance, said causes were the enmity between members of the early 15th century nobility, particularly the discord between Richard Duke of York and Edward Beaufort, Duke of Somerset.
One prominent long-standing factor, which caused tensions leading to the conflict of 1455 was Henry VI’s failures as a ruler. He demonstrated clear favouritism in his treatment of the Duke of Suffolk, and then Somerset, which caused animosity from other members of the nobility, especially as Henry provided his preferred nobles with an overly generous amount of patronage. These actions caused a great reduction in the amount of land owned by the crown, and coupled with Henry’s lack of attention to the kingdom’s finances, created a vast debt, which it was highly unlikely he would be able to repay. He was also an unsuitable leader in battle, shown not only by loss of Normandy to the French (1450), but also his reaction to the Cade Rebellion later that same year. Nevertheless, this could not have lead to violence as many still believed in the divine right to rule, meaning that God had chosen Henry as the leader of England. The Cade Rebellion gave a clear view of public opinion - specifically their disapproving attitude towards the nobles Henry surrounded himself with. In response to this outburst of violence, Henry ran from London, which did not improve the general belief concerning his leadership. The Cade Rebellion also showed that opposition to the King’s favorites, such as Somerset, was widespread as Cade had called to support York. However, York felt that his strong blood ties to the throne gave him a right to the position as a favoured noble, or heir apparent, rather than a seat on the throne.
Enmity between York and Somerset was another cause of the increase of hostility, leading to a later conflict, and the first blood shed of The Wars of the Roses. York blamed Somerset, the commander during the Battle of Formingy at Normandy, for the loss of the French lands. York also resented the exclusion of power he experienced, when compared to the preference shown towards Somerset, especially when York was sent to rule Ireland in 1450, which he perceived as essentially an exile. Yet, it is clear that York was not eager for conflict to begin, as he attempted an attack known as the Dartford Rebellion in 1452. When realising that he had little support and no hope of winning, York surrendered his forces. Another factor causing conflict to become more likely is the English defeat at the Battle of Castillion of 1453, which demolished any hope England had of retaining French lands. Upon hearing this news, Henry fell into a catatonic state which ultimately caused York to become Protector. York then committed Somerset to prison, in order to remain unchallenged. The power of York had also grown, as a feud between the Nevilles (the second most powerful family of nobles during the era) and Somerset, ended with York gaining a base of support from the Nevilles. Nevertheless, York was content with his protectoral status, and peace is likely to have been kept, if Henry had not recovered.
What could be argued to be the trigger of the Battle of St. Albans is the recovery of Henry VI. Once fully competent, Henry ended York’s protectorate and restored Somerset to power. Somerset also excluded York from the Great Council, in an act of revenge in response to his imprisonment, and caused an even greater rise in animosity between the pair. It was clear that neither would rest until the other was dead, resulting in the St. Albans Battle of 1455.
The overarching factor that caused fighting to break out in 1455 was Henry’s weakness as a king. The vacuum of power created by his unwillingness to rule caused an upset in the hierarchy of nobility, leading to conflict between nobles, specifically York and Somerset. In addition his breakdown, and later recovery, caused already existing tensions between York and Somerset to exacerbate. Although, the other influences which triggered the outbreak of violence should also be remembered, such as the animosity caused by the loss of French land and the continuing feuds between the nobility.
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