War of the Roses English (1455-1487 AD)
DBA IV/83ab

By Jim Fasnacht

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This army represents the English forces of the two factions competing to place and control a king in the dynastic struggle we call the War of the Roses 1455-1487 AD.

The war was not a civil war in terms of two separate parties separated by geographic, religious or political issues. This was an internal struggle between the feudal lords, each trying to secure the power of the throne. Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, suffered many personal and financial injustices at the hands of King Henry VI. Richard did successfully defended England's interests in France at his own expense, but received no honors or credit for his successes. Richard did have a claim on the throne and this, combined with his political misfortunes set him at odds with the king.

Henry VI favored Edmund Beaufort, Earl of Somerset. Somerset was the complete opposite of York. He succeeded York as commander of the remaining English possessions in France. In contrast, Edmund surrendered Normandy to France, thus reducing England to a toehold at Calais. The final insult to York came when the Crown entirely funded Somerset's misadventures. Richard confronted the king and Somerset over the losses, however, Edmund successfully persuaded Henry to transfer York to a new assignment as Lieutenant of Ireland. Thus, Richard of York was ushered out of the way so that Somerset's incompetence would remain private knowledge. York, however, returned from Ireland and mobilized his forces and those nobles who would stand with him against Somerset and marched on London to seize King Henry VI under the guise of protecting the monarch from certain internal threats. Somerset and his allies marched to the aid of Henry and thus began the thirty-year dynastic struggle that William Shakespeare coined "The War of the Roses."

Army Composition

The armies mobilized were small compared to continental standards, averaging between 2,000-8,000 men. Some battles (notably Towton) saw much larger forces. The armies were generally composed as follows:

  • The nobles and their retinues. These were the fully armored knights on armored horses, with tenants owing military services. These lords also recruited (through hire or as tenants on their land) additional foot soldiers; most notably archers and bill/halberdier men.
  • Town militias organized under the Commission of Array. All able-bodied men were required to service to their lord as required and to England in a case of a national emergency. These foot soldiers were often armed with a polearm and had some armor.
  • National garrison. The only standing army available to the Crown was the 1,000 men garrison at Calais. Elements of this force were brought to England several times during the struggles.
  • Foreign contingents and mercenaries. Pikemen from Scotland and the Low Countries were used in small contingents. Field artillery was just starting develop into a useful arm, and gunners from Germany were sought after. Hand gunners from other parts of Europe were also incorporated.

The updated DBA 2.0 has what I would consider a very accurate portrayal of the English armies of the period.

2x3Kn or 4Bd

(Including the general)

In every battle the vast majority of nobles/knights fought on foot. There were many instances of mounted contingents being used for flank attacks

or as a reserve. This represents the fully plate-armored knights armed with swords, war hammers, maces, and/or pole arms. Plate armor being as strong as it was there were very few shields in use.

3x4 Bd

These represent the armed retainers of the lords and/or town militias called out by the Commission of Array. These foot soldiers would have chainmail armor, covered by a quilted jack. Helmets (kettle, bascinets or even sallets) were usually worn. The potent, hard-hitting billhook and halberd were the standard polearms.

A secondary weapon could be a falchion sword or an axe. Many of these men would wear a cloth livery jacket displaying the colors/symbol of their town or lord.

6x4 Lb

The professional archers of 100 years war fame were abundant in each army. This professional carried the powerful English longbow, and was relatively well-armored. The archer was sought after and had plenty of opportunities for employment, and thus could command a good wage. They too would wear a livery jacket.

1xArt or 4Cb

The artillery was much advanced over the lumbering bombards of the previous wars. While still slow and cumbersome these wheeled pieces were brought into play at many battles of the struggle. A two-wheeled gun of the MFPE line would be appropriate. The 4Cb represents mercenary crossbow or castle garrison crossbowmen.

2x4 Pk

(Option IV/83B army only)

There were not enough pikemen to affect an overwhelming presence on the battlefield as in continental armies, however, the Lancastrians and Yorkists did hire small detachments of pikemen. I am guessing that the European pike would be more heavily armored than the Scots pike. Essex MID74 unarmored pike look great.

2x3 Aux

(Option IV/83B army only)

The auxilia option is best represented as border spear or Welsh bordermen.

2x2Ps (Option IV/83B army only)

The psiloi option would best be served as being represented by handgunners or crossbow.


I would have to say this is one of the easiest armies to paint. The knight elements were painted (flesh, belts, livery jacks) and then miracle dipped. After the miracle drip dries I drybrush the raised portions of the armor with a bright silver paint. I painted the archers and billmen/halberdiers armor a dark silver. Their jacks I painted various shades of tan and off-white. On some I added a Veni Vici Vidi decal as a livery.


War of the Roses, Terence Wise, Osprey Publishing, 1983 (Men-at-Arms series)

War of the Roses, Michael Hicks, Osprey Publishing, 2003 (Essential History series)

Towton 1461, England's Bloodiest Battle, Christopher Gravett, Osprey Publishing, 2003 (Campaign Series)

Tewkesbury 1471, The Last Yorkist Victory, Christopher Gravett, Osprey Publishing, 2003 (Campaign Series)

The Battle of Bosworth, Christopher Gravett, Osprey Publishing, 2003 (Campaign Series)

The Military Campaigns of the War of the Roses, Philip S. Haigh, Allen Sutton Publishing, 1999.

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Last Updated: 2 Oct. 2004

Comments and suggestions welcome.
Send them to Chris Brantley, IamFanaticus@gmail.com.