The 22nd May 1455 marked the start of the Wars of the Roses, when the First Battle of St Albans was fought between Richard, Duke of York, and King Henry VI.
The Wars of the Roses were fought between the Houses of Lancaster and York, both of whom had claims to the English throne. Although the Lancastrians had ruled England since 1399, Henry VI had come to the throne in 1422 when he was just 9 months old. England had therefore been ruled by regents for 15 years, during which time the monarchy was weakened.
The situation didn’t improve after Henry took full control of the country in 1437, since he experienced periods of mental illness that affected his behaviour and decisions. Having experienced a long period of mental instability from August 1453, the “kingmaker” Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, made Richard, Duke of York, protector of the realm.
When Henry recovered 18 months later, Richard was excluded from the royal court. In response he led an army to London, but was met by the King’s forces 22 miles north of the city in St Albans. After many hours of failed negotiations, Richard ordered his troops to attack. The battle was fought in the streets, and lasted for less than an hour before the Lancastrians were outflanked, key Lancastrian nobles were killed, and Henry was taken prisoner.
Richard was declared Protector of England just a few months later, but the Wars of Roses raged for another three decades.