The red rose of Lancaster was worn as a badge which identified someone as belonging to, or supporting the House of Lancaster. By wearing the rose a person was displaying their loyalty and allegiance to the family. The emblem of the red rose was adopted during the middle ages and was readily accepted into the symbols of British heraldry.
The emblem was worn not only by the more powerful members of the family but it was also worn by their servants and retainers to show their loyalty to the House of Lancaster.
The Red Rose of Lancaster
The emblem of the red rose of Lancaster was sported by supporters of the House of Lancaster, a house which was in rivalry with the House of York, and equally powerful house whose supporters wore the white rose of York. These families, two of the most powerful houses in England were both trying to lay claim to the English throne.
Both of these noble houses were descended from the Plantagenet House, with their descent being traced back to King Edward III. The family or House of Lancaster was so called as the descendants on that side were descended from the 1st Duke of Lancaster, John Gaunt, and as such adopted the red rose as their emblem.
Henry Bolingbroke Starts the War of the Roses
The start of the bitter rivalry between the houses of Lancaster and York can be traced back to 1399. This is when Henry Bolingbroke, the then Duke of Lancaster overthrew his cousin King Richard II and claimed the throne. Over the following years three Lancastrian kings held the English throne, these were Henry Bolingbroke who became Henry IV (1399-1413)
He was the grandson of Edward III and the son of the 1st Duke of Lancaster John of Gaunt. He was followed by his son Henry V (1413-1422) who was in turn followed by his son Henry VI (1422-1461). The subsequent war of the roses lasted for decades and saw the deaths of many thousands of people.
The End of the War of the Roses
The War of the Roses was brought to an end with the death of King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field. Richard was the leader of the House of York and was slain on the battlefield by the forces of Henry Tudor, the leader of the Lancaster faction. Henry then claimed the throne for himself. Knowing that his claim on the throne was not as solid as it could have been, he made Elizabeth of York his wife.
Their marriage not only brought the War of the Roses to an end, but also united two of the most powerful noble houses in England. Henry was crowned King Henry VII and went on to found the Tudor dynasty whose emblem is that of the Tudor rose which features the union of the red and white roses of the two houses. Today there is still much rivalry between the counties of York and Lancaster, though the battles today take place in the field of sport.