Wars of the Roses: Omens

Throughout history people have taken things like eclipses of the sun and sun dogs as good or bad omens. They didn’t fully understand that they were normal occurrences in nature and were based more on science than signs from God. This proves how different of a time it was to live during the Wars of the Roses. Religion was such a big focus in their lives.

The omen at the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross was no different. The battle took place on a bitter cold Tuesday, on the 2nd or 3rd of February 1461. It was a battle between Edward Plantagenet, Earl of March/4th Duke of York (future Edward IV), and the army of King Henry VI. This was yet another battle of the Wars of the Roses.

The Battle of Mortimer’s Cross was a reaction to the Battle of Wakefield which took place 30 December 1460. Casualties at the Battle of Wakefield included Edward’s father and brother, Richard Plantagenet (3rd Duke of York) and Edmund Plantagenet (Earl of Rutland).

That was the thing about the Wars of the Roses – they were reaction battles. If you killed a Yorkist, then you’d have to pay with the life of a Lancastrian. In this case Owen Tudor, the father of the Tudor dynasty and grandfather to Henry VII, would be the one to lose his life at the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross. An eye for an eye.

“…the Monday before the day of battle, . . . about 10 at clock before noon, were seen 3 suns in the firmament shining full clear, where of the people had great marvel, and thereof were aghast. The noble Earl Edward them comforted and said, ‘be of good comfort and dread not; this is a good sign, for these three suns betoken the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and therefore let us have good heart, and in the name of Almighty God go we against our enemies.’”

Those who live in northern cold climates call them sun dogs. Sun dogs form when bitter cold weather causes ice crystals to form in the atmosphere. These sun dogs become visible when sunlight is refracted by the ice crystals – giving the illusion of three suns. It is not magic, it is science. But could one assume it’s an omen? Sure, why not – we see signs in all kinds of things in our daily life. Who are we to judge anyone for what they perceive as an omen?

On 16 March 1485, Queen Anne Neville (wife of Richard III) died. She most likely died of tuberculosis, at Westminster. On the day of her death there was an eclipse of the sun, and some took this as an omen of the downfall of the usurper, King Richard III. It was a sign from God that he had fallen from grace. The Lancastrians saw this as a victorious thing.

During the 15th century there were 61 total eclipses in all. In 1461 and 1479 there were four eclipses each year – some of the most in the century.

As you can imagine, the people living during that time did not understand what was happening to the sun. How many people went blind from starting directly into the sun to watch it go dark?

In conclusion, we live in the 21st century and are fortunate enough to live during a time of technological advances and discoveries. We understand what a sun dog is and what causes it – as we do solar eclipses. There is no mystery to us as to what is actually happening when these things occur, but image…just imagine, living during a time where none of it is understood.


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