The badge apparently derived from a meteorological phenomenon that appeared in the sky to Edward, then earl of March, before the Battle of MORTIMER’S CROSS in February 1461. On the morning of the battle, which was fought only a month after the death of his father, Richard PLANTAGENET, duke of York, Edward saw three suns shining “in the firmament . . . full clear” (Ross, p. 53). Taking this sight to be an omen of victory, Edward went on to win the first battle fought under his leadership. Edward’s sunburst badge was soon closely associated with the king and his family. It appeared frequently on buildings constructed or refurbished by Edward, such as St. George’s Chapel at Windsor and Tewkesbury Abbey near the site of the 1471 Yorkist victory at the Battle of TEWKESBURY. The emblem also found its way into manuscripts written under Yorkist auspices and onto tapestries or apparel created for the Yorkist COURT.
The streaming sunburst badge also played an important role in the Battle of BARNET in April 1471. As the positions of the two struggling armies shifted on the fog-shrouded field, the men of John de VERE, earl of Oxford, one of the Lancastrian commanders, came up unexpectedly behind some of their own men as they tried to reengage after driving part of the Yorkist army from the fight. Because they were wearing Oxford’s badge of a star with streams, they were mistaken in the mist for Yorkist troops wearing the well-known sunburst badge, the sun with streams, of Edward IV. When Lancastrian ARCHERS opened fire on them, Oxford’s surprised and confused men thought themselves betrayed and fled the field crying “treason!” The incident severely demoralized the Lancastrian line, which soon after broke, allowing Edward’s men to surge forward, killing the fleeing Richard NEVILLE, earl of Warwick, and winning the battle.
Further Reading: Ross, Charles, The Wars of the Roses (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1987).