When Sun Dogs Changed England

On the morning of 2 February 1461, as two armies prepared to fight the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross in the Wars of the Roses, three “suns” appeared in the sky. The extra suns were obviously the astronomical phenomena known as a sun dogs, caused by light refraction off particulate ice crystals in the air. To the medieval troops, they were clearly a sign from God, but what did they portend?

Vädersoltavlan_cropped 1535 painting of sun dogs in Sweden

The royalist forces of the House of Lancaster, loyal King Henry VI, his Queen Margaret of Anjou, and their seven-year-old son Edward, Prince of Wales, were led by Jasper Tudor and his father, Owen Tudor. Opposing them was the army of the attempting Yorkist usurper, Edward, Earl of March, and his greatest ally, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick. Naturally, the rebel forces were afraid that three suns were a sign of Devine displeasure that they were attacking the anointed king. Edward, however, had a tongue more golden than even three suns. He managed to convince his followers that the three suns represented the three remaining sons of his recently deceased father, the 3rd Duke of York. Bolstered by this “evidence” of God’s favor, Edward’s troops won the day.

This victory allowed Edward of March and Warwick to make haste to London while the Lancastrians retreated. The entered the capital on 2 March, and once in possession of the Tower, Edward was quickly proclaimed King Edward IV of England.


William Shakespeare described the sun dogs and the awe they inspired in Act Two Scene One of Henry VI, Part 3:

Three glorious suns, each one a perfect sun;
Not separated with the racking clouds,
But sever’d in a pale clear-shining sky.
See, see! they join, embrace, and seem to kiss,
As if they vow’d some league inviolable:
Now are they but one lamp, one light, one sun.
In this the heaven figures some event.


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