One day when roses were in bloom, two noblemen came to angry words in the Temple Gardens, by the side of the river Thames. In the midst of their quarrel one of them plucked a white rose from a bush, and, turning to those who were near him, said,
"He who will stand by me in this quarrel, let him pluck a white rose with me, and wear it in his hat."
Then the other gentleman tore a red rose from another bush, and said,
"Let him who will stand by me pluck a red rose, and wear it as his badge."
Now this quarrel led to a great civil war, which was called "The War of the Roses," for every soldier wore a white or red rose in his helmet to show to which side he belonged.
The leaders of the "Red Rose" sided with King Henry the Sixth and his wife, Queen Margaret, who were fighting for the English throne. Many great battles were fought, and wicked deeds were done in those dreadful times.
In a battle at a place called Hexham, the king's party was beaten, and Queen Margaret and her little son, the Prince of Wales, had to flee for their lives. They had not gone far before they met a band of robbers, who stopped the queen and stole all her rich jewels, and, holding a drawn sword over her head, threatened to take her life and that of her child.
The poor queen, overcome by terror, fell upon her knees and begged them to spare her only son, the little prince. But the robbers, turning from her, began to fight among themselves as to how they should divide the plunder, and, drawing their weapons, they attacked one another. When the queen saw what was happening she sprang to her feet, and, taking the prince by the hand, made haste to escape.
There was a thick wood close by, and the queen plunged into it, but she was sorely afraid and trembled in every limb, for she knew that this wood was the hiding place of robbers and outlaws. Every tree seemed to her excited fancy to be an armed man waiting to kill her and her little son.
On and on she went through the dark wood, this way and that, seeking some place of shelter, but not knowing where she was going. At last she saw by the light of the moon a tall, fierce looking man step out from behind a tree. He came directly toward her, and she knew by his dress that he was an outlaw. But thinking that he might have children of his own, she determined to throw herself and her son upon his mercy.
When he came near she addressed him in a calm voice and with a stately manner.
"Friend," said she, "I am the queen. Kill me if thou wilt, but spare my son, thy prince. Take him, I will trust him to thee. Keep him safe from those that seek his life, and God will have pity on thee for all thy sins."
The words of the queen moved the heart of the outlaw. He told her that he had once fought on her side, and was now hiding from the soldiers of the "White Rose." He then lifted the little prince in his arms, and, bidding the queen follow, led the way to a cave in the rocks. There he gave them food and shelter, and kept them safe for two days, when the queen's friends and attendants, discovering their hiding place, came and took them far away.
If you ever go to Hexham Forest, you may see this robber's cave. It is on the bank of a little stream that flows at the foot of a hill, and to this day the people call it "Queen Margaret's Cave."