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The Wars of the Roses

The Wars of the Roses

Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    The Wars of the Roses
    Book Description:

    The Wars of the Roses (1455-85) were a major turning point in English history. But the underlying causes for the successive upheavals have been hotly contested by historians ever since. In this original and stimulating new synthesis, distinguished historian Michael Hicks examines the difficult economic, military, and financial crises and explains, for the first time, the real reasons why the Wars of the Roses began, why they kept recurring, and why, eventually, they ceased. Alongside fresh assessments of key personalities, Hicks sheds new light on the significance of the involvement of the people in politics, the intervention of foreign powers in English affairs, and a fifteenth-century credit crunch. Combining a meticulous dissection of competing dynamics with a clear account of the course of events, this is a definitive and indispensable history of a compelling, complex period.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-17009-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vi-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Michael Hicks
  5. Chronological Table of Principal Events
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. Pedigrees
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  7. Map
    (pp. xix-xx)

    • CHAPTER 1 What Were the Wars of the Roses?
      (pp. 3-11)

      This book explains the civil wars that beset England roughly between 1450 and 1509, known as the Wars of the Roses. The Wars of the Roses are actually the longest period of civil war in England’s post-conquest history. They are much longer and also much more complex than either the Anarchy of King Stephen’s reign (1135–54) or the English Civil War (1642–51) that are the principal parallels in English history.

      There is a great deal to explain, for never before and never again after the Wars of the Roses was the government of England to be so insecure....

    • CHAPTER 2 Why Did the Wars of the Roses Happen?
      (pp. 12-21)

      That Henry VI supposedly recognized his nephew Henry Tudor as his ultimate successor in 1470–1, as recorded by Bernard André and Polydore Vergil, the official historians of the new regime, by Edward Hall and later Shakespeare, is highly unlikely, given that the king’s own son Prince Edward of Lancaster, his designated successor, George, Duke of Clarence, and numerous Holland and Beaufort cousins took priority. It is almost certainly a Tudor invention.

      That Crowland wrote as he did tells us just how effective was the propaganda of the new Tudor regime. His stories that Richard III had terrible dreams, no...

    • CHAPTER 3 How the System Worked
      (pp. 22-32)

      The kingdom of England during the Wars of the Roses included Wales, the lordship of Ireland, Calais and the Channel Isles. Scotland was separate. England was a realm ruled by hereditary kings, who progressed between a dozen palaces and castles in southern England. Hundreds of menials in the lower household handled catering and other support services. Manuscript illuminations frequently depict these kings sitting in state on their thrones in the inner apartments of their upper household attended by the well-born attendants, the courtiers, who constituted their courts. Everyday kingly life was much less formal. Courtiers kept kings company, shared such...

    • CHAPTER 4 Problems with the System
      (pp. 33-46)

      There was nothing fundamentally wrong with the system, but there were problems that were preconditions which applied to all three Wars. This chapter looks in turn at two such preconditions: the collapse of public order and the issue of dynasticism.

      It is normal to locate a collapse of public order in the mid fifteenth century that was caused perhaps by the weak rule of Henry VI and was certainly not corrected by him. The records of the principal criminal court (king’s bench) made Professor Storey conclude that ‘the Wars of the Roses were the outcome of an escalation of private...


    • CHAPTER 5 Preconditions: The Crisis of 1450
      (pp. 49-74)

      The Wars of the Roses could have begun a decade earlier during the explosion of anger against the regime in 1450. Actually they did not. TheCrisis of 1450was a precondition of theFirst Warof 1459–61 and to historical understanding of what happened. It compares with other great late medieval upheavals – 1297, perhaps 1340, and 1376–81 – when everything seemed to go wrong at once. Explosive though each crisis was and effective also in forcing governments to reappraise the situation, none actually changed either the king or the dynasty. All the protesters vowed they were...

    • CHAPTER 6 Preconditions: Personalities and Issues
      (pp. 75-92)

      What happened in 1450 was a mass movement: an explosion of wrath that had national dimensions, but was actually concentrated in the southeast. It swept away the ministry, but it was not revolutionary. A change of king was never an option. Anger diminished, yet there remained underlying popular discontent for a skilled politician to revive. The politics of the 1450s, in contrast, is about individuals and personalities, albeit only dimly perceived: the king himself; York; the Nevilles; and a succession of evil councillors – Somerset, Buckingham, Shrewsbury, Wiltshire, Beaumont and even Queen Margaret of Anjou. Continuity was provided by the...

    • CHAPTER 7 Preconditions: Recovery Aborted 1451–6
      (pp. 93-120)

      TheCrisis of 1450was a precondition for the Wars of the Roses that fell short of civil war because there were not two sides to fight – almost everybody was enraged and only the king could rebuff the critics – and because there was no demand to change either King Henry or his dynasty. Civil war was not inevitable. There was no continuous build-up of tension over the next eleven years. Tensions first relaxed, resumed and fluctuated, two sides emerged, and in 1460 the issues metamorphosed into something distinctly different.

      Of all the sequences of events during the Wars...

    • CHAPTER 8 Preconditions: No Progress 1456–9
      (pp. 121-136)

      Between the end of York’sSecond Protectoratein February 1456 and theAccordof November 1460, York did not govern and Henry VI, at least nominally, did. Although ousted from power, York refused to bow to defeat. This fifth phase of the political kaleidoscope of the 1450s comprised two years of stormy rule by the king. Henry may have forgiven the victors of the First Battle of St Albans, but other victims and their heirs had not and sought revenge; so too, it appears, did some reformers whose aspirations were disappointed by the failure of York’sSecond Protectorate. It was...

    • CHAPTER 9 The First War 1459–61
      (pp. 137-164)

      For three years from 1456 to 1459 King Henry ruled without Parliament, but with the constant consent of the Lords, whom he consulted every few months in a string of great councils held at Coventry and Westminster. These were years of routine, when government operated adequately rather than well, and in which foreign policy was almost entirely defensive. However, they were not years of domestic harmony. There were troubles in the West Country, Wales and London, clashes between magnates, and attempted lynchings and assassinations in Coventry and London, which the government repressed fairly effectively. They remained ongoing problems. Two alternative...


    • CHAPTER 10 Wounds Unhealed 1461–9
      (pp. 167-185)

      The Battle of Towton was a decisive victory. The Lancastrian army was destroyed. It proved impossible to put another of equivalent strength into the field. Towton gave the Yorkists untrammelled control of the whole kingdom bar the extreme peripheries – the Scottish borders, north-western Wales and Jersey. Civil war ceased everywhere else. There was peace throughout the realm. The new government sought through every means available to promulgate its right to rule to all its subjects and to secure their compliance, obedience and loyalty. For most people almost everywhere in 1461–70, the Yorkist dynasty established itself as a permanent...

    • CHAPTER 11 The Second War 1469–71
      (pp. 186-206)

      What made theSecond Warpossible was that the victorious Yorkists warred against themselves. Lancastrian plots were common enough, but even the financially feeble Edward IV crushed them with relative ease. 1461, however, had witnessed the defeat of traditional obligations of allegiance and obedience, and the victory of the right of subjects to reject royal decisions, to coerce, reform and even depose a legitimate sovereign. Such winning arguments could be recycled against the new monarch. A much more formidable threat was posed by Warwick the Kingmaker – an overmighty subject with resources greater than those of Richard, Duke of York...

    • CHAPTER 12 The Third War: First Phase 1483–5
      (pp. 207-232)

      The Wars of the Roses resumed in 1483: theThird War. ThisThird Warbegan with the death of Edward IV, the succession of his son Edward V (the elder of the Princes in the Tower), and the latter’s deposition by his uncle Richard, Duke of Gloucester, King Richard III (1483–5). What began as a contest for power amongst loyal subjects now moved on to a different plane. Richard’s accession was not accepted peacefully. His usurpation stimulated a variegated coalition amongst those whom it outraged. Later in 1483 he had to contend with an uprising throughout southern England called...

    • CHAPTER 13 The Third War 1485–1525
      (pp. 233-252)

      The Battle of Bosworth on 22 August 1485 is the traditional end of the Wars of the Roses, a notion very much to the advantage of the Tudors, but actually it is now recognized that this is incorrect. Bosworth falls in the middle of theThird War, although admittedly it was the last occasion that a reigning king and dynasty were ousted by force. All governments thereafter in this period remained weak and susceptible to overthrow. Another forty years of strife lay in the future. Yet the Wars do change their character in this third phase.

      After 1485 the Wars...


    • CHAPTER 14 The End of the Wars
      (pp. 255-274)

      The Battle of Bosworth in 1485 was not the end of the Wars of the Roses. The Stoke campaign of 1487 showed that. The reign of Henry VII was the end, argued Sir Francis Bacon in 1622, and has been followed by almost all historians since. Bacon highlighted Henry’s own political management, in particular his curbing of the nobility and rooting out of the livery and maintenance (bastard feudalism) that had given them excessive military power. ‘Few would disagree that 1509 did not look the same as 1485.’¹

      That Henry had been brought up and politically educated abroad may have...

    • CHAPTER 15 Epilogue
      (pp. 275-276)

      When the last de la Pole brother, William, died naturally in 1539, he had been imprisoned in the Tower almost all his adult life and his passing was scarcely noticed. He and his cause had faded almost into forgetfulness. York versus Lancaster was a dead contest. The Wars of the Roses gradually petered out and were supplanted by other, newer and more relevant divisions.

      The problem of succession remained very much alive, however, for two reasons. First of all, Henry VIII proved unable to breed sons of his own. Hence his divorce from Katherine of Aragon, his break with Rome,...

  12. Abbreviations
    (pp. 277-280)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 281-304)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 305-315)
  15. Index
    (pp. 316-332)