M.A. Hicks

title.none: Pollard, The Wars of the Roses (M.A. Hicks)

identifier.other: baj9928.0210.001 02.10.01

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: M.A. Hicks, King Alfred's College,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2002

identifier.citation: Pollard, A. J. The Wars of the Roses. British History in Perspective. New York: Palgrave, 2001. Pp. ix, 141. 21.95. ISBN: 0-333-65822-1.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 02.10.01

Pollard, A. J. The Wars of the Roses. British History in Perspective. New York: Palgrave, 2001. Pp. ix, 141. 21.95. ISBN: 0-333-65822-1.

Reviewed by:

M.A. Hicks
King Alfred's College

The forty booklets in the British History in Perspective Series seeks to provide concise and authoritative discussions of major themes in British history that are instructive to professional historians, undergraduates and school-leavers alike at a price that even the latter can afford. The first edition of Professor Pollard fulfilled all these objectives and has progressed to a second, enlarged edition -- at 157 pages it is no longer a booklet -- that takes account of the lively historical debate since 1988. It successfully retains the particular virtues of the original. Succinctly, clearly and elegantly written, it is both a model introduction and a penetrating analysis founded upon the deep research and mature judgement of one of the leaders in the field, who has indeed just published a full length survey of the whole fifteenth century. The initial overview is followed by a short narrative in chapter 2, an analysis of the causes (chapter 3), and an assessment of the Wars (chapter 4). The final chapter of the earlier edition has been expanded and reordered into two, on the aftermath and on the international context. This is a pattern that allows for comprehensive coverage, detailed discussion, and the juxtaposition of modern interpretations. Brief assessments are also of relevant published works in the bibliography. Two maps and two pedigrees enhance the book. If the print of the new version is smaller, the layout is more elegant, and the cover makes welcome use of the recently discovered illumination of the controversial murder of Prince Edward of Lancaster by Edward IV himself at Tewkesbury.

Like all authors, Pollard selects, 'what seem to me to be the important and distinctive characteristics of the Wars of the Roses', he says in his first edition. This is not a book therefore either about everyday government and politics nor a blow-by-blow military history replete with plans of battlefields, but it is instead concerned with a series of political crises, meshed where appropriate with contemporary ideologies, systems, and international affairs. A substantial historiography introduction outlines the origins of the term, 'Wars of the Roses' and some of its subsequent manifestations. So many crises, battles, personalities, events and dates often baffle newcomers to the topic. Such confusions are stilled and the overall structure is clarified by Pollard's ruthless slaying of myths and the establishment of preliminary assumptions. The Wars of the Roses were not, he emphasises, one continuous conflict but several, fought not by the same two sides but by shifting parties; they are evidence of political malaise rather than social malaise; and they do not mark the end of the middle ages. Moreover Pollard arranges them as two distinct sets of events, 1459-71 and from 1483, and not the more conventional three or four. He perceives both that the Wars were constitutional, in that all participants subscribed to a common core of values and standards which are not our own, and that it was international, in that what happened in England was part of a north European struggle for power and, at times, central to it. In a real sense, King Louis XI of France was defeated on the battlefield of Tewkesbury. Much is covered in a brief compass. Amongst so many topics Pollard succinctly assesses bastard feudalism, the case for the extermination of the 'old nobility', and illuminatingly compares the kingship of Edward IV and Henry VII.

It is interesting to compare the new edition with the old, to see what stands and what does not. Pollard has, for example, taken account of the Great Slump, which he helped discover, and which formed an essential backcloth both to popular discontent and to royal insolvency. Suggestive hints in 1988 that populism was perhaps a phenomenon only of the south and not the north has been developed and refined in a full section on 'The Regional Dimension' this time. Ironically, map 1 altogether ignores significant locations south of the Thames and west of Dover! Where Pollard was formerly sceptical, he now acknowledges the genuinely popular elements in York and Warwick's support. He has been influenced by the 'Cambridge School' of Dr Watts and Dr Carpenter, whose argument that Henry VI was wholly absent from politics he does not accept. The king did indeed involve himself, counterproductively, and his twin foundations of Eton and King's were definitely his work. Similarly Carpenter's assessment of Edward IV as the 'greatest of medieval kings' is cited but not accepted. The suggestion on p. 55 that after 1454 Henry's madness was seen as punishment for his grandfather's crime is borrowed from Dr Gross. Other parts of the original interpretation remain unchanged, usually because they have stood the test of time, sometimes perhaps regrettably. There are no factual errors, but the judgements can be contested. Thus Henry VI was profligate during the 1440s and York was the 'heir presumptive' before 1450, Somerset was discredited by the loss of Lancastrian France, Margaret of Anjou retains her unduly prominent role in the late 1450s and especially in 1459, aristocratic feuds went unchecked, the 1460 Accord was unworkable, and Warwick the Kingmaker was 'totally discredited' in 1470, whilst Clarence remains 'incorrigible' and 'brought his judicial murder upon himself', all of which are judgements than can be and have been challenged. This book therefore is not definitive, which the author certainly never claimed not expected, and presents a view of the period and its component events that deserves both respect and comparison with the other contributions that it summarises and cites. The student who starts from this study will certainly know what happened during the Wars of the Roses, should not be confused by them, and will be exposed to a thoroughly modern and refreshing interpretation from one of the best of contemporary scholars. The academic will use it both as a guide and as a contribution as significant as many a monograph. It should be an essential port of call for both. And, yes, owners of the first edition should nevertheless acquire its successor.