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The War of the Roses


The War of the Roses - traditional name given to the intermittent struggle (1455–85) for the throne of England between the noble houses of York (whose badge was a white rose) and Lancaster (later associated with the red rose).

Webster does a reasonable job of distilling the various issues and problems associating with studying the Wars of the Roses. He opens with a historiographical survey that gives the impression that all roads lead to K.B. McFarlane’s work, not surprising given McFarlane’s influence on the field and that Webster was McFarlane’s student at Oxford. It would have been nice, however, to sketch out some of the historians who followed McFarlane, and to reflect upon the point made by Christine Carpenter in her 1997 work The Wars of the Roses: Politics and the Constitution in England c. 1437-1509 that the ‘McFarlane legacy’ has at times been quite problematic.


From the historiography Webster moves to the events themselves, situating the origins of the conflict in the fallout from the Hundred Years War with France, then tracing the breakdown in the government of Henry VI, the triumph of the Yorkist usurper Edward IV in 1461 and the final overthrow of Richard III by Henry Tudor in 1485. The lack of citations beyond the occasional in-text reference is frustrating, and again highlights the problem for anyone other than a casual student using this text. Webster’s coverage of the problems of central authority and the failings of government in the later medieval period is good, but brief, and the final section on the Tudor aftermath (and the propaganda issues involved with this aftermath) does allow students to see the main reasons why studying the fifteenth century can be so difficult. This text as a whole may prove useful for an undergraduate student wanting to learn about the conflict on a superficial level as part of a broader area of study.

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Tags: Roses, whose, houses, badge, white