Michael Hicks’ work on the Wars of the Roses is one of the best known recent interpretations of the conflict. Hicks is known for having a different approach to the wars than many other historians. He looks at the causes from different perspectives, using several analytical frameworks to explain the causes and ending of the wars. Whereas most historians would define the struggles in three phases ending in 1487, Hicks extends this to 1525. The source below is from a review of Hicks’ 2010 book on the Wars of the Roses. It was written by Professor John Watts and published in Reviews in History.
Let us turn to Hicks’s attempt to ‘make sense of it all’ (p. xi). At its centre is a claim that the interaction of four factors underlay the Wars. These were: the weakness of the crown (essentially a financial weakness); the participation of the common people in politics; the intervention of foreign powers; and the sense on the part of the nobility that it was legitimate to try to overthrow the king. In fact, there are other problems behind these. One, given emphasis throughout, is the varied set of economic problems that set in around 1440 and lasted perhaps into the 1470s, which Hicks, following John Hatcher, but adding capitals and italics, calls the ‘Great Slump’.(1) These problems – a credit crisis, a drastic fall in overseas trade, and a collapse in agrarian revenues, rents, wages and prices – are treated as major causes of the first two factors: the crown’s revenues from customs were directly affected, and – since impoverishment affected taxpayers of all classes – it faced a harder task in eliciting grants of direct taxation from Parliament; equally, it is argued that economic problems underlay much of the popular ferment of this period, helping to cause the revolt of 1450 and the reservoir of popular disaffection on which figures like Richard of York and Warwick the Kingmaker eagerly drew. Another problem, merging into but also influencing the willingness of the nobility to push the boundaries of their obedience, was the dynastic division – not, for Hicks, a real factor before 1460, but thereafter an easy and persistent means of challenging the authority of the ruling king. These four (or six) factors are the main causes of the Wars, and their departure from the scene, at various points during the period 1485–1525 (or later), explains the ending of the conflict.
Dr John Watts, review of The Wars of the Roses, (review no. 1218)
Date accessed: 29 August, 2018
Questions to consider
- What are the four causes of the conflict according to Hicks’ interpretation?
- Are there any differences between these causal factors and those presented by other historians of the Wars of the Roses?
- Professor Watts says that Hicks places emphasis on economic issues throughout. Is this the main cause of the conflict?
- “These four (or six) factors are the main causes of the Wars, and their departure from the scene, at various points during the period 1485–1525 (or later), explains the ending of the conflict.” At what point, if ever, had these factors departed? Does this explain the end of the wars?
Battles in the Wars of the Roses
First Battle of St. Albans – Battle of Blore Heath – Battle of Ludford Bridge – Battle of Northampton – Battle of Wakefield – Battle of Mortimer’s Cross – Second Battle of St. Albans Battle of Ferrybridge – Battle of Towton – Battle of Hedgeley Moor – Battle of Hexham – Battle of Edgecote Moor – Battle of Losecote Field – Battle of Barnet – Battle of Tewkesbury – Battle of Bosworth – Battle of Stoke Field
Documents, Maps and Evidence
People and periods
British History – The Wars of the Roses – The Plantagenets – The Tudors – King Henry IV – King Henry V – King Henry VI – King Edward IV – King Edward V – King Richard III – King Henry VII – Margaret of Anjou