The Causes of the Wars

  • A. J. Pollard
Part of the British History in Perspective book series (BHP)


There were several interlocking reasons for the outbreak of civil war in 1459. The precise weight to be given to each and the balance to be struck between them has, and will remain, a matter of controversy. Dynastic causes, the original idea that England fell into civil strife ‘by reason of titles’, has tended to receive short shrift at the hands of modern historians, but should not be dismissed out of hand. Arguments that the Wars were caused either by economic and financial crisis in the ranks of the nobility, or by defeat in the Hundred Years’ War have also tended to be unfashionable in recent years. Debate at the end of the twentieth century has largely focused on whether the Wars resulted from a long-term shift in the balance of political power between the Crown and greater subject, with a resultant increase in disorder and lawlessness, or whether they were largely the consequence of the shortcomings of Henry VI as King. These various factors can be perceived as long-term causes, rooted deeply in the development and structure of English society in the later middle ages; short-term causes arising from more recent experience; and immediate causes which led directly to civil war. The long-term developments may have made the Wars possible; the short-term, likely; and the immediate, unavoidable. In the long term the impact of ‘bastard feudalism’ and possible changes in the balance of power between Crown and subject might be significant; in the short term, economic and financial pressures on English landholders, the consequences of defeat in the Hundred Years’ War and the question of dynastic legitimacy are likely to be most relevant; and for the immediate, the clash of personalities and the characters of Henry VI, his Queen and his principal subjects in the 1450s are central.


Fifteenth Century Fourteenth Century Feudal Lord Royal Rule Great Subject 
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© A. J. Pollard 2001

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