Introduction: Society, Politics and the Wars of the Roses

  • A. J. Pollard
Part of the Problems in Focus book series (PFS)


In the grand sweep, or ‘meta-narrative’ as some would call it, of the Whig Interpretation of History dominant in the nineteenth century, the genius of the English was thought to lie in their skill in steering the middle course between the extremes of anarchy and tyranny which so bedevilled the histories of their inferior neighbours in continental Europe. Only occasionally had the English regrettably lapsed into either sin, and thankfully they had always been rescued by the innate moral rectitude of their natural rulers, the landed classes, before too much damage had been done. Royal tyranny had tended to be the greater danger, but in the fifteenth century the Wars of the Roses, that fearful era of ‘Sackage, Carnage and Wreckage’ had for a while reduced England to ‘a very chaos’.1 This shameful period of anarchy had, however, taught them a lesson that was never to be forgotten. The Wars of the Roses, even though they happened five hundred years ago, thus came to have a key place in ‘Our Island Story’; and they still stand in our political vocabulary as a metaphor for the worst kind of anarchy imaginable.


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Notes and References

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Copyright information

© A. J. Pollard 1995

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