The Fifteenth Century: precedent and privilege
WHEN the student turns to the fifteenth century he may not see very clearly. The distance is great. Even contemporaries saw much confusion and ambiguity in the pulsing activities of their age. But if a long and careful look is given to the falling world of feudalism the student will find several specific facts that point to definite conclusions. He will see, by the fitful light, that the fifteenth century was an age of throbbing action and clashing ideas. New skills appeared. New ranges of challenging thought gleamed beyond the foothills. New ideas rose and soared. Worlds changing into something brave and different usually believe that they can outgrow their benighted past. Often impervious to advice, goaded by ambition or power, reckless of good and evil, they accelerate their pace towards the unknown. Such a time was the fifteenth century. The Middle Ages were not nearly so sleepy and static as many individuals think. The late Professor Eileen Power said they looked to her as lively as an ant-heap.
The years of the Wars of the Roses were very lively indeed. So exciting and dramatic were the nobles' feuds that contemporaries then and historians later often stressed far too much the importance of violence in the tales of the fifteenth century. It is true, of course, that the Wars of the Roses brought one phase of the death agonies of feudalism. But it is also true that we shall get a false picture of the fifteenth century if we see it merely as "futile, bloody, and immoral" and the cockpit of contending disasters. Not all of the barons were coroneted brigands. Many were not shocking fellows at all--they were scholars and gentlemen. Not all Englishmen, great and little, were active in hacking down their fellows. Many paid scant attention to the tides of battle. To them