Magazine article History Today

The Making of the Wars of the Roses: Anthony Pollard Visits the History Today Archive to Examine Alan Rogers' Claim That a Lack of Principle among Rival Lords Resulted in the Great Conflagration of 15th-Century England

Magazine article History Today

The Making of the Wars of the Roses: Anthony Pollard Visits the History Today Archive to Examine Alan Rogers' Claim That a Lack of Principle among Rival Lords Resulted in the Great Conflagration of 15th-Century England

Article excerpt

When he wrote this essay in 1967, Alan Rogers was a young researcher at Nottingham University and part of the new wave of historians setting out to rescue the 15th century from neglect. Because this period of perceived lawlessness and disorder seemed to interrupt the onward march of the English constitution, it had come to be dismissed as an age unworthy of serious study. The intellectual climate in which Rogers worked is reflected in his focus on 'maintenance', the perversion of the course of justice by the mighty in favour of their adherents through means of bribery and intimidation. Rogers extended this concept to encompass the practice of retaining by indenture and the payment of money, which had been named 'bastard feudalism' in the 19th century because it was perceived as a debasement of true, legitimate feudal relationships and could result in a breakdown of law and order.

Maintenance was accompanied by 'good lordship' as an evil besetting 15th-century society and Rogers thought it 'the key to the troubles'. The idea that 'good lordship' (a contemporary concept) was one of the evils of the day no longer holds. Historians now recognise that it was central to the whole operation of political society from the crown down. A lord was expected to assist those who served him through a form of noblesse oblige which extended beyond securing offices or supporting legal action into a code of behaviour, hospitality and charity. Good lordship was an ideal to which all nobles were expected to aspire and a society founded on its principles would flourish, not Falter.

The influence of the historian Lewis Namier (1888-1960) on 15th-century studies lay behind this negative view of good lordship and 'maintenance'. Namier, a historian of the 18th century, had argued that ideology played no part in the politics of the first decade of the reign of George III (1760-1820) and that politicians sought only place and power. The practice of politics was seen as solely about the operation of patronage ('good lordship'), faction and the pursuit of office. So too in the 15th century. 'There was no principle involved,' Rogers concluded, 'save that of the preservation of one's self and one's property.' We all concurred. Perhaps the most important change since then has been the rediscovery of the principles and ideals that underlay the conflict for power. …

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