CHAPTER 2

The events: What actually happened?

Shakespeare's plays have not only confused our understanding of the fifteenth century by canonizing the interpretations current in the Tudor period; they have also misled us seriously over what actually happened. A play compresses into a few hours events that occurred over many years, and a playwright inevitably foreshortens and simplifies, in order to fit his dramatic purposes. Events in real life do not happen as they do on a stage. The fifteenth century was a very complex period, and the crises were at times bewildering in the speed and extent of the reversals of fortune. It is easy to despair of ever making sense of what was going on. We shall begin with the background to the outbreak of open war in 1455.


The war in France

What is known as the Hundred Years' War began in 1337 when Edward III announced his intention to pursue his claim to the French throne, a claim which derived from his mother Isabella, the daughter of Philip IV of France. Under Edward III himself, king of England from 1327 to 1377, and Henry V (1413-22) there had been notable victories (Crécy 1346, Poitiers 1356, Agincourt 1415) but there had also been long periods of frustrating attrition, when campaigns achieved little and territory was gradually recovered by the French. With hindsight it may seem obvious that the conquest of France was beyond England's strength; yet in 1420 Henry V had achieved the treaty of Troyes, by which he was accepted as the heir to the elderly and insane Charles VI of France, and married Charles's daughter Katherine.

-16-

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The Wars of the Roses
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Chapter 1 - The Problem 1
  • Chapter 2 - The Events: What Actually Happened? 16
  • Chapter 3 - The Social and Political Situation in the Fifteenth Century 39
  • Chapter 4 - The Problem of Authority in the Middle Ages 51
  • Chapter 5 - Failings of Government 58
  • Epilogue: the Tudor Solution 72
  • References 77
  • Further Reading 80
  • Index 83
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