Events Calendar
Nov 14 - Dec 5
10:30 - 12:30
The Wars of the Roses: England's Bloodiest Battles
Short courses

4 weeks:  14, 21, 28 November; 5 December

Thursdays: 10.30 – 12.30

Course code: 19TON400

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The battle of Towton in March 1461 has been described as the bloodiest conflict to have taken place in England: allegedly 28,000 men lost their lives, and it is where a 'Bridge of Bodies' in a flooding river enabled men fleeing the field to clamber over the dead to escape.  

This was just one of many brutal encounters in what has become known as 'The Wars of the Roses'. The causes of the Wars are complex – the poverty of the crown and the mid fifteenth century economic crisis, the weakness of Henry VI, a lack of royal authority, an escalation of private noble feuds: long-term political and economic problems set alongside personal rivalries are arguably the foundation of these conflicts. Historians debate both the causes and the conflicts themselves, questioning the numbers involved in the battles and the wider impact on society. 

Using both contemporary sources, recent historical secondary writing and the evidence gained from archaeological exploration of the battle field sites, this course will consider the political background and historical context. We will also examine the main adversaries involved - Henry VI, his dominant queen Margaret of Anjou, the Kingmaker Warwick, Edward IV, Richard III and finally the triumphant Henry VII. 

We will debate how history has interpreted this period.  Was it really the weakness of Henry VI that led to the escalation of the dynastic conflict?  Were the consequences a new-style monarchy under Henry VII moving away from the chivalric medieval royal structure with the growth of court politics?

Suggested reading

Michael Hicks, The Wars of the Roses, (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2010). 

Dan Jones, The Hollow Crown – The Wars of the Roses And The Rise of the Tudors (London: Faber & Faber, 2014).

Additional information 

This course is suitable for all levels; no prior knowledge is assumed.

This course allows you to spend time exploring a subject for interest, among like-minded people, without formal assessment. There may be optional research/discussion activities during the course.

Intended learning outcomes

To learn about the background to this period and the political and economic context in which the battles took place. 

To separate the fact from the fiction which surrounds these momentous battles. 

To discover the many varied sources that are available to aid the study of these three decades, including the written primary and secondary sources, alongside the enquiry into archaeological evidence and battle-field sites.  

To enable students, if they wish, to embark on their own research and exploration of the Wars of the Roses.

About the tutor

Julia Cruse has a PhD in Medieval and Early Modern Studies and has taught undergraduates at the University of Kent. As a mature student she graduated from the University of Kent with a degree in History; her BA dissertation focused on the Paston letters. Her doctoral thesis continued her research into late medieval letter-writing and looked at gentry identity and the politics of letter-writing. She is currently continuing her exploration into the Tudor period with a focus on the Tudor palaces and the lives of the courtiers who lived in them. An ambition is to write her first novel based on her discoveries.


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