'A plague on both thy houses': the Wars of the Roses

Course Dates: 08/05/23 - 17/07/23
Time: 12:30 - 14:30
Location: Online
Tutors: 
After Larry Olivier’s / Kenneth Branagh’s victory at Agincourt, it was downhill for England until the advent of the Tudors! We explode that Shakespearian myth.
There is no class on 3/7/23 however a guided walk with be organised for 1/7/23. Further information will be provided by the tutor.
This course will be delivered online. See the ‘What is the course about?’ section in course details for more information.
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Full fee £219.00 Senior fee £175.00 Concession £110.00

Course Code: HBH51

Mon, day, 08 May - 17 Jul '23

Duration: 11 sessions (over 11 weeks)

Please note: We offer a wide variety of financial support to make courses affordable. Just visit our online Help Center for more information on a range of topics including fees, online learning and FAQs.

What is the course about?

The political, economic, social and cultural history of fifteenth-century England.

This is a live online course. You will need:
- Internet connection. The classes work best with Chrome.
- A computer with microphone and camera is best (e.g. a PC/laptop/iMac/MacBook), or a tablet/iPad/smart phone/iPhone if you don't have a computer.
- Earphones/headphones/speakers.
We will contact you with joining instructions before your course starts.

What will we cover?


The fifteenth century begins with ‘regime change’ initiated by the deposition of Richard II by his cousin Henry of Lancaster who becomes Henry IV. The meteoric success of his son, Henry V, in France will bequeath a poisoned chalice to his son, Henry VI, who becomes king at the age of eight months. We discuss how far the political misfortunes of his reign are due to his personal failings. Margaret of Anjou has left a terrible reputation thanks to Shakespeare but one might argue that she was doing no more than any other queen would have done to preserve the throne for her son. Her problem was that she was French and her son short-lived. We also look at the House of York and inevitably we must discuss Richard III. Having explored the political situation in England we then look at the social and cultural history. The Paston Letters provide a unique glimpse into the lives of an East Anglian gentry family. We will also consider the consequences of the Black Death on life between 1400 and 1500.

What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...

• Explain how Shakespeare has coloured our perception of the period covered by the Wars of the Roses
• Evaluate the reasons for the Wars of the Roses
• Read extracts from the Paston Letters and reflect on what they reveal about everyday life in 15th-century England
• Discuss the nature of fifteenth-century queenship
• Debate on whether or not Richard III murdered his nephews and the question of whether we can ever be objective about his reign.

What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?

This module is open to anyone with an interest and enthusiasm for the subject. No formal qualification or previous knowledge of the subject is required. However, a good standard of reading, writing and speaking English is essential.

How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?

PowerPoint will be used to illustrate key points and then we will be reading and discussing contemporary sources (in translation). You will be encouraged to share your thoughts and ideas in a relaxed and friendly environment. Weekly reading outside the class will be encouraged but is not obligatory.

Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?

There are no other expenses other than note-taking materials. We are meeting online and so you are advised to check that your equipment has a built-in microphone and camera.

You are not expected to purchase any reading material. All essential reading will be supplied via Google Classroom for you to download. As for purchasing a book please be careful. The Wars of the Roses is mind-boggling full of individuals and battles which can be overwhelming. Most popular reading is dire. If you wish to purchase a book I would recommend an old favourite – J.R. Lander The Wars of the Roses – which has the advantage of illustrations and is good value (Amazon second-hand is great). If you want a Shakespearian focus, there is Keith Dockray, William Shakespeare: the Wars of the roses and the Historians is good. For a more rounded study of the fifteenth century I like Rosemary Horrox ed. Fifteenth Century Attitudes. The best book for the Pastons is still John Vigar, The Illustrated Paston Letters but I will be giving you some of the letters to read. A course book listing weekly topics and reading will be provided at the beginning of the course.

When I've finished, what course can I do next?

This course is part of an English history cycle. Vanessa's cycle of English, London and European history will continue from September 2023- please see the City Lit website.
This term Vanessa is also offering a new course HEH86 Medieval Queenship in Europe and the Near East & HEH49 Renaissance Women .

Vanessa King Tutor Website

Vanessa King is a lecturer in Medieval and early Modern History at Regents University, and Birkbeck College University of London. At City Lit, Vanessa offers courses and day schools on London, as well as European history from the Fall of Rome to 1800. She has published widely on the Anglo-Norman period (1066-1154), and is currently writing a book on Early English Queenship 600-1066 for Routledge. You can follow her progress via her website: https://queenshipinpreconquestengland.wordpress.com/ Vanessa’s expertise in medieval matters means she is frequently called upon to give public lectures and speak on BBC Radio. Vanessa's philosophy of teaching is to make history come alive through informative presentations with a good sense of humour. In her spare time, she enjoys nothing better than talking history over a glass of red wine!

Please note: We reserve the right to change our tutors from those advertised. This happens rarely, but if it does, we are unable to refund fees due to this. Our tutors may have different teaching styles; however we guarantee a consistent quality of teaching in all our courses.