Classic History Books

The History of England by A. E. Pollard

Those wars are perhaps the most puzzling episode in English history. The action of an organized
government is comparatively easy to follow, but it is impossible to analyze the politics of anarchy. The

Yorkist claim to the throne was not the cause of the war; it was, like Edward III's claim to the throne of

France, merely a matter of tactics, and was only played as a trump card. No political, constitutional, or

religious principle was at stake; and the more peaceable, organized parts of the community took little

share in the struggle. No great battle was fought south of the Thames, and no town stood a siege. It looks

as though the great military and feudal specialists, whose power lay principally on the Borders, were

engaged in a final internecine struggle for the control of England, in somewhat the same way as the

Ostmark or East Border of the Empire became Austria, and the Nordmark or North Border became

Prussia, and in turn dominated Germany. Certainly the defeat of these forces was a victory for southern

and eastern England, and for the commercial and maritime interests on which its growing wealth and

prosperity hung; and the most important point in the wars was not the triumph of Edward IV over the

Lancastrians in 1461, but his triumph over Warwick, the kingmaker, ten years later. The New Monarchy

has been plausibly dated from 1471; but Edward IV had not the political genius to work out in detailed

administration the results of the victory which he owed to his military skill, and Richard III, who

possessed the ability, made himself impossible as a king by the crimes he had to commit in order to reach

the throne. The reconstruction of English government on a broader and firmer national basis was

therefore left to Henry VII and the House of Tudor.




England had passed through the Middle Ages without giving any sign of the greatness which awaited its
future development. Edward III and Henry V had won temporary renown in France, but English

sovereigns had failed to subjugate the smaller countries of Scotland and Ireland, which were more

immediately their concern. Wycliffe and Chaucer, with perhaps Roger Bacon, are the only English

names of first importance in the realms of medieval thought and literature, unless we put Bede (673-735)

in the Middle Ages; for insular genius does not seem to have flourished under ecumenical inspiration;

and even Wycliffe and Chaucer may be claimed as products of the national rather than of the catholic

spirit. But with the transition from medieval to modern history, the conditions were altered in England's

favour. The geographical expansion of Europe made the outposts of the Old World the entrepĂ´ts

for the New; the development of navigation and sea-power changed the ocean from the limit into the link

of empires; and the growth of industry and commerce revolutionized the social and financial foundations

of power. National states were forming; the state which could best adapt itself to these changed and

changing conditions would outdistance its rivals; and its capacity to adapt itself to them would largely

depend on the strength and flexibility of its national organization. It was the achievement of the New

Monarchy to fashion this organization, and to rescue the country from an anarchy which had already

given other powers the start in the race and promised little success for England.

Henry VII had to begin in a quiet, unostentatious way with very scanty materials. With a bad title and
many pretenders, with an evil heritage of social disorder, he must have been sorely tempted to indulge in

the heroics of Henry V. He followed a sounder business policy, and his reign is dull, because he gave

peace and prosperity at home without fighting a battle abroad. His foreign policy was dictated by insular

interests regardless of personal glory; and the security of his kingdom and the trade of his people were

the aims of all his treaties with other powers. At home he carefully depressed the over-mighty subjects

who had made the Wars of the Roses; he kept down their number with such success that he left behind


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