The Wars of The Roses: Power, Politics and Personalities (Online)


The recent discovery of Richard III's remains in Leicester highlights the dynamic new research being conducted into the period known as the Wars of the Roses. This course asks students to engage with the latest work on this exciting and tumultuous period.

The Wars of the Roses were a time of political upheaval and warfare in England during the fifteenth century. They were rooted in the disastrous reign of Henry VI and erupted into rebellions, battles and popular risings. Fought by lords and commons, for the cause of good government, they were also conflicts between families and friends concerned with property and power.

Recent historical research offers new insights into government records, gentry letters and papers and popular ballads. Due to the diverse nature of the Wars of the Roses, historians continue to generate debates and questions, to which students taking this course can themselves directly contribute.

For information on how the courses work, please click here.

Programme details

1. Introduction: Causes of the Wars of the Roses

  • Henry VI and Richard, duke of York
  • Relations between Crown and nobility
  • Relations with France
  • Economics of the fifteenth century
  • Rise of Parliament

2. Interpreting the Sources: Chronicles, Letters, Ballads and Governmental Rolls

  • How to interpret narrative sources
  • Genealogies
  • Chronicles
  • Letter collections
  • Parliament Rolls
  • Manifestoes, tracts and ballads
  • Cultural material

3. Henry VI: Minority, Rule and Revolt

  • Regency government of England 1422–37
  • French wars
  • Henry VI’s majority
  • Marriage to Margaret of Anjou (1430–82)
  • Economic crisis and rebellion
  • 1453-5: The king’s illness and the beginning of hostilities

4. The Fall of the House of Lancaster: Edward IV's Challenge

  • 1455: Aftermath of the battle
  • Attempts at reconciliation
  • The Act of Accord
  • 1461: King Edward IV and the Battle of Towton: Two kings in England
  • Elizabeth Woodville
  • Warwick’s rebellion

5. The Wars of the Roses: Warfare, Armies and Military Tactics

  • Tactics
  • Weaponry
  • Logistics and feeding a medieval army
  • Military leadership and a warrior queen
  • Chivalry, ransom and prisoners of war
  • Modern research into the casualties from the Battle of Towton (1461)
  • The common soldier

6. The Wars of the Roses: Local Experiences

  • Early family background
  • Elizabeth Paston: Marriages, rebellion and treason
  • John Paston Snr and his wife Margaret (Margery) Mautby
  • Local violence and warfare
  • Sir John Paston (2nd)
  • Changing allegiances: local and national politics

7. Return of Henry VI and the Victory of Edward IV

  • Edward IV in exile and the Burgundian connection
  • Edward IV returns to England
  • Battle of Barnet: 14 April 1471
  • Battle of Tewkesbury: 4 May 1471
  • The victory of Edward IV and the death of Henry VI
  • The cult of King Henry VI
  • Edward IV’s 2nd reign (1471–83)

8. Royal Power: The Reputation of Richard III

  • Early background: Constable of England and royal lieutenant of the north
  • Richard and the Wars of the Roses
  • Protector of the realm and the princes in the Tower
  • King (1483–85) and the man
  • Henry Tudor’s rise and the Battle of Bosworth
  • Posthumous reputation: Man or myth?
  • What will the discovery of the remains of Richard III mean to history?

9. Shakespeare’s Wars of the Roses and the ‘Tudor Myth’

  • Shakespeare’s Wars of the Roses plays
  • Shakespeare’s plays: Henry VI part 1
  • Shakespeare’s plays: Henry VI part 2
  • Shakespeare’s plays: Henry VI part 3
  • Shakespeare’s plays: Richard III
  • Shakespeare and the ‘Tudor Myth’

10. The legacy of the Wars of the Roses: Early Tudor government

  • King Henry VII and the nobility
  • Catherine of Valois
  • Margaret Beaufort
  • Henry VII’s marriage to Elizabeth of York
  • Henry VII’s foreign policy
  • Rebellions and threats to Henry VII’s reign
  • Henry VII’s legacy

We strongly recommend that you try to find a little time each week to engage in the online conversations (at times that are convenient to you) as the forums are an integral, and very rewarding, part of the course and the online learning experience.


Credit Application Transfer Scheme (CATS) points 

To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £30 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online. If you do not register when you enrol, you have up until the course start date to register and pay the £30 fee. 

See more information on CATS point

Coursework is an integral part of all online courses and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework, but only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education, you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee. 


Digital credentials

All students who pass their final assignment, whether registered for credit or not, will be eligible for a digital Certificate of Completion. Upon successful completion, you will receive a link to download a University of Oxford digital certificate. Information on how to access this digital certificate will be emailed to you after the end of the course. The certificate will show your name, the course title and the dates of the course you attended. You will be able to download your certificate or share it on social media if you choose to do so. 

Please note that assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail. 


Description Costs
Course Fee £385.00
Take this course for CATS points £30.00


Dr Rachel Moss

Dr Rachel E. Moss is a lecturer in history at the University of Oxford and the University of Northampton. Prior to this she was a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in the Faculty of History at the University of Oxford. Her ‘superbly thought-through’ (Arthuriana) first book, Fatherhood and its Representations in Middle English Texts, was published by D.S. Brewer in September 2013. A specialist in late medieval English history and literature, she has researched and written on family, gender, sexuality, gentry and mercantile societies, and literary culture. Passionately invested in making the past accessible to all and in making the academy a more inclusive place, Rachel regularly writes for mainstream publications such as History Today and The Times Higher Education on themes including education, academic culture and late medieval history.

Course aims

Course Aim:
This course aims to provide students with an understanding of the most recent research into social, economic, political and cultural changes in English society during the period 1450-1500. It will give students an appreciation of the huge range of textual, architectural and archaeological sources which can be used to gain further insight into the Wars of the Roses.

Course objectives:

  • To examine the multifaceted causes of the Wars of the Roses.
  • To assess the extent and nature of social, economic and political change in the period 1450-1500.
  • To analyse the most recent scholarly debates.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will be expected to understand:

  • The most recent research into the causes of the Wars of the Roses.
  • The short term and longer term structural changes precipitated by the conflict.
  • The nature of the evidence of the period.

By the end of this course students will be expected to have gained the following skills:

  • To be able to assess medieval textual and visual sources in order to evaluate the social, economic and political change in the period 1450-1500.
  • To be able to critically appraise the relevant scholarly literature.

Assessment methods

You will be set two pieces of work for the course. The first of 500 words is due halfway through your course. This does not count towards your final outcome but preparing for it, and the feedback you are given, will help you prepare for your assessed piece of work of 1,500 words due at the end of the course. The assessed work is marked pass or fail.

English Language Requirements

We do not insist that applicants hold an English language certification, but warn that they may be at a disadvantage if their language skills are not of a comparable level to those qualifications listed on our website. If you are confident in your proficiency, please feel free to enrol. For more information regarding English language requirements please follow this link:


Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an Enrolment form for short courses | Oxford University Department for Continuing Education

Level and demands

FHEQ level 4, 10 weeks, approx 10 hours per week, therefore a total of about 100 study hours.

IT requirements

This course is delivered online; to participate you must to be familiar with using a computer for purposes such as sending email and searching the Internet. You will also need regular access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification.