PoliticsSource Material

Philippe Commines on the Causes of the Wars of the Roses

Causes of the Wars of the Roses as described in the Memoirs of Philippe de Commines.

Commines was a writer and diplomat within the Burgundian and French Courts. His writing of political events within his lifetime has led to the Oxford Companion to English Literature describing Commines as being ‘the first critical and philosophical historian since classical times’

Philippe de Commines
Portrait of Philippe de Commines. 15th Century. [Portrait à la sanguine de Philippe de Commynes dans le Recueil d’Arras (Bibliothèque municipale d’Arras).]

Philippe de Commines’ insight into English affairs

Commines was raised in the court of Philip the Good, after the death of his father in Commines’ infancy left him a noble in his minority who had inherited estates saddled with large debts. Through the patronage of the Duke of Burgundy Philippe de Commines was able to acquire an excellent education and he secured work within the Ducal court as a diplomat. This role presented him with an insight into the way that politics worked within Burgundy and further afield. His observations of events in England are based upon things that he heard being discussed in the courts of Europe. His views are coloured by his experiences and decisions as a diplomat. In 1472 Philippe de Commines defected from the court of the Duke of Burgundy to that of King Louis XI of France. The Duke and King were bitter rivals on continental matters and had very different views of affairs in England. His memoirs were written whilst in the service of France rather than that of Burgundy.

Philippe de Commines on the Causes of the Wars of the Roses in England

The reason of the Earl of Warwick’s espousing the interest of the House of York against King Henry, who was of the Lancastrian family, was upon a difference that happened at court betwixt the Duke of Somerset and the Earl of Warwick. The king not having wisdom enough to compose it, it grew to that height that the queen (who was of the house of Anjou, and daughter to Rene, King of Sicily”) interposed in it, and inclined to the duke’s party against the Earl of Warwick; for all had acknowledged Henry, his father, and his grandfather, for their lawful kings. The queen would have acted much more prudently in endeavouring to have adjusted the dispute between them than in saying, “I am of this party, and will maintain it; “and it proved so by the event, for it occasioned many battles in England, and a war which continued nine- and-twenty years f ; and in the end nearly all the partisans of both sides were destroyed; so that factions and parties are very perilous and fatal, especially to the nobility, who are too prone to propagate and foment them. If it be alleged that by this means both parties are kept in awe, and the secret minds of his subjects are discovered to the prince, I agree that a young prince may encourage faction among his ladies, and it may be pleasant and diverting enough, and may give him opportunity of finding out some of their intrigues; but nothing is so dangerous to a nation as to nourish such factions and partialities among men of courage and magna- nimity; it is no less than setting one’s own house on fire ; for immediately some or other cry out, ” The king is against us,” seize upon some fortified town, and correspond with his enemies. And certainly the factions of Orleans and Burgundy ought to make us wise on this point ; for they began a war which lasted seventy-two years J, in which the English were concerned, and thought by those unhappy divisions to have conquered the kingdom.

Memoirs of Philippe de Commines

Featured Image: Coat of arms of Philippe de Commines Contents: Augustine, La Cité de Dieu (Vol. I). Translation from the Latin by Raoul de Presles Place of origin, date: Paris, Maïtre François (illuminator); c. 1475; 1478-1480 Material: Vellum, ff. 467, 440×300 (270×185) mm, 46 lines, littera hybrida, Binding: 18th-century brown leather (c. 1769) Decoration: 11 two-column miniatures (257/204×190/177 mm); 277 column miniatures (c. 120×80 mm); 11 illustrations in the margin (coats of arms); decorated initials with border decoration Provenance: made for Jacques d’Armagnac, duke of Nemours (1433-1477) and after his capture continued for Philippe de Commines (1447-1511), lord of Argenton (coats of arms in margin and on edge). Purchased in 1751 at the sale of J.-A. Crozat de Tugny (1696-1751) at Thiboust, Paris,by L.-J. Gaignat of Paris; purchased in 1769 at the Gaignat sale at G.F. De Bure le Jeune, Paris (cat. 1 Febr., no. 242) by Gerard Meerman (1722-1771) of Rotterdam, later The Hague; by descent to his son Johan Meerman (1753-1815); acquired between 1816 and 1824 by Willem H.J vanWestreenen van Tiellandt (1783-1848) of The Hague; by legacy to the kingdom of the Netherlands Annotation: Vol. II now: Nantes, BM, fr. 8 via Wikimedia. Available via a Creative Commons Licence

Image: Portrait à la sanguine de Philippe de Commynes dans le Recueil d’Arras (Bibliothèque municipale d’Arras). Sourced from wikipedia.

Leave a Reply