Front Page Titles (by Subject) 35.: On the Wars of the Roses and on Scotland - Judgments on History and Historians
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
35.: On the Wars of the Roses and on Scotland - Jacob Burckhardt, Judgments on History and Historians 
Judgments on History and Historians, ed. Alberto R. Coll (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1999).
About Liberty Fund:
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
On the Wars of the Roses and on Scotland
It will never be calculable how strongly the mutual extirpation of the large and medium-sized noble houses affected England’s development. It has since been predominantly a bourgeois one, despite all the aristocracy. The Tudors do not allow any more factionalism among the nobility to arise which could have swept the state to its side; only under Edward VI was such a start made once more.
In Scotland the succession was never disputed, but the royal power was. And the heads of the hydra—of the nobility—keep growing back again. The life process of the Scottish nobility, with the mysterious vitality of this caste which must have been very fertile, seems to have been such that people periodically killed one another off so that the active generation might always be a young one and one committed to further blood feuds, beginning with the Stuart dynasty itself, with whole retinues destroying one another.
All the first four Jameses died violent deaths and left under-age princes whose young years were accompanied by the wildest regencies. Although no weaklings, the kings later did not attain any decisive power. Lamentation and bitterness must have been their prevailing mood. The despairing government invites great men and has them seized at the royal banquet table and beheaded; at this the young king sheds tears in vain. The great figures are almost without exception nuances of one and the same boundless despotism and intractability throughout the fifteenth century. If one of them wants to assert himself, he can do so only as the chief of his clan, that is, at the head of a platoon of plunderers. Especially the people of the Dominus ab Insulis [“Lord of the Isles”] are always ready to break into the rest of Scotland. There are momentary abject humiliations of great individuals before the kings, kneeling barefoot in their shirts and invoking the sufferings of Christ, but with secret reservations. Now and then, in moments of strength, a king traverses the country and has thousands executed. From England there spread gluttony and guzzling.
In free moments, the crown laboriously organizes an administration and a government and becomes the support of what little culture exists—which even proved the undoing of James III. Trade and industry are periodically wrecked in the feuds.
Within the house of Stuart conspiracies crop up—Athol against James I, Albany against James III—in which outside vantage points are sought.
The retinue of mighty men are huge bands equitum ejus ex ditione collectorum inter quos ingens latronum vis [of horsemen collected by his power, among whom is a great force of thieves]; one either had to join a dux latronum [leader of thieves] or pay high protection.
Scotland’s relations with England are little more than mutual devastation; the rest is intrigue. In addition, until about 1450 (?) there was in effect the military service of Scotsmen in France; Louis XI still had at least his Scottish guard.
James II personally killed William Douglas at Stirling in 1452. There ensued several years of feuding between the royal and the Douglas factions.
When a faction planned resistance to the king, it claimed that he was being corrupted by fawning courtiers.
The court was musical at least under James III. His opponents then killed off his retinue. The kings thought they were bothered by their adversaries’ wicked witchcraft, among other things.
The Parliaments hardly figure in this bit of history. The cities are insignificant and weak. After all, whoever has power can wield it directly.
The history of Boethius, or rather, Ferrerius, closes with the catastrophe in which James III met his doom in 1488, after conspirators had seized hold of his son, the barely fourteen-year-old James IV, who, full of woe, was unable to save his father from the murderers’ hands and full well realized his predicament.
This whole political situation continued in essence throughout the sixteenth century.