- (c. 1411–1491)Although the accuracy and value of his historical writings and judgments have been questioned, John Rous of Warwickshire, a chantry priest with antiquarian interests, is recognized as an important source for contemporary perceptions and attitudes during the WARS OF THE ROSES.Born at Warwick and educated at Oxford, Rous was in 1445 appointed a chaplain of the chantry chapel at Guy’s Cliff in Warwickshire. His office, which he retained for the rest of his life, required him to celebrate daily Mass for the chantry’s late founder, Richard Beauchamp, earl of Warwick. His duties allowed him time to indulge his interest in antiquarian studies, that is, to collect manuscripts and artifacts relating to the history of his locality, to conduct historical research, and to write up his findings. He undertook periodic trips— once to WALES and once to LONDON—to study local historical records and to borrow or buy research materials. In 1459, he attended the COVENTRY PARLIAMENT, where the Lancastrian government, busy passing ATTAINDERS against leading Yorkists, ignored his petition asking that the PEERAGE be prevented from oppressing country towns (see Towns and the Wars of the Roses). Rous’s most important writings are the two versions of the Rous Rolls, elaborately illustrated histories of the earls of Warwick written on rolls of parchment, and the “Historia Regum Angliae” (“History of the Kings of England”), which, in its national scope, departs from Rous’s usual interest in local history. The earlier English version of the Rous Rolls, written before 1485, is highly favorable to the house of YORK and flattering to RICHARD III. The later Latin version, containing fulsome praise for the houses of LANCASTER and TUDOR, was clearly intended to curry favor with HENRY VII. The “Historia,” which carried the history of England to the birth of Prince Arthur in 1486, roundly condemns Richard III as ruling “in the way Antichrist is to reign,” and includes some of the more shocking elements of the antiRicardian PROPAGANDA that developed after 1485. For instance, Rous claimed that Richard was two years in his mother’s womb, finally emerging “with teeth and hair to his shoulders.” Nonetheless, even Rous admitted that Richard “bore himself like a gallant knight [and] honourably defended himself to his last breath” at the Battle of BOSWORTH FIELD in 1485 (all quotes Dockray, p. xxi). As an old man whose clerical living depended on royal favor, Rous’s bias toward the party in power is understandable; no one could praise Richard III under the Tudors any more that one could praise HENRY VI under the Yorkists. Rous also did much for the study of local history, and his writings are useful as a reflection of the opinions and interests of educated country people during the late fifteenth century. However, his indiscriminate handling of sources, his ready acceptance of myths and miraculous tales, and his factual inaccuracies have led modern historians to make only limited and cautious use of Rous as a source for the civil wars.Further Reading: Dockray, Keith. Richard III: A Source Book (Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Sutton Publishing, 1997);“John Rous,” in Michael Hicks, Who’s Who in Late Medieval England (London: Shepheard-Walwyn, 1991), pp. 345–349; Rous, John,“The History of the Kings of England,” in Alison Hanham, Richard III and His Early Historians, 1483-1535 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975), pp. 118–124; Rous, John. The Rous Roll, reprint ed. (Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Alan Sutton, 1980).
Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. John A.Wagner. 2001.
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