The Union of the Two Noble and Illustrious Families of Lancaster and York

(Hall)
   The Union of the Two Noble and Illustrious Families of Lancaster and York, a chronicle written by the Tudor historian Edward Hall (1498– 1547), was a major source for William Shakespeare’s four-play cycle depicting the WARS OF THE ROSES. As its title indicates, Hall’s chronicle was also one of the earliest and fullest expositions of the influential historical tradition that viewed the house of TUDOR as rescuing England from the political chaos and economic destruction caused by the fifteenthcentury civil wars.
   Reformist in religion, Edward Hall was a Cambridge-educated lawyer and a frequent M.P. (member of PARLIAMENT). His chronicle, which was published in 1548, covers the period from the deposition of Richard II in 1399 to the death of Henry VIII in 1547. Hall himself carried the narrative to 1532, with fellow chronicler Richard Grafton using Hall’s notes to complete the work. Like most Tudor historians, Hall saw history as an instrument for teaching moral lessons, for presenting both edifying and cautionary examples of the past behavior of princes. Beset by religious strife and dynastic uncertainty, sixteenth-century England tended to project its fears onto the history of the fifteenth century, which, as Hall’s writing illustrates, was seen as a horrible time of civil strife:“What misery, what murder and what execrable plagues this famous region hath suffered by the division and dissension of the renowned houses of Lancaster and York, my wit cannot comprehend nor my tongue declare, neither yet my pen fully set forth” (Ross, p. 7).
   Drawing upon Sir Thomas More’s HISTORY OF KING RICHARD III and Polydore Vergil’s ANGLICA HISTORIA, Hall fully developed the idea that the Lancastrian usurpation of 1399 was the root cause of civil strife in the fifteenth century. God punished the house of LANCASTER for its usurpation by rendering HENRY VI incapable of ruling and by allowing the usurpation of the house of YORK, which was itself punished for its ambition and for the dreadful tyranny of RICHARD III by the ultimate victory of HENRY VII and the house of Tudor. In the 1460s,Yorkist PROPAGANDA had initiated the idea that EDWARD IV’s accession set right the disruption in the divine order caused by the Lancastrians in 1399. Hall, writing under the Tudors when stories of Richard III’s crimes were current, extended this notion by blackening the already negative portrayal of Richard that he had received from More and Vergil and by bequeathing it to Raphael Holinshed and later Tudor chroniclers, who, in turn, became sources for Shakespeare’s shocking villain in the play RICHARD III. In this way, Hall’s Union shaped later popular views of both Richard and the Wars of the Roses.
   Further Reading: Ellis, Henry, ed., Hall’s Chronicle (reprint ed., New York: AMS Press, 1965); Ross, Charles, The Wars of the Roses (London: Thames and Hudson, 1987).

Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. . 2001.

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