Sonja Drimmer, “Wars of the Roses and the Court of Public Opinion” | National Humanities Center


Sonja Drimmer, “Wars of the Roses and the Court of Public Opinion”

April 23, 2020

The 15th-century Wars of the Roses between Yorkist and Lancastrian factions often summon images of royal intrigue and courtly splendor. Whether it is one of Shakespeare’s plays or a more scholarly account, histories of this struggle for the English throne tend to privilege the nobility. Art historian and NHC Fellow Sonja Drimmer offers a far different perspective of the era. By extending the political sphere beyond the royal court and into the court of public opinion, Drimmer explores how a newly-formed, larger public played an important role in this decades-long conflict.

In this podcast, Drimmer turns to objects that tell a broader story about how the public participated in a shifting landscape of political language. Ranging from the “funny, to the inept, to the gruesome,” these objects include everything from scrolls testifying to the genealogical legitimacy of nobility, to livery badges that functioned like campaign buttons, to descriptions of severed heads. By delving into the art and objects of 15th-century England, Drimmer recasts the Wars of the Roses as an extended political campaign that cultivated, and depended upon, public support and engagement.

Fifteenth-Century; Wars of the Roses; Public Opinion; British History; Material Culture
Sonja Drimmer, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Sonja Drimmer (PhD, Columbia University) is associate professor of medieval art and architecture at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her monograph, The Art of Allusion: Illuminators and the Making of English Literature, 1403–1476 (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018), is the first art historical study dedicated to the emergence of the Middle English literary canon as an illustrated corpus. While continuing to examine and publish on illuminated manuscripts of vernacular literature, she is currently at work on a second monograph devoted to the visual and material culture of politics in England at the end of the Middle Ages. This project, Art and Political Visuality in Late Medieval England, concentrates on disparate and long-overlooked objects that mediated persuasive expression during this period, objects that solicited from viewers—and even instructed them in—a political apprehension of the world.