Year 12 Transition: History

In preparation for your History A-level studies, there are lots of different things that you can do to either familiarize yourselves with the background to the two examined components we study or to gain an overview.  The two components we study are:

  • Component 1: Tsarist and Communist Russia, 1855–1964
  • Component 2: The Wars of the Roses, 1450–1499

If you would like to look at the content of these two units in more detail, then you can do so here:

What you will find in this booklet are ideas and resources that will help you become more knowledgeable about some key ideas, individuals and themes.  Some of the suggestions are not necessarily taught as part of the components, but can still give you a valuable insight to the topics.

Component 1: Tsarist and Communist Russia, 1855–1964

Russia and its history is fascinating.  Churchill once described Russia as “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma,”. This quote captures the truly unique place Russia has in history.

Below is family tree of the Romanov dynasty.  The Romanov’s were the last royal family of Russia who form the basis of half of the component one studies. The names in bold and with dates are the emperors or empresses of Russia.  In Russia they were known as the tsars (male) or tsarinas (female).

There are many fascinating stories amongst the family tree including that of Ivan VI Emperor of Russia between 1740–41. He was only two months old when he was made emperor.  His mother was named regent, meaning she would take charge until Ivan was old enough, but a year later Ivan’s first cousin twice-removed, Elizabeth, seized the throne in a coup.

The final three emperors, or tsars, are the focus of the first half of the A-level.  These are Alexander II, Alexander III and Nicholas II.  You will learn a lot about these but you might find it useful and interesting to research the following from the family tree:

  • Peter I – better known as Peter the great (reigned 1682 – 1725)
  • Elizabeth I (reigned 1741 to 1762)
  • Catherine II – better known as Catherine the Great (reigned 1762 – 1796)
  • Nicholas I (reigned from 1825 – 1855)

Creating short fact files about these individuals, their reigns, their achievements, their influence on Russia and the rest of the world, will help you to build a good background knowledge of Russia and why Russia is the way it is in 1855, the starting point for the course.

To accompany this, you may wish to watch one or both of the following

The Romanovs. The Real History of the Russian Dynasty

This is several episodes of a documentary in one place.  It stretches from Catherine the Great’s arrival in Russia all the way through to the abdication and death of Nicholas II, Russia’s last tsar.

The History of Russia from Rurik to revolution

This is another good overview from Epic History (who do lots of good videos like these).  This one gives a similar overview, but much shorter.  It is good because it is narrated with a map as a background so you can get a good idea of the geography of Russia, its empire and its surrounds.


There is no shortage of reading that you can do on Russia in this period.  There are many books dedicated to the lives of key individuals such as Lenin and Stalin; the Russian Revolution of 1917 (a key event in this component) as well as books that can give you an overview.  Below are some books that would give you an overview to some or all of the time period we study:

The Russian Revolution: A Very Short Introduction by S A Smith – Part of the outstanding ‘very short introduction’ series it is the perfect way to introduce yourself to the Russian revolution

Revolutionary Russia, 1891-1991 by Orlando Figes – Written by one of the most knowledgeable Russian historians, it goes all the way up to the end of the Soviet Union, but the vast majority of the book is relevant to our course.  More challenging than the very short introduction, but it is certainly manageable and helpful.

Russian History: A Captivating Guide to the History of Russia by Captivating History – A book that covers almost the entire history of Russia in roughly 150 pages.  While it doesn’t have the detail of Figes, it certainly gives you the big picture.


If you prefer to listen to podcasts, or would like this to accompany the above, a quick search of ‘Russia history podcasts’ will give you many many results.  Here are a few that I would highlight as well worth your time.

BBC Witness History – The Russian revolution / Soviet History – Available through the BBC sounds app, there are many short clips exploring key events and individuals.  Great insights.

Russian Ruler History Podcast by Mark Schauss – If you have the time to filter through the 204 episodes the you will find some gems.  From leaders to cultural influences and the lives of the Russian people.  I believe its also available on apple podcasts and may be available elsewhere.


If after all this you wish to investigate some of these elements yourself I recommend using Orlando Figes website –

You may wish to use this to look in to something you have found out or gain some good background knowledge.  Either way you can’t go wrong with this website as a great source of information.

Component 2: Wars of the Roses: 1450 to 1499

Component 2 of your AQA History A-level is focused on the era of conflict known as the Wars of the Roses in the 15th century. This centres on the struggle for power between the houses of Lancaster [represented by the red rose] and York [represented by the white rose], and continues into the start of the reign of the house of Tudor.

To help support your study of this time period, the history department have put together a list of resources. These resources are ways to introduce yourself to the key people, events, and ideas of the 15th century. Some of the material provided is highly recommended, others are optional; all will help you to feel more prepared to start your studies for Component 2.

Highly recommended:

  1. Study this family tree. It illustrates the connections between the houses of Lancaster and York. Please note, this is only a basic family tree; we will go into significantly more detail about each of these families during our course.
  2. Watch this short overview video:

This gives a good [albeit very quick!] summary of some of the key points of our course. Try to make links between what is said in the video and the family tree above.


  1. Read the book The Hollow Crown by historian Dan Jones. This book gives a great overview of the era of the Wars of the Roses. It is well-written and accessible, with more family trees, maps, and insights into the actions of the people on the family tree above and how they affected England during the 15th century.
  2. Dan Jones also has a documentary series focusing on the Wars of the Roses called ‘Britain’s Bloody Crown’. Episode 1 is a good place to start as it relates to the early part of our Component 2 course.
  3. Derek Birk’s podcast series on the Wars of the Roses covers large parts of our course. He is a history teacher and writer of historical fiction.
  4. BBC4’s ‘In Our Time’ podcast has an episode on the Wars of the Roses. This is available via BBC Sounds or on YouTube. This episode involves interviews and discussions with a number of historians looking at different interpretations of the Wars of the Roses era.
  5. Use the HistoryHit website to read articles about different aspects of the Wars of the Roses.