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The Wars of the Roses - A Book Review

Sometimes history is simplified too much. We gloss over certain areas which results in history being distorted. When it comes to the period of British history historically called The Wars of the Roses: Through the Lives of Five Men and Women of the Fifteenth Century, this book by Desmond Seward helps explain how much more intricate and complicated this period was.

Before reading The Wars of the Roses: Through the Lives of Five Men and Women of the Fifteenth Century by Desmond Seward, I have to admit that I thought it was “War of the Roses”. You might not think that one little letter makes that much of a difference, but in this case it makes a world of difference. Seward writes in detail the various battles, betrayals, murders, and deception that did not occur in a span of a year or two but over several decades. The fight for the English throne was not fought clean and fair.

Life in any royal court is full of intrigue. When it comes to the houses of York and Lancaster, this becomes an all-out bloodbath. The house of Lancaster obtained the throne through methods that were questionable but not much had really been made of it publically. Why would they when the famous Lancasterian King Henry V let the French know who they were and conquered a good deal of French soil? It was only when his less than capable son, Henry VI, stepped up to the throne that the wearer of the crown was questioned.

Henry VI was weak and, by some, considered stupid. His wife, on the other hand, was a force to be reckoned with as she was determined that her only son, Edward (not the York Edward), would inherit the crown though he eventually dies in battle. The house of York, who once sat on the throne, thought otherwise.

Seward explains how each side conspired to overthrow the throne and seat the next legitimate ruler on it. As you read this book, you realize that “legitimate” becomes a muddy word as heirs who were born out of wedlock were proclaimed legitimate while those that were born to a husband and wife were declared illegitimate. Whatever it took to grab control and power was done by both sides.

During this period, the throne exchanged hands multiple times. Henry VI lost it to Edward IV who lost it back to Henry VI who lost it back to Edward IV who beheaded Henry VI. Edward, whose one brother switched sides more than once, dies with multiple children which included two princes. As these youngsters were underage and not ready to officially rule a country their only surviving uncle, Richard, stepped in to “advise” them. The truth is Richard did not waste any time locking the two heirs in the Tower of London and crowning himself Richard III. The young princes disappeared as Richard fought to keep his stolen crown.

Rising up was the Lancaster house as they tried to take back the throne under the banner of who would be Henry VII. As usual, defeat can come when you underestimate an opponent. Richard did just that as he eliminated every possible heir to the throne, but one who was considered too removed from the line to inherit the crown. Richard did not look at the family chart close enough.

It was through a near final bloodbath that Richard III became the last English king to die in battle. Henry VII was crowned on the battle field. He took for his wife the oldest daughter of Edward IV to ensure no question of who should be on the throne and united both houses.

Seward explains how this period killed more nobility than any other period of English history. Dukes and Princes were slaughtered on the field, in their beds, or on the way home. Nothing was improbable during this time between the two sides.

What You Get From This Book:

· Family trees of both houses: York and Lancaster

· Coverage of all battles that made up the Wars

· Explanations of decisions made by each side

· A good understanding of this period and what was involved

· Cites many primary sources including eyewitness accounts.

· Covers both sides of the conflict well and does not show any bias.

What You Do Not Get From This Book:

· This is not an easy read. Though not mired in scientific terms, Seward goes into such detail that the various names and titles can get confusing. As one titled position is emptied it is refilled, and a whole new set of intrigue begins.

· Not a book for anyone younger than upper high school age.

I enjoyed this book immensely as it cleared up many of my notions of the Wars of the Roses. A period of English history that has been romanticized or forgotten over the years was laid out in detail and explained well. I highly recommend Sewards’s The Wars of the Roses if you are interested in English history and would like to learn more about this dark time.

Disclaimer: This book was purchased with my own funds for my reading enjoyment.

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