The Wars Of The Roses: The Fall Of The Plantagenets And The Rise Of The Tudors, by Dan Jones
As someone who has a great degree of interest in the Plantagenet dynasty and its various problems as well as the crisis of legitimacy within the realm of England that led to the rise of the parvenu Tudors, this book was not necessarily new information but it was a well-written book that one can read as comfortably as possible given the material in it. The author appears to be more interested in the human interest of people struggling with legitimacy in a world where rulers have very little security and a difficult time passing on their power or holding on to it unless they are able to meet the demands of the office, including military skill. That said, while the author talks a lot about rebellions and battles, he does not go into them in depth and he is no military historian as far as that goes. He is a social historian, one could say, and this book definitely looks at the broader context of society in the midst of the Wars of the Roses and how it was that military and politics and family identity all combined to lead to the near destruction of any Plantagenet blood in England.
The book, over 300 pages in length, begins at the end of the story as an old woman from the Plantagenet family awaits her judicial murder at the hand of Henry VIII for the crime of having royal blood that threatened the Tudor claims. After that the author goes back to the beginning of the problems of England with four chapters about the early period of King Henry VI’s reign, from Henry V’s marriage treaty that made him the heir to the Kingdom of France, his death and the birth of the king, and then the clandestine marriage of the dowager queen to the obscure Welshman Owen Tudor. The second part of the book contains five chapter that explore the nature of late medieval kingship in England, including the regency of the Lord of Suffolk, Henry VI’s French marriage, the problem of popular discontent with military losses, the rivalry with the Duke of York, and the first of Henry VI’s bouts with insanity. The third part of the book looks at the instability of the Kingdom of England between 1455 and 1471 with the early fights establishing the Duke of York as a protector, his death, and the period between 1460 and 1471 where the Duke of Warwick first helped Edward IV to the throne and then tried to help Henry VI regain the throne before Edward and his supports regained authority. The fourth part of the book then looks at the rise of the tutors in six chapters that include Henry VII’s time in exile, the murder of the princes in the tower by Richard III and his subsequent problems with legitimacy and the north-south divide in England, and the Tudor monarchy and its efforts to stamp out various pretenders and threats to their rule.
For many readers (certainly for me) this story is by no means a new one. The author, though, tells the story well and demonstrates a firm awareness of texts that many readers may not be aware of but probably should to better understand this period, including the letters of the Pastons, that deeply fascinating English family, as well as the laws and proclamations of the period that show the ebb and flow of English politics during this era. While I would have appreciated more discussion of the battles, the author does a good job in showing when and where various people sought to resort to arms because of their failures as a politician (see, for example, the career of Richard of York), and the influence of both domestic politics as well as geopolitics on the events of the Wars of the Roses and the way that France, as well as Brittany and Burgundy, served as places of refuge for those who were on the outs with the ascendant party in England, increasing the instability by always having a ready rival able to pounce on weakness. The result is a compelling book about the crisis of legitimacy within the English monarchy during the transition between the Plantagenet and Tudor dynasties, and what that means for ordinary people caught up in the drama of elite strife.