Warwick: The Kingmaker: Politics, Power, and Fame, by A.J. Pollard
I must admit that although I am a student of the Wars of the Roses, that I am not all that aware of the larger career of the Earl of Warwick, whose role as the kingmaker between 1456 and 1471 and his death at the battle of Barnet is justly famous. And this book does a really good job at presenting that larger context in several ways. I was pleasantly surprised and impressed by the way that the author looked at the family history and marriage ties of Warwick and other members of the Neville and Beauchamp families within the nexus of the aristocratic elite of the time and also looked at the life and career and worldview of Warwick in other ways as well. This book gave the reader a good reason to think more seriously about Warwick as a harbinger of future changes in warfare and politics, and that was deeply interesting to me. As someone who is not a particular partisan in the Wars of the Roses, I found that the author pleasingly took seriously Warwick’s claims to desire the best interests of the commons, even if that was (and is) an unusual stance for elite leaders to make.
This book is a bit more than 200 pages long and it is divided into three sections and eleven chapters. The book begins with illustrations, a preface, abbreviations, and introduction that show the author to have rejected the study of Warwick as a doctoral dissertation subject before returning to it here. After that the first four chapters of the book look at the life of Warwick from the point of view of his political positions and position within the English aristocracy (I), with a look at his early life as a premier earl from 1428-55 (1), his role as a key lieutenant for the Duke of York from 1455-60 (2), his massive influence as England’s premier aristocrat in power from 1460-65 (3), and his position as an uncomfortable “third king” from 1465 to his death in battle in 1471 (4). After that the author spends four chapters looking at Warwick’s exercise of power (II) in such areas as his estates and finances (5), the question of lordship and loyalty in East Anglia and the West Midlands (6) as well as the North (7), and his position in Calais and as Lord Admiral (8). After that the author finishes the book with a look at the relationship between Warwick and fame (III) in his dual role as the idol of the multitude (9) and as an aristocratic exemplar of the chivalric code (10), after which the author concludes (11) with appendices that discuss attempts on the Earl’s life (i) as well as some problems of dating (ii), as well as the usual notes, bibliography, and index.
Ultimately, this book did a good job at showing how it was a leader who was moderately talented but by no means a military genius was able to be a kingmaker. The author is able to effectively blend Parliamentary records and broadsides and versions of the Mirror of Magistrates along with the fantastic Paston letters to make a coherent picture of Warwick as a leader and as a man, even as the author openly admits that there are many gaps to his knowledge and also many ways in which he was unable to project power in all of England to the level that he wanted to to effectively mobilize armies on on his behalf. If Warwick was by no means a perfect leader, his attempt to blend aristocratic appeals to himself as chivalrous, concessions to the barbarous times with a certain degree of ferocity that would make him a serial killer in contemporary standards, and also an early example of a populist leader as well as an innovator in English generalship through leading his troops on horseback so as to maintain a broader view of the battlefield all make him a compelling person to study even apart from his considerable importance as the wealthiest and most overmighty of subjects during his adult life.