Blood Royal: The Wars Of The Roses: 1462-1485, by Hugh Bicheno
This is an interesting book about the War of Roses, and offers a distinctive approach that many readers will appreciate. Rather than being a military history and focusing on the battles, many of which will be familiar to the reader, such as Towton or St. Albans or Mortimer’s Cross, this particular book (while discussing the battles and the campaigns leading up to them) also talks about the personalities involved and the larger stakes of politics and morality and even geopolitics that governed the behavior of different people. In many ways, the personalities of the people involved was starkly limited by their position, such that even an English king that wanted to have peaceful relations with France was limited by the extreme hostility of the English voting population to France, for example, a phenomenon that would continue for long after this period. The author is also quick to notice that England itself was rather peripheral in continental affairs, and that this peripheral status was important in shaping the behavior of English kings and those who would be kings or kingmakers over the course of the Wars of the Roses. For those who like a look at war and society as well as the importance of women and family matters, this book has a lot to offer that gives it a good niche.
This book is about 350 pages or so in length and it is divided into more than 30 short chapters that deal with various aspects of diplomacy, war, and politics, including family politics, in the period between the accession of Edward and the death of Richard III. We see the complicated relationship of the English and French royal families, as well as the excellence of Louis XI in manipulating people against each other in order to increase the power of the French monarchy, which prevented the resumption of the Hundred Year’s War and ended up destroying Burgundian power by focusing it on Germany and Switzerland. The author’s interest in continental affairs helps us to better understand how it was that the dynastic rivalries between York and Lancaster and ultimately Tudor ended up interacting with larger European geopolitical matters. Yet the detailed look at manorial ownership and the ability of of the Pastons to prevail in their struggle with high nobles is also welcome, as the author manages to blend multiple levels an interesting discussion and analysis of the late medieval monarchy.
One of the interesting aspects that this book makes sense of is the reality as opposed to the image that people have of Edward IV as a monarch. This book really centers on the period in which he was king, and points out the issues he had when it came to his general lack of character which led to him not being viewed at home or abroad with a lot of respect, his bad relationship with his mother, and with the way that the Woodville fashion served him and his interests and not the other way around. The hollowing out of the English elites as a result of decades of war led to serious problems for Richard III, who simply didn’t have a lot of “regime locks” that he could trust to stand by his side even if the people as a whole were not hostile to him and to his regime. Indeed, if you read this book, one thing that will come up a lot is a discussion of “regime locks” and the importance of having people one could trust to be in positions of authority in key peripheral regions of the kingdom (the North, Wales, etc). If this is appealing to you this book will offer a lot of enjoyment.