Book Review: Battle Royal: The Wars Of the Roses: 1440-1462

Battle Royal: The Wars Of The Roses: 1440-1462, by Hugh Bicheno

Having read the second part of this series [1] before the first, I had some idea of what to expect from this author. This book follows the other in the series in that it is a book about military history that seeks to provide aspects to the Wars of the Roses that other readers might not pay much attention to. In this particular case, the author has a strong degree of fondness for a few characters that have either been viewed in a negative fashion or have been neglected altogether. In the former category we have queen Marguerite of Anjou, the wife of the likely mentally ill Henry VI, who the author is intensely critical towards given his sabotage of the peaceful efforts made by his wife and the Duke of York in providing good governance. In the latter category we have the obscure churchman John Kemp, peacemaking Archbishop of Canterbury. The author notes, sadly, that the fragmentation of the realm and its power provided the impossibility of solving issues when the sovereign himself was an obstacle to peace and good government and justice when there was a divine right view of that monarch, a fatal contradiction that was only solved when kings could be separated from their heads and from authority as happened to Charles I, two hundred years after the events of this book.

This book is about 28 chapters long and just over 300 pages in length in terms of its main contents. The book begins with a lot of supporting material, including a list of maps, tables, and family trees, protagonists and marriages, maps, a family tree of the English princes of the blood, as well as a preface. This is followed by a prologue that talks about passionate princesses, along with the role of the houses of Lancaster (1), Beaufort (2), Valois-Anjou (3), and York (4) in the factions and feuds of the early Wars of the Roses (5), including the defeat and humiliation England faced in Normandie and Guyenne (6) and the struggle between Richard and Henry for power and rule (7), as well as the rise of the House of Neville (8). After this the author talks about the figure of Marguerite (9), the relationship between the pope and the crown (10), as well as the actions of Richard (11) and Henry (12) that led to a Yorkist coup d’etat (13), followed by Marguerite’s counter-coup (14). After that there is a look at the Lord of Calais (15), the importance of the Welsh (16), the relationship between Marguerite and Henry (17), and the English Way of War. After this comes chapters on Marguerite’s army (18), the resurgence of the Lancaster faction (19), the rise of Warwick (20), betrayal (21), the relationship of Marguerite and her son (22), Richard’s death and humiliation (23), the rise of Edward of March (24), the bubble reputation of Warwick (25), two kings (26), the knight’s gambit of Towton (27), the end game (28) and the checkmate that led to the establishment of the Yorkist regime (coda). After this comes four appendices which provide a look at the English peerage by date of creation and alphabetical, archbishops and bishops in England, and the Beauchamp inheritance, after which there is a list of works consulted, acknowledgements, image credits, and an index.

One of the things that this book does particularly well is to discuss the context of the Wars of the Roses in the combination of the humiliation of the English in their defeat in France as well as the failures of the rulership to provide good government, thus alienating a large portion of elites, many of whom had contrasting goals and ambitions themselves. Unfortunately, the author shows that the ambitions of many of the nobles was against good government that would have allowed for a sustainable royal budget, which hindered the support that was given to Richard of York in his attempts to be Lord Protector of England for life. Also if interest is the way that the author discusses the English Way of War and a supposed preference for decisive battle that was not shared by many continental Europeans who had a fondness for positional warfare that simply was not to be found in England’s wars despite the large amount of castles that could be found. This book certainly qualifies as a war and society book in such a way that it talks about a familiar era of history but in a way that brings to light much that is confusing or unfamiliar, including the importance of personal diplomacy and the limitations of influence of women and churchmen in an age where politics became increasingly bloody and brutal.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, History, Military History and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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