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Carpe Librum

Reviews and bookish conversation with author Samantha Wilcoxson.

If I am lost, you will find me in medieval England.

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Review: The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones

The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors - Dan Jones

As with his earlier volume, The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England, Jones has developed narrative nonfiction covering a complicated era of history and made it a pleasure to read. He clearly establishes that the Wars of the Roses were about so much more than who had the strongest royal blood.

 

When Henry Bolingbroke determined to steal his cousin's crown in 1399, he could have had no inkling of the future that he was setting into motion. By showing that the throne of England was up for grabs to whoever was strong enough to take it, he put the Plantagenet dynasty on a collision course that would decimate the family, leaving the unexpected Tudors in control.

 

That was quite a rise for the grandson of Owen Tudor who, due to his Welsh blood, had not even been allowed to own land and was imprisoned for daring to marry the widowed dowager queen Catherine. Henry Tudor becoming king had to be the last thing on anyone's mind - except maybe his mother's.

 

Jones carefully unravels the complex political maneuverings that resulted in the end of the mighty Plantagenets in favor of a minor noble of mixed Welsh, French, and English blood. Much time is spent on analyzing the motivations of Richard, duke of York. Far from the characterizations many have painted of him, Richard Plantagenet did not immediately set out to make himself king.

 

By refusing to be a king, Henry VI ensured that a more suitable cousin of royal blood would take over, just like his grandfather had done. By looking at families, politics, and foreign policy over the course of decades, Jones demonstrates how things slowly, yet completely, fell apart.

 

Some readers will be disappointed that the author takes a traditional view on the topics of Richard III and the later Yorkist pretenders Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck. He states that Richard killed his nephews after usurping the crown, taking only about a paragraph to give voice to other theories. In the same way, there is no evaluation of the supposed Edward VI and Richard IV potentially being true sons of York (other than a later discussion of Richard de la Pole).

 

Since this book covered such an extensive piece of history, I found that it was appropriate to not delve to deeply into these controversial issues, but other readers may feel differently. In the same way, Jones never puts forth any serious doubt that Prince Edward of Lancaster was indeed the son of Henry VI.

 

I applaud Jones for making complicated history accessible to the amateur historian. While this installment may be somewhat more complex than its predecessor, I still found it quite easy to read, at times capturing events in novel-like fashion. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a greater understanding of the Wars of the Roses.

 

Thank you to NetGalley and Viking Publishing for my copy of this book. Opinions are my own.