Dan Jones seems to have perfected the art of story-telling. This is a seriously good work. Mixing exciting story-telling with actual scholarship, Jones has managed to re-create the mayhem that emerged in England as a result of Henry VI’s ineffectual rule. Jones builds the story convincingly, managing to bring the multitude of characters to life and explaining their motivations, without getting lost in the detail, especially in a conflict that was often centred on complex genealogies, petered by a multitude number of Henrys, Edwards and Richards.
Jones challenges the idea that the Wars of the Roses was some great Tudor triumph. That Henry VII in defeating Richard III and then marrying Edward IV’s daughter Elizabeth of York, united the two warring factions of England, the House of Lancaster and the House of York, whose rivalry had wrought widespread desolation, and brought peace to a broken realm.
Jones claims the Wars of the Roses came about as a result of a decline in royal authority because of Henry VI’s inability to rule, augmented by the loss of all of England’s French territories. With Henry virtually a puppet for whomever was in control of him, the realm descended into riotous frustration at the royal government’s porous finances and fear of a French invasion. From this Richard Duke of York, Henry’s cousin, would stake his claim, first as protector of the realm and then more directly for the throne itself. This would lead to several brutal battles, the worst at Towton where up to 100,000 men met in battle. If there is one criticism I have of this book, and perhaps this is no fault of Jones himself, it could have done with a deeper appraisal of Henry VI.
After Towton, the crown passes from the House of Lancaster to the House of York and stabilises under Edward IV, but after Edward’s untimely death, his brother Richard III in quite an extraordinary moment seizes the crown for himself from his nephew, Edward V, and has he and his younger brother murdered in the Tower. This action, coupled with Richard’s paranoia, encourages Henry Tudor, Henry VI’s half brother, to invade England in 1485. He builds a strong army and at the Battle of Bosworth, Richard is slain and Henry becomes king.
The deaths do not end there however. Henry VII and even Henry VIII find themselves having to defend their claim to the throne from real and imagined threats, until 1525, when there was simply no body left to threaten them.
There are several revelations I found enlightening, especially with regards to the Tudors. The Tudors are Welsh, and found themselves close to royal power through the rather extraordinary life of Owain ap Muredudd ap Tudur (ap being Welsh for son of) or as we know him now, Owen Tudor. Owen manages to marry the dowager Queen, Henry V’s widow, Catherine of Valois. Together they have two sons, Edmund and Jasper. Henry VII was Edmund’s eldest son. It is a remarkable rise for a Welsh family, at a time when the Welsh were considered second class citizens.
This is a brilliant book.