Thursday, March 1, 2018

Book 118: The Wars of the Roses

"From 1399 to 1499 the crown became the object of feuds, wars, and conspiracies, not because of a dearth of heirs, but because there were too many powerful magnates with a claim to the throne. During this period a new and disturbing element became involved in determining the royal succession: the prevalence of might over right. This brought a new awareness of the lack of statute law governing the succession and a debate as to whether the rights of a senior heir general, with a claim transmitted through a female, could take precedence over the rights of a junior heir male. But in the final analysis strength and success were what counted: an effective ruler was more likely to remain on the throne, however dubious his title. Weak or tyrannical rulers met with disaster."

Dates read: January 14-18, 2017

Rating: 7/10

Historical fiction is a genre I tend to enjoy, and one of the reasons why is that it introduces you to worlds you might have only known about through brief mentions in the classroom. I'm coming to enjoy non-fiction history a lot more as I get older, but I still really like my Phillipa Gregory (sorry not sorry). When getting introduced to a historical figure and period, I've usually just turned to old reliable Wikipedia. But even the most in-depth Wikipedia article can only tell you so much.

Ever since I first read her, Alison Weir has become one of my go-to historians. And as much as I enjoy the soap opera-esque The Cousin's War series (which I've read the first three of so far), Gregory is a fiction writer, and I know better than to trust her to teach me history. While I'd always been aware of the so-called Wars of the Roses in British history (I knew it was the Yorks and the Lancasters and it finally ended for good when the two houses intermarried and formed the House of Tudor), it doesn't tend to be taught in American schools. Which is why it's perfect that Weir has a whole book just about that period in English history: The Wars of the Roses.

It's a confusing story, to be sure: it seems like virtually every man in it is named Edward, Richard, or Henry, and they're all related to each other, besides. But Weir does her best to distinguish each of them, and she traces the conflicts not just from the point that they formally began, but from the point where they are rooted. The fighting doesn't get started until about halfway through, but it would be well nigh impossible to understand without all the preamble. She sets her stage carefully, and, much to my relief, when the fighting begins, it doesn't turn into a straight blow-by-blow battle narrative. I find descriptions of war maneuvers to be boring beyond measure, but Weir tells us enough to give us a sense of the battles but not make us feel like we're sitting through a military history lecture.

As always in Weir's work, it's well-sourced (she uses sources contemporary to the events being described, and traces language use back to ensure that she's giving the proper context to what was being reported) and well-written, with a definite sense of narrative and not just fact-dumping. One minor quibble, though, with this book is that it doesn't quite see the Wars through to what I thought to be their end: the ascension of Henry VII and his marriage to Princess Elizabeth of York. While I was hoping to get a bit more information about the end stages of the Wars, I definitely enjoyed getting Weir's take on the period she covered, and would recommend the book to others curious about this period of English history.

One year ago, I was reading: A Leg To Stand On

Two years ago, I was reading: Without You, There Is No Us

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