22 April 2009

The Wars of the Roses

I finished The War of the Roses in what seems to have become a minor obsession with Alison Weir's histories and biographies. I decided that it would be better to read myself into the fifteenth century rather than jump straight into The Princes in the Tower. This is a book with a much different feel than the three previous Weirs I read; those all had a single subject, more or less, which gave a very intimate feel whereas The War of the Roses covers a period stretching from the deposition of Richard II to the final Yorkist victory of the War (about 100 years) and is more expansive in scope. There are more people to keep track of, too, what with fathers and sons sharing the same name and title (and you have to remember which title goes with which family). Weir includes a series of family trees in the back so if you get a little lost you can always double-check (I wish these weren't hand drawn, though; since this was a reprint edition the publisher could have had the genealogies re-formatted).

The book does center around the reigns of Henry VI and Edward IV so the most well-described figures surround those two monarchs. Henry comes off as a rather sympathetic character, a man more suited for the church than statesmanship, inheriting the crown by the age of one and raised by a pack of self-aggrandizing magnates who, rather than bringing the York contingent into the court circle, alienated them and set the stage for events to come. Margaret of Anjou, Henry's wife, is not an endearing person, is politically a disaster, and comes off quite mean-tempered and vengeful; I didn't get the feeling there was much to rehabilitate historically in Margaret, as opposed to Isabella, Eleanor, and Katherine, so perhaps Weir didn't bother. It is also a rather chilling book when you think back on all the deaths Weir had to record in the pages, from state-ordered executions and mob lynchings to brutal medieval battles; so many people.

On to The Princes in the Tower.

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