Book Review: “The Castle in the Wars of the Roses” by Dan Spencer

When one thinks about Medieval Europe and buildings, we tend to focus on the luxurious castles with their impenetrable walls. It is a rather glamorous image, but the problem is it is not accurate. Castles were used for defensive measures to protect the kingdom from attacks, either from outsiders or, in some cases, from within. Medieval warfare and castles go hand in hand, but one conflict where we tend to forget that castles play a significant role is in the civil war between the Yorks and the Lancasters, which we refer to today as The Wars of the Roses. Dr. Dan Spencer has scoured the resources that are available to find out the true role of these fortresses, both in England and in Wales, in this complex family drama that threw England into chaos. His research has been compiled in his latest book, “The Castle in the Wars of the Roses”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley for allowing me the opportunity to read this book. I enjoy studying the Wars of the Roses and when I heard that this book was coming out soon, I knew that I wanted to read it.

To understand this transition that castles and the roles they played during this tumultuous time undertook, Spencer, takes us on a journey from the Norman Conquest to the 1450s. It was informative to see how castles transformed to fulfill different roles over distinct periods.

Spencer’s book shares some similarities with previous books that I have read about the Wars of the Roses in the fact that it does highlight the main battles and the main people who were vital in this conflict. However, Spencer’s book dives a bit deeper into the military aspects of the wars to show what makes this conflict so unique. What makes the Wars of the Roses so fascinating is that, compared to other famous medieval wars, castles were not the central focus for battles. Instead, castles during this period were used for garrisons, headquarters for military commanders, and as tools to show political favor for whoever was on the throne.

The true strength of this particular book is Spencer’s meticulous research and his scrupulous attention to detail. He was able to combine narrative, administrative, financial, military, and architectural records to create an illuminating manuscript that gives an extra layer of depth to the Wars of the Roses. It did take me a while to get used to all of the minor characters and the castles that I had never heard of before, but once I did, it was absorbing. We tend to focus on the major characters during the 15th century, but they would not be as legendary as they are today without the help of countless men who have been forgotten for centuries. The one problem that I did have with this book is a minor issue and that was when he said Henry VII married Elizabeth Woodville, not Elizabeth of York.

Overall, I found this book extremely enlightening. I thought that I knew quite a bit about the Wars of the Roses, but Spencer was able to surprise me with the amount of new information that he included in this tome. It opened a new aspect of this conflict that I never considered before. If you are someone who enjoys studying the Wars of the Roses and medieval castles, “The Castle in the Wars of the Roses” by Dan Spencer is a book that you should include in your collection.

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