Book Review: “Battle Royal- The Wars of the Roses: 1440-1462” by Hugh Bicheno

519b6FCcEGL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_In recent years, the study of the English conflict known as the “Wars of the Roses” has become rather popular. The Lancasters and the Yorks fighting for the English throne. Only one can be the winner. When we do look at this time period, we tend to focus on the people involved in the battles and the political aspect of the conflict. The battles, how they were fought, and why the conflict started in the first place tend to be pushed to the sideline. That is not the case with this particular book. In Hugh Bicheno’s book, “Battle Royal- The Wars of the Roses: 1440-1462”, the political and military aspects combine with family histories for a comprehensive look into what made this time period so fascinating.

I came across this particular book by browsing the shelves at Barnes and Noble. I saw that it was about the Wars of the Roses, but I was not familiar with the author. I decided to give it a shot and I am so glad I did. This book is a delight and a fantastic resource.

Bicheno starts his book by exploring two extraordinary women whose families would shape the direction that the Wars of the Roses would take; Jacquetta Woodville and Catherine de Valois. Both women married for love and this love would shape who would win the crown of England, as Bicheno explains:

Sometimes love does conquer all: despite having turned their backs on the game of power, Catherine and Jacquetta became the common ancestors of every English monarch since 1485. Before that could happen, all those with a superior claim to the throne had first to wipe each other out. This they did in what was, in essence, a decades-long, murderously sordid dispute over an inheritance within a deeply dysfunctional extended family. It became merciless not despite but because the combatants had so much in common, and projected their own darkest intentions onto each other….it was an extraordinary period in English history. Four of the six kings crowned between 1399 and 1485 were usurpers who killed their predecessors, undermining the concept of divine right as well as the prestige of the ruling class. (Bicheno, 10-11).

Family drama is the center of Bicheno’s book so he spends several chapters laying out the major players and how they were related to one another. This can get a tad bit confusing for those who are not familiar with the story, so Bicheno has included family trees and a list of protagonists and marriages to help readers. I will say that they became very useful for me as I was reading this book and I would highly suggest you use the resources that Bicheno has included in this book for future research. Bicheno also included maps, which corresponded with the different battles that were important between 1440 and 1462, not only in England but in France, Wales, and Scotland as well.

What really impressed me about this book was the amount of detail that Bicheno was able to include and making it understandable for any casual student of the Wars of the Roses, yet engaging enough for a scholar. That is not an easy feat, but Bicheno is able to do it. He uses modern data with extensive research of historical documents, knowledge of medieval military strategies, and interpreting all of this information for modern readers, which included a few nods to a certain popular show(Game of Thrones) that is roughly based off of the events of this time period.

Hugh Bicheno breathes new life into the study of the Wars of the Roses. I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I first started reading this book, but I am extremely glad I did. Even if you think you know tons about the Wars of the Roses, this book will surprise you with new information and make you question your previous knowledge about the battles in the first part of this tumultuous time. If you have an interest in the Wars of the Roses and understanding how it occurred from a military and a political point of view, I highly suggest you read Hugh Bicheno’s book, “Battle Royal- The Wars of the Roses: 1440-1462”. It is an eye-opening, riveting reading experience.

Favorite Couples from the Wars of the Roses and the Tudor Dynasty

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about the couples that we all enjoy studying from the Wars of the Roses and the Tudor Dynasty. These are couples that went through a lot together and stayed together. That is why people like Henry VIII will not be on this list since we all know his marriage track record. This is a list combining your favorites, which you stated as answers to a question I posted on the Facebook page, as well as some of my own. These couples are in chronological order, not by favorites, and the first two couples are before the time that we would call “Wars of the Roses” but they are still important. I did have to narrow down this list quite a bit so if you don’t see a couple that is on this list, let’s discuss it.  I hope you enjoy!

1.) John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford

200px-johnofgauntJohn of Gaunt, the son of King Edward III and one of the wealthiest men in Europe, and Katherine Swynford, the woman who was the governess to John’s children. It seems like an unlikely match, but these two made it work. Of course, when these two lovebirds first met, they were both married to other people, John of Gaunt to Blanche of Lancaster and Katherine to Hugh Swynford. When both Blanche and Hugh died, rumors began to fly that John and Katherine were having an affair. John decided to quite these rumors by marrying a second time, to Constance of Castile. This marriage was one for political gains, not of love. His hope for marrying Constance was to become King of Castile, similar to how he became the Duke of Lancaster after marrying Blanche of Lancaster, but it ended up being a disaster. After his father’s death, John’s nephew Richard II became king and John gave up his claim to the throne of Castile. While he was married to Constance, John began to see Katherine and they had 4 children out of wedlock. Constance would die in 1394.  John would marry Katherine in 1396 and their children would be given the name “Beaufort”. Their children would be considered legitimate, but they could not inherit the throne. John would die 3 years later in 1399 and would be buried beside his first wife Blanche. John and Katherine’s love for one another lasted decades.

2.) Owen Tudor and Catherine of Valois

Catherine_of_France.jpgThe Dowager Queen of England marrying a man who worked in her own household. That is the gist of the love story of Owen Tudor and Catherine of Valois. Catherine of Valois was married to King Henry V of England and in return, under the Treaty of Troyes, Henry V and his descendants became kings of both England and France. A really great deal, except Henry V, died of dysentery a few months after his son and heir Henry VI was born. Catherine was 21 when she became the Dowager Queen and there was a real concern that she would marry again so Parliament passed a bill that stated that if Catherine wanted to remarry, she had to ask Parliament’s permission to do so. Well, she didn’t listen to this bill at all. She met and fell in love with a Welshman named Owen Tudor, who worked for her as either as the keeper of her household or her wardrobe.  They would marry sometime between 1428 and 1429. Later, in May 1432, Owen was granted the same rights as an Englishman.

To say this match was totally taboo would be an understatement, but for them, it worked. Catherine and Owen were willing to risk everything for their love. They would have anywhere between 4 to 6 children Two of their children would become famous during the Wars of the Roses, Jasper and Edmund Tudor. Catherine would die on January 3, 1437, and would be buried beside her first husband Henry V.   After Catherine’s death, Jasper and Edmund would receive titles and meet their half-brother King Henry VI, but Owen would face jail time. Owen would later be captured and executed after the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross on February 2, 1461.

3.) Richard Woodville and Jacquetta of Luxembourg

Richard Woodville and Jacquetta of Luxembourg. Another story of a wealthy woman marrying a man well below her station for love. Jacquetta was born in France during the height of the Hundred Years War. Her first husband was the brother of King Henry V, John of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Bedford and they were married in April 1433. Their marriage was controversial because John’s first wife Anne died only a few months before they were married. The couple moved back to England and in a matter of weeks, Jacquetta was given the rights of an English woman. In 1434, she was made a member of the Order of the Garter, a huge honor. Their marriage would not last long as John would die a year later in France.

Jacquetta was a widow and Henry VI wanted her sent back to England so he sent  Sir Richard Woodville, a knight, to bring Jacquetta back. This backfired spectacularly as Jacquetta and Richard fell in love and got married in secret while on their way back to England (just like another couple on this list). Henry VI was furious and fined the couple 1000 pounds, but on March 23, 1437, Parliament recognized their marriage as valid. Jacquetta and Richard were happily married and had 14 children, including Elizabeth Woodville, who would become Queen of England.  Jacquetta and Richard were with Margaret of Anjou as she made her way to England and to her marriage to Henry VI and the birth of their son. They were together when their daughter, Elizabeth Woodville, married her first husband and he died in battle when she met and married Edward IV, and Jacquetta was there for the birth of her first granddaughter Elizabeth of York. Jacquetta’s world came crashing down when Richard and their son John were captured and executed on August 12, 1469, after the Battle of Edgecote Moor. Jacquetta was arrested by Warwick and charged with witchcraft, but the charges were dropped. Jacquetta would die only a few years after Richard, on May 30, 1472. Jacquetta and Richard’s marriage lasted through decades and hardships, but it was full of love and a large family, the Woodvilles, that would change English politics forever.

4.) Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville

edbe20edb2d4ed4682369c7eb997b6dfKing Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, the widow of a soldier and a mother of two young boys. In a way, their love story is like a Cinderella story. Elizabeth Woodville was the eldest daughter of Richard and Jacquetta Woodville. She was a maid of honor for Margaret of Anjou and because of her high position at court, her parents arranged a marriage for her to Sir John Grey of Groby in 1452. The couple would have two sons, Thomas, and Richard Woodville. Their marriage would not last long as Sir John Grey was killed at the Second Battle of St. Albans in 1461.

The story of how Edward IV met Elizabeth is often embellished. The story goes that Edward IV met Elizabeth under an oak tree at her family home at Grafton Regis in Northamptonshire, where she pleaded with Edward to help her get an inheritance for her two sons. It is very unlikely that they met underneath this oak tree, but they did fall in love and would eventually get married in May 1464. Edward then told his Parliament, including the man who helped him the most Warwick “the Kingmaker”,  that he couldn’t marry any of the women that they suggested because he was already married. Elizabeth’s large family was given advantageous marriages and titles that helped shaped English politics, much to the chagrin of those who were already in power. Elizabeth was crowned Queen consort on May 16, 1465, and the following year, she gave birth to the couple’s first child, Elizabeth of York.

Things went downhill as politics took their marriage for a rollercoaster ride. Warwick decided that he was going to switch from York to Lancaster and placed Henry VI back on the throne, sending Edward IV into exile. Elizabeth Woodville was forced to seek sanctuary where she gave birth to their first son, the future Edward V. Edward IV would come back with a vengeance and defeated Warwick, reclaiming his crown, and found his wife and children in sanctuary. The family was reunited and happy. Their second son, Richard Duke of York, was married to Anne of Mowbray and they had arranged a marriage for their eldest daughter Elizabeth of York to the Dauphin of France. Elizabeth Woodville’s world came crashing down when her beloved husband, Edward IV, died on April 9, 1483. The crown passed to their young son Edward V, but before he was crowned king, Edward and his brother Richard were sent to the Tower of London, never to be seen again.

Elizabeth would arrange a marriage between her daughter Elizabeth of York, with the son of Margaret Beaufort, Henry Tudor. On August 22, 1485, Henry Tudor was able to defeat Richard III and become King Henry VII. He would marry Elizabeth of York and Elizabeth Woodville would be present for the birth of her grandchildren Arthur, Henry, Mary, and Margaret. Elizabeth Woodville would die less than a decade after Edward IV, on June 8, 1492. Edward and Elizabeth are buried by each other in St. George Chapel in Windsor Castle. Their love was something of legends and even though people did not agree with their union, they made each other stronger.  

5.) Henry VII and Elizabeth of York

89947Henry Tudor, later Henry VII, and Elizabeth of York. The couple that united the houses of York and Lancaster and started the Tudor Dynasty. This is the only couple on this list that was arranged to be married to each other, but they made it work extremely well. Henry Tudor was the son of Margaret Beaufort and Edmund Tudor who would go into hiding after the Yorkist believed he would be the one who could bring back the Lancasterian cause in the Wars of the Roses. After Edward IV died, Edward V and Richard Duke of York were sent to the Tower never to be seen again, and Richard III became king. Elizabeth Woodville and the Yorkists loyal to her did not like Richard III and knew something had to be done in order to end his reign. In order to bring an end to the Wars of the Roses, Elizabeth Woodville and Margaret Beaufort agreed that their children, Elizabeth of York and Henry Tudor, would be married if Henry could invade England successfully and overthrow Richard III. Henry and his uncle Jasper tried to invade in October 1483, but it failed. In December 1483, Henry made an oath in Rennes, France to marry Elizabeth of York.

Finally, in August 1485, Henry and Jasper Tudor made their way back to England, and it worked. They met against Richard III’s forces at the Battle of Bosworth Field on August 22, 1485, where with sheer luck, and the forces of Lord Stanley ( Henry’s stepfather), Henry was able to defeat Richard and become King Henry VII. Henry kept his promise and married Elizabeth of York the following year, on January 18, 1486. A few months later, on September 20, 1486, Henry and Elizabeth welcomed their firstborn son, Arthur Prince of Wales. They would have more children including Henry Tudor (future Henry VIII), Mary and Margaret Tudor. Things started off relatively stable for the first few months of Henry’s reign, but that would change in 1487.

1487 was the year that a young boy named Lambert Simnel claimed to be the earl of Warwick, Elizabeth’s cousin. This was a lie and Henry met Lambert Simnel at the Battle of Stoke Field on June 16, 1487, where Lambert was defeated in the last battle of the Wars of the Roses. Lambert would be a first in a long line of pretenders, trying to usurp the throne from Henry. One of the biggest pretenders was Perkin Warbeck, who claimed to be Richard Duke of York, Elizabeth’s younger brother. This may have been a recipe for a disaster between Henry and Elizabeth, but it actually strengthened their relationship. Elizabeth believed that Perkin Warbeck was not her brother. Perkin Warbeck was hanged at Tyburn on November 23, 1499.

The last few years of Henry and Elizabeth’s marriage was filled with joy and heartache. The couple had arranged advantageous marriages for their children Arthur and Margaret. Margaret was arranged to be married to King James IV of Scotland, to unite England and Scotland under the Treaty of Perpetual Peace.  Arthur was married to Catherine of Aragon, the daughter of Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon, on November 14, 1501, uniting Spain and England. The following year, on April 2, 1502, Arthur died unexpectantly, leaving Elizabeth to console her husband and to remind him that they were still young and that they could still have more children. Elizabeth did give birth to a daughter Katherine on February 2, 1503, but she would not live long. Elizabeth of York would die on February 11, 1503, leaving Henry alone in his grief. He never married again and when Henry VII died a few later on April 21, 1509, he wished to be buried next to his beloved wife. Henry and Elizabeth’s marriage may have been arranged, but they developed a deep love for one another that endure many hardships and created the Tudor Dynasty.

6.) Charles Brandon and Mary Tudor

Mary_Tudor_and_Charles_BrandonCharles Brandon and Mary Tudor. A Tudor knight who fell in love with the dowager Queen of France and the sister of the King of England. Their love story is one for the ages. Mary Tudor was the youngest daughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York and she was very close to her brother Henry VIII. She was known as the most beautiful princess in Europe. Her first marriage was to the King of France, Louis XII, who was much older than she was and had been married two times before. Their marriage did not last three months as King Louis XII died and they did not have any children. The new King of France, Francis I, tried to arrange a new marriage for Mary, but Henry VIII sent an envoy to collect his sister, which included the charming knight, Charles Brandon.

Charles and Mary probably knew each other their entire life since Charles was a close friend of Henry VIII. While they were on their way to England, the couple decided to get married in secret on March 3, 1515, and to tell Henry later. Henry was angry, at first, and fined the couple 24,000 pounds and the remainder of Mary’s dowry. It was an enormous amount, but the couple took it in stride and their marriage was recognized later that year with an official ceremony on May 13, 1515. This was not Charles’ first marriage as he was married two times before and had two daughters by his first marriage, Anne and Mary. Mary accepted both daughters and raised them along with her four children that she had with Charles. The couple would make their opinion about politics clear to Henry, especially when it came to Henry’s divorce of Catherine of Aragon in order to marry Anne Boleyn, which they were not thrilled with the idea.

Mary, who suffered from illnesses all of her life, died on June 25, 1533. Charles would marry again, this time to his ward Catherine Willoughby who would give him two sons. Charles died on August 22, 1545. Although both married other people before they married each other, one can sense how much Charles and Mary truly loved one another.

Who are your favorite couples from the Wars of the Roses or the Tudor Dynasty?

 

Book Review: “The Lady of the Rivers” by Philippa Gregory

10796011The Wars of the Roses was a time full of fascinating people, both men, and women. They chose to live their lives to the best of their abilities. They had to decide who they were loyal to and, in some circumstances, they had to switch sides in order to survive. They had to chose to take destiny in their own hands, even if the decisions they had to make were controversial to others. This would perfectly describe the protagonist of Philippa Gregory’s book, “The Lady of the Rivers”. This is the story of Jacquetta Woodville, the mother of Elizabeth Woodville and a woman who took destiny into her own hands

Gregory is a great historical fiction author, however, in this book, she has taken some historical facts and has twisted them slightly. In this book, Gregory takes the story that since Jacquetta’s family claimed to be descendants of the water witch Melusina, Jacquetta was a witch herself. Although Jacquetta was accused of being a witch later in her life, she was cleared of these charges.  There were parts early in the book where Jacquetta used her skills to try and make sense of the future, but for one of the biggest decisions in her life, Gregory chose a different route for Jacquetta. After the death of her first husband, Jacquetta could have waited for the king to choose another husband for her or she could make her own path and marry the man she loved.

I am a woman of earth now, not a girl of water. I am not a maid, I am a lover. I am not interested in foreseeing; I will make my own future, not predict it. I don’t need a charm to tell me what I hope will happen. I throw the gold charm which is like a wedding ring up in the air and catch it before it falls. This is my choice. I don’t need magic to reveal my desire. The enchantment is already done: I am in love; I am swore to a man of the earth; I am not going to give this man up. All I have to do is consider how we can stay together. (Gregory, 107).

Gregory begins her book with Jacquetta meeting and becoming friends with Joan of Arc before she died. Shortly afterward, Jacquetta is married to John Duke of Bedford, who chooses to marry her solely because she was a descendant of Melusina. According to Gregory’s book, he wanted to marry her to help with his pursuits in alchemy. The addition of alchemy in the story adds an element of magic and mystery to an already compelling read. Jacquetta, in her first marriage, is more of a pawn to help her husband than a wife.

Jacquetta’s life would radically turn upside down when she fell in love with a man who was well below her station, Sir Richard Woodville. It was their loving marriage and their large family which kept Jacquetta going, even when England has been torn asunder by civil war. Jacquetta befriends Margaret of Anjou and helps her as she adjusts to life in England and as her husband, King Henry VI falls ill.

Before I read this book years ago, I really didn’t know much about Jacquetta Woodville, but now I really enjoy studying about the Woodvilles. Jacquetta Woodville lived a rather remarkable life. Even though Gregory takes some liberties with the facts about her life, what Gregory does well is bring Jacquetta’s story into the spotlight. Jacquetta may not be as famous as her daughter, Elizabeth Woodville, but her life was full of twists and turns. Like any good historical fiction book, this particular book’s intent was to bring attention to Jacquetta Woodville’s life and make the reader aware of this amazing woman. If you want an engaging historical fiction read about the matriarch of the Woodvilles, I highly recommend you read, “The Lady of the Rivers” by Philippa Gregory.