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.

Book Review: “Edward IV and the Wars of the Roses” by David Santiuste

11455551The romanticized conflict that was known as the Wars of the Roses had numerous colorful figures. From the sleeping king, Henry VI and his strong wife Margaret of Anjou to the cunning Kingmaker Warwick and the hotly debated figure Richard III, these men and women made this conflict rather fascinating. However, there was one man who would truly define this era in English history, Edward IV. He was a son of Richard duke of York who fought to avenge his father’s death and the man who would marry a woman, Elizabeth Woodville, who he loved instead of allying himself with a European power. These are elements of his story that most people know, but he was first and foremost an effective general, which is a side that is rarely explored when examining his life. David Santiuste decided to explore this vital part of Edward’s life in his book, “Edward IV and the Wars of the Roses”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. I have always been fascinated by this period in history, but I have not read a lot of books about Edward IV so I really wanted to read this one.

This book is not a traditional biography about Edward IV, but rather it is a study on the military leadership of the king. Santiuste takes the time to explain how the Wars of the Roses started to give a foundation for readers who are not quite familiar with the actual conflict. He also explores how armies were formed during this time as well as what weapons and types of equipment that a typical soldier would use on a field of combat.

Unlike the other kings who ruled during the Wars of the Roses, Henry VI and Richard III respectively, Edward IV never lost a battle in England. He could easily be compared to Edward III and Henry V as a warrior king, however, he was never able to win a victory overseas, even though he did try. Santiuste explores the sources of the time and the military strategies that Edward used in each of the battles that he fought in, especially the battles of Towton, Barnet, and Tewkesbury, to give the reader a better understanding of why the Yorkists won these battles. It is truly the re-examination of these sources that is the bread and butter of this new study of the warrior king. By doing a historiographical study of the sources, Santiuste is able to explore their validity which gives us a better understanding of the truth of Edward’s relationships and his military prowess.

What I found really interesting in this book was Santiuste’s examination of the relationship between Edward IV and the Earl of Warwick. It was a vital, if not tumultuous and complex, relationship between these two men that turned from friends to deadly enemies. Another intriguing aspect of this book was exploring Edward IV’s relationships with those who lived in other European countries, especially those who he interacted while he was in exile in the Netherlands. These relationships helped transform Edward IV from a regular warrior to a legendary warrior king.

Overall, I found this study by Santiuste enjoyable and thought-provoking. It was relatively easy to understand and it offered a fresh perspective to this king and this conflict. If you want to learn more about the Wars of the Roses and the enigmatic King Edward IV, I would highly recommend you read, “Edward IV and the Wars of the Roses” by David Santiuste.