Book Review: “The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors” by Dan Jones

24611635._SY475_England throughout the centuries has known internal strife with civil wars to determine who had the right to rule the island nation. None more so than in the fifteenth century when a tug of war for the English crown broke out. Today, we call this time period “The Wars of the Roses”, but what was it all about? Who were the main figures during this time? What were the crucial battles that defined these wars? How did the Plantagenet Dynasty fall and how did the Tudors become the new dynasty to rule England? These questions and more are explored in Dan Jones’ book, “The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors”.

I will admit that this was not my first time reading this particular book. I did borrow it from my local library and read it a few years ago, but I enjoyed it so much that I decided that I wanted to add it to my personal collection.

Jones begins his book with the horrific execution of the elderly Margaret Pole, the last white rose of York. Her death had more to do with her Plantagenet blood and the fact that she was the daughter of George, Duke of Clarence, than with any crime she committed. It was the royal blood and who had the right to rule that was at the heart of the Wars of the Roses, as Jones goes on to explain.

Although the true origins of the conflict go back to the sons of Edward III and Philippa of Hainault, Jones chooses to explore the reign of King Henry V, Catherine of Valois, and their son Henry VI. When Henry V tragically died of dysentery, his infant son Henry VI became king of both England and France. This wouldn’t have been a problem if Henry VI was as strong as his father, but alas, as king was very weak, which meant that he needed help to rule his kingdoms. It was the rivals between the powerful men and women behind the crown, like Richard, Duke of York and Margaret of Anjou, which led to the thirty years of civil wars.

What I appreciate about Jones’ book is that his focus is on the people who made the Wars of the Roses so fun to study. From Henry VI and his dynamic wife Margaret of Anjou to the sons of Richard duke of York; Edward IV, Richard III ( Ricardians might not agree with Jones’ assessment of Richard III) and George Duke of Clarence. Then there are figures who stand on their own who worked behind the scenes, like Warwick “The Kingmaker”, Margaret Beaufort, Owen and Jasper Tudor, the Princes in the Tower, and the ultimate victor, Henry VII.

Jones was able to weave the stories of these extraordinary people with the bloody battles and the politics that defined the era into this delightful book. It acts as a fantastic introduction to this turbulent time in English history that brought the downfall of the powerful Plantagenets and brought forth the Tudors. Another enjoyable and engaging book by Dan Jones. If you want to begin a study into this time, I highly recommend you read, “The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors”.

Book Review: “Philippa of Hainault: Mother of the English Nation” by Kathryn Warner

43661739In medieval England, the queens were almost as famous, or infamous, as their husbands. In most cases, they came from royal backgrounds and their sons would become kings. That, however, was the case for Philippa of Hainault, the wife of King Edward III. She tends to be forgotten when it comes to discussing her famous husband, her infamous mother-in-law Isabella of France, and her sons whose children would go on to shape English history forever. That is until now. Kathryn Warner has decided to discover the truth about this rather remarkable woman in her latest biography, “Philippa of Hainault: Mother of the English Nation”.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this informative biography. It looked rather intriguing and this was the first time that I have read a book by Kathryn Warner. This was an absolute joy to read.

Warner begins by explaining Philippa of Hainault’s immediate family. As a queen, she had a rather unusual upbringing since she was the daughter of Willem, Count of Hainault and Holland and his wife Jeanne de Valois (whose brothers and sisters would be kings and queens throughout Europe). Philippa’s husband was Edward III, whose parents were King Edward II and Isabella of France (who did not get along at all, especially over the issue of Hugh Despenser). Philippa and Edward III came from rather different backgrounds, but they were married so that Philippa’s father could help Isabella of France with her invasion of England, which resulted in the abdication of her husband and her son becoming the new King of England. An unusual reason to get married, but it actually worked rather well.

Isabella of France and her partner in crime, Roger Mortimer, were hoping that Edward III was going to be like a puppet king, but they were wrong. Edward III did things his own way, wife his beloved wife Philippa by his side. While Edward III was taking care of domestic and foreign issues, Philippa was raising their large family. Their sons and daughters included Edward of Woodstock “The Black Prince”, Isabella of Woodstock, Lionel of Antwerp, John of Gaunt, Edmund of Langley, and Thomas of Woodstock. Although they did have a large family, none of their children would become King or Queen of England; it would be Edward of Woodstock’s son, Edward and Philippa’s grandson, Richard of Bordeaux who would become King Richard II. It was the descendants of Edward and Philippa’s sons and daughters that would go and shape the conflict that would be known as the Wars of the Roses.

Another lasting legacy of Edward III was the beginning of a conflict between England and France that would be known as the Hundred Years’ War. It started when Edward III declared war on Philippa’s maternal uncle King Philip VI of France. Talk about family drama. But family drama was nothing new for Philippa since she was connected to many kings, queens, emperors, and empresses throughout Europe through marriage and there were times where her husband would get into disagreements with her extended family. That was the nature of medieval Europe, but it never affected her relationship with Edward III. Around this time, the Black Death was beginning to leave its mark on Europe, hitting many families including Edward III and Philippa of Hainault’s children.

Kathryn Warner brought Philippa of Hainault into the spotlight that she deserved with a delightful plethora of details combined with an eloquent writing style. Warner does repeat facts in her book, but as someone who is a novice in studying this time period, it was rather useful for me to have her repeat these facts. I enjoyed this book immensely and it really helped me understand her story and the legacy that her family left behind for England and for Europe. If you want a great book about Philippa of Hainault and her family, I highly recommend you read, “Philippa of Hainault: Mother of the English Nation” by Kathryn Warner.

Biography: John of Gaunt

gaunt(Born March 6, 1340- Died March 15, 1399). Son of King Edward III and Philippa of Hainault.  He had three wives, Blanche of Lancaster, Constance of Castile, and Katherine Swynford. He was the 1st Duke of Lancaster, the Duke of Aquitaine, King of Castile, and one of the wealthiest men of his time. His children would become the House of Lancaster, the Beauforts, the monarchs of Portugal and Castile, and the Hapsburgs.

 

John of Gaunt was the third surviving son of Edward III. He wasn’t supposed to be as wealthy or influential as he became but he achieved prestige by marrying well. With his first marriage to Blanche of Lancaster, John of Gaunt was able to become the first Duke of Lancaster. Blanche of Lancaster would die in 1369 and John would marry Constance of Castile in 1371. She was next in line for the throne of Castile and for years John fought for her crown against the Spanish. The problem was that they were also fighting the French as the Hundred Years’ War was just starting.   After his brother Edward The Black Prince’s death in 1376, John took John Wycliffe under his protection as he now had more of a political influence.

When Edward III died, John of Gaunt’s nephew Richard II became king and John was his right hand man. There was a lot of mistrust with the nobility and the common folk which lead to the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, which was quickly and brutally taken care of. John went  back to Castile try to take the throne, but as soon as he left, England almost fell into civil war because of how poorly Richard II ruled. John gave up his claim to the Castilian throne to help bring England back to some stability.

 

He would also help sponsor  Geoffrey Chaucer, who was his brother in law since Chaucer married the sister of John’s third wife and long time mistress, Katherine Swynford. John and Katherine met while he was married to Constance and had 4 children out of wedlock. After they were married in 1396, their children were made legitimate and given the name “Beaufort”. There was one catch, they were not allowed to inherit the throne, although their half- brother Henry IV allowed them to have some royal status. John of Gaunt died  of natural causes on March 15, 1399 with Katherine Swynford by her side. He would later be buried by his first wife, Blanche of Lancaster.

Biography: King Edward III

mw02027(Born November 13, 1312- died June 21, 1377. Reigned from January 1327 until June 21, 1377).Son of Edward II and Isabella of France.Married to Philippa of Hainault. They had 13 children including Edward “The Black Prince”, Edmund Duke of York, and John of Gaunt Duke of Lancaster.

Edward III was the king who started The Hundred Years’ War with France. His sons Edmund Duke of York and John of Gaunt Duke of Lancaster would be the founders of the Houses of York and Lancaster respectfully.

To say the early part of Edward III’s reign was turbulent would be an understatement. His mother Isabella of France and her lover Roger Mortimer had his father Edward II disposed and placed Edward III on the throne at the tender age of 14. A few years later after a terrible campaign in Scotland, Edward III had Mortimer executed.

Edward III had to deal with Scotland and France throughout his entire reign. He overthrew his brother in law David II King of Scotland for Edward Balliol, but it did not last long. Unfortunately before Edward III could really start a war with Scotland, he had to declare a truce with them as France was becoming a bigger headache. While the English were dealing with the Scots, the French had raided English coastal towns because Scotland and France had an alliance. Edward had a claim to the throne of France and so he decided to fight the French for what he believed was rightfully his, starting the Hundred Years’ War. Edward was able to capture Gascony, Calais, and other colonies in France for England.

Edward III modeled his court after that of King Arthur. It was a time that chivalry was becoming popular. Edward III established the Noble Order of the Garter, which is still active today, and his son Edward The Black Prince, was among the first members. However, the prosperous times would not last long as the Black Death of 1348 consumed all of Europe, including England, killing off a third of the population. In 1356, Edward The Black Prince won an important victory against the French at the Battle of Poitiers. The French king and his son were captured and it looked like England had won, but Edward III would sign the Treaty of Brétigny in 1360, which renounced his claim to the French throne, but allowed the English to keep its French territories.

Edward III relied on the military strength of his sons, especially Edward The Black Prince and John of Gaunt. In 1369, Philippa of Hainault died of what seems like dropsy. Edward was distraught and he decided to take a mistress Alice Perrers, who held too much power at court and was banished in 1376. Also in 1376, Edward The Black Prince passed away. Edward III would die the following year from an apparent stroke. He left the throne to his grandson Richard II.

Book Review: “The Wars of the Roses” by Alison Weir

911GmwfEpdLThe Wars of the Roses was a series of wars from 1455 until 1487 for the throne of England. It is traditionally taught that it was between the houses of York and Lancaster, yet there were a lot more players involved than these two families. In fact the conflict started much earlier with the children of Edward III and Philippa of Hainault. The Lancasters were the descendants of John of Gaunt and his wife Blanche of Lancaster while the Yorks were descendants of Edmund of Langley Duke of York. This was a series over the question of who had the strongest claim to the throne. This question and the series of wars that would try to answer it is explored in depth in Alison Weir’s book “The Wars of the Roses”.

Alison Weir explains the struggle of studying this time period and what she is trying to accomplish in her book:

Sources for this period are meagre and often ambiguous, yet much research has been done over the last hundred years to illuminate a little for us what is often described as the twilight world of the fifteenth century. Many misconceptions have been swept away, yet even so the dynastic conflict still confuses many. My aim has been throughout to eliminate that confusion and try to present the story in chronological sequence, clarifying the problems of the royal succession in an age in which no certain rules of inheritance applied. I have also tried to bring the world of the fifteenth century to life by introducing as much contemporary detail as space permits, in order to make the subject relevant to any read, academic or otherwise. Chiefly, however, I have tried to re-tell an astonishing and often grim story of power struggles in high places that involved some of the most charismatic figures in English history. (Weir, xix).

Weir begins her book by explaining  what England in the fifteenth century was like before diving into the history of Edward III and the Plantagenets in the late 1300s. This may seem a little complex since there were many sons of Edward III, but the throne first went to Richard II, but when he was forced to abdicate, the throne went to Henry of Bolingbroke, who became Henry IV. He was the son of John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster. John of Gaunt and his third wife Katherine Swynford had children who would become known as the Beauforts. They would become important later on.

Henry IV’s son would become Henry V who was married to Katherine of Valois. When Henry V died, their son Henry VI became king; he was a baby. His mother would remarry a Welsh man named Owen Tudor and they would have a few children, including Edmund and Jasper Tudor. Henry VI would marry Margaret of Anjou. Richard Earl of Cambridge, the son of Edmund of Langley, would have a son with his wife Anne Mortimer named Richard Plantagenet Duke of York. He would marry the “Rose of Raby” Cecily Neville and they would be the parents of Edward IV, George Duke of Clarence and Richard Duke of Gloucester, later Richard III.

This all may seem a bit complex, but it is important to understand how all of the players in the Wars of the Roses were connected. Henry VI was a weak king who was known for his madness and so someone had to lead the government. Richard Duke of York believed that he should have been Lord Protector, however Margaret of Anjou and her party at court had other ideas. The beginning of this conflict was a battle between court factions, but eventually it escalated rather quickly into a full on rebellion by Richard Duke of York. This was now a battle between the Yorks and the Lancasters. When Richard Duke of York died at the Battle of Wakefield on December 30, 1460, his son Edward took on the Yorkist cause and would become king after the battle of Towton on March 29, 1461, the bloodiest battle on English soil. After Towton, it was a battle between Edward IV and those who supported Henry VI, until 1471 when Edward IV ultimately won, thus ending the conflict between the Yorks and the Lancasters.

Weir chooses to end her book here at 1471 even though the Wars of the Roses will pick back up with the death of Edward IV in 1483 when his brother Richard becomes Richard III. Weir truly brought this time period to life. I have been studying the Wars of the Roses for a few years now and I have to say this book really simplified this complex family struggle in a way that makes sense. I love this book and I have read it several times. If you really want a great book that explains the causes of the Wars of the Roses, I highly recommend this book, “The Wars of the Roses” by Alison Weir. It is a fantastic introduction to this tumultuous time period.