Guest Post: “Cecily Neville, Duchess of York: Inspiration for The Queen’s Rival” by Anne O’ Brien

The Queen's RivalToday, I am pleased to welcome Anne O’Brien to my blog to discuss the inspiration for her latest novel, The Queen’s Rival. I would like to thank Anne O’Brien and The Coffee Pot Book Club for allowing me to be part of this blog tour. 

In past years I have written about a variety of medieval women, either royal or attached to the Court.  I enjoy investigating how these women played a role in the political manoeuvrings of their day.  Although we so rarely hear the voices of these women, since they lived in a man’s world and the history was invariably written by men, their involvement was often considerable and they deserve our interest.

Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, is one of the most appealing women of English medieval history, worthy of celebration.  Most medieval women verge towards the invisible, a two-dimensional entity without character or apparent influence; Cecily Neville is an exception.  The Wars of the Roses were both vast in scope and complex in the range of family connections.  So was Cecily’s own Neville family with its royal blood inherited through their mother Joan, Countess of Westmoreland, daughter of John of Gaunt. Cecily demanded in a regal fashion that she be allowed to speak for herself.  It was a challenge that lured me to become involved; I accepted the challenge and wrote about her. 

Without a doubt, Cecily was a remarkable woman, living for eighty years through five reigns, interacting with a vast dramatis personae of famous, infamous, and influential characters in these tumultuous years.  She was the mother of two kings, Edward IV and Richard III, and  grandmother to a Queen Consort, Elizabeth of York, who stepped across the divide between York and Lancaster and married King Henry VII.

On the surface, this would seem to be a life bringing Cecily immense satisfaction and personal achievement, but it was also a life of tragedy.  Cecily outlived all but two of her twelve children, both daughters, some dying in infancy, others meeting terrible ends.  George, Duke of Clarence, was executed for treason, on the orders of his brother King Edward, in the Tower of London.  Richard III died on the battlefield at Bosworth; Edmund of Rutland met his end in an act of revenge after the Battle of Wakefield.  What heartbreak this must have inflicted on her, added to the death of her husband, Richard, Duke of York, at Wakefield.

Cecily’s life also witnessed its share of scandal.  The rumour of her liaison with the common archer Blaybourne, thus prompting the blot of illegitimacy against King  Edward IV, was too valuable a rumour to ignore for those such as the Earl of Warwick and Duke of Clarence who would willingly depose King Edward.  Was the scandal true?  Unlikely, but the widespread gossip must be faced.  How difficult for a woman of Cecily’s pride to accept that her own family would dishonour her reputation.

Would such tragedy obliterate the strength of Cecily’s character?  Cecily worked tirelessly for the House of York. She stood by her children as far as it was possible, even George of Clarence, trying to bring him back into the Yorkist fold.  In Ludlow, abandoned by her husband, Cecily faced a leaderless Lancastrian army and howling mob intent on plundering the town. She proved to be a woman of great courage.  As old age approached, she devoted herself to a life of duty and formidable piety almost worthy of the life of a nun, a life of loyalty to the family she had always supported.

Cecily, Duchess of York, was the doyenne of late medieval history, the Queen who was never crowned.  It would have been unforgivable of me to leave her out of my pantheon of medieval ‘heroines’. 

The Queen's Rival final version(Blurb)

England, 1459. 

One family united by blood. Torn apart by war…

The Wars of the Roses storm through the country, and Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, plots to topple the weak-minded King Henry VI from the throne.

But when the Yorkists are defeated at the Battle of Ludford Bridge, Cecily’s family flee and abandons her to face a marauding Lancastrian army on her own.

Stripped of her lands and imprisoned in Tonbridge Castle, the Duchess begins to spin a web of deceit. One that will eventually lead to treason, to the fall of King Henry VI, and to her eldest son being crowned King Edward IV.

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Anne O'Brien promo picAuthor Bio

Anne O’Brien

Sunday Times Bestselling author Anne O’Brien was born in West Yorkshire. After gaining a BA Honours degree in History at Manchester University and a Master’s in Education at Hull, she lived in East Yorkshire for many years as a teacher of history.

Today she has sold over 700,000 copies of her books medieval history novels in the UK and internationally. She lives with her husband in an eighteenth-century timber-framed cottage in the depths of the Welsh Marches in Herefordshire. The area provides endless inspiration for her novels which breathe life into the forgotten women of medieval history.

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Book Review: “Richard III in the North” by M.J. Trow

If you have studied the Wars of the Roses, you are obviously very familiar with the infamous last Plantagenet King of England, Richard III. He is known for many things, but the most notorious thing that he is associated with is the murder of the Princes in the Tower, his nephews. However, we cannot be certain that he committed this crime or if a crime was committed in the first place. These rumors swirled around London and Southern England where Richard III was not popular. It was a different story in Northern England, where he was much beloved. In M.J. Trow’s latest book, “Richard III in the North”, he tries to uncover the true story of Richard III by looking at his life while he was living in the North. Was he really the monster that literature has portrayed him as or do we have a case of misunderstanding a historical figure?

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. I am by no means a Ricardian, but I do enjoy nonfiction books about a historical figure that gives a new twist to their story, which this book does rather well.

To understand why Richard was positioned in the North and why it was crucial, Trow takes readers on a journey through the past. Trow first explores the origins of Richard Duke of York and Cecily Neville, Richard III’s father, and mother, which was very interesting to read. As someone familiar with these characters, it was easy for me to follow the genealogy, but I know that there would be some readers who would have found family trees helpful in this particular section. At the start of each chapter, Trow has decided to include the coat of arms of a different historical figure that made an impact in Richard’s life, which I thought was an elegant touch.

Obviously, since Richard III lived in the time that we refer to as the Wars of the Roses, Trow spends quite a bit of time discussing major battles and causes of the conflict. What I really appreciated is when Trow went into details about major battles that are often overlooked, like Wakefield. These battles and these causes led to the decision by Richard’s brother King Edward IV to send Richard to the north to quell the violence that might have been caused by allies of the Lancastrians.

It is the North that Trow gives us as readers a different view of the much-maligned man. It was here that Richard was beloved and that he spent much of his adult life. He creates a different world that is hostile to Southerns, yet Richard is able to make a cordial relationship that would turn into him being adored by the people. Trow includes vivid descriptions of castles that were associated with and what life was like for him and his immediate family. It was a unique side of the infamous figure that made him more life-like instead of how he is portrayed in literature.

This may seem like yet another book about Richard III, but I think Trow’s focus on the relationship between the last Plantagenet king and the North makes this stand out from all of the rest. Trow has a very casual writing style but you can tell he has obviously done his research. I think if you are a Ricardian or if you want to look at a new aspect of the Wars of the Roses, I would recommend you read, “Richard III in the North” by M.J. Trow.

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.

Book Review: “Lost Heirs of the Medieval Crown: The Kings and Queens Who Never Were” by J.F. Andrews

52645565._SX318_SY475_In history, we tend to focus on those who were crowned kings and queens of different nations. Their strengths and their weaknesses. Their accessions and the legacies that they left behind. With every story of someone who triumphed in gaining the throne, there are tales of those who were close to the throne but were never able to achieve the ultimate goal of ruling a nation. These “lost heirs” fall into two categories; either their names live on in infamy or they are thrown into the dust of the past. Who were these men and women and why did they lose their chances to sit on the throne? These questions are explored in J.F. Andrews’ book, “Lost Heirs of the Medieval Crown: The Kings and Queens Who Never Were”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. The title was what drew me into reading it, since these figures rarely get attention, let alone have an entire book dedicated to their lives. I have never read a book by J.F. Andrews, which is not surprising since it is a pseudonym for a historian who has a Ph.D. in Medieval Studies. I want to know who the historian really is since, in the historical field, it is a rarity to use a pseudonym, but that may just be my own personal curiosity.

Andrews’ book begins with the death of William the Conqueror and extends through the reign of Henry VII. With over 500 years of Medieval English history (with the main focus being on the Plantagenet family), it can get a bit confusing to figure out how everyone is connected, but Andrews provides a simplified family tree at the beginning of each chapter to help the reader out. It is a brilliant move and it also shows how vast Andrews’ knowledge of Medieval England’s royal families truly is.

When we tend to think about those would inherit the throne, we tend to think about the firstborn sons, like Robert Curthose, Henry the Young King, Edward the Black Prince, and Edward V. However, as the reader will learn, they were not the only ones who had a chance at the throne. Men, like Richard duke of York, believed that their claim to the throne was stronger than the person who was king. There were also those who were seen as a threat to the king who sat on the throne because of their lineage. They were all legitimate, as Andrews chose not to include those who were illegitimate.

Another factor that united all of these stories was that they all ended in tragedy. Some died from medical conditions at a young age. Others were either imprisoned, never to be heard from again. Yet the majority died in battle, either fighting for or against the king who sat on the throne at the time. Most of them, except for Richard duke of York, died relatively young, which makes us as readers wonder what their reigns might have been like if they were able to be crowned king or queen respectfully.

Overall, I found this book rather informative. Andrews’ writing is enjoyable and is easy to follow. This book really makes you wonder what if these lost heirs became kings and queens, how different history would have been. If you want to read an intriguing book about some mysterious men and women in history, I highly recommend you read, “Lost Heirs of the Medieval Crown: The Kings and Queens Who Never Were” by J.F. Andrews.

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: “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.

Book Review: “Wars of the Roses: Bloodline” by Conn Iggulden

51nExUGFrkL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_The deaths of the Duke of York, Earl Salisbury and Edmund Earl of Rutland at the Battle of Wakefield at the end of 1460 marked a changing point for how the Wars of the Roses was fought. Now it was not going to be simply a matter of who was going to be the King of England, but it was a war of revenge. What the Lancastrians did not realize at the time was the fact that these deaths would unleash two men who would mark the destruction of the Lancastrian cause; Edward Duke of York, the future King Edward IV, and Richard Neville Earl of Warwick “the Kingmaker”. In the third book of Conn Iggulden’s Wars of the Roses series called “Bloodline”, Iggulden explores the rise of these two dynamic men and how family matters tore the two best friends apart.

After the victory at Wakefield, Margaret of Anjou marched her Lancastrian forces to London, but they were not allowed to enter. The Lancastrians decided to keep marching until they meet the Yorkists at St. Albans for a rematch, on February 17, 1461. The Lancastrians were able to win the battle and regain control of King Henry VI. However, this was a small victory. After the defeat, Edward Duke of York decided to take up the claim to the throne that his father left behind, and declared himself King Edward IV of England. That’s right, there were two kings of England in 1461. Margaret of Anjou and the Lancastrians were not about to give without a fight. They met Edward IV, Warwick and the Yorkists forces outside Towton on March 29, 1461, during a snowstorm. The Battle of Towton is known to be the bloodiest battle on English soil and the way Iggulden described the onslaught is masterful. In the end, the Yorkists are victorious and Edward IV is officially the King of England while Henry VI is held captive in the Tower of London while Margaret of Anjou and her son flee to France for help.

After Towton, Edward IV and Warwick are closer than ever. Warwick wants to do what he can to help support his friend and king so he tries to arrange a marriage between Edward and a French princess, to form an alliance. However, Edward has other ideas and marries Elizabeth Woodville and decides to tell Warwick later. I find it fascinating that Iggulden decided to change how Edward and Elizabeth met as it is quite different from what traditionally is told about how they met, but it works really well. Edward’s brother George Duke of Clarence falls in love with Warwick’s daughter Isabel and wants to marry her.  This is the moment when Edward and Warwick really begin to feud.

Iggulden explains in his Historical Note why he decides to focus on this aspect of their relationship quite a bit:

In the first two books, I have tried to explore the sheer awe felt by some for the person of the king of England. It is the only thing that explains why King Henry remained alive despite being captured by York and held for months at a time. Yet it is also true of human nature that “awe” is less likely when one witnessed a boy growing up and becoming king. No man is a prophet in his own home- and Warwick was sufficiently exasperated with Edward and his wife to throw it all into the air and arrange Edward’s capture and imprisonment. (Iggulden, 402).

It is interesting to read about the relationship between these two friends and how that friendship turned into hatred because Edward decided to marry for love. Iggulden is able to capture the shifting relationships between the main characters extremely well in the third book of this amazing series. The blend of battles, political intrigue and romance is perfect and keeps the reader engaged. This is the fall of the Lancasters and the rise of the Yorks.  If you were a fan of the first two books of the Wars of the Roses series, I highly encourage you to read “Wars of the Roses: Bloodline” by Conn Iggulden.

Book Review: “Wars of the Roses: Trinity” by Conn Iggulden

61793uzwgql._sx324_bo12c2042c2032c200_England is on the brink of civil war. Families with royal blood in their veins are fighting amongst each other as King Henry VI has fallen ill.  Mistrust runs rampant and sacrifices are made in order to gain the throne. This is the England of 1454 and the beginning of the period in English history that we know today as the Wars of the Roses. Families like the Nevilles,  the Percys, and the houses of York, Lancaster, and Tudor would gain fame and infamy during this time. Conn Iggulden decided to explore this tumultuous time after the Jack Cade rebellion, which he explored in his first book “Stormbird”, in the second book of his “Wars of the Roses” series called “Trinity”.

Many who study the Wars of the Roses believe that it started in 1455 with the First Battle of St. Albans. However, Conn Iggulden begins “Trinity” with a conflict between the Percys and the Nevilles, which is known as the Battle of Heworth Moor. Iggulden explains why he chose this point to begin his story in his Historical Note:

The ambush by some seven hundred Percy retainers and servants on the Neville wedding party took place a little earlier than I have it here, in August 1453- around the same time King Henry VI fell into his senseless state. It was a key event among years of low-level fighting between the families as they struggled to control the north and widen their holdings. That attack by Thomas Percy, Baron Egremont, was one of the most brutal actions in that private war, sparked by the marriage of Salisbury’s son to the niece of Ralph Cromwell, a union which placed estates claimed by the Percy family into Neville hands. The ‘Battle of Heworth Moor’ failed in its main aim of slaughtering Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury. I have not included a dozen minor skirmishes, but that feud played a key part in deciding where the Nevilles and the Percys stood in the first battle of St. Albans in 1455- and its outcome. (Iggulden, 463).

The Battle of Heworth Moor is a unique place to start. We are thrust into the middle of the Percy family’s feud with the Nevilles. The plan is to attack the Nevilles during a wedding, but the Percys fail. It would not be a wedding that either family would forget for a long time. The Percy family decides to side with the Lancasters and the King, while the Nevilles side with the Yorkist cause. In the beginning, the Wars of the Roses was nothing but feuds between families to determine who should be taking care of the sick King Henry VI. Iggulden describes Henry VI in a way that shows the King as weak in body but his mind is sharp. When he wakes from his first bout of illness, he dismisses Richard Duke of York from being Lord Protector and reverses everything that  Richard did.

Richard and the Yorkist cause are not upset with the king, but rather those who they believe are responsible for being in control of the king; Queen Margaret of Anjou, the Duke of Somerset and the Nevilles. Anger boils until it bursts at the First Battle of St. Albans in 1455. This battle was so pivotal in the evolution of the conflict that Iggulden goes into great detail to explain how the battle unfolded. The Yorkist cause may have one the “first” battle of the Wars of the Roses, but it ignited a flame inside of Margaret of Anjou to not only protect her son and her husband but to also completely destroy Richard Duke of York. As the story progresses, we see both sides working hard to gain control of the king in a more complex version of “capture the king”.

Conn Iggulden delivers a high action and extremely descriptive sequel to “Stormbird” with “Trinity”. He incorporates beloved characters from the previous novel, like Margaret of Anjou and the charismatic Derry Brewer, with new faces like the Tudors, Thomas Percy Baron Egremont, Warwick, Richard Duke of York and his eldest son Edmund Earl of Rutland. Iggulden transports the reader to this volatile time in English history. This book is so engaging and it keeps the reader wanting more, so he included a side story that is equally entertaining. Once again, Iggulden makes the Wars of the Roses and all of its intrigue come alive. If you were a fan of Conn Iggulden’s first book in the “Wars of the Roses” series “Stormbird”, I strongly encourage you to read “Trinity”.   

Book Review: “Wars of the Roses: Stormbird” by Conn Iggulden

17830079The Wars of the Roses is often remembered for the battles that were fought in England. Bosworth. Towton. Barnet. Tewkesbury. These battles and the names of the men and women like Richard III, Margaret of Anjou, Henry VI, Richard Duke of York, Edward IV and the Tudors are etched into the history of England. However, what started this conflict was not on the battlefield, it was inside the English Court.  The decisions of a few men led to revolts that swept throughout England. So what was life like during this tumultuous time in English history? That is one of the questions that Conn Iggulden wanted to explore in his book series, “Wars of the Roses”. The first book in the series is called “Stormbird” and it explores the time after Henry VI marries Margaret of Anjou as well as Cade’s Rebellion, which wanted to tear England apart.

Conn Iggulden begins his book with the death of Edward III and his sons around his bedside, wondering what would happen to their beloved England. The sons of Edward III would become the patriarchs of some of the most important houses during the Wars of the Roses, York, and Lancaster. The story truly begins 66 years after the death of Edward III and young Henry VI is on the throne. Henry needed a truce with France and it was up to men who he could trust to make sure this happened. One of these men was William de la Pole, Duke of Somerset. The other, at least in “Stormbird”, was Henry VI’s spymaster Derihew “Derry” Brewer. Derry Brewer is a unique and complex character who works in the shadow to make sure that his king and his country are well protected. That includes arranging a marriage between Henry VI and the young Margaret of Anjou.

Margaret is portrayed as a caring and loving wife to Henry VI who will do anything to make sure her husband is taken care of and their young son is strong.  Their marriage seems happy, however, there are those who live outside the royal court who are suffering. With a weak leader and men who help the king lead making things worse,  the common people take it the hardest and they decide to do something about it. Led by a man named Jack Cade, the Cade’s Rebellion decides to march on London to overthrow the government.

In his Author’s Note, Conn Iggulden explains why he decided to focus a lot of his book to the riots and unrest in England:

Historical fiction sometimes involves filling in the gaps and unexplained parts of history. How is it that England could field fifty thousand men for the battle of Towton in 1461, but was able to send only four thousand to prevent the loss of Normandy a dozen years earlier? My assumption is that the unrest and riots in England put such a fear into the authorities that the major armies were kept at home. Jack Cade’s rebellion was only one of the most serious uprisings, after all. Rage at the loss of France, coupled with high taxes and a sense that the king was weak, brought England close to complete disaster at this time. Given that Cade breached the Tower of London, perhaps the court and Parliament were right to keep soldiers at home who could have been used to good effect in France. (Iggulden, 479).

“Stormbird” is a fantastic first book for Conn Iggulden’s “Wars of the Roses” series. It is filled with tons of battle scenes and intrigue. There were quite a few scenes where the amount of gruesome details made me cringe, but I wanted to read more. Iggulden was able to make this time before the actual Wars of the Roses come alive. Seeing both sides of the unrest, the commoners and those who served the king, really was intriguing. This was my first time reading a book by Conn Iggulden and I loved it. I look forward to reading the rest of the series and to see how he approaches the Wars of the Roses. If you want a great historical fiction book that is engaging about the unrest in England before the Wars of the Roses, I highly recommend “Wars of the Roses: Stormbird” by Conn Iggulden.

Book Review: “The House of Beaufort: The Bastard Line that Captured the Crown” by Nathen Amin

51ygXgS66nL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_The houses of York, Lancaster, the  Nevilles, the Howards, the Mowbrays, the Percys, and the Tudors are often recognized as the families involved in the Wars of the Roses. However, there was one more house that was just as important as the others; the Beauforts. The Beauforts were the sons and daughters of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and his mistress Katherine Swynford. They were considered bastards since they were born out of wedlock, yet they were connected to the house of Lancaster and rose to power by their own right. They would help change not only English history but the history of Europe forever. The Beauforts made a huge impact during the Hundred Years War and the Wars of the Roses, yet many people only recognize Margaret Beaufort and Edmund Beaufort 2nd Duke of Somerset. The Beauforts don’t get much attention. Nathen Amin, the founder of The Henry Tudor Society, wanted to tell the story of this remarkable family.  It is in his book “The House of Beaufort: The Bastard Line that Captured the Crown”, that the Beauforts are given the attention that they rightfully deserve.

Nathen Amin explains why he chose to focus on the Beauforts:

The Beauforts are a family often encountered when reading or studying the fifteenth century and the Wars of the Roses, although commonly relegated to supporting roles in the life and times of more prominent figures like Richard, duke of York, Edward IV, and Henry IV, V, and VI. They were always in the background, serving a king, counselling a king, and even fighting for or against a king. …Yet, there were few family units more influential in the governance of England during the period, and none more devoted to defending the Lancasterian dynasty, whether against France in the last vestiges of the Hundred Years War, or against the House of York in a new war of a very different kind. Born as bastards to a mighty prince, the Beauforts were the right-hand men of their royal kinsmen, amassing considerable authority on the national and continental stage. From uncertain beginnings, the Beauforts became earls, dukes and cardinals, and in time kings themselves, their blood seeping into every corner of the English artistocracy within a few generations of their birth. (Amin, 7).

So how exactly were the Beauforts able to accomplish all of this, going from bastards to kings? It starts with John of Gaunt marrying his mistress Katherine Swynford, making his four children with Katherine legitimate and they were given the name “Beaufort”, after his second marriage did not work out. After their half-brother King Henry IV( also known as Henry of Bolingbroke) became king, he allowed his half-siblings to obtain royal status, however, they could not be in line for the English throne.

John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford’s four children found a way to live successful lives without pursuing the English throne and they continued to support their Lancasterian family. John Beaufort became the 1st Earl of Somerset and his children became earls, counts, dukes and his daughter Joan became Queen of Scotland. John Beaufort’s granddaughter was Margaret Beaufort, the mother of the future King Henry VII. Henry Beaufort was able to become a very wealthy man and was promoted all the way to Cardinal of England, quite a feat for an English man at that time. Thomas Beaufort became the  1st Duke of Exeter and his sister Joan Beaufort Countess of Westmoreland was the matriarch of the powerful Neville family.

The Beauforts went through numereous highs and lows as they worked hard to protect England and the honor of their Lancastrian relations. Nathen Amin is able to navigate the complex world of the English court during both the Hundred Years War and the Wars of the Roses to give us the intricate story of the Beaufort family. As someone who is acquianted with parts of the Beaufort family story, I found this book rather fascinating and very informative. This was my first time reading a book by Nathen Amin and I cannot wait to read more of his books. In a complex time, it would be easy to forget one person, but Amin spends the time to write about each Beaufort child and how they made a difference.

The only real issue I had with the book was the family tree. I wished that there were birth and death dates included because I found myself getting a tad bit confused about who was who, especially when some of the Beauforts shared the same name and a similar title.

Overall, I found this book extremely fascinating and informative. Amin’s writing style is easy to understand and he brings the Beauforts from the background and onto center stage. They may have started as illegitimate children of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford, but they rose to be dukes and kings. If you want to learn more about this remarkable family and their influence in both the Hundred Years War and the Wars of the Roses, I absolutely recommend that you read “The House of Beaufort: The Bastard Line that Captured the Crown” by Nathen Amin.