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Title: The Wars of the Roses
Author: Alison Weir (AlisonWeir.org.uk
Genre: Historical Non-fiction
Page Count: 480
Publisher: Ballantine





Basic Plotline Premise: In a companion book to The Princes in the Tower, Weir explores the causes and events of the first part of the Wars of the Roses, starting with the murder of Richard II and ending with the decisive Battle of Tewkesbury which cemented Edward IV's supremacy over Henry VI.

The Positives: As always I enjoy Weir's very common sense, well researched style of writing history and this book was no exception.

In this book is a very lucid retelling of what caused the upheaval of the English upperclasses during the Wars of the Roses and how the conflict was made worse by weak leadership, waffling alliances, and factionalism around the throne as well as the ambiguity in the laws concerning to whom thrones would pass should a king die without a direct male heir.

What's best about this book is that it goes into great detail about the kind of factionalism and court intrigue that really made for such a disastrous political situation during this time in English history. At times, it's almost too great a detail, because one gets a very clear view of the on-again-off-again alliances and promises made by such people as the Duke of Clarence (the king's own brother) and the Earl of Warwick who ended up fighting for both sides by the time all was said and done.

I also think that this is a very good companion to The Princes in the Tower because it does explain some of the things that are left unexplored in that book and Weir makes sure to keep track of Owen Tudor and his family at this time so that one understands how they got to be where they were when the second book picks up the narrative.


The Negatives: While I enjoyed this book, I think it is a weaker work than either The Princes in the Tower or even Queen Isabella (which remains my favorite work of hers). I think is due in part to the material she has to work with. The Wars of the Roses, for me, tend to be a tedious period despite the turbulence because so much of it centers on factionalism that's based on political advancement and self-interest on the part of nobles who weren't so much fighting for a cause as for their ability to get and keep their wealth, power, and influence.

However, I do think that Weir doesn't do nearly as much balancing and examining of her sources as she has done in other books, and it becomes a problem for the book. I was, for one, surprised to see that Weir was writing her history by accepting or at least adopting the Tudor view that the wars began with the murder of Richard II - Weir is usually much better about questioning the assumptions of her sources and teasing out the hidden truths from what is said and unsaid in her sources. I think it's perfectly valid to question whether this conflict stemmed back even further or if Richard II's death was not nearly the impetus that the Tudor historians state.

I also think there was a lack of emphasis on the context of the conflict, especially as it related to the larger population of England. Though she does talk about how the conflict did and did not effect the lower and middle classes of England in the last chapter during her summation of the book, she really does not guide the reader to a greater understanding of how contained the Wars of the Roses were in some senses and how, for many people, the changing of rulers meant little change on the ground for them.



CoC Score: 0

Gender Score: 9. While much of the action takes place between male magnates or on the battlefield, Weir does a very good job of showing how instrumental many powerful women were in the events of the Wars of the Roses - and not just Queen Margaret. She also shows that the wives, daughters, and mothers of these men were not just pawns but active players in their own right, despite the outward rules of the society in which they lived. Nor does she fall into the trap of thinking that the accomplishment of a woman raising a son to be king or helping her husband is somehow second-best to a man's attempts on the battlefield.

GLBT Score: 0. There are no openly, outwardly GLBT persons mentioned in this novel. There was a minor, incidental mention of a few persons being suspected of homosexual behavior, but nothing that Weir dwells on or substantiates. Given that the mentions are about two or three sentences through out the book, they effectively don't exist.

July 2013

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