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Brief History of the Wars of the Roses

by Seward , Desmond

This immensely readable book examines the impact of the Wars of the Roses, that ‘amazing fifteenth-century bloodbath, on the lives of five men and women during the years from 1455 to 1487. The five are a squire and a nobleman, both of whom fought in the decisive battles, a great lady, a priest and a ‘harlot’. All five come most sharply into focus during the reign of Richard III; at one stage or another he publicly accused each of them of plotting against him, while three played key roles in destroying him.

Even so, this is a book about the Wars of the Roses as a whole, when three kings, a Prince of Wales and eight royal, or semi-royal dukes died by battle, murder or sudden death. At no time did the English ruling class face ruin and destruction on such a murderous scale. A government spokesman told the House of Commons in 1475 that ‘none of us hath escaped’ while in 1483 the Duke of Buckingham claimed that war was never ‘in none earthly nation so deadly and so pestilent as when it happeneth among us … nor so cruel and so deadly foughten.’ More Englishmen were killed than during the whole of the Hundred Years’ War with France.

However, the author is concerned not only with battles and the scaffold but with the world which the five inhabited, recreating an England of great beauty as well as cruelty. He also shows how much the Wars could affect the lives of women as well as men. The magnificent illustrations are remarkable for their inspired use of brass rubbings - those of husbands, wives, friends and retainers of the five.

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Comments

"A brilliant study of the period. Rich in historical detail, yet passionately written, the smell of battle seems to linger on the page."


Reviews: Yorkshire Post

"A vivid and bizarre picture of English medieval society … admirably researched … ultimately, though, it is the author’s own enthusiasm for his subject which makes it so consistently entertaining."


Reviews: Catholic Herald

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