The Wars of the Roses by Dan Jones

The Wars of the Roses by Dan JonesThe symbol of the Lancasters was the red rose, the House of York white. These houses were the branches of the Plantagenet family. So one could say that England had a long civil war over which one’s pink.

Bad joke? Perhaps, but Dan Jones does a far better job explaining one of the most fascinating and war-torn eras in English history. The Wars of the Roses were fought between descendants of Edward III. The Lancaster branch began with Henry Bolingbroke, aka Henry VI, who overthrew the tyrannical and somewhat mad Richard II. The Yorks also traced their lineage back to Edward III, neither house descended from Richard II. The era was fertile ground for one Will Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon, but Jones, who along with Peter Ackroyd (though not in collaboration), has been tracing English history across several books (The PlantagenetsMagna Carta) paints a much more interesting picture. In one of those ironies that mark English history so often, Henry Bolingbroke overthrew Richard II when the latter proved to be a rather incompetent leader, only to have Richard of York and his son Edward undermine and overthrow his grandson Henry VI. Had the legendary Henry V survived, Henry VI might not have been a weak and ineffectual leader. When he proved to be little more than a puppet of Queen Margaret, England’s nobility had had enough. But then Edward IV, generally considered a good king even by the rival Lancasters, met the same fate as Henry V, an early and unexpected death.

When his brother, Richard of Gloucester, found himself squeezed out of a post as Lord Protector for Edward V (one of the princes in the Tower), he ruthlessly seized the crown for himself. So Shakespeare got a few things right. Richard did, in fact, usurp the throne. And he was a hunchback, borne out when his body was discovered on the site of a church burial ground. However, no withered hand. And Richard did not kill nearly as many people on his way to his coronation as the Bard suggests. In fact, Richard had nothing to do with the Duke of Clarence’s execution, despite what Shakespeare suggests. Clarence got his head chopped off through his own efforts, being his era’s answer to the Duke of Windsor. Jones, however, points out another irony of English history. Richard III might have murdered his way to the throne, but he was actually one of the realm’s most progressive kings.

There are many legends about the Middle Ages and those who ruled England and Wales back then. Dan Jones has shown that the truth is much more interesting.

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