Book Review: David Santiuste, Edward VI and the Wars of the Roses

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis   in Bookworm

A new contribution for the bookworms among our readers:

David Santiuste, Edward IV and the Wars of the Roses.  Pen & Sword Books Ltd, 2010.  ISBN   9781844159307 (Hardback)

As the title indicates the aim of this book is not to offer a comprehensive biography of Edward IV, but as the author says “to illuminate Edward’s personal role during the Wars of the Roses”.  So the focus is on Edward’s military career.   I have to admit military matters do not normally interest me much, but I found this book very rewarding and interesting.

It starts off with some general information on armies at the time, how they were raised, how they were equipped, and a look at the sources available to the modern historian.  Santiuste gives an overview how the quarrel between Henry VI and his followers on the one side and the Duke of York and his followers on the other came to escalate in such a dramatic fashion.  The book starts getting more detailed after the Battle of Ludford Bridge, once Edward was old enough to “to step out of his father’s shadow, and [to] emerge as a powerful and important figure in his own right”.

Up to now I had been rather naive and had never realised of how much of an up-hill battle he was facing.  Probably with hindsight, after all I know he was victorious, I had completely underestimated his opposition after he became king in 1461 and the ongoing battles in the first half of the 1460s.

The origins of the quarrel between Edward and Warwick are well analysed as this is important for the following readeption of Henry VI.  We see how hopeless Edward’s situation seemed while in exile in Burgundy and why Charles the Bold eventually, after much hesitation, decided to support him, although he felt bound by his kinship to the Beauforts.  That Edward’s attempt to win back the throne was ultimately successful must have seemed rather unlikely to his contemporaries.

The book finishes with Edward’s last active battle, the Battle of Tewkesbury, though the epilogue also analyses the French expedition of 1475.  Edward’s planned allies did not come to the party, the Duke of Brittany did not stir, the Count of St Pal betrayed him and the Duke of Burgundy could not be bothered to be side tracked from his own attempt to gain control of the archbishopric of Cologne.  This, explains Santiuste, was why the whole expedition was doomed to failure and Edward had no choice but to sue for peace.

Of course I hear Ricardians ask what the author has got to say about Richard and I’m glad to report that he treats him fairly.  In the battles of Barnet and Tewksbury we meet him as a courageous and loyal brother.  Santiuste describes “Richard of Gloucester [as] a brave, charismatic and intelligent man, but his actions in 1483 defy easy analysis.  There are more questions than answers … and readers are encouraged to explore the debate for themselves”.  The author recommends among others to explore the debate by reading Annette Carson’s Richard III:  The Maligned King, which most of us can only agree with.

On the whole a very interesting and worth-while book for any Ricardian who wants to find out more about the struggle before 1483.

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