The Wars of the Roses by Alison Weir

Weir Wars of the Roses cover

“This story begins in 1400 with the murder of one king, and ends in 1471 with the murder of another. One murder could be said to have been a direct result of the other. The story of what happened between 1400 and 1471, which is the story told in this book, answers the question: how?”

Having now finished the book, I can provide the condensed version of the answer to Weir’s question: because illegitimate kids throw one hell of a wrench into people’s succession plans.

Well, obviously it’s more complicated than that – in fact, the Wars of the Roses is kind of a clusterfuck of a situation, helped in absolutely no way by the fact that all the men were named George, Edward, Richard, or Henry. (seriously, that’s the thing about Tudor history that drives me absolutely batshit) It’s for this reason that I don’t usually gravitate towards this period of history, being a much bigger fan of the sexy sexy Tudors and their various sexy sexy scandals. But I love Alison Weir, and when I saw this in a bookstore a few months ago I decided to try it and see if I could get a better idea of how in the hell Henry Tudor (that’s Henry VII, btw – see what I mean about the names?) managed to get his hands on the throne of England – and keep it – despite having almost zero right to it.

After reading the book, I sort of get it. I’m still a little fuzzy on the details, and who was on whose side at which point in time, and sadly Henry Tudor doesn’t do much here because he’s like fourteen when most of the action happens, but it was still an engrossing and informative read. There are lots of good battles that Weir describes in great detail (the battles, I’d say, are probably the best part) and she does her best at making this horribly complicated situation make a bit of sense. Since this book was published in 1994, she hasn’t quite developed that dry, humorous tone that’s the trademark of her later works, but you can still see hints of it cropping up here and there.

I was pleasantly surprised that the main figure in this story ends up being, not an Edward or a Richard or a whatever, but Margaret of Anjou. She was the wife of the usurped Henry VI, and was by all accounts an absolute fucking badass. When her husband was overthrown, Margaret spent the rest of her life raising armies, negotiating with allies, and generally calling in every favor she had to restore him to the throne. Did I mention she raised and led armies to fight for her husband’s throne? Because she did, as evidenced in this passage that describes what has to be my new favorite episode from history:

“From Lincluden, Margaret wrote to Mary of Gueldres, begging for sanctuary and assistance against her enemies. Mary responded sympathetically and soon afterwards arrived at Lincluden…the two queens stayed at the abbey for twelve days, discussing what form that help would take. At length, Mary agreed to provide men and loan money for a campaign against the Yorkists on condition that Margaret surrendered the town of Berwick to the Scots.”

Can we just pause and appreciate how amazing it is that this even happened? Two women met, hung out for a few days, and during that time planned a military campaign and traded an entire town, without even once having to ask their respective husbands or any other man for permission to do so. Holy shit! That, by and large, simply does not happen, and the fact that Margaret was able to keep this up for years speaks to how awesome she was.

Seriously though – two queens spending twelve days together planning an invasion? Make this movie immediately, please, and let me give it all my money.

Verdict: three out of five stars

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