Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Wars of the Roses by Alison Weir

Hardcover, 462 pages
Published July 4th 1995 by Ballantine Books

As an Anglophile I've always been fascinated by British history.  I can trace this back to my homeschool days when as an 8 year old I would have have lengthy conversations with myself over whether I was team Queen Elizabeth or team Mary Queen of Scots.  Also, my first, VERY FIRST, crush at this age was Sir Francis Drake (after all, the man did defeat the Spanish Armada).  Needless to say my fascination with monarchs, crowns, and primogeniture legacies has grown over the years.  A few years back I was obsessed with Jane Grey (still am to a degree) and when I was pregnant with Atticus in 2010 I became obsessed with Richard III and the Wars of the Roses thanks to Sharon Kay Penman's The Sunne in Splendour.  While I've read several good fictional works in addition to Penman's, I was looking for a narrative history on what led to the wars and their impact on British History.  I chose Weir's book because I love Mary Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley and The LIfe of Elizabeth the I.  I don't particularly care for Weir's fiction, but dang that girl some write some narrative history.

Okay... onto the book.  I won't go into all the details of the Wars, because that would require all manner of family trees, maps, and documentation and I'm not a historian.  Instead I'll just talk about the book. 

Weir begins with taking the reader all the way back to the original dispute in the Plantagenet line, the rise of the wealthy and greedy lords with influence, religious superstition and everything in between that influenced and exacerbated the feud between the House of York (white rose) and the House of Lancaster (red rose).  The book ends with Edward IV unchallenged for many years, his death, and the succession of his 12-year-old son, Edward V.  This is just before Richard, Duke of Gloucester, challenges the throne, is killed, and the Tudor Dynasty emerges.

Weir writes her non-fiction like the very best fiction: the "characters" have depth, the battles are thrilling, and her ability to successfully juggle all the various Henrys and Edwards and Richards with little confusion for the reader is a mark of genius.  I feel like I have a good, broad understanding of the conflict and the people involved and also better insight into how insignificant with war was compared with others.  The Wars of the Roses occurred over a span of 30 or so years with a few deadly and tense periods of battle punctuated by periods of peace.  I don't know why, but I always pictured 30 years of constant slaying and intrigue.  I suppose that is just the old imagination talking.

My one curious comment about this book is that Weir makes it seem -- and it may be the case -- that everything went batshit crazy because of two women:  Margaret Anjou on the Lancaster side and Elizabeth Wydville on the York side.  I wonder about the lives of these women and how much their actions were dictated by their own desire to not conform to the gender despairing convictions of their historical milieu.  I'm adding a book about the women of the Wars of the Roses to my TBR pile to give me some more context.

I'm hoping that this year I'll be able to read Weir's The Princes in the Tower and then follow-up with Blood Sisters

1 comment:

Daphne said...

Weir is really hit and miss for me - both in her fiction and nonfiction. I haven't read this one yet but I have it. I did read Princes in the Tower and didn't care for it much.