Battle Royal: The Wars of Lancaster and York, 1450-1464 (Wars of the Roses Book 1) by Hugh Bicheno

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Battle Royal: The Wars of Lancaster and York, 1450-1464 (Wars of the Roses Book 1) by Hugh Bicheno

Category: History
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: A comprehensive and highly accessible first-of-two part history of the Wars of the Roses. Something that will interest anyone who enjoys non-fiction while justifiably enticing historical fiction fans who hunger for more background.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 416 Date: December 2015
Publisher: Head of Zeus
ISBN: 978-1781859650

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Lancastrian Henry VI is an ailing king. Politically his popularity waivers as he spends English money on apparently fruitless wars in France and physically his poor mental health translates as unreliability and physical weakness. His queen, Marguerite d'Anjou is determined to shore up any shortfall for the sake of the country and her children but the House of York has other ideas. And so begins bloody (and rather fascinating) civil war…

Indeed in this way England slides into the Wars of the Roses, a war that English writer, political risk analyst and conflict historian Hugh Bicheno describes as a prolonged brawl over an inheritance by a deeply dysfunctional family. Not many will argue with this viewpoint which forms the basis of two volumes taking us through the events and cast of the period; a period that's become increasingly popular in both fiction and non-fictional history. In this, the first of the two books, Hugh takes us from 1440 to 1462 showing a level of research and delivery that will interest the serious historian while attracting those of us who have previously fossicked our historical knowledge from fiction.

Hugh illustrates his account with some wonderful tables and family trees not only at the beginning and in the appendices, but popping up throughout the prose just as we need them. Yes, we expect the royal lineage displayed and the detailed battle maps (down to street names in the case of the Battle of St Albans) but there's also some unexpected bonuses. For instance the genealogy that shows us why Richard, Earl of Warwick ('The Kingmaker') was one of the richest, most influential men of his era and a very interesting table demonstrating the decreasing proportion of nobles who showed up to fight in each campaign 1415 – 53 to name but two of the many highlights.

Between the genealogies, tables, well reproduced pictures (and the satisfying twinkle of the author's subtle wit), we are introduced to people whom no one could invent. Rather than show off his undoubted intelligence, Hugh guides us through the personalities and events in a way that animates them rather than academically dries out.

The schizophrenic (in its true sense) Henry, the manipulative Warwick and the incredibly strong Marguerite are all the sort of people who intrigue from a distance without us wishing to befriend them (if you know what I mean). I found the Queen particularly interesting, using those (like Somerset) who were more accustomed to being the users in order to hang onto the crown and her children's future. Hugh sides with the faction that believes Marguerite is to be admired since she is doing what she needs to do. However he also includes enough information for us readers to come to our own opinions in either direction.

Behind the main characters are some wonderful bit parts. For instance Marguerite's gran, Yolande, ran a spy network of mistresses who mingled with the cream of French aristocracy. Then there was the Queen's mum, Isabelle, leading an army to rescue Marguerite's father from captivity. (Yes, that's where Marguerite seems to have got if from!)

Those of us who enjoy factoids are also amply rewarded. (E.g. did you know that in some areas of France, the population dropped by over 70% due to the wars?)

This volume finishes with the crushing, bloody blow of Towton and the anticipation of Book 2: Battle Royal: Royal Blood along with a personal resolution for me to read more history alongside my usual fictional fare. Somehow, considering the pull of Mr Bicheno and his like, I may not be the only one.

(Thank you to the folk at Head of Zeus for providing us with a copy for review.)

Further Reading: If this appeals and has piqued interest in the Houses of York and Lancaster, we also recommend Edward IV: Glorious Son of York by Jeffrey James highly.

Buy Battle Royal: The Wars of Lancaster and York, 1450-1464 (Wars of the Roses Book 1) by Hugh Bicheno at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Battle Royal: The Wars of Lancaster and York, 1450-1464 (Wars of the Roses Book 1) by Hugh Bicheno at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Battle Royal: The Wars of Lancaster and York, 1450-1464 (Wars of the Roses Book 1) by Hugh Bicheno at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Battle Royal: The Wars of Lancaster and York, 1450-1464 (Wars of the Roses Book 1) by Hugh Bicheno at Amazon.com.


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