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The Wars of the Roses by Desmond Seward

The Wars of the Roses (original 1997; edition 2002)

by Desmond Seward

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384642,269 (3.53)13
Title:The Wars of the Roses
Authors:Desmond Seward
Info:Constable and Robinson (2002), Paperback, 412 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:The Middle Ages

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The Wars of the Roses: Through the Lives of Five Men and Women of the Fifteenth Century by Desmond Seward (1997)



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I was drawn to this biography of the Wars of the Roses because of the five-person focus, though as it transpired, what I found was another general rendition of what went on during the Wars, with the usual players – Edward IV, Richard III, Henrys VI & VII, etc. – taking centre stage.

Trouble is, with the likes of Jane Shore, very little info is available. As a result, the author refers to events featuring her father, John Lambert, to compensate. Even so, there’s not a great deal of info on him either.

I was particularly interested in matters concerning John de Vere, Earl of Oxford. He was a huge asset to Henry Tudor and it’s probable that the earl is the main reason why Henry became king.

So the title is a bit misleading. Yes, the five are referred to, but the narrative does not revolve around them as implied. Lack of historical records make this difficult.

The author’s style is engaging at times but not at others. The section when Richard becomes king is the most appealingly written. ( )
  PhilSyphe | Jun 19, 2017 |
I bought this because I needed to read a history of the Wars of the Roses, as my knowledge of the events was rather patchy. Since this book focusses on the lives of relatively minor characters, I am still unenlightened as to the major events of the conflict, but know more than I will ever need to know about the life of the father of the king's mistress. ( )
  sphenisciforme | Dec 17, 2015 |
This is a concise account of the Wars of the Roses anchored around the lives of five contemporaries: William Hastings, a partisan of Edward IV; Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII; the Lancastrian earl of Oxford; Dr John Morton, later a cardinal; and the middle-class Jane Shore, a mistress of Edward IV. While parts of the book are a little dry, thanks to the complexities of names and titles and various relations with claims to different things through births and marriages, Seward overall does a good job at pulling things together. Given that this is a popular history book, I thought Seward did a better than average job at acknowledging the ways in which the surviving sources shape our understanding of the past and the roles played by women. This is a couple of hundred years after my normal area of interest, however, so I can't speak to its accuracy. ( )
  siriaeve | Jan 3, 2014 |

A lot of history books get tarred with that brush, but it is more than usually relevant to Desmond Seward's book about the Wars of the Roses. Covering a civil war almost always brings the danger of tilting toward one side or the other, but Seward's approach makes balance even harder to find.

Seward doesn't really give a history of England from 1455 to 1487; he gives biographies of five characters, trying to use these to tell the story of the Wars.

The problem is, five characters is an odd number. That means he will inherently lean more toward one side than the other.

And Seward makes it worse. Three of his characters are Margaret Beaufort, the mother of the future King Henry VII; Cardinal Morton, later Henry's Archbishop of Canterbury; and the Earl of Oxford, who is believed to have been the chief general at the Battle of Bosworth that put Henry on the throne. Not only does that give us three Lancastrians, it gives us three fanatical Lancastrians. Or, rather, one fanatical Lancastrian (Oxford) and two fanatical Tudors.

To represent the other side, the Yorkists, we have William, Lord Hastings, who was King Edward IV's drinking buddy (more or less) and Jane Shore, Edward's mistress. One of whom (Hastings) was executed by King Richard III and the other degraded. So, while Yorkists, they were both enemies of the last Yorkist king.

And Shore was, at most, an infant when the wars began, and several of the others still quite young. It is an inherently biased portrait; we get very little direct information about Richard Duke of York, the father of Edward IV the first Yorkist king. This is made worse by the fact that Seward, as his book on Richard III shows, has a very strong axe to grind. There were plenty of neutrals in the Wars, or characters who changed sides, or characters who were Yorkist and survived. You wouldn't know it from Seward.

All this might be forgivable if the result were easier to follow. But all the bouncing around between characters is very confusing. This history is neither fair nor very interesting.

Desmond Seward has written very good popular histories; I very much enjoyed his book on the Hundred Years' War. But his books on the Wars of the Roses are simply not a good place to learn about perhaps the most complicated political period in English history. ( )
1 vote waltzmn | Nov 9, 2013 |
Found this overview readable and enjoyable. Got me very interested in reading more about Margaret Beaufort ( )
1 vote AzureMountain | Feb 17, 2008 |
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"People of the Middle Ages existed under mental, moral and physical circumstances so different from our own as to constitute almost a foreign civilization. As a result, qualities of conduct that we recognize as familiar amid these alien surroundings are revealed as permanent in human nature" Barbara W. Tuchman 'A Distant Mirror'
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During the last years of the fifteenth century, on a morning in late summer, a small man stood alone by himself in a meadow in the English Midlands.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0140234020, Paperback)

Between 1455 and 1485 the dynastic struggle in England between the houses of York and Lancaster, known as the Wars of the Roses, devastated the country and decimated the ranks of the nobility. Medievalist Desmond Seward examines the history through the biographies of five individuals. His choice of subjects mixes nobility and common soldier, and includes two extraordinary women. The result is a vividly human picture of a distant time and place. The text is supplemented with useful illustrations and background information.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:30 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Looks at the social and political world of fifteenth-century England through the lives of five influential people: William Hastings, John de Vere, Earl of Oxford, Lady Margaret Beaufort, John Morton, and Jane Shore.

(summary from another edition)

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