Book Review: A Short History of the Wars of the Roses by David Grummit

A Short History of the Wars of the Roses. By David Grummit. London: I.B. Tauris, 2013. Distributed in the U.S. and Canada by Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-1-84885-875-6. Dramatis personae. Timeline. Family trees. Map. Illustrations. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xxxix, 212. $25.00.

A Short History of the Wars of the Roses, by David Grummit

In May 1455, the recently dismissed Protector of the Realm, Richard the Duke of York, met the royalist Lancastrian army of King Henry IV, “vi et armis”, with force and arms (p. 43), winning a decisive but bloody victory at the First Battle of St. Albans. The Yorkist victory over the Lancastrians that day on the streets of St. Albans beginning the sporadic and violent episodes of rebellion, upheaval, and open warfare which characterized the greater period of English medieval history from 1455-1487, known today as the Wars of the Roses.

Yorkist line at the Battle of Towton

Author David Grummitt’s primary goal in A Short History of the Wars of the Roses was to write a concise introductory military and political narrative of the Wars of the Roses, starting with the prelude to the conflict from 1399-1459, forming the majority of the narrative on the Yorkist-Lancastrian war for the English throne throughout 1460-1471. He ends the book with the reign of King Richard III, who is slain “fighting manfully in the thickest press of his [Tudor] enemies” at the Battle of Bosworth in August 1485 (p.124).

Grumitt balances both the historiography of the Wars of the Roses and the course of the conflict admirably. He compares both the classic histories and the modern interpretations of the period extensively, with a greater overall emphasis on the inaccurate but prevalent Tudor and Lancastrian falsities common amongst the histories written in the 16th through the 19th centuries. The first portion of this book discusses the historiography, causes, and early course of the Wars of the Roses. The author agues that the War had numerous causes, principle among them the noble and gentry classes disdain for King Henry VI, who was prone to long periods of incapacitating madness beginning in 1453.

Part two of a Short History focuses on the military campaigns of 1459-1464, highlighting some of the most decisive battles of this period which lead to the establishment of the Yorkist hegemony. Edward of Rouen the Earl of March, just eighteen at the time his father, the Duke of York was beheaded following the Battle of Wakefield in 1460, would lead an experienced “self-consciously chivalric” Yorkist force to victory in the Wars of the Roses (p.69). As King Edward IV he would win his first major victory and secure his crown on the battlefield at Towton in March 1461. The last two chapters serve as almost stand alone essays, remarking on the political and socio-cultural impact of the Wars of the Roses, and how this legacy is perceived in the modern era.

The Battle at Towton, Yorkshire, 29 March 1461

The author’s deep bibliography is a wonderful starting point for those attempting to identify primary and secondary sources on any number of differing sub-topics relating to Wars of the Roses. Relevant topics including the Lancastrian legacy in the prelude to the conflict, 1399-1413, Warwick the Kingmaker’s rebellion and Henry VI’s ‘Readeption’ of 1469-1471, and the establishment of the Tudor dynasty in the aftermath of Bosworth in 1485. Adding to Grummit’s extensive bibliography are both the foreword dramatis personae and timeline of major events, with a lengthy addendum of notes attached to the already sufficient bibliography.

A Short History of the Wars of the Roses is a great resource for a summarization and general narrative of this period, touching on all the major events surrounding the conflict, its major personalities, and the greater legacy behind the War. This book is ideal for the undergraduate or graduate student looking for a concise introductory into the intricate history of late medieval England during the Wars of the Roses.

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1 comment:

  1. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.