By Nathen Amin
Edward IV, much like his son-in-law, and political heir in many ways, Henry VII, has often found his position in history obscured somewhat by the mystery over the fate of his two sons, the Princes in the Tower, as well as the towering spectres of his younger brother Richard III and grandson Henry VIII. Whilst there have been several academic publications produced on the life and times of the mighty Yorkist king who reigned in two separate spells between 1461 and 1483, a readable narrative history on Edward is always welcomed. After all, as the author notes in his prologue, ‘few English monarchs fought harder for kingship than King Edward IV’. It’s probably the least he deserves.
Edward IV, Glorious Son of York by Jeffrey James is essentially the story of how one man emerged from the fractious feuding between various noble families to become the most prodigious warrior of his age, winning a crown on the battlefield and ostensibly ending the wars before lapses in political judgement briefly cost him his throne, forcing a return to battle. It’s a captivating, even timeless, tale of a dramatic rise followed by a tough fall, a story of resilient redemption before success itself eventually destroyed Edward’s figure, and in time, his dynasty. A well-worn story it may be, but told so vividly by James it might well sound like the first time you’ve heard it.
The book is written clearly and concisely, covering all main events in Edward’s life, helpfully illustrated with several maps, battlefield diagrams, family trees and a few dozen photographs of the people and places mentioned in the text. James has an extensive knowledge of battles in particular, which naturally receive considerable coverage throughout the text, and I was intrigued by his use of war gaming photographs to illustrate the various battles in Edward’s life, something I have not seen elsewhere.
Written chronologically from Edward’s birth in Rouen, through his rise to the throne, his contentious marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, and on to his final days of excess shortly after his fortieth birthday, James’ book serves an ideal introduction into the life of the first Yorkist king of England. As is always the case with books of this period, and for good reason, the book also covers the wider Wars of the Roses conflict and features considerable supporting roles from figures such as Henry VI, Richard III and the Woodvilles, yet crucially never fails to lose sight of its titular subject. This is Edward’s story, unashamedly told from Edward’s position.
The result is an engaging read that serves as a gateway into further study of Edward IV and the period. His analysis of the complex events is balanced, with little room for wild speculations based on assumptions and presumptions. James systematically deconstructs Edward from the stereotypes he has become reduced to, be it warrior king or promiscuous lover, and reveals Edward the man, who committed both just and questionable acts during his time. There are no outlandish claims or unfathomable theories presented based on flimsy evidence, and therefore Edward IV, Glorious Son of York, crafted upon the known facts and most likely scenarios, is a solid, and enduring, addition to the libraries of any self-respecting aficionado of the Wars of the Roses.
Jeffrey James has published numerous articles on military history and is the author of An Onslaught of Spears, a history of Viking attacks on England leading to Cnut’s conquest in 1016, and Swordsmen of the King, covering the exploits of Charles I’s German nephews during the English Civil War. He lives in Southsea, England.