Book Review – The Tudor Kitchen: What the Tudors Ate & Drank by Terry Breverton

By Nathen Amin

Did you ever wonder what the Tudors ate and drank?

This new book by historian Terry Breverton gives us an overview of the very fabric of Tudor life, for both rich and poor. The age saw an amazing variety of new dishes, many of which have been taken from contemporary sources for this cookbook. As well as giving us interesting and useful recipes, the book tells us to forget popcorn – when being entertained by Shakespeare’s plays, theatre-goers enjoyed vast quantities of oysters, crabs, cockles, mussels, periwinkles and whelks, as well as walnuts, hazelnuts, raisins, plums, cherries, dried figs, peaches, elderberry and blackberry pies and sturgeon steaks. Among the Tudor court food purchases in just one year we count 8,200 sheep, 2,330 deer and 53 wild boar, plus thousands of birds such as peacock, heron, capon, teal, gull, shoveler, quail, pheasant, swan and cygnet.

Part One of the book explains how the Tudors farmed, their animals and cereals, with the majority of the population having a monotonous diet with very little meat or fish. The first two chapters describe Tudor food and drink, and the differences between diets and the classes. The third chapter informs us about the great kitchens such as Hampton Court and Chapter 4 tells us of royal feasts, etiquette and helps understand why Henry VIII went from a 32-inch waist aged 30, to a 54-inch waist aged 55.

Part Two gives us around 500 recipes of the times, which can be tried by curious or enterprising readers. There are some astonishing combinations of flavours, and Tudor cuisine is something we are only now coming to appreciate.

Examples of such Tudor foods featured in the book include;

  • EGGES IN MONESHYNE – EGGS IN MOONLIGHT (The Proper Newe Booke of Cookerye c.1557), when the eggs are cooked by poaching in a syrup of rose water and sugar, so that they look like moons.
  •  BUBBLY BEER CHEESE BREAKFAST SOUPTO BOYLE A LEG OF MUTTON WITH LEMMONS – LEMONED LAMB (The Booke of Goode Cookry Very Necessary for all Such as Delight Therein 1584, 1591);
  • SALMON SALLET FOR FISH DAYS – SALMON AND ONION SALAD WITH VIOLETS – PANSY SALMON (Thomas Dawson’s The Good Huswifes Jewell 1585, 1594, 1596)
  •  CAPONS IN DORRE – CHICKEN IN GOLDEN ALMOND MILK (Gentyll manly Cokere MS Pepys 1047 c.1500)
  •  BOYLED CAPON IN WHITE BROTH – SWEET AND SOUR ALMOND CHICKEN (Sir Hugh Plat’s Delightes for Ladies 1602)
  • STEAMED ASPARAGUS SPEARS IN ORANGE SAUCE (Traditional Elizabethan recipe, originating in Granada, 1599)
  • WHITE GINGER BREAD (A.W., A Booke of Goode Cookry Very Necessary for all Such as Delight Therein 1584, 1591).

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Who knew that the Tudors ate ravioli, crackers, macaroni, rice, crisps, quiche, Jerusalem artichokes, couscous, puffins, badgers and favoured sweet and sour dishes? And that COMPOST is the more attractively renamed COLD SPICED VEGETABLES IN WINE AND HONEY SAUCE? And GARBAGE was a BROTH OF CHICKEN HEADS, FEET AND LIVERS? Or that CRESSEE was a GINGER PASTA CHEESE CHESSBOARD SANDWICH? Or that SWEET POTATOES IN ROSE AND ORANGE SYRUP (Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book 1605) was a popular dish for nobility?

Breverton’s research into Tudor meals has also enabled him to have some fun by attributing some of these sixteenth century dishes with modern namings. For example;

  •     RAPES IN POTAGE – BALDRICK’S TURNIP BROTH (The Master-Cook of Richard II, The Forme of Cury c.1390)
  •  CAPON BAKED WITH EGG YOLKS – FOWL PIE (John Partridge’s The Treasurie of Commodious Conceits & Hidden Secrets 1573)
  • A DISH OF PARTICULAR COLOURS – MULTICOLOURED CHICKENS (And Thus You Have a Lordly Dish: Fancy and Showpiece Cookery in an Augsberg Patrician Kitchen Sabina Welser 1553)
  • VENISON COFFINS – DEER PASTIES (A.W., A Book of Cookrye 1584, 1591)
  • HOW TO MAKE A FRIED MEAT OF TURNEPS – BALDRICK’S ERSATZ MEAT (Epulario, Or, The Italian Banquet, English translation of 1598)
  • BRAIN BALLS AND BRAIN CAKES – THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (English Housewifry, exemplified in above four hundred and fifty receipts, giving directions in most parts of cookery)
  • POMMES DORRES – FLY BALLS (The Master-Cook of Richard II, The Forme of Cury c.1390)
  • LET LARDES – MULTI-COLOURED CUSTARD FRY-UP (The Master-Cook of Richard II, The Forme of Cury c.1390)
  • PEARES SODDEN IN ALE, BASTARD AND HONNEY – PEARS IN BASTARD PIES (A.W., A Book of Cookrye 1584, 1591.)

 Indeed, of LAMPREY PIE Breverton writes: ‘It is a back-boneless, secretive, primitive, blood-sucking, worm-like parasite, and for these reasons I have renamed it Politicians’ Pie’.

Breverton’s final chapter is entitled THINGS YOU MAY NOT WANT TO COOK (OR EAT) (OR SEE). In this chapter is included such delicacies as

 LIVE BLACKBIRD, RABBIT, FROG, DOG OR DWARF PIE; ROAST CAT AS YOU WOULD WISH TO EAT IT; A GOOSE ROASTED ALIVE; ENTIRE LUNGS OF KID IN CAUL; PIES OF COCKS’ COMBS WITH WHOLE TESTICLES; POTATON TARTE THAT IS A COURAGE TO MAN OR WOMAN – APHRODISIAC SWEET POTATO PIE WITH COCK SPARROW BRAINS (Thomas Dawson’s The Good Housewife’s Jewell 1587)

PYES OF CALVES FEET (The Booke of Goode Cookry Very Necessary for all Such as Delight Therein 1584, 1591)

 SPARROWS IN MUTTON BROTH; BURSEU – A DISH OF MINCED PIG ENTRAILS; SEA-PIG – SEVERAL WAYS WITH A PORPOISE; LAMPREY IN BLOOD SAUCE WITH A DEEP-FRIED LAMPREY SPINAL CORD; AND TORTURED LAMPREY FRYED, BOYLD, AND ROSTED AT THE SAME TIME; RABBETES SOUKER ROST – ROAST FOETAL RABBITS (Coronation Menu of Richard III, 6 July 1483)

STUFFED SUFFOCATED CHICKS; HERON ROST – SPIT-ROASTED HERON; and CHAUDYNN FOR SWANNS – SWAN WITH BLOOD AND ENTRAIL SAUCE.

 And HART ROWS – PIG STOMACH LEGLESS HEDGEHOGS were pigs’ stomachs stuffed with pork, eggs and breadcrumbs, decorated with pastry spines to look like hedgehogs.

Breverton’s book is really informative and entertaining, useful for adding to both your historical knowledge and your cooking repertoire. You’ll have great fun learning, and perhaps trying out, these authentic Tudor recipes.

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Historian Terry Breverton is a former businessman, consultant and academic and is now a full-time writer, having received the Welsh Books Council’s Book of the Month Award five times. He is an expert in Welsh culture and history and has presented documentaries on the Discovery Channel, the History Channel etc. Terry has worked in over 20 countries and has written over 40 well-received books including Richard III: The King in the Carpark; Breverton’s First World War Curiosities; Owain Glyndŵr: The Story of the Last Prince of Wales; Wales: The Biography; Wales: A Historical Companion; Immortal Words; Immortal Last Words; Breverton’s Nautical Curiosities: A Book of the Sea; Breverton’s Phantasmagoria; Breverton’s Encyclopaedia of Inventions; Black Bart Roberts; The Journal of Penrose, Seaman and Breverton’s Complete Herbal.

Breverton’s latest releases are ‘Jasper Tudor: Dynasty Maker’, ‘Everything You Have Ever Wanted to Know About The Tudors But Were Afraid To Ask’ and ‘The Tudor Kitchen’, all published by Amberley.

Book Review – Owen (Book One of the Tudor Trilogy) by Tony Riches

By Nathen Amin

As a matter of personal preference I do not often read historical fiction work. I find the focus on author creative licence over historical accuracy a distraction and as such I am therefore fairly unacquainted with works by writers such as Philippa Gregory. That being said, my interest was piqued when I came across Owen by Pembrokeshire author Tony Riches.

Owen Tudor was a fascinating character who led a remarkable life, a Welshman with a story that wouldn’t be out of place on the silver screen. Tudor was born in North Wales around 1400 to an ancient Welsh noble family from Anglesey. He was descended from the Princes of South Wales and his father was a cousin of the great Welsh warrior, Owain Glyndwr. After the collapse of the latter’s Welsh Wars of Independence the Tudor family were ruined and Owen found himself exiled to London. Although the specifics have become shrouded in myth it seems he worked his way into the household of Queen Katherine of Valois, Dowager Queen of Henry V, and eventually gain her trust to the extent they were secretly wed. Together it seems they had at least four children before her death in 1437, at which point Owen became imprisoned for his crime of marrying the king’s mother without the consent of the council. After his release he was intimately involved in the Wars of the Roses conflict, tied to the House of Lancaster through his sons, Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond, and Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke. The earls were the half-brothers of Henry VI and Owen fought alongside his sons as the wars progressed. Aged around 60 Owen was captured during the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross in 1461 and led to Hereford where he was executed. His grandson became King Henry VII, the archetypal rags to riches tale.

indexThe story of Owen Tudor is always one worth recounting and in my opinion has been unfortunately underutilised in fiction and nonfiction alike. Therefore I was pleased to discover Riches has used Owen as the protagonist for the first install of his forthcoming Tudor trilogy. Riches’ story commences in 1422 with a dashing young Owen employed as a servant in the household of the recently widowed Dowager Queen of England, Katherine of Valois. The queen is beautiful but lonely and it isn’t long before Owen is enamoured with Katherine, although their affair is not an immediate plot device.

The story is told from the point of view of Owen and the narrative is short, sharp and to the point. Riches does not waste words and the result is a hard-hitting account of Owen’s life which moves a considerable pace. Some writers dwell on insignificant plotlines and often seem to be writing for writings’ sake at times, which makes Riches’ work a refreshing and captivating read. There are moments of humour, drama, tragedy and triumph and it seems Riches has captured the exhilarating life of Owen Tudor well. A passage at the beginning of the book, recalled by the adult Owen, certainly sets the tone for the enthralling read ahead.

 “‘Aim High, Boy’, my garrulous longbow tutor once advised me, his voice gruff from too much shouting. ‘It’s not the Welsh way to play safe and wait until you have a clean shot’”.

It’s fair to say Owen Tudor never played it safe and certainly Riches has aimed high like his protagonist. I look forward to following his Tudor trilogy as it progresses through Jasper Tudor and Henry Tudor’s lives.

You can buy the via Amazon – UK or US

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Tony Riches lives in West Wales UK, happily dividing his time between writing and sea kayaking. He has also penned Warwick – The Man Behind the Wars of the Roses and The Secret Diary of Eleanor Cobham.

Book Review – Henry VIII’s Last Love: The Extraordinary Life of Katherine Willoughby, Lady-in-Waiting to the Tudors by David Baldwin

By Nathen Amin

David Baldwin’s latest release is a fascinating portrayal of a woman who almost became the seventh wife of Henry VIII; as it was the king died before any plans came to fruition and the name of Katherine Willoughby was somewhat lost to history. Baldwin attempts, and will succeed, bringing the erstwhile Duchess of Suffolk back into the spotlight with this in-depth account of her life at the most famous royal court in English history.

Somewhat fittingly for a future Duchess of Suffolk, Katherine was born in March 1519 in Parham Old Hall in Suffolk as the daughter of Baron Willoughby de Eresby and Spaniard Maria de Salinas. Her father was one of the greatest landowners in the region whilst her mother was a close friend and lady-in-waiting to Queen Katherine of Aragon. The wedding of Baron Willoughby and Maria de Salinas incurred the support of King Henry and he attended the wedding where he bestowed a cash gift on the couple along with Grimsthorpe Castle. Henry even named one of his ships after Maria, the Mary Willoughby. Considering the closeness of Maria to Katherine of Aragon it seems probable that young Katherine Willoughby was named for the queen.

The child inherited her father’s barony at the age of seven on the death of her father in 1526 and this made her one of the greatest heiresses in the country and by proxy an eligible marital prospect. Her wardship reverted to the crown but was sold by the king to his close friend Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. Suffolk married his ward in 1533 only ten weeks after the death of his wife, the king’s sister Mary. Rather scandalously the Duke was 49 years old whilst his young bride was only 14. Nonetheless they appear to have had a happy marriage that included two young sons, Henry and Charles.

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Although she had remained an ardent Roman Catholic, after the death of her Spanish mother in 1539 it seems Katherine embraced Protestantism. Whilst discussing the Duchess’ conversion from Catholic to Protestant, Baldwin helpfully attempts to summarise the divide between the two strands of Christianity for the modern reader. This is helpful in that the topic is often taken for granted by an author and helps add context to the importance of Katherine’s conversion and the impact it had on her life during this period of religious turmoil. Baldwin points out that disagreements between the two faiths was often a matter of life and death and into this void bravely stepped the Duchess during this period. The author takes the step of stating that “this daughter of a Roman Catholic mother became on of the most fervent Protestants of her day”. This was furthered by her friendship to King Henry VIII’s sixth wife Katherine Parr, a noted reformer and devotee to learning.

At the time of her elderly husband’s death in 1545, the Dowager Duchess of Suffolk was still only 26 years old, fertile and attractive with a wealthy portfolio of property. She was as attractive a marital proposition as she had been prior to her marriage to Charles Brandon. In spite of her close friendship to the king’s current queen, Katherine Parr, rumours spread across royal courts that the King was about to take another wife, namely Katherine Willoughby, widow of his best friend Brandon. In February 1546 Imperial Ambassador Van der Delft wrote: “I hesitate to report there are rumours of a new queen. Some attribute it to the sterility of the present Queen, while others say that there will be no change during the present war. Madame Suffolk is much talked about and is in great favour”.

Baldwin theorises “It is possible that by 1546 he had grown impatient with Queen Catherine’s failure to give him a second son, and more than ever saw this younger, perhaps more attractive, woman who was now a widow and the mother of two healthy boys as the solution to his problem. He would not have been the first man to think that a new, more exciting, relationship would somehow restore his lost youth”. As it was, Katherine never married Henry and the king died in 1547 still wed to her friend and intellectual companion, Katherine Parr.

Katherine Willoughby’s later life would be spent as a leading participant in the Protestant Reformation and Baldwin recounts her actions and movements during this period with alacrity and insightful analysis, including her grief at the deaths of her two sons from the Sweating Sickness in 1551. She spent a period in exile during the reign of Queen Mary due to her committed protestant beliefs before returning after the accession of Elizabeth. She remained a protestant figurehead until her death as an elderly woman in 1580, by which point she was close to irreconcilably falling out with the queen. Each moment is documented in detail by Baldwin who has used a wide range of sources to formulate his biography.

Baldwin’s book is opened with a quote by Muriel St Clare Bryne who stated in 1981 that “Katherine Willoughby is one of the most interesting women of the Tudor Period” and Baldwin’s book serves to underline this notion. The author summarises her life as one ‘of privilege mixed with tragedy and danger, but she kept her head on her shoulders when many of her contemporaries lost theirs for less cause’. The book is concise and detailed; it focuses on events and their impact on his subject as opposed to other books on the era which often delve off on irrelevant tangents. All in all, Katherine Willoughby is a woman who was actively involved in some of the most important events of the Tudor age and was a contemporary of four Tudor monarchs; Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I. Her life was astounding and Baldwin chronicles it with an absorbing attention to detail that ensures his work is a captivating read.

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Henry VIII’s Last Love by David Baldwin is published by Amberley, 2015. The book is available to buy at all good bookstores, as well as online at the Amberley website, Amazon and The Book Depository.

Book Review – Loyalty by Matthew Lewis (Audio Book)

By Nathen Amin

I should start this review by pointing out that I do not enjoy audiobooks and can certainly not be considered sympathetic to Richard III or the theories of Ricardians. That being said, when I came across an audiobook on the subject of Richard III I couldn’t resist giving it a listen.

Loyalty by historian Matthew Lewis was first published in 2012 and has been well received amongst historical fiction aficionados, currently receiving on average in excess of a 4-star rating from over one hundred reviews on Amazon, an impressive statistic and indicative of its quality.

The book has been praised for its intriguing plotline that unusually takes place across two notorious reigns – that of Henry VIII and Richard III. The premise is that Tudor court artist Hans Holbein is summoned to the house of Sir Thomas More for a commission. Whilst in the presence of More the painter is exposed to the true story of Richard III by his prestigious host; Holbein is an attentive if surprised listener as More regales the life of England’s most controversial king, unveiling a king far removed from the evil monarch that the English had come to believe had briefly ruled over them half a century before. By the end of the book Holbein is entrusted with a startling piece of information that could conceivably bring about the demise of the Tudor dynasty.

Lewis’ portrayal of Richard III is sympathetic and favourable, although not to the extent as to be considered preposterous in its bias. Lewis is an unabashed Ricardian but draws his conclusions about Richard III, as a man and as a king, from historical evidence and rational analysis, a process which results in Loyalty being a step above typical Ricardian works of fiction.

His portrayal of the king depicts a pious man who was a loyal brother and a skilled soldier, albeit with character flaws such as a raging temper and innate stubbornness. It is a balanced portrayal that paints Richard exactly as he was – a man of his time with real hopes, fears, dreams and problems. He experiences the highs of battle and the lows of personal grief. He is not a saint or a villain, but merely a man who happens to be born into the upper echelons of English society. Interesting is Richard’s nervous confidence, a feeling of worry as he bravely cuts his through late-fifteenth century English politics, rendered complex by the family dynamic between the House of York. I particularly enjoyed his portrayal as a more rounded, scheming character than a mere one-dimensional fairytale prince. During his test of wills with his brother Clarence over the Neville inheritance, he boldly bluffs by announcing Clarence can have all if Richard is only allowed the hand of Anne Neville. In most Ricardian works of fiction this device is used solely to portray Richard as a swashbuckling man of love, a romantic lead with only Anne on his mind. Lewis expands this by having Richard mentally acknowledge that this is a bluff tactic and that he does not really wish to give away the lands but is rather manipulating the situation to win a favourable outcome whereby he wins both the lands and the hand. This seems far more likely to have been the real situation to me. The motivations of Richard III would have been far more complex than general historical fiction has given him credit for.

This is what makes Lewis’ book a book worth reading, or as of this year, listening to. Towards the end of the book we encounter Lewis’ talent for creating suspenseful and emotional narrative, notably in two separate chapters that deal with drastically different situations. His grief-stricken Richard after the death of his child Edward is harrowing whilst his version of the Battle of Bosworth from Richard’s viewpoint is brutal yet captivating through its descriptive recounting. You are almost able to picture the seen unfolding through your own eyes. Particularly interesting is his tough, influential portrayal of Anne Neville, pushing Richard towards his destiny before falling apart after the death of her only child.

Loyalty has been released in audio book for 2015 and has truly enhanced the book for anyone interested in this period of history. The book has been made available via Audible and is narrated by the dulcet tones of Nigel Carrington, his interpretation of Lewis’ characters nothing other than sublime. Stretching to over 14hrs in length, there is enough content here to keep the listener occupied during long journeys or short breaks. It is certainly fascinating hearing the well-written prose spoken aloud and enables one to paint a picture of the characters as they wade through Lewis’ interpretation of the events of the late fifteenth century. A bonus is the author notes which occupy the last chapter, a historical recounting of the period which served as the basis of the story. It is always gratifying to note the research that has gone into creating historical fiction, amid glaring errors and inaccuracies that exist in the genre today. Lewis does not shy away from justifying his theories and this helps his work stand on its own two feet as a book worth buying, both in paper and audio form.

As I stated at the beginning, I generally do not enjoy the topic of Richard III as told by Ricardians or listening to audio books. My only complaint after listening to this particular Richard III audiobook is that 14 hours went too quickly.

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Book Review – Henry VIII; The Life and Times of England’s Nero by John Matusiak

The historical depiction of Nero, Roman Emperor in the early first century, is that of an extravagant and cultured ruler with a ruthless streak, often committing acts that bordered on tyranny. John Matusiak’s reference to Henry VIII as ‘England’s Nero’ in the title of his biography sets out from the start the author’s opinion of this much-debated sixteenth century king.
Matusiak opens his work Henry VIII; The Life and Times of England’s Nero, by History Press with the following quote, said to be Aristotle’s words to Alexander the Great and later quoted to the future Henry VIII by his tutor John Skelton;

“You have vanquished your enemies, you have gained many kingdoms, you have subdued many empires… but all the same you have neglected to control, or have been unable to govern, the small domain of your mind and body”

Once again, the conclusion of Matusiak on his subject is evident from the outset. Nonetheless his book’s claim to be a new look at an old topic certainly holds true once the content is ingested. This isn’t just another ‘by-number’s’ look at Henry VIII.
Matusiak’s explores the mind of Henry whilst attempting to explain the king’s disastrous decline from Renaissance prince to chaotic tyrant. In effect Matusiak’s work almost reads like a psychological evaluation of Henry without allowing his work to become tedious. This is evident from such passages as the following, discussing Henry’s disorganised reformation attempts throughout the latter part of his reign;

“…the King’s religious thinking in these years grew out of and epitomised his egocentricity and arbitrariness, as well as the ultimately unsystematic nature of his thinking”.

Matusiak maintains an intriguingly erudite and captivating narrative throughout the work, keeping the attention whilst accomplishing something which has become difficult in recent times – to make the subject of Henry VIII and his life and times appear fresh. One subject that Matusiak’s glosses over but doesn’t obsess on is the various wives of Henry. We learn what we need to know and how they affected Henry, but we do not become bogged down in needless narrative on Anne Boleyn et al.

It must be noted that the author does not paint a positive portrayal of the man throughout the work, exposing Henry’s flaws, weaknesses and fears in what is overall a cold and ruthless analysis. This, Matusiak argues, just supports the theory that Henry was a mere man, and not the mythical figure that has become a cliché in recent memory. Indeed it is to Matusiak’s credit that whilst he doesn’t seek to glorify Henry, he also ensures he doesn’t demonise him. This book is a portrait of a real man with real issues, worries and concerns and how these personal issues found themselves manifested in matters of state.

Matusiak’s overall conclusion on Henry seems to be that, for all the fluff that exists around the subject, Henry was simply a bad king, undeserving of mythological status. He was indecisive, he was egotistical and he was selfish. Was Henry ‘unfit for power’ as Matusiak puts it? After reading this work, it’s difficult to disagree. A recommended piece of work.

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Book Review – The Hollow Crown/The Wars of the Roses by Dan Jones

By Nathen Amin

The Wars of the Roses is a period of English history that is very much in vogue at the moment, a situation undoubtedly bolstered by the Wars’ inclusion in a plethora of recent historical fiction releases by various preeminent authors. Their entertaining, if often disturbingly inaccurate, portrayal of the epic fifteenth century tussle for the crown has satisfyingly been equalled by a variety of releases by academic historians putting forward the ‘true’ story. Dan Jones’ new release ‘The Hollow Crown’ (published as ‘The Wars of the Roses’ in the US) is the latest welcome addition to this field.

As the best-selling author of the critically-acclaimed ‘The Plantagenets’, Dan Jones’ latest effort can be considered a natural sequel to his previous work. The Wars of the Roses were a complex and confusing period in English history and Jones succeeds in simplifying the conflict without omitting any detail detrimental to the understanding of the story. It is a trait not unlike the style employed by Dr David Starkey, that elder statesman of the Tudor period under who Jones studied at Cambridge. The book is divided into four parts, namely ‘Beginnings (1420-1437)’, ‘What is a King? (1437-1455)’, ‘The Hollow Crown (1455-1471)’ and ‘The Rise of the Tudors’ (1471-1525)’. It is to Jones writing ability that this form of splitting up his work doesn’t disrupt the flow of the storytelling process.

Whilst most books about the period helpfully provide detailed family trees, a notable feature of Jones’ book is the additional inclusion of maps highlighting key locations of not only fifteenth century England and Wales but also of France and the Low Countries. Any student of the Wars, new or old, will be grateful for this quick reference. Furthermore his work is well-littered with quotes from contemporary chronicles and other sources, a satisfying method that allows the reader to become engrossed in the story without having to periodically flick to the notes to chase the quote.

Jones considers the origin of the Wars of the Roses to be Henry V’s death in 1422 and the subsequent accession of his infant son Henry VI, for which he makes a compelling and sensible claim. That the infant grew up to be unsuited to ruling either England or France is resolutely clear to all students of the period. Jones however takes this conclusion a step further by essentially declaring the pious and fragile Henry to be main culprit responsible for the outbreak of hostilities, a unusual standpoint. Jones’ concludes “in a system in which law, order, justice and peace flowed so heavily from the person of the king and the office of the Crown, Henry VI’s reign (and his afterlife between deposition in 1461 and his death ten years later) was a disaster”. Jones considers the tragic monarch an “adult king who simply would not perform his role”. He is not wrong.

If the Wars have their roots in 1422, the Jones theorises the dynastic conflict didn’t truly end until deep in the sixteenth century, many decades after the generally accepted end date of 1485/87 when the last pitched battles were fought on a large scale. His acceptable justification for this is the targeting and eradication of the Yorkist bloodline by Henry VIII which included the barbaric execution of Margaret Pole, an elderly scion with an impeccable Yorkist pedigree.

With an impartiality that is refreshing in literature covering the Wars of the Roses, the book documents, in varying detail, all the battles of the Wars and satisfyingly includes a roll call of anybody who was anyone during the conflict, from the kings and dukes down to officials like Sir William Oldhall and the much demonised Empson and Dudley. Jones doesn’t favour a side or a faction, coming to the genre with an neutrality from which no-one emerges blameless. He both criticises and praises Richard III and Henry VII for example.

It is narrative history that certain to attract academic students and historical fiction fans alike, not necessarily an easy accomplishment but one that Jones succeeds in providing. Vivid storytelling and descriptive terms easily paint a picture for the reader of the ruthlessness of the period.
Jones aims in his introduction to tell the story of the Wars in a way that is “scholarly, informative and entertaining”. In this he succeeds.

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