The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors
By Dan Jones
Published by Recorded Books
Read by John Curless
After last week’s review, I probably should have switched back to fiction for a bit, but Dan Jones’ book on the Wars of the Roses was the next one I had queued up, so here goes.
Jones has written several highly regarded book on aspects of English History and this one has received at least as many good reviews as the others. In to this very complicated subject he brings a conversational tone that is easy to read or listen to, although given the large cast of characters involved I felt that had I not studied the period before, I would have had to take notes as I went along or gotten hopelessly lost amidst a long list of names, many of which are understandably similar to each other, and a horrendous list of Medieval morality, punishments and executions. However, I suspect that most people picking up this book will already have at least a passing acquaintance with the period even if all they have done is played Avalon Hill’s game, Kingmaker or read through the classic historical parody, 1066 and All That.
First of all I want to say I enjoyed this book very much… so I will… I enjoyed this book very much. However, this is what I call a popular history. It is well written and can hold the readers as well as any historic novel, but while some of the historic characters are covered in detail, many others are glossed over. However, if you only know a little about the period from Henry V through Henry VIII, there’s a lot to be learned in this book. I have studied the period, but there were details I had not heard in class, and some viewpoints that were new to me as well.
So, while, yes, this is popular history, it is a good introduction to the period of the late Plantagenets through the first two Tudor kings. I did, at times, tire of battlefield details. I realize that many historians dwell on the way a battle unfolded and at times this is crucial to understanding the event and what happened afterward, but frequently it serves to just fill pages…. Unless the book is a study of military history, of course. A good example, however of a battle that did need a detailed description was Bosworth Field especially when the Stanleys committed late in the battle to Henry Tudor’s side. I did notice that Jones’ implication was that the Stanleys intentionally held back until they could join the winning side, although, to be fair, he did admit that this is not uncertain, but I was slightly surprised that he did not evcen mention the theory that the Stanleys were actually on the side of Richard III, but attacked the wrong side due to misrecognizing the heraldic armory being used. The Battle of Bosworth Field, is one of the prime examples when the importance of recognizable heraldry is discussed, but Jones is not the only to overlook that aspect and the truth of the matter is we will likely never know why the Stanleys attacked where and when they did. We only know that they did it and that turned the entire battle, which probably should never have been won by Henry VII (unless you’re a fan of the “Black Adder” series in which case you’re knowledge of the battle may be somewhat skewed from reality).
Jones, however, does not stop his history of the Wars of the Roses with Bosworth Field, but shows that the early Tudor reigns were plagues by Plantagenet claimant and pretenders to the throne and so he does not stop until 1541 (56 years after Bosworth Field) and the botched execution of Margaret Pole. I have to admit when, in his epilogue, Jones started describing Elizabeth I’s coronation I was afraid he was not going to draw the curtain on the Wars of the Roses until there was a Stewart king on the throne, but fortunately that was not the case.
The only flaw I noticed was that at least twice he used the first person voice (I suppose, we think…) which I found badly jarring and somewhat less than professional, no matter how popular a history is supposed to be. However, I only notice that happening twice, so maybe I’m too sensitive?
No matter how good a book is, a bad reader can ruin the experience. Happily, John Curless is an excellent reader and matches the tone of Dan Jones’ words perfectly. His clear and friendly sounding reading of this book kept me listening straight from the Introduction to the Epilogue. It felt like listening to a lecture by a really good history professor – the sort who has not yet fallen into the almost inevitable rut caused by teaching the same classes over and over again for thirty-something years.
So what we have here is a good way to be introduced to a fascinating period of history in a way that will not send you to sleep whether you read it or listen to it, and if you find yourself interested, it may be time to seek out the details that were glossed over because there are a heck of a lot of them, far more so than any one book on the subject can cover, but you have to start somewhere and this book is a great place to start.