Thursday, 14 March 2013

The Wars Of The Roses - Trevor Royle

During my high school days, various important periods in English or British history were covered in our History lessons, but one which singularly failed to register fully in my consciousness was The Wars Of The Roses.  This may have been due to the protracted and intricate nature of those events.  Anybody who has encountered similar feelings would be well advised to check out Trevor Royle's admirable book, The Wars Of The Roses.

The author does a capable job of helping the reader to navigate the formidable webs of intrigue and shifting allegiances and fortunes. At the same time, he leaves just enough unsaid to allow room for interpretation for the reader.  There is also some attempt to frankly assess and appraise the merits (and shortcomings) of many of the principal characters.

The relating of the story has a genuine richness to it, helping to convey the turbulence, and occasional brutality and cruelty, of those times. There is relatively little in the way of analysis of military technicalities, with the emphasis very much placed on the power-politics and self-interest which motivated these struggles.

Royle also adroitly links the upheavals consuming England to the close links which the country had with France during those years (and before).  He expertly explains how fluctuations in the dynastic squabbling on the other side of the Channel impacted, directly or indirectly, on the Lancaster v York dynamic at various stages.

So many of the attitudes and episodes related and examined in this book seem thoroughly alien to us now, although some of the factors which precipitated the crises were outside the control of humans, and not even directly caused by the social mores which prevailed in the fourteen and fifteenth centuries.  Also, it has to be remembered that for all the outbursts of instability and violence, there were also long periods of calm, peace and order.

The author makes excellent use of quotes and excerpts from cultural artefacts, to depict and evoke the tenor and ambience of those times, or of their aftermath.  The opening chapters also ably set the scene, by summarising the political, economic and social conditions which existed prior to the conflicts commencing fully.

This book is written in an eminently plausible, accessible and balanced style.  Well worth a read.

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