Blood Roses by Kathryn Warner – Review
By Sandra Callard
Blood Roses by Kathryn Warner is a highly competent and intellectual narrative of the bloody and confusing years that transpired into what became known in historical circles as the Wars of the Roses.
The book is scholarly to its backbone with an astonishing breadth of research. We are reading about people, events and details which took place in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and the reader could be forgiven for thinking he is reading a page of this morning’s Telegraph. It is astoundingly real.
The genealogical tables are numerous and a tad confusing unless you are a seasoned scholar of medieval history, but are nevertheless admirably thorough. I did find myself referring to them every few pages as my grasp of the numerous lines of medieval heredity failed, and it is a fact that, without them, my understanding of the book would have faltered.
The romantic stories of the famous Wars of the Roses contain myths and legends galore and have become the accepted outline of events which covers hundreds of years of conflict, from roughly 1245 when the second son of Henry III and his wife Eleanor of Provence was given the title of 1st Earl of Lancaster.
Edmund was endowed with a huge amount of land, properties, castles and money, and it is heartening to know that, in a time when murder and treason were bywords for normality, the new Earl Edmund led a family-orientated life and stayed steadily loyal to his elder brother, King Edward I, the mighty ‘Hammer of the Scots’, for his entire life.
There was no title of Duke of York at this time, and it would be late-fourteenth century before the First Duke of York appeared when Edward III gave the title to his eldest son, Edmund of Langley in 1385. Here, we get to the crux of the matter as, around the same time, Edward III also endowed his son, the powerful John of Gaunt, as the 2nd Duke of Lancaster. So, we now have two brothers, born only a year apart and dying within two years of each other, one the head of the House of Lancaster, the other the opposing head of the House of York. It was the beginning of a tumultuous time which only ended in 1485 with the death of Richard III and the end of the House of York.
The story is a tangled web of multiple births, necessary then because of the high rate of death amongst young children, and multiple marriages, necessary because of the same terrible rate of death of mothers in childbirth. The more children the aristocracy produced, the greater their power and the safer their assets were. It was not unusual for a child of 14 to bear children, just as it was normal for a woman to bear ten or more children.
The book has many useful additions to assist the reader. The Dramatis Personae is brilliant and essential for a quick check on a character the reader is unsure about. Each item is a succinct bulletin of a person mentioned in the book and is so useful in following the line of the narrative, as many characters have the same name.
This book is, without a doubt, for the addicted history lover, as well as for the scholar. I come into the first category but freely admit I struggled at times to follow the litany of names and recurring deaths, but I ended the book with a great feeling of accomplishment, as well as a whole new mass of information about one of the most fascinating and misunderstood periods in history.
‘Blood Roses’ by Kathryn Warner is published by The History Press, £12.99 paperback