Title: The Wars of the Roses
Author: Alison Weir
Release Date: June 25, 1996
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Genre: Non-Fiction, History
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
In this history, Alison Weir recounts the events and people behind what she describes as “the first Wars of the Roses”, which covers the origins of one of England’s bloodiest civil wars and traces its path through the reign of Edward IV.
The Wars of the Roses, also called The Cousins’ War, is a fascinating time in English history. However, it is also extremely confusing. It was so turbulent, with so many kings, queens, and claimants to the throne, that it’s very difficult to keep a chronology in mind. Most books, whether historical fiction or non-fiction, that deal with the Wars of the Roses focus on a single person, and as a result, it becomes difficult to place them into the proper context of the overall conflict. As a result, I decided to seek out a comprehensive history of the origins and early years of the Wars of the Roses to understand this bloody conflict.
Alison Weir’s book The Wars of the Roses was exactly what I needed to gain a solid understanding of the foundations of The Cousins’ War. Weir is of the opinion that the conflict began with the horrendous reign of Richard II (historians disagree over this - that’s how confusing the Wars of the Roses are), and she makes a good case for her views. Weir also does an excellent job putting a human face on the historical figures in this narrative. She focuses on the people involved and how they brought about the larger events of the conflict.
This book only focuses on the “first” Wars of the Roses, through the Battle of Tewkesbury and the murder of King Henry VI. It does not cover the reign of Richard III, nor the historical mystery of the princes in the tower. This was covered in Weir’s book The Princes in the Tower, and after what I’d heard about that book, I’ll admit I was hesitant about reading this one. According to many readers, Weir is judgmental and very biased, almost emotional, in her hatred of Richard III. She loses the objectivity of a historian, and as a result, that book is not her best work. However, I am happy to say this is not the case with The Wars of the Roses. While some of Weir’s biases do come through - it’s clear she is not a fan of Elizabeth Wydeville, for example - I felt that she did a commendable job delivering the information and allowing the reader to make up their own minds about the people and history.
If you’re looking for an impeccably researched and well-written broad history of the Wars of the Roses, this is definitely the book to pick up. Weir discusses the history without letting the subject matter become the least bit dry, and as a result, it is engaging from beginning to end. It provides a solid foundation and an easily understood narrative arc to explain this complicated and difficult period of English history.