Book Review – ‘Lancaster and York’ by Alison Weir

Alison Weir, ‘Lancaster and York: the Wars of the Roses’ (London: Vintage Books, 2009) Paperback, ISBN 978-0-099-54017-5

Alison Weir 'Lancaster and York'
Alison Weir ‘Lancaster and York’

Title: The title is very apt, as the book covers mainly the first part of the Wars of the Roses – when Lancaster and York were at war, and not the latter part where the war was between York itself (Richard III and the Princes in the Tower or Edward IV vs. the Duke of Clarence). It focuses on the role of Margaret of Anjou, and the conflicts between her and the Duke of York, which led to York triumphing over Lancaster.

Preface: The preface / introduction is quite short, but gives a quick overview of the main focal points of the Wars of the Roses, and explains where the idea came from to write about the Wars of the Roses when most of her books are written about the Tudors. Weir discusses the meagre amount of surviving sources, but then fails to build on that in the book itself.

Citations: There aren’t really any citations to speak of, which makes it difficult to track where certain information comes from. All there is is a general bibliography at the end, with a couple of family trees, which are useful as the period is a complicated one. What would probably have been more useful even than citations, particularly for a reader relatively new to the period, would have been a list of who was on the side of York and who was on the side of Lancaster.

Alison Weir
Alison Weir

Contents: This book focuses mainly on the point up until the Battle of Tewkesbury and the triumph of the House of York. It doesn’t look at the divisions within the House of York (except Warwick, as he is key in the final battles of the Lancastrian defeat), including Richard III and the Princes in the Tower. It would have been interesting to see this later period, and more about the rule of Edward IV, which is also lacking. It is definitely more focused on Lancaster than York. It looks at York only as far as it affects Lancaster.

Genre/Audience: A more popular history than some I’ve read, as it looks less at the sources and more at the facts. It also has a more co-operative tone than others, meaning that people with less of a knowledge of this very complex period can still keep up and engage with the facts. It is definitely a period history, not really focusing on one particular person, but on the wider political stage, and the consequences of actions.

Concepts: With the book being largely focused on the Lancaster cause, rather than the Yorkist cause, there is inevitably a lot of discussion of the role of Margaret of Anjou, and to what extent the Wars of the Roses were down to her leadership of the ‘court party’ and her determination to oust York from the protectorate when Henry VI was indisposed. There is also a lot about the international scene, as both Margaret of Anjou and Edward IV spent time overseas seeking French and Burgundian support for their claims to the throne. An interesting wider view of the conflict.

Margaret of Anjou from an illuminated manuscript c. 1445 by Talbot Master
Margaret of Anjou from an illuminated manuscript c. 1445 by Talbot Master

Sources: There isn’t really a great emphasis on sources through the book, as with a lot of Weir’s writing. Nevertheless, it does give an overview of the facts, which can then encourage you to go and search out the original sources. There are no footnotes or endnotes, merely a comprehensive bibliography, which can make it difficult to trace which information came from which particular source, and even whether all the listed sources were in fact used in the book.

Illustrations: There is only one section of illustrations in the middle of the book, unlike some where there are two or three illustration sections, dividing up the period discussed. They do largely consist of portraits, although there is also a selection of places, including the oratory where Henry VI was supposedly killed, and some drawn images showing various different episodes in the Wars of the Roses, including the execution of the Duke of Somerset and the aftermath of Jack Cade’s rebellion. The list of illustrations at the front is helpful as it allows you to check where certain illustrations come from, and gives lots of information about the time they were formed and where they are kept now.

Alison Weir's 'The Lady in the Tower: the Fall of Anne Boleyn' (2009).
Alison Weir’s ‘The Lady in the Tower: the Fall of Anne Boleyn’ (2009).

Other works: Other works by Alison Weir are largely based on the later Tudor period, and include ‘The Princes in the Tower’, ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’, ‘Children of England’, ‘Henry VIII: King and Court’, and ‘The Lady in the Tower: the Fall of Anne Boleyn’. Other works about the Wars of the Roses include Sarah Gristwood’s ‘Blood Sisters: the Women Behind the Wars of the Roses’, ‘A Brief History of the Wars of the Roses’ by Desmond Seward, and ‘The Hollow Crown: the Wars of the Roses and the Rise of the Tudors’ by Dan Jones.

My Rating: 14/20

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