The War of the Roses – Book Review
Some stories are timeless. Despite the passage of time, the truly great stories pass from generation to generation to become a part of our collective culture. The War of the Roses and the ascension of the Tudors to the British royal throne is one such story. English playwright William Shakespeare immortalized the War of the Roses’ century of bloodshed and murder, political intrigue and the fickle fortunes of war in eight of his most famous plays. The bard’s pen ensured we know the names of the central figures – Joan of Arc, Richard III, Edward IV – even if the actual events of their lives are unfamiliar or misunderstood. Author Dan Jones latest book, The War of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors, performs yeoman’s work explaining a fascinating period of Western European history. This book is his second offering on English nobility and the companion piece to his 2012 release titled The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings Who Invented England.
A cursory examination of The War of the Roses may lead readers, and more than one book reviewer, to draw immediate comparison to the popular HBO series Game of Thrones. While Hollywood’s television fantasy is no doubt violent and bloody, it pales in comparison to the actual events examined in Jones’ book. The struggle for the English crown involved real people, not fictional characters. The consequences of failure in Tudor era are difficult to contemplate today. For example, a 21st-century politician who fails loses his or her office and perhaps a bit of prestige. A would
Jones’ prose is engaging and descriptive. His writing breathes life and meaning into events that occurred six centuries before, adding a rich layer of detail to the central storyline. His explanation of everyday events, such as life at court, is as equally engaging as the descriptions of battles. Jones’ writing on hand-to-hand combat is particularly vivid and, at times, uncomfortable to read. If there is any fault in The War of the Roses, it is the book’s assumption prospective readers will have an intimate knowledge of English geography. As an aid, Jones included three black and white maps of England and France as well as family trees for the Lancaster, York and Tudor blood lines. Given the number of people and places involved in this story, readers will want to routinely consult both references.
Tudor victory and the death of Richard III at Bosworth Field concluded the War of the Roses. However, the lessons of that era are eerily apropos to the current state of global politics. In particular, the reign of Henry VI aptly demonstrates the inherent dangers of weak national leaders and rabidly divided central governments. Equally enlightening are Jones’ reflections on the propaganda machines heavily utilized throughout the conflict to “sell” individual claimant’s legitimacy to seize the English crown. That lesson alone more than justifies the purchase of Jones’ book. So, place a chair by the fire and prepare for an enjoyable night’s reading. But fellow reader, be warned. After consuming just a few pages of The War of the Roses, the political struggles and historical consequences of the formerly distant 15th century may not feel so removed from our own time.
Lieutenant Colonel Christopher J. Heatherly enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1994 and earned his commission via Officer Candidate School in 1997. He has held a variety of assignments in special operations, Special Forces, armored, and cavalry units. His operational experience includes deployments to Afghanistan, Iraq, South Korea, Kuwait, Mali, and Nigeria. He holds master’s degrees from the University of Oklahoma and the School of Advanced Military Studies.
The opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of the United States Government, the Department of Defense, or the United States Army.