Book Review: “The Brothers York: An English Tragedy” by Thomas Penn

Penns brothers york book cover

 

Thomas Penn’s “The Brothers York:  An English Tragedy” is chock full of revelations.  His book on King Henry VII “The Winter King”details Henry’s creative accounting and this book does the same with King Edward IV.  Penn breaks down the inventive financing Edward IV engaged in to raise funds for the government and for himself.  Much of the money garnered by these methods went straight to the king’s chamber rather than the Exchequer.  The raising of bonds from nobles in exchange for good behavior was started during Edward’s reign and Henry VII just continued the practice.

Penn explains over and over again how Edward IV manipulated the inheritance laws to confiscate property from the nobility and in turn, give it to his brothers and most loyal followers.  This practice obviously did not endear Edward IV to the nobility.  These transactions caused resentment and anger toward the king, perhaps more so than his favoritism of the Woodville family.  And Penn, rightfully so, emphasizes that any gains made by the Woodville family only occurred at Edward’s pleasure.

The manipulation of the inheritance laws greatly concerned King Edward’s brother George, Duke of Clarence.  Before Edward married Elizabeth Woodville and had children, George was the king’s heir.  This went to his head, giving him a sense of entitlement.  George was aggrieved and angry with Edward for giving and taking away property and for the loss of his position as heir to the throne.  Foolishly, George rebelled against Edward, and we all know how this ended.

But to me, there is one startling revelation.  Penn really only hints at this and never comes right out and says it point blank.  Richard III was an alcoholic.  He mentions Richard was seriously drinking large quantities of wine after he became king.  This was so intriguing to me.  In his footnotes, he cites an article in an academic journal titled:  “Multi-isotope analysis demonstrates significant lifestyle changes in King Richard III” written by four researchers from the British Geological Survey and from the University of Leicester.

They examined the bones of Richard III and concluded he was eating a diet of rich food and significantly increased his wine consumption during his years as king.  The scientific evidence suggests Richard was under great stress and drinking heavily.  In his case, it was easy to become king but not so easy to execute royal duties and remain king.  This goes a long way in explaining some of Richard’s behavior and decisions.

All the little intricacies and relationships between the three brothers and the courtiers and nobles of the court are examined intensely by Penn with extraordinary perception and discernment.  To me, studying the Wars of the Roses always made me uncomfortable because none of it made complete sense.  Penn’s insight into the character and machinations of Edward IV, George, Duke of Clarence and Richard III has really gone a long way toward explaining this decades long conflict.  It all becomes crystal clear and is pretty fascinating.  This is one of the best books I’ve read in the last ten years.  I highly recommend it.

 

Book Review: “Anne Neville: Richard III’s Tragic Queen” by Amy Licence

Anne Neville Licence book cover

It is very unfortunate that little historical evidence or records exist regarding the life of Anne Neville, daughter of the Earl of Warwick and wife of Edward of Westminster and finally King Richard III. There doesn’t seem to be enough to fill a two hundred page biography but Amy License delivers with this book. As I have mentioned before I try to avoid the Wars of the Roses but this book piqued my interest because it’s about a medieval noblewoman who became Queen of England.

This book gives us the scant detail we know of Anne and fleshes it out with interesting historical details. There is a lot of information about the Earl of Warwick, Anne’s father, known to history as “The Kingmaker”, because details of his life give us insight into the home Anne grew up in. Warwick was Captain of Calais so Anne spent a few years of her childhood in France. Warwick’s machinations in bringing the Yorkist Edward, Earl of March to the throne and his about face in supporting Margaret of Anjou’s attempt to bring her husband Henry VI back to the throne are described. Licence gives us a great lesson in these events in easy to understand narrative. This is important to Anne’s story because it explains how she came to marry Edward of Westminster, the son of Margaret of Anjou and King Henry VI.

It is also important to Anne’s story because her father was killed in battle and eventually her husband Edward was killed too, leaving her a widow in the care of her sister Isabel and her husband the mercurial Duke of Clarence, brother of Anne’s future husband, Richard Duke of Gloucester. It is interesting to note that no one knows how the marriage of Anne and Richard originated. There was opposition to the alliance and it is a mystery who first suggested it. But marry they did with no expectation they would be king and queen.

The early years of Anne’s marriage and the birth of her son Edward of Middleham are recounted. Licence tells us of the castles the couple lived in and how they acquired more property and renovated some of them, along with the religious institutions they patronized. Using contemporary sources regarding how medieval women ran their households and aided their husband’s, we can get an idea of Anne’s daily life. All of this was to change with the sudden death of Richard’s brother, King Edward IV in the spring of 1483.

Richard was appointed Protector and regent for Edward’s young son, King Edward V. In a mysterious turn of events, Edward V and his brother and sisters were declared illegitimate and the Council asked Richard to be king. King Edward V and his brother Richard, Duke of York disappeared in the Tower of London sometime during the summer of 1483. Richard and Anne were crowned king and queen and then circumstances seem to have unraveled over the next two years.

This book is enjoyable, easy to read and fascinating. This time period of the Wars of the Roses brings up way more questions than answers based on the existing evidence. Licence poses all these questions and leaves it up to the reader to decide what they think really happened.