The Wars of the Roses by Desmond Seward
Illustrations by Frances Button
Published in 1995; 2011 Edition by The Folio Society – Third printing 2013
Genre: History, nonfiction, English history
Disclaimer: This review will be different from the norm in that it is split into two parts: a standard, albeit shorter, book review and a specific review of this Folio Society edition. I am endorsing this product through my own volition and belief in its high quality.
Part I: The Story
“During the last years of the fifteenth century, on a morning in late summer, a small man stood alone by himself in a meadow in the English Midlands.”
The Wars of the Roses, by Desmond Seward, tells the story of one of the most politically intriguing and ruthless stretches of time in the history of England. Brother fought brother and nobles were slandered in the pursuit of power and control of the nation. This book, reproduced by The Folio Society, dives into the gritty details of the conflict and creates a story by following the threads of five people who played integral parts during the decades of death and deliverance.
The Wars of the Roses refers to a conflict for the right of succession during the 15th century in England; this period began in 1455 during the reign of Henry VI, into Edward IV’s two reigns, the short reign of Richard III, and into that of Henry VII in which the last battle was fought in 1487. The book uses five personalities that appear throughout the conflict: William Hastings, a squired soldier and Edward IV’s best friend; John De Vere, Earl of Oxford and loyal retainer of Henry VII; Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry VII; Dr. John Morton, clergyman who switches sides throughout and plays a major role in politics; and Jane Shore, mistress of both Edward IV and William Hastings.
The Wars of the Roses gives information as to the lifestyle of different classes; it is notable in the conflict that mainly the noble and gentry were casualties. The conflict was brutal in its violence with many decapitations, but one of the worst fates was to be attainted; to lose all claims of property and land for the entire family. The book also makes use of contemporary sources in order to add better fidelity to the actual events.
The War of the Roses splits into sections by decade and was written in a way that isn’t dry or difficult to read; however, it can get confusing with amount of similar names and people being called by their titles, which change throughout the book.
Part II: The Book Itself
This edition contains 3 sections of illustrations/paintings from contemporary artists of the period. Each section showcases images of the people spoken of in the surrounding pages to help put faces to the names, often with captions to help draw connections between the events and the people.
Here are some specifications taken from The Folio Society web page:
- New preface by the author.
- Bound in buckram.
- Blocked with an illustration by Frances Button.
- Set in Janson.
- 400 pages
- Frontispiece and 24 pages of colour and black & white plates.
- Book Size: 10″ × 6¾”.
This is the third book from the Folio Society that I have bought, and though the quality continues to amaze, I was a bit disappointed in the layout of the images and their presentation. The three sections were nice, but I felt they could have been split up more to break up the blocks of text. I enjoyed Seward’s writing as it made an interesting subject easy to digest through the well-written descriptions and its use of accounts from contemporary sources. The Wars of the Roses was a tumultuous time in England, especially for the gentry, and this edition is a great addition to any lay historian’s collection.
Verdict: 3 numerical names out of 5
Recommended for: Those who like reading about multiple people with the same name (especially Margaret, Edward, Richard, and Henry), those with good short-term memories for names, people interested in an especially bloody moment in English history, fans of regicide, and anyone wishing to learn more about the Wars of the Roses.
Not recommended for: Those who don’t like reading about multiple people with the same name, people who dislike Roman Numerals, the easily bored, fans of not writing notes while reading a book for pleasure, or anyone not wishing to learn about the Wars of the Roses.