The Wars of the Roses – Review

The Wars of the Roses by Desmond Seward

Illustrations by Frances Button

Published in 1995; 2011 Edition by The Folio Society – Third printing 2013

Pages: 372

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

1. Frontispiece.jpg

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.

2. Double page spread.jpg
One of the illustration sections.

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”.
3. Spine.JPG
The spine and slipcase.

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.

14 thoughts on “The Wars of the Roses – Review

  1. Honestly if the book only started in 1455 then you’re missing over half the story, as the seeds of the conflict was laid down at the removal of Richard II way back in 1399. For a fuller version of the entire era I’d suggest Alison Weir’s The Wars of the Roses (yet another book I need to reread and review on my blog).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve been wanting to read this book for some time. Based on your “recommended for,” I should definitely read it. (That really made me laugh, BTW!) This version is beautiful. I enjoyed reading the review.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. OMG. I need to have this in my life immediately! 🙂 I love reading/watching anything & everything about this time period. Also about Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Elizabeth II is alright but kind of boring in comparison. (I still watch “The Crown” though. . . .)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It sounds like this history gives a good overview of a period I don’t know enough about, so I think I will read this book, but not the Folio edition. When I saw the illustrated pages, my first thought was that it seemed a little lazy by Folio standards. Maybe because I have only read fiction editions from them, where they commission artists to interpret the text.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That was my experience as well with my copy of The Norse Myths that I just finished reading; though I will say that the myths come from oral tradition, so I didn’t exactly want an overwhelmingly illustrated version in the first place. I got this book when they were having a sale, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have gotten the Folio edition.


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