Sunday, December 2, 2018

Lancaster and York

Edward IV
 From the time I did a term paper on Richard III in ninth grade, I have been intrigued by the Wars of the Roses and especially by the last Plantagenets. Every few years my fascination with the Wars of the Roses is reignited, this time by the Audible edition of Alison Weir's work Lancaster and York: The Wars of the Roses. Weir covers the background of the conflict in greater detail than I had ever come across before, while describing the various characters and situations clearly enough to make sense of the highly complex epoch. The origins of the conflict were rooted in both the Hundred Years War and the usurpation of the throne by the House of Lancaster. By the time the boy king Henry VI (1421 – 1471) came into his majority in 1437, the crown was almost bankrupt from the war. Henry VI and his devastatingly beautiful and clever wife Margaret of Anjou made it worse by giving away crown lands to favorites so that the royal household had little to support it. Meanwhile, nobles such as Richard of York, concerned for the stability of the kingdom, intervened in state affairs, and his efforts were seen as a deliberate play for power by the Queen. Henry VI's mental and emotional collapse in 1453 emboldened the corrupt ascendancy of Somerset and Suffolk, who plotted with the Queen to destroy Richard of York and his adherents. Richard, who had allied himself with his cousin Warwick, was careful not to make an outright claim on the crown for many years, even though legally his was the best claim. After his execution at the Battle of Wakefield in 1460, Richard of York's teenage son Edward, Earl of March raised his sword and his banner against Henry VI in a struggle for the crown of England.

Once Edward IV emerges in the book he upstages everyone else, just as he did in life. At  six feet four, Edward was the tallest king of England of all time. He was a brilliant commander and strategist while still practically a boy and fought his way to victory, again and again. His love match with the beautiful Elizabeth Woodville produced a large family. His court was glittering and the music was especially superb. His main fault was his dissipation; his love of drink, food and women ruined his health and his reputation.

Now the problem for anyone involved in the Wars of the Roses is that loyalties were constantly shifting; there were many betrayals. Even family members could often not be trusted. As the wars progressed they became increasingly grisly. Once Edward became king, especially the second time around, he worked very hard to restore the prosperity and stability of England and indeed lay the groundwork for the economic growth of the next several decades. Henry VII was most successful when he continued Edward's policies.
 Unfortunately, the violence of the wars and the shifting allegiances took their toll on all the major players in the royal drama. Edward's death in 1483 is attributed to his unhealthy pursuit of pleasure, but much of his behaviors were as much a result of the extreme stressful conditions of his young manhood, betrayals by the Warwick family, fighting in  a twelve hour battle in a blizzard, long marches, plus hasty escapes to the continent. It had to have effected him. I came to the conclusion that anyone living through that tumultuous war had to have experienced some degree of post-traumatic stress disorder. It certainly made George of Clarence crazy. It shows especially in what happened when Edward died; the entire family became unraveled. Edward's death is not in Weir's book Lancaster and York, however. That is why I found it helpful to simultaneously read the biography of Edward IV by Charles Ross. I followed up with Peter Hancock's  Richard III and the Murder in the Tower and Mark Garber's The Princes in the Tower. I would also heartily recommend Weir's Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World as well as Weir's own The Princes in the Tower.


1 comment:

julygirl said...

All a very confusing and tumultuous era in English history and I applaud anyone who can pull it all together.