An Alternative History of Britain, The Wars of the Roses

B1839

The author is building a series of interesting alternative histories. This new book is again interesting and plausible. It covers a period of English history that is often viewed romantically, even though it was a particularly violent and brutal civil war that raged on for much of the 15th Century.

A fascinating review of the Wars of the Roses that is informative, enjoyable and entertaining.

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NAME: An Alternative History of Britain, The Wars of the Roses
CLASSIFICATION: Book Reviews
FILE: R1839
DATE: 240613
AUTHOR: Timothy Venning
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword
BINDING: hard back
PAGES: 214
PRICE: £19.99
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: White Rose, Red rose, Lancaster, York, Plantagenet, Tudor, Warwick, Bosworth Field, Barnet, Towton, Queen Margaret, Tewkesbury, Henry VI, Woodvilles, Anne Neville, Edgecote, Bolingbroke, John de la Pole, Battle of Stoke
ISBN: 1-78159-127-X
IMAGE: B1839.jpg
BUYNOW: http://tinyurl.com/lnho7e6
LINKS:
DESCRIPTION: The author is building a series of interesting alternative histories. This new book is again interesting and plausible. It covers a period of English history that is often viewed romantically, even though it was a particularly violent and brutal civil war that raged on for much of the 15th Century.

The value of speculation in alternative histories has been questioned. The most common criticism is that history is history and speculation is both unprofitable and endless. It is true that any event that is considered for an alternative outcome is the start of ‘what if’ because, once a change in chance or design is declared, argument can continue indefinitely as the change is questioned and further alternatives are proffered. In simple terms, the question ‘if Henry VIII had been followed by a son, and then by a grandson, how would English history have been changed?’ is really the question of the influence of gender on succession. Major change would have been more likely if Elizabeth Tudor had been a Catholic or had a different character. She was able to use her potential as a wife to play other monarchs off against each other, but in many respects, her gender was less significant than her choice of advisors and her human vulnerabilities that could as easily have applied to a King.

In considering alternatives for the Wars of the Roses that introduced the Tudor dynasty, each battle could have ended in a different outcome. Changes in decisions and alliances could have changed the place as much as the outcome of a battle. In the late Medieval period, warfare and succession was as complex, and subject to intrigue, as it was during the Dark Ages that preceded the Medieval period. It was still an age where superstition produced strong religious beliefs that caused great divisions between nations and within nations. The population of England was still small and scattered in a rural economy that was periodically swept by plagues that decimated the population. Life was short, cheap and violent. Religious belief was still literal and any period of disaster was blamed on a failure of the people to follow the rules of their faith. Natural events were seen as the Will of God or of God’s Punishment. Omens still created great impact on a view of an event or of an individual. Richard III, on his way to the Battle of Bosworth, injured his foot against a bridge parapet when riding over the bridge. This was considered a bad omen at the time. Monarchs still drew up family trees that traced their ancestry back to characters in the Bible, and yet across Europe much of the population continued to combine pagan and occult beliefs with the orthodox presentation of Christianity. At a time when churches were richly painted, the painters were largely self-taught locals, and some of the murals contained distinctly un-Christian images. Without understanding the nature of belief and perception in the Medieval period, it is difficult to understand some of the most important forces at work during the Wars of the Roses.

What the author has done once again is to discuss all of the scenarios within the context of a strong understanding of all of the major forces at work in driving events. This approach produces very credible alternatives to what actually happened, each alternative fitting into the framework of the historic reality as far as we know it. That highlights the historic interpretations by the victors who wrote the history. We do not really know what happened to the Princes in the Tower. The probability is that uncle Richard did kill them to secure his own succession, but it could be lies circulated by Henry Tudor after he replaced Richard III. It is possible that they died of plague or some other common ailment of the period and their deaths been initially concealed to avoid conflict over the succession. Even with the discovery of the body of Richard III, we are not completely certain how accurate his physical condition matches the Tudor propaganda and we have no idea of how that may or may not have affected him and his monarchy. In much the same way, we cannot be sure how Warwick the Kingmaker uniquely influenced the history, or whether the course of the Wars of the Roses would have been affected, had he achieved victory at the Battle of Barnet. We can consider probabilities, and the impact, had some key factors been different, but Medieval society produced people like Warwick and had he never lived, the probability is that someone else would have become Kingmaker and faced similar influences.

What this book reminds us is the fragility of battle and the capacity of a ruling elite to intrigue for personal benefit and simply for the sake of intrigue. Even in modern times, when written evidence abounds, battles are still won by narrow margins. In many cases, just one small change would have reversed the outcome. In Medieval times, written evidence is rare and partial. Communications at the time were poor and two armies could pass close to each other without realizing that. When battle was joined, it was frequently subject to the treachery of allies. An army might assemble and march to a chosen battlefield, but the full force often came from different locations to an agreed place of gathering. The commander did not know until his army was formed into a line facing the enemy line how many of his supporters would take the field. Even then, some ‘allies’ would hold back and only commit themselves when the outcome of the battle appeared inevitable. At that point they might well change sides and the author has considered what might have happened had the Stanleys not betrayed their king at the Battle of Bosworth that determined the ending of the Wars of the Roses.

In considering an alternative history, the author has explained how and why things turned out as they did. His arguments are involving and logical and they will greatly help readers in understanding the how and why of the actual history. What he cannot do, and neither can anyone else, is paint an accurate picture of an alternative England where Richard III had won the war and continued in a long reign. There simply are not enough reliable documents. Those enthusiasts who favour York will remain convinced that Richard was not the monster of Tudor propaganda and that he would have been a beneficial King, bringing success and prosperity to his people. Those who favour the Tudor pretender will firmly believe that Henry VII was a great king who liberated his people from a lengthy civil war and disposed of a blood-soaked tyrant. The truth may lay somewhere between and the following peace might have been very similar who ever had won the final battle.

A fascinating review of the Wars of the Roses that is informative, enjoyable and entertaining.

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