Books on the Wars of the Roses

This is a very, very, eclectic and short list. There are more books on the Wars of the Roses than flies on a pile of poo. But these are the few that I have found to be the most helpful. And by that I mean no disrespect to the other  billion – I just haven’t read them all. 

To these below, I acknowledge my debt. I don’t follow the practice of quoting my secondary sources all the time, because it would be tiresome and slow down the narrative. But I have used them freely. 

‘Warwick the Kingmaker‘ Ladybird Adventures from History: I make this the king of all history books. I hate to be maudlin, but the pictures from ladybird books fired my imagination as a nipper, and many of them as as fresh in my minds as they ever were. Archers climbing over the wall in St Albans, for example. 

‘Henry VI’ (Yale English Monarchs series) by Bertram Wolfe: Textbook stuff. so, not the most exciting of reads, but authoritative, detailed, well written and readable – but a textbook

‘The Hollow Crown’ by Dan Jones: An excellent, rigorous historian who, like Ian Mortimer and Marc Morris, realise that people learn and enjoy more when good quality history is also entertaining. A real joy, and my top recommendation if you want a history book but don’t have an essay to write. 

‘Edward IV’ by Charles Ross: Ross has carved out a reputation as being one of the leading scholars of Edward IV. He takes a view that is sympathetic to Edward, without some of the more extravagant claim. But again, it’s a textbook. 

‘Blood Sisters’ by Sarah Gristwood: I really enjoyed this; a breath of fresh air to have the story told from a different perspective, as far as is possible – i.e. from the perspective of some of the women involved. And in Margaret of Anjou, Margaret Beaufort, Cecily Neville we have some fascinating stories. Written to entertain, but authoritative to boot.

‘Warwick the Kingmaker’ by Paul Murray Kendall: I cannot help but look suspiciously at this book. It’s got a very florid and novelesque style, he was not I think a professional historian, I think he makes leaps sometimes that can’t really be substantiated about how Warwick thinks and feels at various points. And it does go way overboard on the foreign diplomacy, which gets tiresome. But it seems to stack up in terms of facts, and again it’s written to entertain. I like it. 

‘The Pastons’ by Richard Barber: it’s one of many books written to help people like me access the Pastons without having to sit with the original letters for 3 years with a wet towel over our heads. I don’t claim it’s the best of them – but it worked for me. 

‘The Wars of the Roses’ by A J Pollard: The best to last. I love Pollard – good historian, writes well without having to go to Mortimer/Jones/Kendall level. This is the wars of the Roses in 140 pages. If you need to get to the guts of it – this is the one. If you have an essay to write and unfortunately have to hand it in at 9 am, made a decision to spend the evening playing poker til 2am, this is the book to turn to. 

‘Oxford Dictionary of National Biography’ (DNB): I love this. I also love Oxfordshire library service, who give me online access to this free. I love the entire lending library system, and weep every time I hear of more funding cutbacks. I admit that I am a nerd. 

‘English Historical Documents Vol 4 1327-1485’: love, as per DNB above. Love. I weep. But of course costs an absolute FORTUNE to buy. But it has been worth every penny. If you want edited original sources this is just the best place to go. I would never be able to quote original sources without it. 

10 thoughts on “Books on the Wars of the Roses

  1. I studied the Shakespeare history plays in the late 1960’s with Professor Kendall (Warwick the Kingmaker). In two undergraduate and one masters degree, I can say that he was the most dynamic lecturer I ever had. He really could make the plays come alive. He used to stop in the middle of a lecture, when he saw that everyone was frantically copying everything he said and proclaimed “put down your pens, this is so interesting that you won’t have any trouble remembering it. He was right, of course. He was short, fat and had a red face. He loved the role of Falstaff and would repeat Falstaff’s lines from memory often. We all thought that he was a repressed actor who wanted desperately to perform that role on stage. I was sad when I saw that he had died in the early 1970’s.

  2. I recently read Succession by Michael Livi. Livi’s book is fiction, but with a twist. Livi uses fairly long extracts from contemporary chronicles to carry some of the narrative load and then fills in the gaps with his imagined dialog and some additional narrative. It is an approach that I have not seen used by other historical novels and I liked it.
    The story focuses on Margaret of Anjou, Margaret Beaufort and their sons. The story, in other words, is of yet another powerful foreign queen hated by the English; the fall of Lancaster and the rise of Tudor.
    Much of the motivations given to the characters are, of necessity, speculation by Livi, but it fits the facts and is an interesting take on what drove some important events.

  3. I am reading WarsOfTheRoses:Stormbird (by Conn Iggulden). What are your thoughts on it? Have you read it? I’m in the process of reading it and I’m really liking it so far

  4. As it happens I started reading that too recently. I rather like him as an author; but he messes up the chronology; and has Suffolk as the commander when England finally loses Normandy,. not Somerset. So, he’s a decent writer; just don’t rely on him for your history!

  5. You might want to add our edition of the chronicles of the Wars of the Roses to your sources section: The Contemporary English Chronicles of the Wars of the Roses, edited by Dan Embree and M. Teresa Tavormina, Boydell and Brewer, 2019.

  6. There is an absolute wonderful book on the Wars of the Roses by Desmond Seward which I cannot recommend highly enough. As well as giving a crystal clear account, it brings the characters wonderfully to life, and may well count as the closest thing there is to a biography of John Morton, Jane Shore, William Hastings, and the earl of Oxford, all colourful players in the cast. I have quite a library on this period, but this remains my all time favourite. A fantastic read. The Wars of the Roses, Desmond Seward, Constable, 1995.

    1. Hi Thomas and I think other people have mentioned Seward’s book to me. Sounds well worth a read!

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