It has been a while, so here is another review for you!
David Santiuste, Edward IV and the War of the Roses, (Barnsley, 2010)
With great apprehension I have spent many-a-day staring at the foreboding cover of Santiuste’s work before finally picking it up and reading it. Edward IV is not a popular character of British history, but perhaps the author is right in his assertion that his capabilities have been neglected as a result of this. As the cover surmises, this was to be a work of military history alone, focusing on the War of the Roses as would be expected and the less dominant topic of his military excursions into France; something only subtly insinuated by the presence of his coat of arms which lays these claims, in the guise of the Fleur-de-Lis.
The book is based chronologically rather than thematically, something that will be of great comfort to beginners but perhaps frustrating to those more experienced in his reign. It begins with a useful, if confusing, family tree giving the reader an immediate reference point for many of the names they are soon to encounter. This is unfortunately the only useful insertion present within the publication, with battle maps that are lacking any great detail and photos that would have greatly benefited from the use of colour. Admittedly this would have increased the book’s costs, but without it this work has the unfortunate situation of already looking old fashioned – not good for such a new and ultimately riveting book.
The book begins with an interesting Introduction which highlights both the difficulties an historian of the period faces, as well as potential ways to overcome these problems. He also spends a short space explaining the functional and logistical aspects of a late Medieval army such as arms and recruitment, all useful information that he will not (and does not) repeat later in the book. This moves quickly into Edward’s upbringing and the environment he was brought up in as son to “the greatest English nobleman after the King”. This is also our first introduction to the central character of Warwick within the narrative; someone who’s relationship with Edward is a central focus of Santiuste’s reassessment.
The book moves fast, racing through Edward’s rise to fame and accession of the Yorkist seat of power and his ‘great’ (read bloody) victory at Towton which secured him the throne of England. On a quick aside, the account of Towton is a fine example of Santiuste’s ability to maintain the raw enthusiasm of a military historian whilst inserting the reality of the massacre that ensued. The narrative continues with the break down in relationship between Edward and Warwick, Edward’s subsequent exile and triumphant return culminating in one of the most famous battles of the wars, the Battle of Barnet. His pursuit of the Lancastrians is followed and Santiuste leaves us on a cliff hanger, describing the exile of the young Henry Tudor (a swift reminder that this book was about Edward and not the War of the Roses), utilising his uncanny ability to make the reader want more. Time is taken within the Epilogue to discuss Edwards thwarted attempts in France, after finally securing his kingdom and bringing a peace to his own land. This final discussion sits more as an apology of Edward’s lack of success and is the only area of the book that directly engages with historiography, an interesting read but it is unfortunately more academic than the dynamic narrative that has given the book the flair that a good Biography needs.
Santiuste has avoided the ultimate question that must be asked of historical biographies, “do we need another one on . . .?”. His work shows exactly why they are vital for the subject and its engagement with all enthusiasts, novice or professional. He incorporates new research as well as expounding new theories to retell a story that has become humdrum in its traditional biases. Where the images have been lacking, his bibliography is perfect for those who wish to look further into the reign of Edward IV. As Santiuste himself says “There are more questions than answers – which lie beyond the scope of this book – and readers are encouraged to explore the debate for themselves” to which his references and bibliography facilitate that perfectly. If that isn’t the sign of a good history book, then nothing is.