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“The Wars of the Roses” by Ashdown-Hill

This new book looks at the characters, motivations, events and nomenclature of the Wars of the Roses, as we now know them. It confronts the great cliche that the series of battles began in 1455 and ended in 1485, demonstrating convincingly that it was still in progress decades later. Despite the fame of the Henry Payne mural of the two Dukes choosing their roses in the Temple garden (from Henry VI Part I, Scene II Act 4, now in the Commons’ East Corridor of the Palace of Westminster)

Not how it really happened - Ashdown-Hill

Not how it really happened – Ashdown-Hill

it challenges the myth on which it is based. The author goes on to illustrate the events of many later conflicts which ought to be considered as part of the series, devoting a whole chapter to a reinterpretation of one in particular.

My only criticism is that this linear extension could have encompassed other later events.

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6 thoughts on ““The Wars of the Roses” by Ashdown-Hill

  1. I gave it 4 stars out of 5. It’s just like most of JAH’s books: really well researched and presents very refreshing views and busts a lot of old myths; there was information that were new to me even after having read three other of his books and several of his articles.

    I have a lot more negative points than you do- as usual, he is far too sure of his own theories to the point of treating them like facts (I refer to things like constantly writing “Tudor” under quotation marks). In addition, the pro-Yorkist, anti-Woodville, anti-Tudor and, it seems so, pro-Catholic bias are very apparent (I don’t know his own religious views, it’s just how the parts covering the 16th century come off), though an obvious bias is something most historical books suffer from, To his credit, he at least explains the reasons for his theories and doesn’t make up things, but historians’ biases always show in what they focus on, and here, the greater scope of the book and relative lack of details affect it negatively in that respect; for instance, his book on George, Duke of Clarence, “The Third Plantagenet”, gives a much more balanced portrayal of him, but if someone just read this book and used as the only source of info on George, he would come off as a much nicer guy and almost as an innocent victim of the Woodvilles, since several of his most problematic actions are not mentioned. There are also some (though few) parts where he gets a bit too gossipy-speculative regarding people’s sex lives (especially the part about Edward and Somerset), and I already took off a star of the rating when he used the word “nymphomania” and characterized a 20-something woman (Catherine de Valois) as nymphomaniac for not wanting to live in celibacy. Come on, really?!

    I also think his views on the Battle of Bosworth (such as the sequence of events, the reason why Northumerland didn’t join the fighting, and Richard’s behavior and reasons for his decisions), are rather strange, but I haven’t yet read “The Last Days of Richard III” so I don’t know what exactly he bases these ideas from and I’ll withhold judgment until this. (His arguments for Richard having an illness that affected his behavior strikes me as rather weak and a circular argument.)

    Out of the 4 books of his I’ve already read, I was really surprised that the one about the Dublin King was my favorite, as I didn’t have any complaints about it. “The Mythology of Richard III” was excellent in most regards, but too much of it was focused on complaining about the University of Leicester. I understand why he is angry, but that’s not something I expect to read in such a book in such length.

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  2. I’ve just remembered another blatant instance of bias: when talking about the death of Henry VI, he argues that we can’t be sure that he was murdered – and OK, fair enough, indeed we can’t be 100% sure. But then he adds as something really of note that “Historie of the Arrivall of Edward IV” says that Henry died of natural causes. That would be the obviously Yorkist chronicle, written in Edward’s time, which speaks of Edward in glowing terms in every quote provided in this book. Well, of course it says Henry VI died of natural causes, what else would anyone expect it to say? But that’s something of note that you would use in an argument whether Henry was murdered? Really?

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  3. Speaking of JAH’s “Wars of the Roses” – one of the interesting tidbits from the book that I didn’t know before was the propaganda myth about the Tudors being descended from Trojan royalty (!) just by virtue of being Welsh (a myth apparently embraced by poets, but dismissed by historians like Vergil – I guess some things were too much even for him!), and JAH’s great find that one of the depiction of Agamemnon from a 15th century drawing (in a scene of him sacrificing his daughter Iphigenia, so he’s an uber-villain there) seems to be a “portrait” of Richard III!

    According to the notes, the drawing is reproduced in Michael Wood’s “Search for the Trojan War”, page 22. So, I searched for the book on Google Books, and found the picture in question. It definitely looks like it was meant to evoke Richard, with a prominent chin, arched nose and wavy brown hair. I posted the picture in this Tumblr post a few weeks ago: http://travllingbunny.tumblr.com/post/131922660983/richard-iii-playing-agamemnon

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  4. David on said:

    The Trojan descent of the British may be a myth, but it is not a Tudor invention. It is contained in the Declaration of Arbroath. Even John de la Pole was claiming this in his genealogy – the descent from Brutus.

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    • @David: It was an invention of Geoffrey of Monmouth, as so many things were. But according to Wood, it was used during the Tudor times to specifically link the Welsh and, apparently just by virtue of being Welsh, the Tudors, with Trojan royalty – though this seems to have been just a popular myth embraced by artists, but rejected by historians, e.g. Vergil. Quote from Wood’s book (quoted in Ashdown Hill’s “Wars of the Roses”:

      “In Dark-Age Wales, as related by Nennius, it was told that the founder of Britain was one Brutus, who was descended from ‘Ilius’, who ‘first founded Ilium, that is Troy’. The story was popularized by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his famous story of Brutus’ founding of London at Troynovant, or New Troy. Though dismissed by the historian Polydore Vergil, this story was accepted by most Elizabethan poets as part of the Tudor myth, and it became commonplace of Elizabethan thought. The Tudors, it was argued, were of Welsh or ancient British descent, and therefore, when they ascended the throne of England after the battle of Bosworth in 1485, so ran the myth, the ancient Trojan-British race of monarchs once more assumed power and would usher the Golden Age.”

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  5. David on said:

    Timetraveller, I left a comment because your original comment seemed to imply that the descent from Brutus the Trojan was a myth created by the Tudors and that it was a bizarre thing to claim.

    A roman historian recalled that the Gauls claimed trojan descent and this is in Nennius. It also appears in Brittany in the ninth century lives of saints Paul Aurelian and Goueznou.

    The reason that the myth was retained in Wales and Sccotland was probably because the English had adopted a new foundation myth – that of mass migration from the continent.

    I was surprised that someone with an interest in British history had never met it before. As I said earlier, the right to the throne as evidenced in his genealogy roll of John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln begins with Brutus. This can be seen in the TV programme The Winter King.

    It could be that the Trojan descent was only claimed by the kings / princes of Wales, and so would apply to the Tudors.

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