Few English monarchs had to fight harder for the right to rule than King Edward IV – Shakespeare’s glorious son of York. Cast in the true Plantagenet mould, over six feet tall, he was a naturally charismatic leader. Edward had the knack of seizing the initiative and winning battles and is free from the unflattering characterisations that plagued his brother, Richard III, having been portrayed as a good-looking and formidable military tactician. Described sometimes as reckless and profligate, all sources remark on his personal bravery. In the eleven years between 1460 and 1471 he fought five major battles in the Wars of the Roses. Three of them – Towton, Barnet and Tewkesbury – rank among the most decisive of the medieval period.
This is a history of Edward IV’s struggle to gain and retain the kingship of England during a period of sustained dynastic turmoil during the Wars of the Roses.
Jeffrey James’ biography of Edward IV is a wonderful introduction to the Wars of the Roses from the Yorkist point of view. Told in a chronological narrative, it covers the events from the very outset of the Wars, telling the story from Edward’s birth, through the struggles of Richard, Duke of York, and the outbreak of war. It concentrates on Edward’s fight to win – and keep – the throne, covering the various battles, and Edward’s military tactics, in great detail.
With the author’s background in military history, it is no surprise that where this book shines is in the assessment of the military engagements, troop movements and battle plans. It places Edward’s story in the wider context of the Wars of the Roses, while highlighting the individuality and personality of Edward, which made him such a successful warrior and king.
Scattered among the narrative are insights into Edward’s personality:
Normally relaxed and easy-going – a man who disliked unpleasantness for its own sake – Edward nonetheless had a fiery temper, usually vented against those of noble rank who angered or disappointed him. Though more often stressing the king’s good nature contemporaries sometimes touch on this aspect of Edward’s character.
More marked was the king’s man-management skills.
Jeffrey James uses contemporary sources in abundance to back up his arguments and theories. Extensive footnotes and a comprehensive bibliography provide limitless opportunities for further reading. Maps and family trees at the beginning of the book help to provide a basic understanding of the scale of the Wars, and of the personalities involved. The narrative is also supplemented by 40 photographs, portraits and illustrations, providing a further visual aid to the people, locations and battlefields involved in the conflict.
Edward IV, Glorious Son of York is an engaging, accessible narrative which provides thorough analysis of the king’s actions – and the actions of the chief players in the Wars of the Roses. Edward’s relationships with his family, allies and, even, his enemies – foreign and domestic – are discussed and assessed, providing interesting insights into the great personalities of the 15th century.
It provides some fascinating little tidbits of history:
There may have been mercenary pikemen, as well as halberdiers, professional soldiers – forerunners of the famed continental landsknechts – whose habit of slashing their clothing seeded the fashions of Tudor times.
Unfortunately it does get a little fanciful in places, claiming that “Leaden images, depicting a man and a woman, found discarded in an orchard nearby, suggest enchantment” when talking about the wedding of Elizabeth Woodville and Edward IV. He also suggests Richard of Gloucester (the future Richard III) hero-worshipped his brother, without any contemporary evidence to back this up.
However, such dubious claims are few and far between and, on the whole, the author’s research is impeccable and supported by contemporary sources and evidence from archaeology. Jeffrey James also acknowledges the work and theories of fellow historians, such as Amy Licence and Charles Ross, analysing their assessments in relation to his own.
In keeping with the author’s background in military history, his Jeffrey James’ analysis of military events and tactics is insightful:
If Warwick was stirring up trouble in the North he was – to use a modern phrase – ‘operating well under the radar’, using proxies in a manner designed to circumvent the activation of any immediate royal redress. Today we might use the term ‘hybrid warfare’ when describing acts like theses: acts designed to surprise, confuse and wear down an opponent.
Although the book concentrates on Edward’s fight to win and retain the throne, it also looks into Edward’s family life and the implications of his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville; on England, his allies and international politics. It provides and in-depth analysis of where Edward’s relationship with the Earl of Warwick broke down, and of Edward’s various successes and failures. He doesn’t shirk from discussing where Edward made mistakes, nor looking at where he could have done better, or been more – or less – ruthless.
Edward IV, Glorious Son of York is a well-written, entertaining biography of one of England’s most fascinating kings and his fight to win – and keep – the throne.
Pictures taken from Wikipedia.