Indisputably the most effective general of the Wars of the Roses, Edward IV died in his bed, undefeated in battle. Yet Edward has not achieved the martial reputation of other warrior kings such as Henry V – perhaps because he fought battles against his own people in a civil war. It has also been suggested that he lacked the personal discipline expected of a truly great commander. But, as David Santiuste shows in this perceptive and highly readable new study, Edward was a formidable military leader whose strengths and subtlety have not been fully recognized. This reassessment of Edward’s military role, and of the Wars of the Roses in which he played such a vital part, gives a fascinating insight into Edward the man and into the politics and the fighting. Based on contemporary sources and the latest scholarly research, Edward IV and the Wars of the Roses brings to life an extraordinary period of English history.
I was very happy to be asked to review Edward IV and the Wars of the Roses by historian David Santiuste. I had dipped in and out of it for my research of various characters of the period, but never had the time to sit down and read it from cover to cover. To read it with a view to review was a prime opportunity. Now, I don’t review books that I didn’t enjoy, so I do only give positive reviews.. However, if a book gets reviewed by me, it means it’s good. And Edward IV and the Wars of the Roses was brilliant. It is a fabulous, in-depth analysis of one of England’s most underrated kings.
Dealing predominantly with the first part of Edward’s life and reign the book concentrates on his political and military skills. It analyses his personal qualities and skills as a leader and politician, while also looking at the bigger stage of the conflict that became known as the Wars of the Roses. This is not an ‘I love Edward IV’ book, but rather a balanced portrayal of the strengths and weaknesses of the charismatic king, and of the people around him.
… Perhaps surviving portraits do not do Edward justice, although observers were often impressed by his physique as much as his face. When Edward’s coffin was opened in the eighteenth century his skeleton was measured at 6 feet 3½ inches and it was broadly proportioned. Edward had a tremendous presence, of which he was keenly aware. Even later in life, when his looks had faded and he had put on weight, the Italian observer Mancini reports that Edward ‘was wont to show himself to those who wished to watch him, and seized any opportunity occasion offered of revealing his fine stature more protractedly and more evidently to onlookers.’ In 1459 Edward was still untested, but his potential was clear: Yorkist verses from the following year were to describe him as ‘Edward, Earl of March, whose fame the earth shall spread’.
Where this book shines is in the author’s portrayal of the relationship between Edward IV and Richard, Earl of Warwick. David Santiuste makes it clear that the relationship was complex and far from dominated by Warwick. He shows how Edward was able to be his own man and explains clearly how the relationship broke down, with blame on both sides, and how this relationship affected both Edward and his kingship.
Making good use of primary sources and his own vast knowledge of the era, David Santiuste presents his arguments in a clear, concise manner, stating his own opinion and discussing where facts and historians differ in a respectful, engaging style. He handles the significant moments of Edward IV’s career with great empathy and understanding, demonstrating how the king’s life, future and country were changed by his ability to make the most of events – and heavenly phenomena – thrown at him.
The Illustrated Life of Edward IV presents Edward, at the moment the parhelia appear, appealing to God for guidance, just like Paul at Damascus: ‘Lord, what will you have me do?’ Coppini had described Edward as ‘prudent and magnanimous’, but we should remember that Edward was still eighteen years old, The loss of his father and brother must have shaken him to the core. For Edward, then, this was a moment of great personal significance…..
David Santiuste displays an impressive level of understanding of fifteenth century warfare and generalship, and of the political atmosphere of the time. Every page of the book demonstrates the author’s enthusiasm for his subject and for history in general. Easily readable, enjoyable and engaging, the author avoids technical speak and draws the reader in.
This is a must-read for any fan of the Wars of the Roses, or any student of kingship and medieval history. Enjoyable and engaging, it takes the reader to the heart of the civil war which raged across England in the second half of the fifteenth century.
About the author:
David Santiuste teaches history at the Centre for Open Learning, University of Edinburgh. His most recent book is The Hammer of the Scots. His other publications include Edward IV and the Wars of the Roses, as well as various articles.
David’s website can be found at davidsantiuste.com, where he writes an occasional blog. You can follow him on Facebook at David Santiuste Historian or on Twitter @dbsantiuste.
Edward IV and the Wars of the Roses is available from Amazon.
Heroines of the Medieval World, is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018. It can also be ordered worldwide from Book Depository.
©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly