HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW SERIES: ‘Richard, Duke of York’ by Matthew Lewis

Richard, 3rd Duke of York is frequently used to recall the colours of the rainbow with the mnemonic ‘Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain’, wrongly believed to be the Grand Old Duke of York who had 10,000 men, or mistaken for his youngest son, Richard III. The son of a traitor, he inherited a dukedom aged four, became the wealthiest man in England at thirteen and later rebelled against his king, and if he is remembered, it is as a man who ignited the Wars of the Roses. Further eclipsed by two of his sons, who would become the mighty warrior Edward IV and the recently rediscovered Richard III, he is an ancestor of the Tudor monarchs and fifteenth great-grandfather to Queen Elizabeth II, yet the man himself is obscured from view. Matthew Lewis pushes aside the veils of myth and legend to challenge the image of Richard as a man whose insatiable ambition dragged a nation into civil war, revealing a complex family man with unparalleled power and responsibilities. The first person ever recorded to use the Plantagenet name, he pushed the political establishment to its limits, dared to fight back and was forced to do the unimaginable.

cover and blurb via amazon

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I was looking forward to this book for a number of reasons – firstly, because it’s Matthew Lewis, and also because Richard, Duke of York, really was kinda sorta the right person to be king if you dig through the family tree. This book didn’t disappoint at all.

Henry VI was in power, a man who was king as an infant, and England first had to go through a period ruled by the Lord Protector, the Duke of Gloucester, before Henry VI, a meek boy and then weak man, took over. Henry VI got himself a bride who was smart, strong and up to something with the Duke of Somerset. French lands in English hands were lost before Henry VI had a chance to rule them, and England was going to hell. (No offence, H6, it wasn’t really your fault).

Richard Plantagenet was a descendant of Edward III, like pretty much everyone in the War of the Roses. Through his mother, Richard was related to Edward II’s son Lionel Duke of Clarence, and through his father, Richard was related to Edward III’s son Edmund Duke of York. Edward III had five sons and three daughters who survived to adulthood (eight sons, five daughters in total, yikes!), and Richard Plantagenet was a descendant of surviving sons number two and four. As King Richard II, son of Edward The Black Prince, eldest son of Edward III, died without children, Lionel’s descendants were supposed to inherit (Richard’s mother’s family line, the Mortimers).

But the Lancaster branch took over. Edward III’s third son, John of Gaunt – the Lancaster line, usurped the throne from Richard II, led by Gaunt’s son Henry IV, leading to Henry V and Henry VI. But the Mortimer/York branches, now joined in marriage, thought they deserved the crown. And by right they did.

Richard Plantagenet sought to claim his right, resulting in the War of the Roses, killing off all the direct male descendants of Edward III, more or less. It was bloody, it was awful and needless and could be confusing if not for great books like this one. Richard had a solid claim to the throne, but Henry VI also had a claim, and was an anointed king. Richard Plantagenet is portrayed as a greedy, bloodthirsty man who tried to steal the throne, when it was essentially stolen from him by his own relatives years ago. Richard’s own father was beheaded for trying to assert the same right. Richard’s head too ended up on a spike, and his son Edmund was killed with him.

But two of Richards’ three remaining sons went on to be kings – Edward IV and Richard III (they killed their other brother, long story). Richard may have been killed in 1460, but his seven surviving children all continued to fight as Yorks against the Lancasters for the right to the throne, ending with Richard’s granddaughter Elizabeth, who married Lancastrian Henry VII and became queen, ending the wars for good.

A huge thanks to Matthew Lewis for this book, giving Richard Plantagenet a book of his own to show him as more than a usurper who got what he deserved. The Yorks had every right, just as Richard believed.

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HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW SERIES: ‘The House of Beaufort’ by Nathen Amin

The Wars of the Roses were a tumultous period in English history, with family fighting family for the greatest prize in the kingdom – the throne of England. But what gave the eventual victor, Henry Tudor, the right to claim the throne? What made his mother the great heiress of medieval England? And how could an illegitimate line come to challenge the English monarchy? Whilst the Houses of York and Lancaster battled directly for the crown, other noble families of England also played integral roles in the war; grand and prestigious names like the Howards, Nevilles and Percys were intimately involved in the conflict but arguably none symbolised the volatile nature of the period quite like the House of Beaufort. The story of the Beauforts, with their rise, fall and rise again, is the story of England during the period, a dramatic century of war, intrigue and scandal. Many books have been written about individual members of the dynasty but never has the whole family been explored as one. This book will uncover the rise of the Beauforts from bastard stock of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, to respected companions of their cousin Henry V, celebrated victor of Agincourt. The Beauforts fell with the House of Lancaster during the 1460s and 1470s, and their hopes and fortunes came to rest upon the shoulders of a teenage widow named Margaret and her young son, Henry. From her would rise the House of Tudor, the most famous of all England’s royal houses and a dynasty who owed their crown to their forebears, the House of Beaufort. From bastards to princes, the Beauforts are medieval England’s most intriguing family.

cover and blurb via nathenamin.com

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One family which doesn’t get enough love are the Beauforts. Nathen Amin has done everyone a favour and produced this wonderful and descriptive book to shed more light on this remarkable line. The story of the Beauforts is one that can last forever. Many families such as the Lancasters, Yorks, Warwicks are often mentioned, when the Beauforts are most important and relevant from the late 1300’s right down to today’s noble families.

Joan Beaufort was the daughter of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and his then-mistress Katherine Swynford, remarkable people in their own right.  Joan was the only girl born to this first generation of Beauforts, named illegitimate offspring. Joan married very young and had two daughters, but by her mid-teens, her parents gained a legitimate marriage recognised by the Pope, and Joan herself was already a widow. Joan went on to marry into the Neville family, and produced 14 Beaufort-Neville babies to go with her previous two, and her husband’s eight from his first marriage. Eek!

Nathen Amin has drawn on a countless amount of resources in order to produce such an interesting level of detail, and I found I took so many notes that the whole book was in my notebook. Had the Beauforts not gone on to do so much more, the information on Joan Beaufort could be enough for a book on its own.

Joan’s children went to create the families which ruled England and fueled both sides of the War of the Roses. There was the famous Neville line, including a queen of England and multiple earldoms, including the powerful Warwick family. Joan’s blood flowed through the families of the Dukes of Westmoreland, Somerset and Exeter. Thanks to Joan’s eldest daughter they joined the Mowbray family; another daughter married into the powerful Percy lineage, another into the dynasty of the Staffords, the Dukes of Buckingham. More sons became barons, the family boasted archbishops, and the baby of the family was Cecily, married to the Duke of York, creating two kings, Edward IV and Richard III. That’s just a selection of their greatness!

But nothing destroys families like the quest for power. The 1400’s saw much wealth and success, but also death. By the time Margaret Beaufort (great niece of Joan), who married into the Tudor family, saw her son Henry defeat Richard III for the crown, the Beauforts’ power had spread out like a spiderweb of noble houses.

I am not new to the history of the Beauforts, nor their struggles to take the throne, but I found plenty to enjoy in Amin’s book. If you are new to the subject, this is the number one place to begin. The author has written a book without bias, simply presenting facts written to be entertaining, instead of heavy and academic.

Truth always beats fiction, and while I read this in ebook style, once my hardcover arrives, this book will now sit on my top shelf, where I keep all the books I go back to and reference while I work. History is filled with incredible tales, and Amin’s book brings together so many people that you too could be an expert in no time.