Review: Edward IV by Charles Ross

Edward IVEdward IV by Charles Ross

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Charles Ross’ Edward IV remains, to the best of my knowledge, the definitive work on Edward IV, even though Ross published it way back in 1974. There are other excellent works on Edward IV; however, none are as comprehensive and analytic.

Recent biographies about the Wars of the Roses king, tend to focus on specific aspects of his reign or military career. In some cases, they build upon Ross’ research, disprove it, or surpass it. Nonetheless, this seminal book is well worth reading.

This is an academic book written in a moderately readable style. However, it is not Alison Weir. Some parts of the book drag, notably his sections on the 1470s and the invasion of France. However, for people reading for pleasure, this is easy enough to skip over.

Ross covers the following:

  • The lead up to Towton, including the grievances of Richard of York (Edward’s father), the state of England and the debt, Edward’s early years (brief), and other background information.
  • Towton.
  • Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville and the effect on court politics.
  • Edward’s relationship with Warwick, Margaret of York’s marriage, Charles the Bold, Louis XI, and the Readeption. (These are covered in varying depths.)
  • Edward’s character, promiscuity, and resulting notoriety abroad.
  • The feud between Clarence and Richard III.
  • The extensive efforts put into planning marriage pacts between Edward’s children and foreign royalty (diplomatic marriages).
  • The state of Edward and the crown’s finances, the debt he inherited from Henry VI, and his success in the wool business.
  • The trial of Clarence and his death.
  • Edward’s excesses and how his drinking and lechery accelerated after Clarence’s death (or at the end of his reign).
  • Edward’s death and will.

While this is a scholarly book, flashes of Ross’s dry wit appear in the footnotes, so be sure to read them. The footnotes also include some of the juicier tidbits, such as tantalizing gossip or snide remarks by contemporaries.

I’d recommend this book to anyone with a basic understanding of the Wars of the Roses. It isn’t an overview of the period but of the key monarch in the period. I’d also recommend this book to people wishing to learn extra details about Elizabeth Woodville, Elizabeth of York, Clarence, and other more less documented figures. Ross provides obscure details about these figures tangentially while describing Edward’s expenditures and political issues.

I believe Ross was either Michael Hicks’ professor or his adviser. Tragically, Ross was killed in his home by an intruder in 1986.

By Jamie Adair

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