My rating: 4 of 5 stars
There are many books about daily life in the middle ages. However, they often cover a period (several centuries) in the middle ages and may cover continental kingdoms. Few, if any, focus so specifically on the social history of the Wars of the Roses.
While if memory serves this book takes many examples from London, it also discusses examples from Bristol and other medieval English cities.
The city of London played a decisive role in 1461 when Edward IV overthrew the Lancastrians. However, there are relatively few books that discuss London and the politics between the wealthy merchants, guilds, and mayor.
Dating back to the middle ages, London has had a legally distinct status and level of autonomy, especially in regards to trade. This book indirectly alludes to the origins of this power.
Kendall divided the book into three major sections: (1) The Mayor, (2) Other Important People, and (3) The Household.
The Mayor includes:
1. The Mayor at Home – discusses the role of guilds on an everyday level
2. The Mayor: Abroad
3. Rebel Against the Mayor
4. The Lord Mayor of London – discusses the socio-economic changes in London, how it drew the young/ambitious
Other Important People includes:
5. The King and the Royal Household – the splendour of the court in detail among other topics
6. Lords and Gentry
7. Churchmen and the Church
8. Merchants, Pirates, Aliens, and Lawyers – piracy was an important and underdiscussed issue affecting the wool trade and prosperity, in the 1460s and 70s. Kendall provides extensive detail about the everyday issues wool traders encountered and their role in England’s economy. While Kendall doesn’t appear to discuss the break with the Hanse around ~1468, this book would likely give helpful background material.
The Household includes:
9. The Fabric of Life – the material life (e.g., household good, tapestries, plates) of the middle and upper-middle classes
10. The Marriage Hunt – a discussion of gentry marriages
I strongly recommend this book for anyone who wants to understand how the middle ages felt if you weren’t royalty. I also strongly recommend this book for historical novelists. I would not necessarily recommend this book for people looking to understand the political events in the Wars of the Roses – that isn’t within the book’s scope. For Game of Thrones fans, this book may give you high-level insight into the lives of characters like Dendry, the bastard son of Robert Baratheon, when he was apprenticed as a blacksmith.
This book provides more details about daily life than I’ve seen anywhere else. In fact, in many ways, this book is a towering achievement. Kendall bases a lot of it on the Paston letters, but appears to also use many other sources. The bibliography is a superior resource.
I would have given this book five stars, but while it is an excellent resource, it isn’t riveting. I think this may be because it doesn’t have an overarching narrative and tends to have a fair number of disparate facts. Still, don’t let that deter you from reading it because it still an illuminating read.
Those interested in the city of London or the lives of the gentry, may also enjoy Desmond Seward’s The Wars of the Roses: Through the Lives of Five Men and Women of the Fifteenth Century. The two books might be interesting to read one after the other.
By Jamie Adair