Here are a few books about the Wars of the Roses that I like:
[Please note that this page is a work in progress.]
If you have books you recommend, please add them to the comments section. I’d love to see them.
You can find book reviews here.
New to Wars of the Roses
I recommend that people who are new to the Wars of the Roses start by reading one aspect of the wars that interest them and then working their way outward. Here are some ideas — they are meant to be individual options (e.g., pick one):
Start by Learning about the Princes in the Tower
Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir. A great, easy, entertaining read with vibrantly described characters. Ms. Weir really makes period come to life and on top of that, she introduces you to a tantalizing mystery.
Blood Royal by Bertram Fields. If you want to understand why the period is so controversial and why historians and groups like the Richard III Society have been arguing for eons, read this book immediately after you read Princes in the Tower. Fields, a retired lawyer, evaluates the evidence against Richard III like a judge in a court of law and evaluates if Richard would be convicted today. Fields critiques Weir’s research and makes a convincing, but not definitive, argument that her conclusions are incorrect.
Start by Learning about Edward IV
Finding a historic figure you like and following the events of the period through their eyes may be one way to explore the Wars of the Roses. One of my favorite people from this period is Edward IV, the greatly understudied king. This might not be as an easy a path as starting with the Princes in the Tower, but it might be an option.
There are many books that discuss Edward IV, including Michael Hick’s the Wars of the Roses,
Edward IV by Charles Ross. This is a comprehensive, academic, occasionally dry, but generally extremely high quality reference. Ross does go in to a lot of detail about some of the less interesting aspects of Edward’s reign. However, he provides well-balanced coverage of the reign overall and I still highly recommend this book. Ross provides many excellent details about the juicier parts of Edward’s life. While this is an older book and it naturally doesn’t reflect recent research, it still remains the definitive book for the period.
Start by Learning about the Strong Women
Many women love the Wars of the Roses because of the strong female power players in the period. Women such as Elizabeth Woodville, Margaret of Anjou, and Margaret Beaufort sought and wielded power to world-changing affect. Here are some books about these ladies:
Margaret of Anjou
Margaret of Anjou: Queenship and Power in Late Medieval England by Helen E. Maurer. This is one of the few, if not the only, biographies about Margaret of Anjou.
I would start by reading the sections about Margaret of Anjou in general overviews first and I’d also be sure to understand the events of the 1450s.
Elizabeth Woodville: The Slandered Queen by Arlene Okerlund. A bit too forgiving of Elizabeth Woodville in my opinion, which unfortunately hurts not helps her arguments. However, Okerlund provides an amazing level of detail that should be applauded and makes the book well-worth reading.
Elizabeth Woodville: Mother of the Princes in the Tower by David Baldwin.
However, I would recommend reading the sections about Elizabeth Woodville in more general books about the period first.
Blood Sisters: The Women Behind the Wars of the Roses by Sarah Gristwood. This book isn’t about just Margaret Beaufort, but, if memory serves, it has sections about her.
I would recommend reading the sections about Margaret Beaufort in more general books about the period first.
Wars of the Roses Buffs
Here are a list of books I’ve particularly enjoyed.
Kings of the North: The House of Percy in British History by Alexander Rose. I never understood the emotional origins of the Wars of the Roses until I read this book (or rather the chapters about the Percys in the late 1300s to 1480s). Rose provides enough colorful detail that the personalities of the players in the seminal Percy-Neville conflict come alive and the motivations of these proud men become clear. Reading this book helped me understand the interplay between the Scottish invasions, the stains they caused, and the competition between the wardens of the north. Rose also explains why the Percys fell from favor and lost their influence, including Henry Hotspur’s bizarre decision to support the Welsh rebel, Owen Glendower, whom Hotspur was supposed to be fighting on behalf of his king.
Admittedly, I don’t necessarily recommend reading the whole book given its length and narrow focus: Rose covers the Percy family from William the Conqueror’s time to after Bosworth field. Reading (roughly) pages 387 to 584 in the 2003 Phoenix paperback edition, or the sections about the 1300s to 1400s, will probably give the Wars of the Roses enthusiast enough context.
False, Fleeting, Perjur’d Clarence: George, Duke of Clarence, 1449-78 by Michael Hicks. This out-of-print book may be available at some university libraries. I strongly recommend it for anyone trying to understand the fascinating and chaotic events that led up to Clarence’s death, which arguably led to the death of the Princes in the Tower. At the moment, it is one of my favorite books. Click title link or here to see my review.
Wars of the Roses by Desmond Seward. This book traces the history of the period through the eyes of five point of view historical figures: Jane Shore, Hastings, and others. (As an aside, his book about Richard III is hilariously blunt. I’m on the fence about Richard III, and I think it is possible he is innocent. This book practically says he should be dropped into the pits of hell, which might be a bit over-the-top.)
Warwick the Kingmaker by Paul Murray Kendall. For Game of Thrones fans, this book gives some insight into where Martin may have gotten some of his ideas. This book reads like a novel. While it is clearly well researched, sometimes Kendall lapses over into the mode of animating his characters a bit too speculatively. Reading this, however, led me to conclude that Margaret of York’s wedding may have been the straw that broke the camels back in Warwick and Edward’s relationship.
Other Wars of the Roses Books
Elizabeth of York: The Mother of Henry VIII by Nancy Lenz Harvey. This is not the greatest book on the subject, but that may not be the author’s fault. If you, like me, are a desperado for information about Elizabeth of York and happy with the odd crumb, you’ll like this book a lot. Harvey does manage to provide more information than many other biographers of obscure historical figures. However, some of it is speculative I believe. Read my review here.
Elizabeth of York by Amy Licence.
Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World by Alison Weir.
Bastard Feudalism by Michael Hicks. Provides a clear, lucid discussion of bastard feudalism in its historical context, a discussion of the relationship between the gentry and nobles, an explanation of retinues, and many other topics. I highly recommend this book.
Medieval Life, Culture, Setting
Charlemagne Tablecloth by Nichola Fletcher. This book discusses other periods besides the Middle Ages <sob>. However, I recommend it because it has an excellent, albeit very brief, discussion of the medieval ritual of carving meat at feasts and how this was basically a chance for young noble boys to show off their skill with knives before the king.
Life in a Medieval Castle (English Heritage) by Tony McAleavy. This skinny little book is actually quite good. If memory serves, the author is out of Cambridge University, and he provides quite an impressive accessible analysis with loads of color pictures.
Terry Jones’ Medieval Lives by Terry Jones. This extremely easy to read accessible book provides some really great and simple explanations of bastard feudalism and the structure of medieval society. Jones doesn’t use a lot of fancy words. He divides the book into seven (?) parts. One for different archetypes for lack of a better word in medieval society: knight, peasant, noble, woman, clergy (?), and a few others. I don’t remember what exactly. Admittedly, I felt women’s role in the Middle Ages was somewhat marginalized, BUT in fairness to Jones, relatively little information exists about women in the Middle Ages. Still, until I reached the one chapter about women at the back of the book, I was joking that the book should be retitled: “Terry Jones’ Medieval Men’s Lives.”
English Longbowman 1330-1515 by Clive Bartlett
The Medieval Soldier’s World: 15th Century Campaign Life Recreated in Color Photographs by Gary Embleton
The Medieval Soldier in the Wars of the Roses by Andrew W. Boardman
Also consider looking at books from Alan Sutton Publishing books – a great historical publisher — and also the Osprey Publishing Warrior series.
England in the Later Middle Ages by M H Keen. So far, this is one of the most insightful analyses of the late Middle Ages I’ve encountered. Keen provides a succinct analysis of many reigns and periods, including Edward II, Richard II, Henry VI, Edward IV, etc. up to Henry VII. This book isn’t exclusively about kings or politics. It also covers the plague, the Hundred Years War, the changing economy, and so on.
Crown and Nobility: England 1272 – 1461 by Anthony Tuck. Another great survey of the late Middle Ages, but this one focuses primarily on the relationship between the king and his nobles.
The Hollow Crown: A History of Britain in the Late Middle Ages by Miri Rubin. A survey of the late middle ages, but unlike Keen and Tuck’s books, this book is more of a popular history and less academic. This book is easy to read, engaging, and has an interesting analytical perspective.
Other Medieval Periods
John of Gaunt: The Exercise of Princely Power in Fourteenth-Century Europe by Anthony Goodman. Alison Weir listed this as one of the ten best history books she’s ever read and I can see why. It is phenomenal. Yes, it is academic in tone. But, it is well worth reading.
By Jamie Adair