Bookshot #172: The Hollow Crown

This book was one of my UK haul and I almost put it back and picked up a 'biography of Parliament'

which seemed a lot more interesting and more in my political science wheelhouse. However, I'm glad I didn't. History books are kind of interesting for me to grapple with- especially when it comes to reviewing them. On the one hand, my poli-sci brain kicks to life and I want to look at things from a more academic perspective. On the other hand, as a reader, I want to be informed and not bored to death. Happily, Dan Joes managed to satisfy both 'hands' with his excellent history of the Wars of the Roses.

I will be honest: the biggest takeaway from this book was learning that there was so much before Richard III- and yes, my knowledge of the Wars of the Roses stems mainly from Shakespeare. Richard III, the Princes in the Tower, him being all twisty and scoliosis'd up and wandering around Bosworth Field, demanding a horse. (Al Pacino did a really great- I don't know what to call it- it wasn't exactly a documentary as it interweaved bits of the play, but it's called Looking for Richard and even though it's been years since I've seen it, it def stuck in my memory, so it's worth your time.) But the Richard III of it all aside, the problems really began well before him.

Dial things back, if you will, to another Shakespeare play and notable Monarch and perhaps the best of all the Henrys, Henry V. (Haven't seen the Kenneth Branaugh movie, but who can forget the early 90s classic Renaissance Man?) He won military victories in France and took England to the height of its success in the Hundred Years War, secured his success after marrying Catherine of Valois, and then died, leaving his very young son, Henry VI as King.

I've said it before and I've said it again: as an American, I'm largely agnostic on the idea of monarchy, especially in the modern age. I don't have to pay for it and if people no longer want to, that's fine, but be careful what you wish for-- but one of the big drawbacks to monarchy is illustrated here: if you have a competent, capable ruler, you'll probably be okay. If you end up with someone who is totally uninterested in the basics of governance, you're going to have a bad time and that's what got England into a mess.

Henry V set up the Duke of Bedford as regent for his son, anticipating a lengthy regency, but unfortunately also left him in charge of France where (as happens during wars) he died. That lead to an outbreak of factional fighting and Henry VI was put on the throne before he was ready and even then, he was totally uninterested in ruling. His Queen, Margaret of Anjou, was more than willing to play politics- even with knives- and as the military situation collapsed in France and England was flooded with soldiers coming back home, things worsened and soon Civil War broke out.

Here's where I got confused: there are, in fact, two Richards in this saga. Richard, Duke of York, shot his proverbial shot against Henry VI and failed. I was assuming this Richard was the Richard (Richard III) and that's not the case. However, Richard, Duke of York had a son, Edward and he came to power after defeating the Lancastrian armies in early 1461 and took the throne as Edward IV. He married Elizabeth Woodville- going against his advisors and there's some controversy about this. Some say it was a shrewd political move to calm down his domestic politics, some say that it was for love (And certainly there's some evidence for that) and some say that elevating a large family like the Woodvilles to a position of power pissed off other powerful people enough that it caused problems for him down the line and sure enough- he was briefly ousted and replaced with Henry VI (who, unlike his Dad, still hasn't died at this point) and then came back, got 'er done and reigned for twelves years in relative peace (after his comeback, Henry VI was 'found dead' in the Tower.) He managed to have a son, Edward V, but died while he was still young and that brings us to Richard III.

Now, if having someone who is totally uninterested in governance is going to get you a bad time, having two regencies in close proximity to one other is also going to give you a bad time. Edward IV's brother, Richard, sent Edward V and his brother to the Tower and they were never seen again. He took the throne as Richard III.

The craziest part of all of this begins here: remember Henry V? He was married to Catherine of Valois, but because he died so young, she quietly remarried a man named Owen Tudor. He had sons. They had kids, one of whom was named Henry. Throughout this entire mess of Margarets and Edwards and Richards and wars and battles, the Tudors have been there. Sometimes imprisoned, sometimes on one side or another, but they've been lurking in the background and now, with people not happy with Richard III, they 'win' sort of by default. There's no one else powerful enough to take Richard on, but Henry Tudor does. Bosworth Field sees Richard killed and Henry takes power as Henry VIII, beginning the reign of the House of Tudor and bringing the Wars of the Roses to an end.

Overall: I learned a TON from this book. That alone makes it worth reading to me, but give Dan Jones a ton of credit: he made this book readable, and clear, you don't get trapped in dusty tangents or complex academic language. It was never boring and honestly, it makes me want to go and get his book on The Plantagenats, just to learn about them as well. My Grade: **** out of ****.


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