Book Review: Edward III by W.M. Ormrod

Edward III ormond

An excellent biography on one of the middle ages greatest kings, Edward III of England. What makes this biography different from others is that it offers a new perspective on Edward without the need of being condescending to other historians and biographers.

Ormrod acknowledges that many of Edward’s policies were innovative, and praises his maverick nature but he points out that much of the former were nothing new. He simply built on what his predecessors had done, altering some of their statues and regulations to ensure a more stable government.

The Edward that emerges from Ormrod’s biography is ambitious, scheming (plotting with the pope and other councilors to get rid of Mortimer) but also pragmatic and a great military commander who had a great team of administrators and above all, a man not afraid to compromise when the occasion called for it. Ormrod also puts his flaws, while a careful administrator and able leader, his taxation crippled many and there were times when he was forced to submit to Parliament’s rule and the commons’ representatives. This is not a sign of weakness, as Edward was a great negotiator and nothing he did came without a price.

The last years of his reign however after his wife and eldest son died, became decadent and this is seen through the demands of the Good Parliament that Ormrod goes over in various sections. I like the narrative, and that he went step by step explaining how each group was relevant in medieval society and how much it influenced or was affected by Edward’s policies. I only wish it had more details, it seemed as if each part was a short summary and he kept repeating himself at times. Nonetheless, it was still a good book.

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Book Review: Demon’s Brood: A History of the Plantagenet Dynasty by Desmond Seward

Plantagenet demons brood by seward
The Plantagenet dynasty will never cease to fascinate us. With the recent explosion of novels and TV shows, people have become more interested in them.
In spite of this, historians are careful not to treat their subjects as modern day celebrities. Many insist in treating them as we would any other historical subject, by being as objective as we can be. However, bias will always exist and as much as I enjoyed this biography, I found that the author perpetuates a lot of the old Victorian myths and stereotypes about these kings and queens.
Desmond Seward subscribes to the view that the celebrated heroes of this dynasty who continued to be revered as national icons, only became famous because of their success in battle and being surrounded by good councilors.
He is quick to tear down through the myths of the most famous of them all, Henry V, by pointing out that he was a far cry from the noble and reluctant hero of Shakespeare’s play of the same name when he invaded France. For this, I was grateful. I partly agree with him. When Henry V invaded France, he ordered his men to leave civilians alone but his soldiers being desperate, and to avoid them turning against him, he turned a blind eye to their crimes. When one town refused to open its doors to him, he charged against his inhabitants. The survivors fled to a fortress where it ended up capitulating to Henry V who had little qualms about the fate of the townspeople.
This is cruel behavior but it is the type of behavior you’d expect from a fifteenth century monarch. Classifying him as a murderer, zealot, power-hungry, and amoral while turning a blind eye to similar atrocities other monarchs engaged in, makes little sense
I also noticed that when it comes to searching for evidence to support his views, he engages in confirmation bias by heavily relying on secondary sources. While I can see the value in these, to place them in higher regard than primary sources is problematic. This is largely in part because they come from a later period where the social and religious background had changed, making this person(s) views quite different from someone living in that era. 
Do not get me wrong. This is not a bad book. Not at all! But it is not great either. History buffs looking for a good book on the Plantagenets might be disappointed in this one. It is entertaining and accessible for newcomers; something you could consider giving to your students if you are an educator or to a friend if you want to introduce him or her to this era.

 

Richard Duke of Gloucester is born at Fortheringhay

Richard III symbology

On the second of October 1452, Cecily Neville gave birth to her youngest son at Fortheringhay Castle. Years after his death, Tudor chroniclers wrote fantastical tales about his birth. More said that she was in “much doe in her travail” and that he was born with a full set of hair and crooked teeth. There is no actual record of the birth and the chronicler of the Neville family, Rous, wrote that he was healthy and he “liveth yet”. The reason why he said this was because Cecily became pregnant again three years after and gave birth to a girl who died that same year. Also, infant mortality was high so the fact he survived was something to take into account.

At the age of seven, Richard was exposed to the realities of war. It is written that she was “despoiled” of her goods, and while this could mean rape, it could also mean that they looted her house. The latter was still a big humiliation, to see her possessions being taken by common men and soldiers.
Cecily went to the city of Coventry where Parliament was held (a parliament that became known as “Parliament of Devils”) and submitted herself to royal mercy. But at this point, tensions were too high and it was clear that only one victor could emerge from this conflict.

“Without her husband by her side, Cecily had little choice but to submit to the rule of Henry VI and was placed in the custody of her sister Anne at Tonbridge Castle in Kent.” (Licence)

Anne was the Duchess of Buckingham through her marriage to John Stafford and as such, a staunch Lancastrian. Initially Cecily took her sons with her, but in the end she decided to send them away to Burgundy.

Margaret of Anjou
Margaret of Anjou

Sarah Gristwood in her biography notes that the “comparative lenience with which Cecily was treated was the result of her friendship with Queen Marguerite” yet she also notes what the chroniclers at the time said, that she was kept “full straight with many a rebuke” from her sister. “The future prominence of Cecily’s son” Gristwood points out, referring to her eldest, Edward the Earl of March “had never looked more unlikely.”

In 1460 however, the Yorkists scored a major victory when they took control of the capital and forced Henry VI to recognize the Duke of York as his heir. Cecily was sent for and the couple were not only Duke and Duchess of York anymore, but by right they were Prince and Princess of Wales. But things took a turn for the worse on that December when Marguerite’s troops took them by surprise at Sandal Castle and killed everyone, including Cecily’s brother, nephew, and her second son Edmund, the Earl of Rutland.

It wasn’t until 1461, when Richard’s oldest brother became King, that the family finally felt secure. Edward IV made Dukes of him and George. Richard was awarded the title of Duke of Gloucester. And then the rest –as they say- is history when he decided to marry a Lancastrian widow over Warwick’s proposal with Bona of Savoy. This split the Yorkist house in two ending with his cousin Warwick’s death in the battle of Barnet, the destruction of the Lancastrian, and seven years later the execution of his brother George. And then Edward died (possibly of a cold, although accounts vary) and the crown was free for the taking. It is very possible that Richard didn’t intend to take the crown at first like later Tudor version depict, but rather like his father, gain control of his nephew since he believed he was more suited to do so then the boy’s maternal relatives who were very hated with the nobility. But as the Queen locked herself in sanctuary, and then fearing repercussion from her relatives and allies, he executed her brother and his brother’s allies; he realized things had gone too far. And once again, like his father he was going to make a move that changed the history of the dynasty.

Richard III and Anne Neville.
Richard III and Anne Neville.

He and his wife, Anne Neville were crowned on July of that year, with their only son Edward of Middleham invested as Prince of Wales later that autumn in the North.

Although the Lancastrian royal line was wiped out, one scion remained and even though some considered his mother’s line a bastard line, many still saw him as the heir to the Lancastrian cause, and Edwardian Yorkists who were not too happy with Richard’s rule fled to Brittany to join him in his exile. The youth’s name was Henry Tudor, and like Richard, he had been privy to the horrors of war at a young age.

Besides the white rose, there was the sun in splendor and although Richard used these, he also used the white boar which was known as the Ebocarum. (
Besides the white rose, there was the sun in splendor and although Richard used these, he also used the white boar which was known as the Ebocarum. (“The boar was a visaul pun on Ebocarum – the ancient Roman name for York which was particularly shortened to Ebor.

Richard ruled for over two years. And to this day, he is the hot topic of almost every conversation regarding the wars of the roses. Was he a good or bad king? Or was he a victim of circumstance?

It is more probably as one historian pointed out in an interview that he was neither. On one front we have him doing great things for the country such as improving the law courts and allowing more common people to have representation, and he was very loved in the North; on the other hand we also have him be as ruthless as any king could be in this era, and executing as many as he saw fit to keep his power.
The rumors of him poisoning his wife are of course exaggerated, he probably loved her but as King he had to think of the future of his dynasty. When their son died in 1484 and she became sick with grief (dying the following year), he was looking for someone else to marry. He publicly denied that he wanted to marry his niece, Elizabeth of York and while he could have contemplated that (at one point), it seems highly unlikely that he would have done that in the end. His intentions in the summer of 1485 reflect that, when he was negotiating for a joint marriage for himself and his niece (Elizabeth) to a Portuguese Princess and Duke.

Sources:

  • The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones
  • Richard III: Road to Leicester by Amy Licence
  • Blood Sisters by Sarah Gristwood