An engrossing, probably definitive background to one of the most powerful dynasties in British history.
Americans vaguely remember the 1485 Battle of Bosworth Field—with Richard III crying “My kingdom for a horse!” as Henry Tudor’s army closed in—but in England, it occupies the place of our Gettysburg. Richard III’s cry is Shakespeare, not reality, and British historian and Member of Parliament Skidmore (Death and the Virgin Queen: Elizabeth I and the Dark Scandal that Rocked the Throne, 2011, etc.) delves into the archives to tease out the facts. Emphasizing the Tudor family, this is a history of 15th-century English kings, which began brilliantly with Henry V’s 1415 defeat of the French at Agincourt but descended into civil war after the 1422 accession of his son, Henry VI, who was weak, probably insane and long-lived. For more than 50 years, two parties, the Lancasters and the Yorks, fought for the power the king was incapable of wielding. Owen Tudor (1400–1461), a minor Welsh noble, married Henry V’s widow. This gave his grandson a distant claim to the throne, but the deaths of so many royal Lancasters made him the leading claimant when he defeated Richard III at Bosworth, and his marriage to Elizabeth of York united the families, bringing relative peace. Even educated readers will flinch at the relentless deceit, betrayal, treason and bloodshed that characterized 15th-century English politics, and they may have difficulty distinguishing the cast of characters since nobles passed the identical title to their heirs and women tended to be named Margaret or Elizabeth.
Skidmore does a fine job of telling a complicated story that ends happily as Henry, now Henry VII, founded the Tudor dynasty that included his son, Henry VIII, and granddaughter, Elizabeth.