Sir Walter Scott's sobriquet, as Mr. Hamilton points out, is ""a pretty name for a brutal, ugly, dreadful century of conflict."" We know it most intimately from Shakespeare (who is excerpted appropriately) and it is doubtful if any American who has not met briefly with Prince Hal and Queen Margaret and Richard III will have the patience to enter repeatedly the maze of genealogy central to the long hostility between Lancaster and York. Where interest in English history warrants, Mr. Hamilton is an excellent guide; his narrative is orderly and lucid, offering frequent pauses for the reader to orient himself anew. He offers history's evaluation of the participants with allowances for uncertainties and without any trumped-up plaudits or pity; neither does he, by his own disclaimer, attempt to impose a pattern on disorderly events. As in 1066 and The Crusades, he proves himself a thorough, intelligent chronicler of complexities.