Lancasters, Yorkists, and appendices, oh my!
If you can read a history of the wars of Lancaster and York without being confused then you are in a small minority and probably have a degree in the subject. As it is, the conflict between contending bloodlines and their allies spills over into all sorts of events in the larger European context. In his first book to be published in America, former British intelligence officer Bicheno (Elizabeth's Sea Dogs: How the English Became the Scourge of the Seas, 2014, etc.) does very good work by personalizing some of that larger picture. For instance, he notes that a key figure in the proximate causes of war was the widow of the Duke of Bedford, who had married her so hastily after the death of his wife he lost a “crucial English ally in the endgame of the Hundred Years War.” Then there was King Henry VI, whose mother had set up house, unmarried, with Owen Tudor, introducing a name into English history that would soon be heard from again. Those striking personalities aside, Bicheno’s history of a bloody war among cousins is complex and sometimes tedious—not through any fault of his own but because the endless back and forth of royal and anti-royal factions is simply tiresome and wrapped in overelaborate but needed detail. A sentence such as, “it is not clear whether the first Lancastrian emissaries were sent after the duchesses arrived at St Albans, or crossed paths with them,” begs the question whether it matters. At its best, Bicheno’s book—the first volume of a history that will feature better-known figures than the early stirrings recounted here—is a fast-paced study of savage battles full of longbowmen and the equerry.
Of much interest to students of late medieval British history, though a glance at the 20-odd pages of charted royal lineages and ranking clergy will doubtless scare off casual readers.