Review From User :
I was lucky enough to come across this treasure at a charity shop, and having a passionate interest in English history eagerly snapped it up.
And I am glad I did. With a novelists flair , Thomas Costain creates both a detailed history of England and its monarchs from the declining years of Edward III to the death of Richard III at the battle of Bosworth and the early early years of Henry VII.
Costain combines political history with social history, taking us through the overview while providing us with some lesser known but juicy titbit's
Part 1 details the life of Richard II from his birth to his murder at Pontefract.
It touches on the last years of Edward III, his beguiling mistress Alice Perrers, the intrigues of his court, the interplay between his sons , indulging the popular and valiant, Edward the Black Prince, the proud and intriguing John of Gaunt and his magnificent palace The Savoy his mistress Katherine Swynford, and his ultimate failure. Social history abounds including the blond and plump Flemish prostitutes of the Savoy, to the clothes and food of the time the forerunners of Protestantism in England, the reformist (and terrible persecuted Lollards) Also featuring is the blustering bully, another son of Edward III. Thomas of Woodstock and his intrigues and violence
The Peasant Revolt is well covered, featuring the massacres of Flemish merchants crown officials and lawyers and the liberation of a key prison in which all the inmates were freed, a foreshadow of the seizure of the Bastille in France, some 400 years later.
The Peasants Revolt was a key point in English history, the foundations of the social order were shaken. Wat Tyler as we read was the virtual ruler of London for two days. It also provided the boy king Richard II with his finest hour when Wat Tyler was killed and
Richard calmed the mob , promising to be their leader and to fulfill their demands.
This proved to be deceitful as he rescinded (likely under pressure from his nobles) all his promises and sacked the countryside, crushing all dissent by the common people, telling the peasants 'Villeins you are and villeins you will remain' Richard was ultimately a weak and effete rulers.
The section ends with the decline of Richard's power, the connivance of those around him, leading to him being deposes and murdered at Pontefract by conspirators centered on Henry of Bolingbroke , the son of John of Gaunt and to be Henry IV
Henry IV was sickly and undistinguished in his reign and was succeeded by the mercurial and martial genius, Henry V, who crushed a Welsh revolt that had almost succeeded, and best known of course for his victory in France at Agincourt and his wooing and marriage of Katherine of Valois, younger sister to Isabella of France, the young queen who was married to Richard II and who the young Prince Hal was besotted with in his boyhood. It had ad been his plan as as a result of this to marry her younger sister Katherine. , in addition to the power in France it gave him.
Brilliant section of the Wars of the Roses, the half mad. pious Henry VI, Richard , the Duke of York, the conniving Richard Neville (Earl of Warwick and the king maker) and the passionate and merciless Margaret of Anjou , Henry VI's French queen.
As the war ended with the triumph of Edward IV, the intrigues of his brother George, Duke of Clarence who rebelled several times against Edward and was killed in the Tower of London on Edward's orders.according to popular legend drowned in a butt of his favourite malmsey wine.
Costain examines the figures he covers throughly He describes how Edward was beguiled into marriage by the beautiful Elizabeth Woodville and the dissolution of Edwards court. Edward had expended all his energy it seemed on getting the throne and once he got it fell into decadence.
His most well known mistress the lovely and light hearted promiscuous Jane Shore is mentioned here (and he describes both the penance she was forced to do by Richard III after he became king and his pardoning of her when petiotned to do so by solicitor and royal official Thomas Lynom after he fell in love with her (which was an act of compassion as pointed out by Costain)
One of the great achievements of Edward IV's reign was the printing press of William Caxton whose life Costain devotes a several pages to.,
Bu the key part of the book is a passionate defense by the the author of the character of Richard III who he carefully and methodically defends against the charges of killing his royal nephews in the tower, as well as other crimes he was accused of by Tudor historians such as Sir Thomas More, including killing Henry VI with his own hand, accusing his mother , the proud Duchess Cicely of adultery and his brother Edward IV of therefore being illegitimate. and also being the main hand behind getting his bother the duke of Clarence sentenced to die.
Coitain shows many of these charges are false, and as regards the murder of the Princes of the Tower provides a strong case of their being murdered by Henry Tudor. He made me lean to thinking King Richard innocent having previously leaned to believing him guilty after I read Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir.
Regardless of his guilt or innocence in the crime the author deals with this in consummate detail and expertise. I find just about anything written on Richard III most intriguing having read many historic novels centering on Richard III
Published in 1962, the book is so well written, so exciting and examines everything with such skill that this book is not at all dated, and I recommend any aficionado of medieval English history to get themselves a copy of this magisterial work.
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