The Wars of the Roses, the fifteenth century dynastic conflict between the houses of Lancaster and York for the crown of England, had its origin in 99. In that year, John of Gaunt’s eldest son, Henry of Bolingbroke, who had been exiled by his cousin Richard II, returned to England with an army. Claiming that he had returned only to reclaim his inheritance, he gained the support of many of the English against the unpopular king and his hated favorites, and he succeeded in seizing the throne, and eventually had Richard murdered. The former king’s heir apparent, the young Roger Mortimer, was thus deprived of his rights, and for more than fifty years the Lancastrians, in the persons of Henry IV, Henry V, and Henry VI, held the throne in relative peace.
The reign of Henry VI, who suffered frequent bouts of madness, became markedly more troubled after his marriage to Marguerite d’Anjou. She dominated both king and court, and was bitterly opposed to the Duke of York, Mortimer’s heir, who had a better claim to the throne than Henry. In the 1450s, when the enmity of the queen and her favorites began to pose real danger to the Yorkists, the duke, in company with his cousin the earl of Warwick, rebelled, and in October, 1460, after five years of sometimes-open hostilities, York laid claim to the throne. In December of that year he was killed at the Battle of Wakefield, and his eldest son was successful in claiming the throne as Edward IV.
Virtually all the figures of the period, both major and minor, have attracted the interest of historians and writers of fiction, but none so much as Richard III, the last Plantagenet king. He has aroused the greatest passions, both for and against him. Beginning with Sir Thomas More, through the Tudor chronicles of Hall, Holinshed, and others, Richard III was portrayed as a murderous, deformed monster who clawed his way to the throne over the bodies of Henry VI and his son, his own brothers, and his two nephews. The most vivid of all these portraits came from Shakespeare, whose depiction of the king stamped itself on the consciousness of all future generations.
This view, however, did not go unchallenged. In the seventeenth century, George Buck and William Cornwallis published defenses of Richard III, as did Horace Walpole in the eighteenth century. In the nineteenth century, Sharon Turner, John Heneage Jesse, Caroline Halstead, and others also come to Richard’s defense, but the most spirited challenge to the socalled Tudor myth came in the twentieth century, with both historians and writers of fiction joining the fray. Probably the most influential of the king’s defenders were historian Paul Murray Kendal, whose Richard the Third and other books on the Yorkist period viewed him in a sympathetic light, and Josephine Tey, whose novel The Daughter of Time vigorously challenged the traditional view. The Richard III Society, founded in England in 9 to educate people about the king’s life and times, now has chapters in many countries, and has been responsible for much of the increased interest in the subject.
As interest in Richard III has grown, so has the number of books written about him, both fiction and nonfiction. Although some historians, such as Alison Weir and Desmond Seward, cling to the old stereotype, most historians have generally taken a more balanced view, but the greatest change can be seen in the many novels written by his partisans. Although some novels still portray him as Shakespeare’s monster, the great majority of those written in the past thirty or forty years are much more sympathetic, portraying Richard as a human being who lived through troubled times, showing great courage, devotion, and occasional faulty judgment, while attempting, usually successfully, to live up to his motto, Loyaulte me lie – Loyalty binds me.
Love & War, the first novel in The Rose of York trilogy, is a worthy addition to this growing body of work.
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Roxane C. Murph is an independent researcher and freelance writer in fifteenth century English history and the Wars of the Roses. A former Chairperson of the Richard III Society, she is the author of The Wars of the Roses in Fiction: An Annotated Bibliography, (Greenwood Press), and Richard III: The Making of a Legend (Scarecrow Press).