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Blood Sisters: The Women Behind the Wars of the Roses.

Blood Sisters: The Women Behind the Wars of the Roses. By Sarah Gristwood. (New York, NY: Basic Books, 2013. Pp. 432. $29.99.)

Forget The White Queen; this is the authentic story of the women of the Wars of the Roses. The author of this study is a first-rate historian and writer as evinced by this insightful and extensively researched book, in which she interweaves the dramatic and often tragic lives of seven royal ladies. All had a role to play in the bloody conflict between the houses of Lancaster and York that overshadowed the second half of the fifteenth century and led to the accession of the Tudor dynasty. It is a complicated period even for historians, but Sarah Gristwood handles her material effortlessly, displaying an impressive knowledge of the often conflicting sources and an objective grasp of the controversies that surround her subjects.

Cecily Neville, matriarch of the house of York, whose life spanned those of all the other women in the book, was the first to be born. A great-granddaughter of King Edward III, she married her cousin, Richard, Duke of York, and they had at least eleven children, including Edward IV and Richard III. Cecily outlived both kings and survived to see her granddaughter, Elizabeth of York, marry Henry VII, first sovereign of the house of Tudor. Gristwood examines recent claims that Edward IV was Cecily's son by an archer, and reaches an interesting conclusion.

Margaret of Anjou was the wife of Henry VI, last sovereign of the house of Lancaster. She was proactive in campaigning for her husband during the wars, but was consequently unpopular and slandered by her enemies. Her story, like Cecily's, shows how women were easy targets for propaganda.

Edward IV's marriage to Elizabeth Wydeville caused scandal not only because it was made for love instead of political advantage but also because it advanced her family, and fatally--as it proved--created a powerful court faction. Gristwood relates how Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry VII, intrigued to make her son king and was thereafter hugely influential. She tells how Margaret of York, the sister of Edward IV, plotted ceaselessly to overthrow Henry by supporting pretenders to his throne.

Anne Neville, Richard III's queen, is a shadowy figure thanks to the paucity of source material. Gristwood remains determinedly neutral on the pivotal issue of the fate of the princes in the Tower, which greatly impacted the lives of her subjects, especially the two Elizabeths. Clearly she feels that there is insufficient evidence to condemn or exonerate Richard III.

This study provides a fascinating look at the Wars of the Roses from the female perspective. In recounting the lives of these seven women in this original way and focusing on their diverse roles in the conflict between Lancaster and York, Gristwood achieves new insights and reveals how they influenced the course of history in a world dominated by men. Informed by a judicious use of quotes, her work is further enlivened by perceptive analysis and vivid detail, giving us glimpses of the very texture of the age in a graceful, captivating, and lively style.

Alison Weir

Carshalton, UK

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Author:Weir, Alison
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2015
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