Thursday, 29 September 2016

The Wars of the Roses on Screen and in Print

Lancaster and York: The Wars of the Roses (Alison Weir)
From the point of view of a student that has loved the Tudors and the two factions of York and Lancaster for years, this book gives a very in depth view of the beginnings, endings and effects of the Cousins’ War.

Very much like the book by Orlando Figes, it encompasses: the society at the time, the people and the political regime of the time. “The Burgundian chronicler Philippe de Commines thought the English a choleric, earthy, and volatile people, who nevertheless made good, brave soldiers. In fact he regarded their warlike inclinations as one of the chief causes of the Wars of the Roses. If they could not fight the French, he believed, they fought each other.” Using quotes like this, she shows the brutal, violent and warrior-like medieval world and how this warring culture helped fuel the flames of the wars. She shows how the lords needed the people and the people needed the lords; that the factions could not win without the commons people support.

It showed how women also played a key role in the battles and that the world of politics was not so clean cut. Battles were never decisively in one faction’s favour, they were brutal to both sides and people would always sway to the winning side. The book grasped the idea that even though the War of the Roses wasn’t as big of an event as most historians describe, it was still an event that changed English history and showed that: propaganda, the commons and the alliances were key to the various victories. And that even though: “A king was the Lord’s anointed, hallowed at his coronation with holy oil” it could easily be changed by political power.

The White Queen - TV Series (BBC)
Based on Philippa Gregory's novels, this mini-series gives us a romanticised vision of the Wars of the Roses. Although it shows the various events during the wars and the political rivalry between the Woodvilles and the Nevilles, because it is a TV production there are a few glamourised scenes and events that are glossed over.

I believe that it showcases the women in the period very well (mainly because it is based on novels on the three women), but also the show stuck to the women's’ actions and personalities well. It was a very much surrounded around the three women on the show, but it didn’t hesitate to satisfy the male viewers with various gory scenes of warfare.

However, I would have liked there to be a brief view into the history prior to the War of the Roses. Due to this lack of insight into the beginnings of the rivalry between the houses of York and Lancaster, the house of Lancaster was generally show negatively. It did not show the awful reign of Richard II, or the usurpation of Henry IV and his successful descendant Henry V who died young leaving an infant Henry VI as king who with his wife helped catalyse the events of the Cousins’ War. Because of this romanticised view of the Yorkists and King Edward IV, it was made to seem that the Lancasters were destined for loss until the arrival of Henry VII.

The use of witchcraft is pure fiction, however it is a nice touch that relates to the heritage of Elizabeth Woodville and her mother who was supposedly descended from a water goddess. Overall however, the show is a very good modern-day adaptation of the medieval rivalry and does showcase the rise and fall of both York and Lancaster, however it is a romanticised idyll of the wars to satisfy period drama lovers. SL

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