Magazine article The Spectator

'The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses and the Rise of the Tudors', by Dan Jones - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses and the Rise of the Tudors', by Dan Jones - Review

Article excerpt

The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses and the Rise of the Tudors Dan Jones

Faber, pp.435, £20, ISBN: 9780571288076

Thank goodness for Game of Thrones . I think. Apparently it is inspired by the Wars of the Roses, drawing inspiration from the bloody, ruthless machinations of England's power-brokers at the waning of the Middle Ages. Anyway, plenty of readers and watchers of George R.R. Martin's work think that it is; what with that and BBC television's recent The White Queen and She-Wolves series and (spot the marketing opportunity) the Shakespearean trilogy of, ahem, The Hollow Crown , undergraduates are queuing up for courses on this period of history. As I teach one, that has to be a good thing. Chuck 'the Tudors' into the title of your book and you're on to a sure-fire winner.

There are all sorts of debates about the Wars of the Roses -- over-mighty nobles, weak kings, bastard feudalism, personal greed or genuine devotion to the good of the commonweal, and the extent of the war's disruption are some of the hoariest; but you will find little of that introspection here. Jones specialises in popular, straightforward narrative history, largely eschewing analysis and anything that gets in the way of his telling a rattling good story. His greatest skill as a historical writer is to somehow render sprawling, messy epochs such as this one into manageable, easily digestible matter; he is keenly tuned to what should be served up and what should be omitted. And he still finds rooms for the telling anecdote and vivid descriptive passage. It makes for an engrossing read and a thoroughly enjoyable introduction to the Lancastrian-Yorkist struggle.

While not engaging with the debates or mentioning any historians, Jones rightly attributes culpability for the political blood-letting of the period to the failure of leadership; and this means the catastrophic -- and frequently catatonic -- rule of Henry VI, a man born to be a bishop, not a king. Famously prudish -- K.B. McFarlane has dismissed him as a 'pious muff' -- Henry averted his eyes from topless dancers at court and his idea of a foul-mouthed tirade was 'forsothe and forsothe', neither of which is very Game of Thrones . Jones tells of how the king's supporters had to stress the king's saintly qualities to save something of his rather pathetic reputation, but he perhaps underestimates the significance of this. He writes: 'There were two basic functions to kingship in the Middle Ages. The first was to uphold justice. …

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