A giant of a king, literally, standing in excess of six feet and three inches Edward reigned over what has to be described as one of the most pivotal and tempestuous times of medieval monarchy. If not the hardest fight to be and remain king, Edward was no stranger to the battlefield. In the eleven years between 1460 and 1471 he fought five major battles in the War of the Roses. Three of them – Towton, Barnet and Tewkesbury – rank among the most decisive of the medieval period. He certainly proved himself a formidable as well as a charismatic leader.
Jeffrey James’s new book is a compelling story of resilience, initiative and military tactics.
Jeffrey eases us into the book with very useful maps and family trees which are the backdrop as his tale unfolds. They are considerately placed for quick reference, refreshment and reflection as we journey through the English countryside amid Edwards, often, violent struggles.
The book covers Edward’s family background, the Yorkist takeover and the drift to war. It charts the tensions created by the controversial Woodville marriage and Edward’s deposition by the Earl of Warwick and subsequent exile. The return of the king brought new battles as well as Edward’s decisive campaigns against Warwick and Margaret of Anjou.
We have all read books with endless ramblings in the prologue that leave us forlorn and exhausted, wondering why on earth we didn’t simply skip to chapter one directly. Not so with this book. From the very opening of the prologue, Jeffrey immerses the reader into the vivid image of an English, battle-ridden winter scapes. The reader is teased by this first confrontation between Edward’s well equipped Yorkist forces and the larger, motley army of Lancastrian men. I had fully intended to give a cursory glance at the book as I opened it and then return to it at a more convenient hour. However, I failed, I read on and soon found myself in France amongst the mixed fortunes of Edward’s father, Richard, Duke of York. It was at this time I knew I was going to be in for a very late night.
Jeffrey’s writing style is very clear and descriptive. Some other books I have read consign distant historical descriptions into a very blunt, fact delivering lists. Edward IV – Glorious Son of York not one of those books. It would be so easy to give a blow-by-blow account of each chapter, but that would simply be a plot-spoiler for anyone who *thinks* they know the story of Edward IV.
The illustrated plates in the book are excellent quality and perfectly transport you to the locations described in the book.
We all have favourite books, and I am sure we have all read some of those over and over. This is going to be one of my favourite books. My son (he’s 12), was very excited to see the book arrive today and eagerly asked if he could have it as his bedtime story book. I wasn’t sure how suitable it would be, even for a young history addict. He will be so excited to learn tomorrow that I will be only too happy to reopen the world of medieval England. Sharing with him the life and times of Edward IV; not 24 hours from reading the last gripping chapter charting Edward’s sudden death and the demise of the House of York along with the triumph of the Tudors against Richard III.
I was keen to understand more about Jeffrey as a writer and his passion for Edward IV and invited him to take part in an interview for Royal Central. Jeffrey kindly agreed and here follows an insightful view into Jeffrey’s literary world.
Q. When did you first become aware that you wanted to be a writer?
A. In my teens, but a career in industry and a growing family put any such ambition on hold until my fifties.
Q. What is your favourite book and why?
A. Any of Patrick O’Brian’s early ‘Master and Commander’ series, for exciting storylines, engaging characters and authentic dialogue.
Q. How many books have you written?
A. Three books now, including the current one about Edward IV. My first was An Onslaught of Spears – a history of Viking attacks on England, culminating in Cnut’s conquest in 1016; my second was Swordsmen of the King – the story of Charles I’s nephews, Prince Rupert and Prince Maurice, during the English Civil War. I have also written numerous magazine articles.
Q. Where do you prefer to write?
A. At home, immediately on waking in the morning, through to lunchtime; with some revision/ tinkering in the early evening.
Q. How structured is your work schedule when you’re writing?
A. I try to treat my writing as a hobby, but self-imposed pressures and publisher deadlines sometimes make it a demanding one.
Q. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
A. Read, travel and socialise. A long-term hobby has been wargaming. I have refought in miniature all the battles described in the Edward book. If set up accurately, wargaming is an excellent way to understand the constraints on commanders caused by terrain and the size, disposition and quality of opposing armies.
Q. How long has it taken you to research for this book?
A. Off and on for a number of years prior to the commission from Amberley; this mainly being centred on the military aspects of Edward’s reign. The political and inter-personal sides were researched while writing the book, over the period of a year or so.
Q. Where did you begin your research for this book?
A. As mentioned, I began researching Edward’s battles several years ago, using, where possible, contemporary or near-contemporary sources. When commissioned by Amberley to write the book last year, I concentrated first of all on the troubled reign of Henry VI to get the background, then worked forward from there. Perhaps, most difficult was getting an understanding of who was who among the royalty and nobility and the complex international relations at work between England, France and Burgundy during the second half of the fifteenth century.
Q. Was anyone particularly helpful in your research?
A. Military historian Richard Brooks, my regular war game opponent and author of Cassell’s Battlefields of England and Ireland, helped me develop my understanding of medieval warfare. I also gained a more balanced view of Henry VI’s queen, Margaret of Anjou, (and of Henry VI and the Duke of York for that matter) than I might otherwise by reading Helen E Maurer’s excellent biography of her. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography also proved to be a great resource. Any mistakes in the narrative are of course my own.
Q. What drew you to writing about Edward IV?
A. After developing an interest in medieval warfare and, in particular, the Wars of the Roses, I wrote an article about Edward for a magazine called Military Illustrated. The focus of the piece was the way that weather appeared to favour Edward at his battles: torrential rain at Northampton, sundogs at Mortimer’s Cross, driving snow at Towton, fog at Barnet. My interest in him grew from there.
Q. What was the most surprising thing you discovered whilst researching this book?
A. One surprise was the apparent inconsistency of retribution meted out during the Wars of the Roses. For instance, Owen Tudor was executed immediately after the battle of Mortimer’s Cross on Edward’s orders, whereas Owen’s son, Jasper (Henry VII’s uncle), was later spared. Similarly, the Lancastrian Henry Beaufort, a veteran of Wakefield, Second St Albans and Towton, was initially pardoned and befriended by Edward, while others faced the headman’s axe. Despite remorseless culls on both sides, it seems an honour code prevailed. Both Jasper and Henry may have surrendered on terms, so were spared execution, despite the latter having previously broken his parole.
Q. Some have described the period of Edward’s reign(s) as some of the most fierce and exciting of the monarchs of Britain. How significant do you feel Edward’s reign(s) were and why?
A. Edward was a usurper; his kingship was forged in war, the result of upheavals at the end of the Hundred Years War. His first reign was taken up attempting to consolidate his rule; as such, he could be seen as an opportunist. It was a bloody business. The Battle of Towton, fought near York in 1461, has been characterised as England’s most brutal battle; its outcome described as akin to a national disaster in terms of casualties inflicted. Subsequently, Edward failed to hold on to power; in part at least, because of his unpopular marriage to Elizabeth Woodville (a widowed commoner) and differences over foreign policy. The period between June 1469 and May 1471 has been described as one of great instability ‘without parallel in English history since 1066’. Governance changed hands three times, the crown twice and two decisive battles – Barnet and Tewkesbury – were fought, the former gaining the dubious accolade of being the fiercest battle fought in Europe for a hundred years. Later, during his second reign, the peace Edward struck with the French benefitted England immensely and had important repercussions abroad. Edward’s sudden, untimely death ushered a further period of domestic upheaval, resulting in Henry VII’s victory at Bosworth.
Q. Did your opinion of Edward change whilst you wrote the book and if so, in what way?
A. I set out under the preconception that Edward was a militaristic king but came to the conclusion that he really was not; not when compared with, for instance, Henry V or Richard the Lionheart. Edward was a fighter, but not for foreign aggrandisement or just for the sake of it. He considered his greatest martial achievement to have been the bloodless campaign and settlement with the French King Louis XI during his second reign, rather than any of the epic battles for which he is better known.
Q. If you had to choose five words to describe Edward as a man, what would they be?
A. Very much his own man!
Q. If you had to choose five words to describe Edward as a King, what would they be?
A. One not to be crossed!
Q. Edward’s tomb lies at the very heart of today’s monarchy, in St. Georges Chapel, Windsor, alongside countless other kings and queens. What, if any, are the enduring legacies of his reign?
A. Though perhaps not an enduring legacy, Edward remains the only king of England in our history to have both gained and regained his crown through force of arms. Because of his sudden death and Richard’s coup, it is probably through his eldest daughter, Elizabeth, the mother of Henry VIII (a man similar to Edward physically and, perhaps, temperamentally) that we might best trace his legacy.
Q. How involved were you with the design of the book’s cover?
A. Not at all – the great book cover was all Amberley’s work.
Q. In this digital age, do you think a book’s cover image still plays an important part in the buying process?
A. The cover looks good on my I-Pad, but I suspect most people who purchase digitally base their decision on the book’s descriptive text and also on any reviews they might have read.
Q. Do you have another project in mind for the future?
A. I have taken the summer and autumn off but hope to re-motivate myself to consider making a start on a new project through the winter.
Q. Is there anything else you would like to add that I haven’t included?
A. With the recent focus on Richard III, it was noteworthy to discover that the then Duke of Gloucester – incorrectly portrayed by Shakespeare as something of a bogeyman – remained loyal to Edward right up until the time of the king’s death, if not after. He was a gifted military leader, if somewhat gung-ho – a man trusted by Edward to lead attacks at Barnet and Tewkesbury and later into Scotland.
Q. How can readers discover more about you and you work?
A. I do not have a personal blog or a twitter account, but I am planning to write a piece for the Amberley blog.
I would like to thank Jeffrey for agreeing to participate in this interview and for his open and thoughtful responses.
Photos: Courtesy of Amberley Publishing.