The Last White Rose: Dynasty, Rebellion & Treason: the secret war against the Tudors.
By Desmond Seward
Fifteen years ago Desmond Seward published with Constable what is for my money the best and richest modern narrative history of the fiercely complex Wars of the Roses. In this belated sequel from the same publisher he takes up the story where he left off – with the death of Richard III in the bloody Midlands mud at Bosworth.
It is a common misconception that the ding-dong dynastic struggle that began at St Albans in 1455, ended thirty years later at Bosworth with the slaying of the last Plantagenet King and the extinction of his House of York. The inauguration of the reign of Henry Tudor, whose claim to the throne he had seized so violently was dubious at best. In fact, as Seward brilliantly shows, the Tudors’ grip on their barely-won throne was distinctly shaky and remained vulnerable to a Yorkist comeback for decades.
Just as the ousted Stuart Jacobites grumbled, plotted, and occasionally rebelled in the years after the ‘Glorious Revolution’ so too did the Yorkists refuse to accept their defeat at Bosworth as final. They had good grounds for their optimism. The Wars of the Roses had seen many revolutions of what Seward calls ‘the wheel of fortune’. The Lancastrians were up one minute, down and defeated the next. The Yorkists lost their leadership in a single disastrous day at Wakefield, only to triumph within weeks in Britain’s biggest and bloodiest battle at Towton. Kings followed each other on the throne with bewildering rapidity, and although there were long periods of peace, the whole era was punctuated with murderous battles, which decimated much of the old nobility.
The nouveau Tudors moved into the vacuum and, unlike their unlucky Lancastrian forebears, steadily tightened their hold on power. But it was a very close run thing. Probably the most dangerous moment for Henry VII came two years after Bosworth when Lambert Simnel, an obscure Oxford youth, was coached by his Yorkist ‘handlers’ to pretend to be their heir, the Earl of Warwick. (The real Warwick was safely in Henry’s hands locked in the Tower). The Yorkist army – a mixed bag of ill-trained Irish peasants and tough hired German mercenaries – invaded England in 1487, but came to grief in another Midlands field at the Battle of Stoke. Though Stoke was the last pitched battle, invasions, plots and skirmishes continued to plague the Tudors into the reign of Henry VIII, who was still busy executing the last nobles unlucky enough to have a drop of Yorkist blood in their veins. Once again, Desmond Seward has made a complex story comprehensible, and has told it with zest and panache – involving the reader in his own passion for this bloodstained era in English history.