Historical Fiction Cover of the Month – August

Well, if July was a bit of a low point for me in terms of HF covers, this month is providing something of a bonanza! There are seven this month that I’m suggesting for your consideration – yes, seven! I know, I’m generous to a fault.

I should say, for anyone new to this series of posts, I make no claim that these are the “best” covers but only that I happen to like them. I have an aversion to HF covers with just a random male or female figure – bare or not – and little else to recommend them. So you won’t find any of those!

Anyway, to this month’s fare. Since there are so many, my comments will be a little briefer than usual. wolfbanner

First up are Paula Lofting’s The Wolf Banner whiCrossandCursech I think is a reprinting but with a new cover and Matthew Harffy’s The Cross and the Curse which is also a sequel.

There are some nice touches on both of these and the helmeted figure in each case pretty much tells the prospective reader what they need to know about the subject matter of the story.

Interestingly, the two book covers have a similar layout with the position of the title and author texts reversed. It’s an effective formula that is quite popular at the moment.

All but one of the “7” are books from a series and the next three are by authors who need little introduction. furiesofrome

Robert Fabbri’s The Furies of Rome and David Pilling’s Conquestconquest  use fire to draw the eye and both deploy fonts of yellow and white. Whilst this is not exactly an original idea, I think that both use it effectively. The Furies also manages to create the impression of motion as well. You feel as if the horses are heading straight for you.


Another martial cover image is used by Douglas Jackson’s Saviour of Rome but it is in stark contrast to the other two. Here we have skilful use of pastel colours with one rider picked out more prominently. One of the difficulties with long running series is creating a series of interesting covers. Do you go for covers which resemble each other with perhaps only some changes of background colour, or do you create very different layouts and images for each title? Either can, of course, be effective. To take this series as an example, the earlier books had a more dramatic image at the heart of the cover. The font used to start with was also different. The last two books have used lighter backgrounds and the change does make them stand out a bit.

OK, the final two!accession


Accession by Livi Michael has rather less “going on” than some of the covers above, but I’m a sucker for simplicity and I like the image. Sword, red rose – sort of says a fair bit on the content. I also love the title font but, for me, the rest of the text belongs on the back of the book. Not sure what’s left to put on the back – perhaps another little penguin?



But cover of the month for me this month is this one: 1066 Turned Upside Down which is the work of no less than nine different authors.

Why? Because it is a little different and because it attempts to match the idea of the book. Yes, I know it’s a helmet and we’ve seen plenty of those, but by using the inverted image it not only echoes the title but – and here’s the really smart bit – in using a reflected image that’s not quite true it demonstrates that it is a work of alternative history.

The design is not only clever but pleasing to the eye. The title stands out well and at a glance the reader knows what is contained within.

So, that’s it for August. Many mentioned in dispatches, but there can be only one winner…

Now, there’s a man digging a hole in my front garden so I’m off to see if he’s discovered any Roman artefacts…

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Chalke Valley History Festival – July 2016

As the song by Flanders and Swann goes, “Mud, mud, glorious mud – nothing quite like it for cooling the blood!” Well, after a weekend at the Chalke Valley History Festival, my blood must have been pretty cool. Glastonbury, eat your heart out!

This was my first experience of this festival and it didn’t get off to a very auspicious start. I was staying in Salisbury and set off for the Chalke Valley extra early Saturday morning so that I would have time to wander around the site and explore. I arrived really early – there were only two vehicles in the queue for the service road where I needed to unload my copies of Feud for sale The short queue, however, soon got longer as a number of cars and vans drew up behind me. We sat waiting and my early optimism began to wane as none of us moved forward. The marshal at the head of the queue seemed to be receiving universally bad news busy on his walkie-talkie for his face wore a semi-permanent crestfallen expression.  As he walked up the column of vehicles he shared with me the news that a tank had ‘taken out’ the service road and a van was blocking the entrance to the main car park. Thus wherever anyone wanted to go, they couldn’t. So glad I got up early and missed breakfast…

Eventually the column inched forward onto the hastily repaired service road which I thought was still pretty treacherous – though I continually redefined that word as the weekend went on.

emporiumI was directed to unload in a layby off the road. Now, by layby I mean a large hole adjacent to the road and thinly covered with long grass. I set off with some boxes of books to find the Emporium hoping that whilst I was away the car would not sink into the sea of mud. The Emporium was a marquee cunningly hidden in plain sight amongst other marquees. So when I asked a passer-by where it was, he said:  “you’re standing in front of it.”

The journey from the service road to the car park involved driving randomly across the site until I rediscovered the road to the car park, narrowly avoiding a small skirmish party of Vikings loitering behind a tank. The car park was a bit muddy but I must admit that at the start of the day I didn’t really register that it was on a slope and I was parked at the bottom of it…

Anyway, I was just glad to have arrived, unloaded and parked without any casualties.

In the emporium I met Michael Wills and Glynn Holloway, the other two authors with whom I was setting up a small outpost of historical fiction. Wives and family also appeared during the day – lovely people! In fact I met some terrific people during the weekend.

The variety of events and activities was awe-inspiring: re-enactments, pop-up talks, sword school for children, aerial displays as well as the great programme of talks. During the day, shots were fired from cannon, handguns and tanks; aircraft flew past, Vikings flew past. Also, there was much food! And coffee!

It was during a noisy battle re-enactment that the festival’s first serious test came – no, not marauding soldiers raping and pillaging, but rain. The festival had been plagued by showers all week – no surprise there really given our ‘summer’. But this was not a shower, it was serious rain. ‘Rain, Jim, but not as we know it.’

This was epic rain worthy of Armageddon and devastation on a biblical scale ensued. Inside the emporium, we looked on – dry and not too apprehensive. We remarked upon the sturdiness of the marquee and sympathised with some traders whose small tents had been flooded out. Then the rain stopped and we gave a sigh of relief. Our stall was intact and the disruption to the activities outside was only temporary.

During the day I met many, many people and had some great conversations because it seems that readers like to interact with authors. I am fortunate that the Plantagenets in general, and the Wars of the Roses in particular, are currently very popular. Many enthusiasts were keen to talk and ask about the history – a couple of favourite questions were: “Was Edward IV really a bastard?” and “Where do you stand on Richard III?” The latter answer being: not too close!

I also met for the first time a lady I knew well on Twitter but who I would have been hard pressed to pick out in a line-up. It was great to meet a fan but especially another lover of history. I enjoyed all the conversations and I hope that those who actually bought a copy of Feud enjoyed their purchase.

Feud&mud2Then the afternoon was disrupted by another bout of rain – this one even heavier than the first! There was no hiding place: water apparently runs downhill and the emporium was on a slope. As the water flowed inexorably from one end of the emporium to the other, a certain film title popped into my head: Robert Redford’s A River Runs Through It. Our only good fortune was that our historical fiction outpost was in the middle on a sort of island of dry grass. Being historical fiction writers we immediately felt at one with Hereward the Wake in the fenlands around Ely.

Despite all the inclement weather, spirits remained buoyant. I went off to pay homage to my hero, Michael Wood – is there anyone in the pantheon of historical speakers who is more enthusiastic than Michael Wood? Well, he certainly did not disappoint as he spoke eloquently of the making of England under King Alfred.

P1030096After the talk I, like many folk, headed for the car park. There we found that the heavy rain had reproduced Somme-like conditions underfoot, or more importantly, under wheel! Just taking my mud-caked wellies off at the car was difficult enough, let alone trying to reverse the car.

I noted that other vehicles making their way up the slope were struggling – sliding, wheels spinning as they tried to discover some traction in the deep mud. I was quite excited to have reversed out.

A car drew alongside mine and the window was lowered. A rather nervous looking woman asked me: “how are you going to do this?”

“First gear and very slowly,” I replied. She nodded but still looked very uncertain.

I set off up the exit road. There were soldiers – Gurkhas, I believe – lifting cars bodily out of the mire. My little car, much to my surprise, made it up the slope unaided – I don’t know how because I had my eyes shut a lot of the time! Then I rolled the car, very carefully, down through a small muddy lake and out onto the exit road – oh me of little faith!

Despite the effects of the rain, it had been a tremendous day and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The scope of the festival was vast and the re-enactors in particular provided a real buzz. Not everyone was fighting, many folk were ‘living’ a particular period. Quite a few had made the items of clothing they wore and their attention to detail and quest for authenticity was admirable.

Outdoor events are not everyone’s cup of tea but anyone who is interested in history should certainly consider going to Chalke Valley Festival. You always have to be prepared to exercise a measure of stoicism if the elements conspire against you, but the experience is worth it.

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Historical Fiction Cover of the Month for July

A lot of you may have wondered where Cover of the Month is.

No? Fair enough, well one or two of you might, so here’s the explanation…


The search goes on…

The shock news for July is – rather like the Conservative Party leadership contest – that there isn’t one.

Why, you demand angrily? Am I ill? Am I too busy? Or is it simply that I can’t be bothered?

None of the above actually. It’s a different problem altogether – and not a good one.

I’ve looked at the historical fiction releases for July and I’m afraid I don’t really like any of the covers. They may be great books but the covers don’t do anything for me.

I know, it’s terrible and I’ve probably offended some authors and designers, but none of the covers appeal to me. There it is; what else can I say?

The alternative is for me to choose one or two covers and damn them with faint praise. I’m not saying there aren’t any good covers, I am saying that I personally don’t like them very much.

It’s possible, of course, that I’ve missed something – easily done. If I have then I’m sorry.

So this month – as a bit of a one-off – I’m asking if anyone else has an historical fiction cover that they would like to suggest [released this month only, folks] and if so, why they like it.

There you are: vox pop in action! Mention the title in a comment so that others can judge for themselves – and I can have my say too. If I like it, I’ll have to grovel of course…

By the way, August releases look promising, so don’t expect this to happen again any time soon!

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Players in the Game… of the Wars of the Roses

Today I’m guest posting for the English Historical Fiction Authors about Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset.

This is the first of a series of posts, called Players in the Game of the Wars of the Roses and concentrates on the characters that make an appearance in that well known historical soap opera, the Wars of the Roses. This series is not about the really big-hitters, but those who played a less dramatic, though often equally important, role in events.

The two sets of posts: The Magnificent Seven & Players in the Game will run in parallel on this blog over the next few months with some perhaps appearing on EHFA.

What then of Edmund Beaufort?

Well, if you were to regard the Wars of the Roses as a barrel of gunpowder, I see Edmund Beaufort as the fuse – completely harmless of course, unless…

Follow this link to read the post.


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Historical Fiction Cover of the Month – June

It doesn’t seem possible that we are halfway through 2016 already and so, fairly obviously, we’ve arrived at June. So what have I got for you this month?  I have rejected the usual plethora of women in red/blue dresses and, bearing in mind that this page remains a bare upper torso-free zone, here are the covers that have taken my fancy.



First up is a book that I think I mentioned in despatches last year: Matthew Harffy’s The Serpent Sword. It has been re-published and, in my view, the cover is even better than before.

It’s a matter of taste, I suppose: this new version is more stark and in your face, and consequently less subtle than the original, but I like it better. It shows off the helmet and sword in more vivid detail, giving the whole cover more light and energy.



My second choice is Elizabeth Fremantle’s The Girl in the Glass Tower. I have chosen this because it is a little different and because it is very effective in supporting the title.

The opaque image, with its mottled mix of pastel colour and light, creates the illusion perfectly. This is not easy to do without the whole thing looking either bland or ridiculous. It is subtle yet nevertheless quite powerful. The crack across the glass delivers a well-judged touch of reality.



The covers of Robert Harris books tend to look deceptively simple in design and are often characterised by bold text and strong contrasting colours. Dictator is no different.

The central colour theme is very striking, enhanced by the mass of flaming torches in the background. The torches of course, as so often with book covers, provide the detail which makes the rest of the cover work so well.

The pair of huge columns and the figure between them give us the majesty and scale of Rome. It’s a clever piece of work.

My cover of the month is Toby Clements’ Kingmaker: Divided Souls and here I should declare an interest. Yes, I know the author and we’ve probably spent some hours together discussing aspects of writing about the Wars of the Roses.


But I don’t think that has influenced my choice at all because… it’s a cracking cover! Yes, basically, it’s a broken window but what a window!

I love the effect of the shards of glass and displaced lead – and the royal coat of arms gives the freedom to use a bright mix of contrasting colours. It hits you between the eyes.

Though the concept here is bold and different, this cover nevertheless maintains the style established with previous covers in the series.

Lose the ubiquitous strapline at the top and you have an excellent cover which really catches the eye.


As always, feel free to comment about my choices which are, of course, simply my own preference.



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The Magnificent Seven… in the Wars of the Roses.

In revisiting this epic topic, I shall be running a series of posts examining the actions and fortunes of seven people without whom, in my view, the Wars of the Roses either would not have happened at all – or would not have lasted so long.

This first post is, necessarily, rather long because I shall be introducing many people and themes that will form the core of the ongoing discussion. It has echoes of Baldric’s famous question: how did we get from a situation where there wasn’t a war to one where there was?

The first of my “Magnificent Seven” just has to be Richard, Duke of York because I would argue that without him there would have been no Wars of the Roses at all.



The story of the Duke of York is a tragic one. It’s a story with so many twists and turns you couldn’t write it!

Above all, it’s the story of a wealthy and powerful man who aimed very high but did not possess all the skills or attributes to achieve or hold real power.



Why was Richard so important?

Richard, Duke of York, could trace his descent through his father to the fourth son, and through his mother to the second son, of King Edward III.

Richard had a strong sense of this royal lineage and as one of the leading nobleman of royal blood saw himself as a natural leader of the nobility and destined to play a pivotal role in state affairs. He was to be frequently disappointed in that respect.

His father, Richard, Earl of Cambridge was executed for treason in 1415 and afterwards young Richard was made a ward of the powerful and ambitious Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland. Ralph Neville later betrothed York, soon to be the wealthiest nobleman in the land, to his own daughter, Cicely. This marriage alliance would prove crucial later on.

What was England like on the eve of the Wars of the Roses?

The England in which Richard lived in the mid-fifteenth century was essentially a peaceful and prosperous society. England’s apparent wealth was frequently remarked upon by foreign visitors.

The country had survived the long and potentially dangerous minority of King Henry VI, who now ruled as an adult. He was married to a young French princess, Margaret of Anjou, and there was every hope that the queen would soon produce the desired son and heir.

But though there was peace at home, the war with France had lasted far too long. It had reached a stalemate and it cost a fortune. Since the resources of the crown were very limited, King Henry relied on loans from merchants to pay for the war and on the nobility – men such as York – to raise men to fight, also to equip them and feed them. Richard of York served his king in Normandy with distinction and in the process amassed huge debts approaching £40,000 acting on behalf of the crown – an astonishing sum in that period.

York’s rise to prominence owed much to the failings of Henry VI’s government, notably excessive corruption. Patronage was all well and good, but when government was compromised by personal interest, then poor decisions were made and there was a feeling at many levels of society that the king had chosen his advisers badly.

At what point did York become a significant political figure?

1447 was a key year in York’s fortunes because in February the last of Henry VI’s royal uncles, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, died in the Tower. This meant that Richard, Duke of York was now the heir presumptive to the throne: if Henry VI died without issue then York would be king.

Henry’s view of this possibility may be judged from his actions: in the summer of 1447 York was replaced in France by Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, who had little military experience. The Beaufort family were closer in blood to the king than York was but were legally barred from succession to the throne.

Upon York’s return to England he was sent to govern Ireland for ten years – banished to the farthest corner of the kingdom. There he remained for several years, brooding upon his misfortunes and an ungrateful king.

Why did Henry VI not trust York?

For as long as Henry remained childless, York stood to inherit the throne.

By 1450 Henry had been married for five years but there was still no heir. In that year a chain of events gave Henry more concern. Popular hostility to the small ruling clique around him led to the murder of its leader, William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk. There was much unrest and by the end of the year several other members of Henry’s inner circle were brutally killed.

A rebellion led by Jack Cade in Kent led to the flight of the king and the capture of London. The rebels did not want a new king, they wanted reform but their manifesto suggested that the Duke of York ought to be at the centre of power with the king. Eventually order was restored but the summer of 1450 raise the spectre of rebellion.

Henry recalled Edmund Beaufort from France after Suffolk was killed. He also considered restoring the Beaufort line to the succession which would make the Duke of Somerset, not York, his heir. He did not do this, but the possibility remained.

Why did York resort to force to regain his position?

York dared not leave Somerset unchallenged and decided to return to England. He brought armed men with him and, in doing so he was taking a huge gamble. During the winter of 1450-1 there was a tense impasse between York and Somerset and their various groups of supporters. It was clear though that whilst York had some popular support, notably in the House of Commons, he had little support amongst members of the royal council.

York’s political influence was at an all-time low, and this persuaded him that, if he was going to remove Somerset from power, he would have to resort to force. Whilst he raised an army he waged a propaganda campaign across the country highlighting the government’s already well-listed failings.

The influence of Queen Margaret over crown policy grew significantly in this period and she ensured that Henry raised his own army to meet the threat from York. By February 1452 York brought his army to south London and the king’s army was soon camped nearby. Thousands of men had taken up arms on both sides so here, as early as 1452, was the means of civil war: a powerful subject challenging his sovereign with an army at his back.

But war did not begin in 1452, because not for the first time, and certainly not for the last, York had miscalculated. The popular support he envisaged did not materialise and, more importantly, neither did noble support – and that was vital. Only one or two nobles joined York; the rest remained loyal to the king. York was forced to negotiate or be destroyed. The armies were disbanded and York was detained, albeit briefly. He was humiliated and Somerset remained in the ascendant at court along with the Queen.

York withdrew, his political career in tatters. He could only watch as England’s fortunes in the French war improved led by the hero John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury. At last, the war was going better and then came the stunning news in the spring of 1453: the Queen was pregnant at last.

At that moment in time Richard, Duke of York, was finished and what we know as the Wars of the Roses would never have happened.

So, what happened to change York’s position?

In the summer of 1453 two thunderbolts of misery struck the good ship Henry VI. Firstly, Talbot was defeated and killed in France and the war took a turn for the worse again. Then Henry himself succumbed to an illness which left him incapable.

England faced complete annihilation in France and at the same time had no viable king.

Although the Queen and Somerset were already the key drivers of royal policy, it was difficult to rule without a king. After months of muddling through, the council finally took decisive action in October 1453 and appointed a Protector of the Realm. Upon whom could the council call though to undertake this difficult role?  Amazingly, Richard, Duke of York was summoned from his own political “black hole” to be raised up as Protector of the Realm.

Why was York chosen when he had received so little support from councillors in 1452?

In 1453 other events [the subject of a later post] were at work as a result of which Richard of York became the staunch ally of the Neville lords, Salisbury and Warwick. This was a seminal moment. The landholdings of these three men together were immense and their combined political influence was almost unstoppable. But it was not York’s character or capabilities which brought this alliance about; Salisbury and Warwick backed him because they came to see Somerset and others at court as their rivals.

We should remember that the Council had to assume the worst about Henry’s illness but hope for the best. The Protector they appointed might need to be in office until the new young prince was old enough to rule – York was the only nobleman with the status to do so. The only real alternative to York was the queen herself and, though she pursued that policy vigorously, York was chosen and he took control: his rival Somerset was imprisoned and York acted promptly to restore order where required and ensure sound government.

At last there was equilibrium and it was on York’s terms. He was recognised as the king’s leading subject and all his major enemies were locked up. Though the king had a male heir, his accession would be many years off.

York had everything he coveted. So, what went wrong?

Unfortunately Henry VI’s unerring sense of tragic timing meant that in December 1454 his recovery plucked chaos from the jaws of stability.

This was a Christmas present the nation could have done without. York was no longer needed as Protector and by February 1455 Somerset was released from the Tower to dominate the government once again.

York left London soon afterwards not prepared to risk his destruction at the hands of the Queen and Somerset. But he was not alone and now he, and the Neville lords, had a decision to make. They had tasted great power in the state; were they prepared to relinquish it? Even now we can see that it was a no-brainer, as it must have been for them. They had little choice but to resort to arms if they were to counter the restoration of Somerset. Yet, at this point there is no suggestion that York intended any more than the removal of his enemies on the king’s council.

Could, or would, the Nevilles have taken this course without York?

No. He was the figurehead and without him they had nothing.

All the urgency and sense of crisis now seemed to come from York. Several times he sent letters to the King in the middle of the night protesting his loyalty and asking for a Council composed of those of whom the York faction approved. The letters had no effect because Somerset and the Queen had already convinced the King that York intended to seize the throne.

On the morning of 22nd May 1455, King Henry arrived at St Albans with his leading councillors and found York and the Nevilles were there already. York’s forces outnumbered the King’s but one of the more moderate councillors, the Duke of Buckingham, advised the king that York was only trying to exert pressure and would not press matters to a fight. Somerset insisted that York would indeed use force if the King did not accept his terms.

Buckingham got it wrong: York risked everything in a skirmish that took place that morning in the streets of St Albans. Overall the casualties were very low but the so-called first battle of St Albans had far reaching consequences. On the face of it, York’s victory was absolute: Somerset and several of his key allies were killed – and that was no accident! The King was forced to pardon York and accept him as his leading councillor. With York’s enemies dead, his allies were rewarded with high office and more besides.

It seemed that York was once more in an unassailable position and he could argue that his minimal use of force at St Albans had prevented a full scale civil war.

But if civil war was averted in 1455, how was it that four years later a civil war did begin?

The skirmish at St Albans settled nothing and the queen felt that her fears about York had been proven. She became York’s implacable enemy and could be relied upon to work steadfastly against him. King Henry was not ill so he could appoint anyone he liked to his government.

York had triumphed by using force – but how long could he carry on forcing Henry?

York decided to get himself appointed as Protector again in November 1455. This was proposed by one of York’s clients in the House of Commons and the excuse was the King’s poor health and the urgent need to settle a noble feud in Devon. It would certainly need a firm hand and the Council, despite its misgivings, acquiesced – as did Henry – but this protectorate only lasted a few months before Henry himself ended it.

Nevertheless, the period 1456-7 saw an encouraging trend of compromise and good sense in the measures the Council was undertaking on the King’s behalf.

Beneath the surface, however, there were seismic tensions.

Queen Margaret was creating a new court power base. She took the young Prince Edward out of London and set up her headquarters at Kenilworth. From there she cemented her ties with key men such as Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke. Jasper was the king’s half-brother and became the linchpin of royal power in much of Wales and the west. The disgruntled Buckingham too was being shepherded into the royal circle. Critically, by August 1456, Margaret had moved King Henry himself to Kenilworth too and that enabled her to influence appointments once again.

It must have been obvious to all in 1457 that the York-Neville axis was in decline but might that decline be permanent?

King Henry was desperate to unify the factions and the result in March 1458 was the remarkable Loveday event where the two sides paired off in a bizarre attempt to show outward unity as they processed to St Paul’s: the Queen alongside York, Warwick with Northumberland, and so on. This display fooled no-one since even within London both sides had hundreds of armed retainers.

Loveday changed nothing – in fact it only served to demonstrate the deep chasm of division between the two rival factions.

By May 1459 it was clear that the Queen’s party were preparing for war and in June she went for the jugular at a Great Council summoned to meet at Coventry. York and the Nevilles were not invited.

The Council indicted York and his allies; a line had been drawn in the sand and moderates like Buckingham now had to choose a side. He chose the Queen and his support gave her party added momentum.

LudfordBridgeYork arranged to meet his allies at Ludlow, close to his power base in the Welsh Marches. Warwick sailed from Calais and Salisbury set out from his northern stronghold of Middleham. The Yorkist faction met in Ludlow in September but almost at once suffered an ignominious defeat as their army disintegrated at Ludford Bridge.

In November 1459, the so-called “Parliament of Devils” met at Coventry and attainted York and his allies. They forfeited their lands and titles and the lords present took a new oath of loyalty to both King Henry VI and his young son, Prince Edward. It must have seemed, and not just to Queen Margaret, that the Yorkist faction was destroyed forever. Its leaders had fled to Ireland or Calais and with the attainders they could not claim to be acting legally nor would they have the income from their vast estates.

The civil war – if it merited the name – seemed over very swiftly. So, why was peace not assured?

York fled with his second son, Edmund, to Ireland and during that time the Earl of Warwick visited the duke for two months. Whatever was discussed it must have included an invasion of England. Clearly both men wanted to regain their positions but what exactly did York want?

By the time York himself arrived back in England in September 1460, his ally Warwick and his eldest son, Edward, Earl of March, had invaded in Kent, entered London and captured the king at the battle of Northampton.

Key to their success was their claim of continued loyalty to Henry VI and a propaganda campaign which concentrated on the familiar themes of reforming a corrupt government and removing “evil” councillors. But in October, York marched into London bearing royal banners and with a sword of state carried upright before him.

Clearly, York had come to claim the throne before the lords in Parliament.

He entered the palace of Westminster expecting to be acclaimed as king. His hand rested upon the throne, but his hopes were to be dashed. The lords were not prepared to consider the deposition of Henry VI and that was abundantly clear.

Despite all his genuine strengths, here lay the fundamental weakness of Richard, Duke of York. He did not grasp the political reality of 1460. The lords had sworn oaths to Henry and he was their anointed king; they would not remove him. Even Warwick did not seem to support York’s gambit. In the two months that Warwick spent with York in Ireland, surely the issue must have come up, yet Warwick seemed more shocked than most when York formally pressed his claim to the throne.

For the first time in the whole sorry story, the claims of Henry and York were now examined.

Legally York’s claim had merit but the lords refused to budge. It’s remarkable how much loyalty they showed to a king whose rule had been such an unmitigated disaster. Faced with having to make some sort of decision on the right or otherwise of the claim, the lawyers and lords passed on it. It was a matter for York and Henry to sort out between them, they said. A compromise was made called the Act of Accord. . It was agreed that York and his heirs would succeed Henry, thereby disinheriting the Lancastrian heir, but it was not what York wanted.

If agreement had been made with Henry why did the war not end?

The compromise of the Act of Accord satisfied no-one and it actually gave the queen an excuse to rekindle the war against York for he had gone far beyond removing corrupt councillors, he had diverted the succession.

The queen was still at large and, though her forces were scattered, her cause resonated with many and her army grew. There was support in the south west and in Wales whilst the north was still largely under Lancastrian control.

In the face of this opposition, York had to do something, so he marched north with Salisbury early in December 1460. It was mid-winter and though York reached his castle at Sandal in time for Christmas, it’s doubtful he did much celebrating. The Lancastrian army was close by at Pontefract and York was short of supplies.

At the end of December, for reasons which are still shrouded in mystery, York attacked the Lancastrians and was utterly defeated. York perished in the field whilst his son, Edmund, was killed in the rout and Salisbury was executed soon after.

Why did York take such a risk when he would have been safe within Sandal?

We’ll probably never know. Some close to the time said it was treachery, others have suggested it was just another of his miscalculations. It seems unlikely though that he would have ventured out idly given that he had plenty of sensible advisers with him – not least the wily Earl of Salisbury.

Why did York come so close to success without achieving it?

Some did not trust York and, rather like the Queen, they found it difficult to believe that York did not want more than the position of chief councillor. However, there is no real evidence that he was anything other than loyal to Henry VI until perhaps 1459 and certainly 1460. You could argue that he was only forced into open rebellion by the fact that he was frequently denied the role and status in Henry’s government that he felt he deserved.

Without York there would not have been the Wars of the Roses as we know them because York was a unique focus for opposition to the king’s chosen advisers. During the periods when York ruled there can be little doubt that he was a good deal more effective than his rivals, yet the nobility as a whole never really warmed to him. One has to conclude that he was a difficult man to like.

York expected honours because of his status but he was too poor a politician to achieve what he believed was his right. He had integrity and gravitas, but lacked personal charm or charisma. There was a lot of pride but not enough personality to create genuine support and affection. He did not build relationships with more than a few of the key players. In this respect he can be sharply contrasted with his eldest son, Edward, Earl of March. York seemed all too often to be angered or weighed down by the problems he encountered, whereas March radiated confidence and energy no matter how bleak the outlook appeared.

Men will forgive many faults in a leader they like – York does not come across as such a leader.

Posted in History, Wars of the Roses | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Historical Fiction Cover of the Month – May

Well, it’s already May, so before I go to Ludlow for a week of researching and walking, I’d better post this month’s covers. And, by the way, the timing of my visit to Ludlow has absolutely nothing to do with the Spring Festival there next week, described as “like a beer festival but better.” [http://www.ludlowspringfestival.co.uk/]

Now last month someone made the point that my choice of covers probably reflects a certain male bias and I suppose I have to own up to that. I do struggle to see covers from a female perspective but then, as I’ve always said, these thoughts about covers are merely my own personal views. I would not dare to suggest that my selections are in some way “the best” but simply the ones that appeal to me. I hope I also explain sufficiently why they appeal to me.

Anyway, the May covers have given me a few selection headaches – I feel the England football manager’s pain. I started off with about eight covers which was obviously too many to consider, but when I whittled them down a bit I was left with oconspiracy_parrisnly three. So, here we go.

First up is S.J.Parris’s Conspiracy, the fifth in a series of historical thrillers featuring  Giordano Bruno. It’s a fairly simple design but I like that. The concept of the bird looking down upon what I assume is sixteenth century Paris – not Parris, obviously…

I’m hopeless at identifying birds –  once I’ve eliminated robins, finches and tits I’m on shaky ground – but I think it must be a raven. Anyway, it introduces an element of dark, looming foreboding [wondering now if  foreboding can loom?]

The monochrome image is lifted by the blood red title. I think it would look good in a bookshop and, as a digital thumbnail, it also stands out.


My second selection is C.C. Humphreys’ Fire – and why use a long title when a short one will do? As always, I wouldn’t bother with the strapline. Those are for folk who can’t be bothered to turn the book over or click one more time.

Aside from that there’s a lot I like about this one. I’m a sucker for strong colours used well and the shade of red chosen here seems very appropriate – not too much crimson in it. Clearly the title font works well and the colour, if rather an obvious design decision, does the job well.

You have the fire raging at the foot of the image and then it bursts through the page itself, promising death to many with a nice skeletal touch. You could argue that basically it’s just a good image of a fire, but simplicity is sometimes the best policy. This has some impact.


My final choice is a cover that will be familiar because it is the last of a series we have looked at before: Conn Iggulden’s Ravenspur.

I think I like this one best, though more for its grace than its impact. I am a great fan of using a consistent style on series covers especially the clever use of small images and icons. Here the leaves of the warring “roses” have been replaced completely with thorns and the central image is the Welsh dragon emblem of Henry Tudor.

There is some sublety here. The colours are understated, gone is the vibrance of the Yorkist sun on Trinity and the crimson of Bloodline. Here we have a sort of ageing gold and grey. Even the dragon seems rather opaque. This looks like winter – as well it should, given the subject matter.

Ravenspur is thus my cover of the month for May but I’ve had a sneak peek at June and I can see a few coming up that are just as good.



Posted in Covers, Historical Fiction, Wars of the Roses | Tagged , , | 5 Comments