Faction and Politics for Dummies at the Outbreak of the Wars of the Roses

Part 1: Richard, Duke of York, becomes Protector of the Realm

Richard, Duke of York

Richard, Duke of York

In 1454, Richard Duke of York, the leading peer of the realm – was given the poisoned chalice: he was appointed Protector of the Realm in view of the continuing incapacity of King Henry VI. There had already been rivalry at the court before this but the elevation of York was a catalyst for mischief and rebellion on a grand scale. In a series of posts on this theme I set out to try to explain why?

Well first, I’m afraid, a little lesson in politics. I suppose it is stating the obvious to point out that in the monarchical system of government that existed throughout the middle ages the king had to actually rule. The monarch could not simply be a figurehead for government. The role of king in the fifteenth century was complex in some respects and yet essentially pretty simple: the king must provide a strong focus for government by setting the agenda and achieving his objectives by rewarding in particular those powerful subjects who were willing and able to help him. The best way to do so would be to harness the ambitions of the key nobles and use those men to achieve your aims: Henry V did exactly that – but he died young.

The politics of the decades after his early death in 1422 were dominated by an absence of direction and leadership from the king, firstly because he was a minor and then because he was incapable of fulfilling the role. Consequently those key nobles who had a responsibility to serve and support the king in ruling had to play a different part: they were no longer the supporting cast. There was a power vacuum at the centre of government and someone had to fill it.

I’m always a little amused by modern critics of such men: Suffolk, Somerset, York – even the queen, Margaret of Anjou, might fit the argument. Someone had to rule: the nobility could hardly sit around and say “well this chap Henry’s no good, there’s nothing for it: we’ll just have to wait until he grows old and dies?”

Obviously not, but if you were a nobleman who did take up the reins of government there had to be something in it for you: lands, titles, wealth, advantageous marriages and inheritances were the usual rewards from the patronage of a king. After all, it was probably going to cost you a lot from your own pocket. The rewards were great but so were the risks, not just to you but to your family over generations even into the future – and that’s the nub of it.

Whichever of the nobility took the helm they laid themselves open to charges of treason or corruption simply because they were not the King but were attempting to use the power of the king to rule. If a king’s policies were unpopular, he might be described as “badly advised” but if a mighty noble ruling on behalf of the king was similarly unpopular he was at best incompetent and at worst a villain.

Taking a controlling influence in government meant you were raising yourself above your peers and inevitably some of them were not keen on that. So, how do you counteract that reaction from your peers? Well, you acquire some allies to consolidate and maintain your rule and to whom you in return give their share of the spoils of royal patronage: lands, etc.

Now inevitably not everyone is going to be your ally and thus for every ally you acquire you probably create at least one, if not more, potential opponents. These opponents have something in common and their newfound shared interest means that they will want to see you fall so that there can be a redistribution of the rewards of patronage.

It was often difficult for leading nobles to stay out of such factions. There are examples of powerful men remaining aloof from such politics – but almost always, as in the Wars of the Roses, they are sucked into the vortex and often it does not help them that they tried to be neutral. Neutral meant uncommitted and uncommitted meant dangerous.

So, to the occasion of Richard of York’s formal elevation to the role of Protector.

Why was he chosen?

1. The king had been ill since August 1453 and was showing no sign of recovery; he could not communicate nor comprehend. Thus he could not rule.

2. The Council was choosing a man to rule for as long as the king remained ill or until his infant son, Prince Edward, came of age – possibly fourteen years. Such a man might need to be in it for the long haul and York was.

3. As the leading peer of the realm he was accustomed to military command and administration. The new role would acknowledge him as “first among equals.”

4. He had recently acquired some powerful allies: the Neville Earls of Salisbury & Warwick; their support in the Council was critical.

5 The only real alternative to York was Queen Margaret herself and many did not think she was suitable for the role. A vote for York was thus also an anti-Margaret vote.

Now if we apply our lesson in politics to this situation, we can see that the supporters of York now stand to gain a great deal since he will be able to act with the power of the king. Equally, those who oppose him, notably Queen Margaret and her own noble favourite, Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, stand to lose heavily.

Oh, did I forget to mention that both York and Somerset had claims to the throne? Well, more of that in Part 2. 

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Book Review: Days of Sun and Glory by Anna Belfrage



In this second book in her King’s Greatest Enemy series, Anna Belfrage builds on the excellent set of characters introduced to us in In The Shadow of the Storm.

The new novel concentrates once again on the exploits of the knight, Adam de Guirande, and his wife, Kit.

In this sequel we see much more of the king, his queen – the she-wolf – and other members of the royal court, not forgetting the villains of the piece: the offensively indispensible Despensers. Adam finds his support for the exiled Roger Mortimer sorely tested and is forced to choose where his true loyalty lies.

I really like the characterisation of Prince Edward, where the author shows a typically sensitive appreciation of both the youth and his predicament. For the prince spends the entire book between the proverbial rock and a hard place: i.e. his dreadful father and his impossible mother.

The relationship between the two main characters, Adam and Kit, provides the core of the story and, as the political tension builds, along with their anxiety for their children’s safety, that relationship is sorely tested. I enjoyed how we see the pair develop as we experience the upheaval at the centre of power through their own personal turmoil and heartbreak. The sexual chemistry between the two is described beautifully though, for me, perhaps a little too frequently – I guess I would have preferred a little less sex and a bit more violence!

The  story, the locations and the people have an authentic feel to them, giving this well- crafted book some weight and substance. Anna Belfrage has the knack of being able to breathe life into the political events of this period and I am very much looking forward to the next part of the story.

I would heartily recommend this series to historical fiction lovers. I had little detailed knowledge of this period of history yet I found both books easy to follow because the author tells the tale with just the right amount of history to guide the reader.



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Historical Fiction Cover of the Year – the Winner!

Lots of votes! Thank you very m1066uch to all who took part.

As last year, we have a runaway winner!

This time it is 1066 Turned Upside Down that has carried all before it and probably rightly so. It is a very effective cover indeed.

The clear runner-up is Blood and Blade, so well done to the creative team there too.

Mentions in despatches also go to: Iron and Rust, The North Water and The Autumn Throne.

As I said back in December [!] I shall not be doing any regular cover of the month posts in the coming year as I want to concentrate more on 15th century history posts. So, many thanks to those who have followed the cover selections over the past 18 months.



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Historical Fiction Cover of the Year Award – the Contest!

I have selected a baker’s dozen of covers for you to consider in this year’s contest – one from each month, except for July, but to compensate I’ve included two from April plus one suggested by you in your comments.

My selections reflect my own personal preferences – so you’re stuck with that but you now have until midnight on New Year’s Eve – UK time – to vote for your winner.

Since I won’t be continuing my monthly feature on covers in 2017, this is my last cover post for a while.

Here are the contenders:

All you have to do is write a comment on this post saying which one you want to win. Comments already posted will count.

The winner will be revealed on New Year’s Day.


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Christmas Bloghop!

So, the Best Supporting Role Bloghop comes to a fitting end with Helen Hollick’s character from the Sea Witch stories: Claude de la Rue. http://ow.ly/If7v307dn4M

Check out the other characters below:


The Bloghop is hosted by the marvellous Helen Hollick.

Join Helen and a selection of other fabulous authors and their Supporting Role Characters. Each author has chosen one of the supporting cast from their books rather than the main protagonists – a new direction and a different introduction to books.

Click on the image to go to the site.

Each day I’ll add a direct link here to a new post!

First up for December 6th is author, Inge H Borg http://ow.ly/n7wn306R6NX

For December 7th we have Matt Harffy’s supporting role: http://ow.ly/qmet306TiHV

December 8th already and we meet Alison Morton’s Lurio from her Roma Nova series. It’s great to see him again because he’s a quirky character I really like: http://ow.ly/xPbI306VA2c

It’s December 9th so it must be Regina Jeffers’ Viscount Stafford – fascinating character who seems to pop up regularly.  http://ow.ly/fgNL306XJDn

And on December 10th the array of interesting supporting role characters continues to grow with Anna Belfrage’s Luke Graham. http://ow.ly/YzFe306ZMMi

Sunday 11th and the supporting role bandwagon hurtles onwards to meet Christoph Fischer’s character, the Countess. https://t.co/mHomwXvU6Q

The second week of the supporting role bloghop begins with Pauline Barclay’s Zilda Gilespie. http://ow.ly/I5Zc3072as7

Today Antoine Vanner introduces his supporting role character. http://ow.ly/lBT330769dZ

December 14th brings Annie Whitehead’s Queen Alfreda to the fore in a supporting role. http://ow.ly/z9f63077aIy

And today, it’s my unsung hero, Hal, who steps up in a supporting role. http://ow.ly/9IiQ3079bGP

December 16th brings us Carolyn Hughes’ character, Matilda http://ow.ly/U1tH307dmXN

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Scars From The Past Goes Paperback

Tomorrow, December 1st, Scars From The Past, is out in paperback.


It’s the first of a new Wars of the Roses series set during the 1480s. The Elder family are still the focus of the story and much of the action takes place in Ludlow, where the young Edward, Prince of Wales, is based.

At the heart of this tale there is also a love story – a troubled love. John Elder, son of Yorkist legend, Ned Elder, brings a whole new generation of characters into play. There are also some old friends that readers of the Rebels and Brothers series will remember. But this is a fresh start, so you don’t need to have read a word of the previous series to enjoy this one.

The first review of Scars From the Past says:

“Derek Birks has taken his usual high standard of storytelling to a whole new level. Scars From the Past is impossible to put down… I defy you to enjoy this book and not want to go back to Feud, where it all started.”

The Review. See the rest of the review here

You can order the paperback from Waterstones, Blackwells, Foyles – indeed, as they say, from all good bookstores – though it appears to me that Blackwells is £1 cheaper – and, of course, Amazon…

Scars From The Past – ISBN: 978-1-910944-23-3

Here’s what it says on the back of the book:

An unwelcome legacy. An impossible love. A relentless enemy.

By 1481, England has been free from civil war for ten years.
The Elder family have discovered a fragile peace in the lands they fought to win back, yet scars from the past remain with them all.
Given time, they might heal, but when did the Elders ever have enough time? And close to home in Ludlow, trouble is stirring.

Born out of the bloody devastation of the Wars of the Roses, young John Elder is now the heir to his father’s legacy, but he finds it a poisonous one. Driven from the woman he loves by a duty he fears, John abandons his legacy and flees the country to become a mercenary in Flanders.

In his absence, stalked by a ruthless outlaw, the Elder family must face a deadly storm of blood and chaos. When the young heir to the throne, Edward, Prince of Wales, is caught up in their bitter struggle, the future appears bleak.
Only if the Elders can put the scars from the past behind them, is there any hope of survival.

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Book Reviews: Alison Morton’s Roma Nova

When Alison Morton asked me to take a look at her new book, Insurrectio, a few months ago, my first reaction was guilt because I’d been meaning to read her previous four books for ages. Like the rest of us, my pile of books to be read is very daunting but now I had the opportunity, so I dived in and I was very glad I did!

By starting with Insurrectio, I was sort of starting in the wrong place really, but I found that this was by no means a problem. It was easy to get into the book, into the story and – just as importantly – into the alternative world of Roma Nova which is a sort of modern day remnant of the Roman Empire.


Insurrectio is a fast moving, political thriller with plenty of action thrown in. It was especially interesting for me because it takes place in a different world which Alison has created very skilfully. I read both modern thrillers and historical fiction and, of course, this book does not quite fit into either category because it is alternative history. That aspect somehow made it even more interesting.

Overall, I was very impressed with both the story and the world in which it is set.



Having read and enjoyed Insurrectio, I intended to read the rest of the Roma Nova stories. As luck would have it, I stumbled upon a copy of Alison’s first book, Inceptio, when I was in London at a ‘do’ organised by the Society of Authors. Since I’d been intending to read it for ages, it seemed like kismet. I was not disappointed.

Inceptio is an exciting and absorbing story but with a difference. I already knew about Roma Nova, of course, but in this book – the first one of the series – I saw it emerge through the experiences of the main character. Where Alison succeeds brilliantly, in my view, is in describing this new world to the reader by drip-feeding elements of it to our heroine, Karen Brown, who lives in New York. The reader, like Karen, explores Roma Nova, at first with a little bewilderment, but then with more confidence, as the nature of the place and its customs are cleverly revealed.

We are rooting for Karen Brown within a few lines of her introduction but there is plenty of mystery and suspense along the way as the story unfolds. The leading characters are well drawn and they ring true, despite populating an imaginary world!

I really enjoyed Inceptio and will certainly be reading the sequels.

You can find out more about Alison Morton’s Roma Nova books by visiting her website: http://alison-morton.com


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