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Blood Sisters: The Women Behind the Wars of the Roses
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40 of 42 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 9 October 2012
This is absolutely first class, and a perfect example of how wonderfully detailed research coupled with highly intelligent interpretation of the facts, the personalities, the contexts in which their lives were lived and their relationships with the events surging around them can produce a thoroughly readable, enjoyable history book.

Sarah Gristwood is examining the lives of many of the key women within the period of the Cousin's War (currently being examined fictionally by Philippa Gregory). In doing so, she sheds valuable light on the kings, crowned, putative, or sometimes deposed, around whose destinies great families rose and fell during what we know as the Wars of Roses. The reasons behind these bloody events are fully explained and the author's style and readability make complex matters, in the dim and distant past, come alive in dynamic prose. Although these women did wield not swords in battle, their roles as mothers, daughters, sisters and wives meant their challenges were no less real. For example, Elizabeth Woodville, Queen to Edward the Fourth, had to flee into sanctuary with her children twice as the shifting tides of power politics tore the ground from under her feet. Another interesting, more shadowy lady, is Margaret of Burgundy, sister of Edward the Fourth, who meddled from afar by supporting at least two successive imposters purporting to be her nephew (one of the Princes in the Tower)and thus a challenge to Henry the Seventh's nascent Tudor dynasty. All fascinating stuff.

I cannot praise this book too highly and the illustrations which accompany the text are also carefully and meaningfully selected.
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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on 21 October 2012
This is a terrific read. I'm not very conversant with the Plantagenet period of the Cousins' War, being more of a Tudor buff, although the book does enter the Tudor dynasty as far as the young Henry the Eighth, but thanks to Sarah Gristwood's systematic unravelling of the many threads with her meticulous research, it was an easy introduction into a very turbulent period, and an easy read despite the various protagonists.
The Plantagent Queens were fascinating,tough, manipulative and undoubtedly a power behind the scenes, each in her own way very intriguing. I was pleased to note that Sarah Gristwood was very even handed in her treatment of Richard the Third's possible involvement in the deaths of the Princes' in the Tower, leaving the reader with various possibilities to consider.
Despite having finished the book several days ago, these ladies and their machinations are still with me.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 29 July 2013
While watching Philippa Gregory's recent documentary on the War of the Roses on BBC2 I decided to try this book. Sarah Gristwood was one of several contributors to the program.

I wasn't disappointed. Although not really familiar with the War of the Roses (apart from studying Richard III at A'Level) I found this very enjoyable. Despite the enormous task, the lives of 7 different women, the author keeps a very interesting and tight narrative. She lets slips here and there: a few times I had to ask myself: Elizabeth who? Which Edward? Which Cecily. But given the amount of similar names this was always going to be difficult job - for any historian. Further, the author does provide us with a list of the names at the front of the book. Perhaps I should paid a little more attention... But I like to get right into the narrative.

Some minor points, like the over-use of notes and footnotes. These are always tempting for historians. But I think as much information as possible should go into the narrative. Just a personal preference (hence 4 stars). Peter Ackroyd manages to avoid any footnotes in his excellent Tudors: A History of England Volume II (History of England Vol 2), so does Helen Castor in She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth. (Though I found some of the chapters in this second book a little long! But don't tell her!)

I did learn one very important thing: Margaret Beaufort's symbol was the yale. Most people will know this as either a kind of lock, or the name of an American university. No, it's the symbol of a goat: a Satanic symbol. Makes you wonder whether the "hidden" lives of these women, and in particular Margaret Beaufort, were more "hidden" than we might think. Careful with that pentagram!

An excellent introduction into the War of the Roses.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 8 April 2013
This book is a good read, well written in an easy to digest narrative of the period. It clearly has a wide potential audience, and I would say with confidence that you do not need any prior knowledge of the period to understand and enjoy this book. Everything is clearly written, and as a popular history there are not endless notes and citations. Gristwood does quote from primary sources; when she does she tells us the author of her quote, but not always the name of the writing and never the page numbers. This might prove frustrating for people wanting to look at the sources for themselves.

The seven stories are interlinked nicely, and the move from one woman to another is smooth and does not disrupt the author's prose at all. The women who I especially enjoyed in this book were Marguerite of Anjou and Elizabeth Woodville; their stories were covered well and rumours against them argued fairly. Margaret Beaufort was treated well in the beginning, but I thought the balance slipped towards the end of the book when she was discussed alongside Elizabeth of York. (That could just be me, though.) Sadly, even though Anne Nevill was one of the author's case studies, she does not feature much in the narrative. That is of course not the authors fault; sources about Anne are scarce.

As one would expect from a work of non-fiction, care was taken to be factually accurate and fair throughout. One thing that did stick out was towards the end we had Edward of Warwick executed because the Spanish said so- there was no mention of him plotting with Perkin Warbeck, which actually is the crime he was executed for.

On the whole, this is a good book and I would recommend it to people interested in learning more about the period.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 6 August 2013
As a closet historian I was interested in reading this book as I do like to read about the women of history. I have read several novels on these woman I wanted to read a "factual" book. Ms Gristwood's writing is very easy going but I found the book lacking in excitment. Parts of it was so interesting that I kep on reading and also I hate to abandon a book, however sometimes the book was heavy going, bogged down in small minute detail that slowed the pace of the book
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
I am a general reader of history and read this book for two reasons ; to try and get a better grip on the Wars of the Roses and the pre-Tudor monarchs in my mind and secondly to try and see the era from the female perspective. This book didn't quite deliver either of these to me although quite a lot of it was interesting and informative.

I have always found the Wars of the Roses a difficult period to get my head around possibly because so many of the main players have the same or similar names. Although some of this book did enlighten me as the what happened when and involving whom I found that the narrative was confusing in that the author started with one woman and followed most of her life and then drifted on to another. I lost the chronology and failed to understand what was happening at the same time and the chronology. Some of this is probably due to lack of really detailed reading by me but I am a general reader of history and usually manage to keep up with books aimed at this market. I think that I would have preferred it if the author had maybe arranged the material differently (although I am not quite sure how).

I had hoped that the book would reveal more about the lives of significant women in this period but that was not the case - although this may have been due to lack of evidence. The book was good at showing how the women's bloodlines and marriages were really important to the politics at the time and also how they could influence events. What didn't come across at all was any evidence of how they lived. I was left with lots of questions - what was life like in sanctuary at the tower ? What was life like for those who took to religion in their latter days ? Would they have been present at major events ? Did they live with their husbands or not ? What was their daily life like ? How much financial freedom did they have ? How far did queens have private lives and how far were they on show ? It may be that this book was never intended to answer those questions but the sub title led me to expect some revelations about women specifically which I didn't get.

This book is really a retelling of the Wars of the Roses and the political machinations by showing how the major women of the time and their bloodlines/families/marriages affected the life and events of the men. It did give me some additional information about that but the style of the book did not assist in untangling my long-standing confusion about the Wars or in my understanding the daily life of important women.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 15 July 2013
The Wars of the Roses have never been so popular with the general public, particularly with the airing of the BBC TV adaptation of Philippa Gregory's "The White Queen". This period was exciting, uncertain, and often devastating. The lives of the people who were the main players in this 'game of thrones' were remarkable, particularly involving the seven powerful women included in Gristwood's study.

These women were extraordinary personalities; particularly the vengeful but admirable Margaret (Marguerite) of Anjou, who never stopped fighting for what she believed to be her husband's rightful throne; the beautiful but cunning Elizabeth Woodville, queen of Edward IV; the educated and ambitious Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry Tudor; the proud Cecily Neville, mother of two kings; the shadowy Anne Neville, wife of two princes; and Margaret of Burgundy, scheming and shrewd sister of Edward IV.

Gristwood writes elegantly, and the book is incredibly easy to read - I finished it in days. The only quibble I have is the editing of this book - some of the sentences made no sense whatsoever!

I would guess that Gristwood's personal favourite is Margaret Beaufort, but she also seems to admire Margaret of Anjou, who displayed courage, resourcefulness, and vengeance in an age which perceived women to be meek, quiet, and utterly submissive. The more I learn about her, the more I admire Margaret too, once we look past the misogyny of writers such as Shakespeare who described her as a 'she-wolf' - although she certainly may not have been the most likeable of women. I also thought information relating to Elizabeth Woodville was interesting - did she have a feud with her son-in-law Henry VII which led to her banishment at an abbey for the last years of her life? Did she plot with pretenders against the Tudor king? Cecily Neville also appears to have been a courageous woman, but who nonetheless did not have an easy relationship with her beautiful daughter-in-law Elizabeth Woodville. Margaret of Burgundy seems to have been utterly scheming, but from her own family dramas and personal losses it's not hard to understand why.

Unfortunately, Gristwood never really brings Anne Neville to life, so this was a bit of a disappointment. I think this isn't necessarily Gristwood's fault, for compared to the other women, scarcely any sources refer to Anne; like a later queen, Jane Seymour, we know nothing of her personality, her appearance, her beliefs, her relationships, etc. Nonetheless, I thought Gristwood could have done more to explore her relationship with Richard III. She suggests that the two may have been close and may have had a childhood friendship, since they may have been brought up together; but why, then, did rumours suggest Richard poisoned her? I thought more could have been done to explore whether Anne WAS in fact murdered, or whether she merely died of an illness as was so common in the fifteenth century. I think we can safely say her life was tragic and sad.

I also thought more could have been done to explore the uneasy relationship, even feud, between Cecily Neville and Elizabeth Woodville. Cecily apparently resented her new daughter in law, but how did they actually interact with one another? Did their relationship ever change, or was it always hostile? The relationship between other women could also have been explored in greater depth - Elizabeth and Margaret Beaufort; Anne Neville and Elizabeth; Margaret of Burgundy and Cecily Neville, etc.

This book is a great starting point for anyone interested in the Wars of the Roses, and I would recommend it. It provides fascinating facts which can be read alongside Gregory's fiction. All in all, I enjoyed it - but I think rather than narrating the lives of 7 different women - some of whom were greatly privileged much more so than others (Margaret Beaufort, Cecily Neville, Margaret of Anjou) - it would have been more compelling to have explored how they interacted with each other and what their personal relationships with one another actually were.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 10 October 2012
Blood Sisters is written from an interesting perspective, that of the royal women during the Wars of the Roses.

Unfortunately, women even at that exalted level, held only secondary power, through their male relatives. It was men who went to war, men who lead the armies, men who made the decisions political and military, men who held the purse strings. Elizabeth of York found herself borrowing against her plate because Henry V11 was so ungenerous with her allowance. Edward 1V was the opposite, everything depended on the men.

Lists of household items bought, servants wages paid and dresses ordered have a limited appeal, and while a lot is known about Cecily Neville virtually nothing is know about Anne Neville making the book uneven.

However it is a well written book, offering a different view of power and makes the reader appreciate the difficulties faced and the achievements gained by the future Queen Elizabeth.

The author is particulary interesting on the vexed subject of who killed the Princes in the Tower.
I would recommend her book on Arabella: England's Lost Queen before this one.
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on 3 April 2014
This book was given to me as a present, and I have enjoyed it very much – it delves into the lives of the key women of the Wars of the Roses, and what they could – and did – achieve within their spheres of influence.

The period now known as the Wars of the Roses is written by many with reference to the key men of that time. Richard, Duke of York and his sons, Henry VI, Henry Tudor, Warwick the Kingmaker – the list goes on. Their influence and the male world of combat has been given a great deal of research (and rightly so), but in this book, the ‘noise’ from the combat and male arena becomes a fuzzy backdrop and presents a number of women who at this time had been thrust into varying positions of power, and who used this as best they could whilst picking a precarious path through the politics of court, both foreign and abroad. It shows not only the vulnerability of a woman’s position – rising and falling in the ebb of good favour – but also the surprising influence that women had over their surroundings, supporters, and ability to raise monies for their causes.

Gristwood provides us with a background to the upbringing of various women, including Marguerite of Anjou, Margaret of Burgundy, Margaret Beaufort, Cecily Neville, Elizabeth Woodville, her daughter Elizabeth of York, and others. She makes no apologies about how these women were treated in the 15th century, and does not romanticise relationships, nor apply modern values to the reasons for people’s behaviours. The book also showed for me that, rather than the women’s part being nothing more than a cat-fight for prestige and wealth, these strong women often had many experiences in common and had an often compassionate reaction to other women struck down by the turn of Fortune’s Wheel.

The book does very well to pick a path for the reader through this rather complex period of time, especially since so many people have the same name!! It was also written in an engaging manner, and kept my attention with not only biographical details, but interesting diversions into household accounts and personal possessions.

I would suggest this is a good book for those with a sound knowledge of the events of the Wars of the Roses period, and who wish to peel back the layers to find out more about the influence of these high ranking ladies. It certainly injected the spark of life into the eyes of otherwise two dimensional portraits of these women.
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The Wars of the Roses has long since been one of my favourite periods in English history: the interrelatedness of all of the participants, the back-and-forth of the Crown between Henry VI and Edward IV, the mystery of the 'Princes in the Tower', the historical debates about Richard III - but most histories have all but ignored the female participants in this dynastic saga. And given how interrelated all the combatants were, given how much of a family struggle the war for the throne actually was, it has always seemed a shame that the women of the York, Lancastrian and Tudor families were given such short shrift in most histories written on the subject.

Sarah Gristwood sets out to rectify that, and I would say she succeeds splendidly. As I said, I've read many a book on the Wars of the Roses, and many historians are guilty, notable as they might be, of displaying a definitive bias towards or against some of the participants. Gristwood's book is refreshingly free of any of that; she never once falls into the common historians' trap of assuming knowledge that simply cannot be substantiated; she acknowledges openly where the source are simply silent on an issue on which we would dearly love more clarity on.

The women of the Wars of the Roses are a fascinating group, so different in their own ways, all displaying their own kinds of strength: Cecily Neville, Marguerite of Anjou, Margaret Beaufort, Elizabeth Woodville, Anne Neville, Elizabeth of York, Margaret of Burgundy. They thoroughly deserve to step out of the shadows cast not only by their husbands and fathers, brothers and sons, but by the white-washing or vilifying by popular novelists and television dramas.
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