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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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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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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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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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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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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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on 20 March 2015
This book is marvellous. It is the clearest and most engaging treatment of this, the most horribly complex of wars, I have ever read - and I have read many! Reading about the same events but through the fresh and engaging perspective of Gristwood's fascinating look into the lives of the women involved, I actually feel I have (finally!) achieved a sound level of understanding. Her writing style is crisp, fluid, and precise and is a pleasure to read. History comes to life and I can say that this book is unputdownable - whether you are approaching from a position of scholarship or like, me, enjoying a period outside your area of specialisation. Cannot recommend highly enough. I felt bereft when I came to the end!
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on 30 March 2013
I have just finished reading this and I have thoroughly enjoyed it.
It is a refreshing change to read about the women behind the Wars of the Roses, an era usually defined by the the doings of the men, the various battles etc. I felt it added to what is, for me, a fascinating period of history.
It is written in a very engaging and ,at times, rather witty style. It was a pleasure to read.

The book covers the period from the deposing of the unfortunate Henry VI through to the coronation of Henry VIII, giving a general narrative of events.
Some of the women featured are obviously more prominant than others, Cecily Neville, Margaret of Anjou, Elizabeth Woodville and Margaret Beaufort are especially well represented.
Ann Neville is a somewhat shadowy figure, although the author does have a couple of points to make about her I am none the wiser about this particular lady.
Margaret of Anjou comes across as a tragic figure, fighting to maintain her son's claim to the throne and ultimately losing everything.
Margaret Beaufort was obviously a very determined, strong woman- there is quite a lot about her in the book. I can't say I warmed to her (bit of an old boot), but she certainly made her presence felt.

I also found Sarah Gristwood handled the subject of Elizabeth Woodville well, and presented her in an interesting light. I had always taken the view of Elizabeth as the classic pragmatic but grasping, calculating queen who elicited very little sympathy. There are obviously quite a few myths written about this lady and I feel the author presented her in much more human way. I ended up feeling quite sorry for Elizabeth in the end; first she had to deal with the Richard III scenario, and I can't imagine Henry VII was a bundle of laughs either. It made me want to know more about Elizabeth.

There was a fairly long section of the book dealing with Richard III; I found the author's conjecture on the princes in the tower very interesting. She makes some good points and certainly made me think. I liked the way she pointed out contemporary sources did point the accusatory finger elsewhere, rather than just Richard himself (which I didn't know).
Henry Tudor's stance is also discussed and again I found this was presented in a realistic way.

I found the part dealing with Henry VII's reaction to the pretenders quite fascinating. I have never had any real interest in the Tudors, and my sum total knowledge of Henry VII was that he defeated Richard III and was Henry VIII's father (and also looked a bit like Rod Stewart, in my humble opinion).
Sarah Gristwood has really inspired me to read a bit further on and know more about Henry and the whole Perkin Warbeck/Lambert Simnel issue.
All in all, I thought this was a great book and well worth buying.
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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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on 7 February 2013
This was a readable account of the royal women who played a part in the events known as the Wars of the Roses. It is somewhat uneven in that there is much less to be told about some (Anne Neville) than others (Margaret Beaufort). There is not much that is new and it sticks fairly close to its sources. I would have liked to have read more about how the shared experience of being born a women impacted on the stories of those involved. Some social history and more context on domestic life, education and child bearing would have been interesting. Also a limited family tree is included, but since this book deals with women more detailed trees that reflected this would have been useful, I wanted to compare their maternal line, the dates of birth and death of their children and comparative age of death of men and women.
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