"The Hollow Crown" follows Dan Jones' earlier work "The Plantagenets" and charts the implosion of England's longest reigning dynasty and the subsequent rise of the Tudors. This is narrative history at its best; a fast paced, well told story which immediately engages and entertains the reader. Academics, however, will be disappointed by the lack of analysis. Even to an amateur, the bias which Jones places in favour of the Lancastrians and their Tudor supporters is clearly evident.
He begins his story with the magnificent reign of Henry V whose territorial gains in France had done much to secure the Lancastrian grip on the English throne by pleasing the ambitions of the powerful nobility. By taking this as his premise, Jones seems to imply that the Lancastrians were the rightful kings of England which, of course, they were not. Henry V's father, Henry Bolingbroke, had led a rebellion against Richard II. In the euphoria which followed the deposition of this most unpopular king, the rules of primogeniture were conveniently ignored and Bolingbroke had himself crowned Henry IV. The Lancastrians were usurpers.
Jones almost falls into the trap of attributing the origins of the Wars of the Roses to the chaotic reign of Henry VI who seems to have been the most amiable of men but sadly lacked his father's ability to control England's powerful warlords. No doubt Henry was a catalyst but one must skip back three generations to fully understand the rival claims to the throne made by the houses of Lancaster and York. Edward III was unusual for a medieval king in that he lived to a ripe old age and fathered a large brood of children who survived into adulthood. The Wars of the Roses were little more than a family feud which arose from the squabbling between his many descendants. Their intricate web of inter-marriage and legitimate and illegitimate offspring is both fascinating and fundamental but Jones makes little of it. To be fair, he did cover these issues in his first book but that is of little help to those who read The Hollow Crown before its predecessor.
It is unfortunate that Jones makes scant mention of Margaret of Anjou, Henry VI's consort and the real power behind his reign. This formidable lady did more to sustain the Lancastrian cause than the Tudors ever did and, indeed, more to create the bitter enmity between the two family factions. Jones has a tendency to overstate the Tudors' part. When Henry Tudor landed in Wales in 1485 he was almost unknown. Even in his native Wales, he struggled to rally men to his cause and, when he arrived at Bosworth to face Richard III, he was hopelessly outnumbered. But for the treachery of the Earls of Northumberland and Derby and a quirk of fate, he would have been crushed.
Jones makes a valiant attempt to steer a middle course through the contentious reign of Richard III but we find him veering ever closer to the Tudor portrayal of Richard's character. Clearly, he subscribes to the popular view of the Tudors: that they were wise and far-seeing monarchs, the creators of a new world. In truth, they were equally as grasping, self-serving, greedy and vicious as any Plantagenet overlord.
Europe was undergoing a period of huge social and philosophical reform long before anyone had heard of the Tudors. The renaissance, which began in Italy during the14th century, had brought about a flowering of new arts and crafts and an increasing interest in the secular rather than the religious world; calls for reformation of the church had been made by John Wycliffe in the mid 1300s; by the middle of the 15th century, the feudal system which had been the foundation of the aristocracy was all but dead and the increasing wealth and influence of the rising mercantile class was seriously challenging its power; the invention of the printing press by William Caxton in 1476 provided the means to disseminate new cultural and philosophical thought. At best, the Tudors were the product of this new age, not its creators.
The art of interpretation is the lifeblood of historians, so no blame attaches to Dan Jones for putting forward his view. The Hollow Crown is a fine book which will appeal to and delight anyone who is interested in this period of history. Any criticism contained in the remarks above is intended only to warn the unwary reader that nothing should be accepted at face value. The joy of history lies in exploring its various interpretations.
I have taken delivery of 4 new books lately, and somehow this one magically jumped to the top of the pile. How glad I am that it did. Dan Jones has proved once again that with the right blend of considerable scholarship and first class pacy writing, history can be made totally accessible, enjoyable and as good to read as fiction. This is a great skill.
By taking the start point of his examination of the decline and fall of the Plantagenets and the rise of the Tudors as 1420 when Henry V, victor of Agincourt, married the French princess Catherine Valois, daughter of their mad king Charles VI, the author has placed the ensuing decades of turmoil in their proper context. The 5th Henry was an exemplary medieval king, skilled in managing both peace and war, but his too early death (from illness, rather than on the battlefield) was the catalyst for a century or more of strife. Henry and Catherine's infant son, Henry VI, came to the English throne on his fathers death, and whilst initially problems arose from his long minority, the most serious were saved for his actual reign: disastrously, the mental illness possibly inherited from his French grandfather manifested itself and increasingly paralysed government at a time when royal authority underpinned all. There were power vacuums aplenty, but it is also clear that many of the nobility laboured to maintain the status quo by supporting their feeble monarch.
The full cast of players is here: Henry V1 and Margaret of Anjou, Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, Richard III and Anne Neville, Henry Tudor and Elizabeth of York, Margaret Beaufort and Margaret de la Pole, all intertwined with the numerous powerful families and their affinities whose fortunes ebb and flow in the maelstrom of royal succession and favour.
The author takes us through those long years of politics, wars, executions, coronations, marriages, heroics and treacheries which eventually brought about the accession by conquest of Henry Tudor, the death of the last Plantagenet king, Richard III, and the formation of a new dynasty, albeit one which had to keep looking over its shoulder for incipient Plantagenet rebellions, taking whatever steps necessary to crush those which took place. These threats did not end with the joining of the white rose and the red rose in the Tudor emblem, but persisted right into the reign of Henry VIII.
For anyone interested in understanding the sheer scale and impact of what we now call the Wars of the Roses, this is THE book to read: the timelines and key players are set out vividly and with clarity and you will not read a better analysis of the complexities.
In factual terms, I would only quibble with his assumption that Richard III definitely killed his nephews, the Princes in the Tower, as I think the jury remains out on that one and he was not the only person with something to gain from their demise.
There are few illustrations, but the ones chosen are absolutely lovely. I enjoyed the whole book at a gallop and will re-read more slowly. Highly recommended.
Though fascinated by history when it comes to full length books, I’m normally more a reader of fiction and this was a rare departure for me. I must say I was not disappointed. The story of the Wars of the Roses is brilliantly described in a highly entertaining book I whole heartedly recommend. Overall assessment 5/5: (Plot 5, Literary Merit 4, Characterisation 5, Readability 5.)