The Last White Rose
The Last White Rose: Dynasty, Rebellion and Treason – The Secret Wars Against the Tudors
Constable 384pp £20.00
ISBN 978 1845298739
The cause of the house of York did not end at Bosworth in 1485. As Desmond Seward reminds us in his lively account, The Last White Rose, the battle that saw the death of Richard III and the crowning of the Lancastrian Henry Tudor was not conclusive and efforts were made to reverse it.
Henry VII’s marriage to Edward IV’s daughter Elizabeth of York in January 1486 was supposed to buy off the Yorkists. The badge of the red rose Henry took as his own was combined with the white rose of York in a symbol of family unity; one that became flesh with the birth of their son, Arthur, in September. But already Henry faced rebellions, assassination plots and invasions at the hands of the supporters of Richard.
The principle problem for Henry VII’s enemies was the absence of a suitable royal candidate to rally around. One of Henry’s first acts as king was to imprison in the Tower the rightful heir to Richard III, his nephew the ten-year-old Edward Plantagenet, Earl of Warwick. The Ricardians were obliged to use phoney candidates as stalking horses. First a boy called Lambert Simnel played Warwick. Later a young man called Perkin Warbeck claimed to be the younger of the princes who had disappeared in the Tower during Richard’s reign.
Henry survived these dangers, but when the time came to execute Warbeck in November 1499 he also sent the innocent Warwick to the scaffold. The judicial murder of the last male Plantagenet was believed to have cursed Henry’s line. Two sons including his eldest, Arthur, died in the next few years and no male Tudor born after 1500 would survive to adulthood. His heir Henry VIII’s subsequent break with Rome and divorce from Katherine of Aragon, in the hopes of siring a son, led to confrontation with the surviving member of the house of York. The Last White Rose concludes with Henry VIII’s execution of Warwick’s sister, the elderly Margaret, Countess of Salisbury in revenge for the actions of her son, Cardinal Pole.
Seward expertly navigates what is a long and complex story, holding the reader’s attention with skill. There are wonderful anecdotes. I was delighted to read of the tradition that Yorkist leaders killed at the 1487 battle of Stoke were buried with green willow staves driven through their hearts and that the Countess of Salisbury wore a little barrel charm on a bracelet in memory of her father, the Duke of Clarence, who was drowned in a vat of Malmsey wine.
Completing Seward’s trilogy of The Hundred Years War and The Wars of the Roses, The Last White Rose will make a thoroughly enjoyable addition to any Tudor library.
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