The Wars of the Roses (1455-1487) was a series of battles fought between two rival branches of the royal House of Plantagenet – York and Lancaster. This period encompassed the reigns of Henry VI, Edward IV and Richard III and ended following Henry Tudor’s victory at the Battle of Bosworth.
Over the last few years this has become one of my favourite historical periods. It can be very complex and confusing, but I find the history, the politics and the colourful characters fascinating to read about. I’ve listed below all of the books I’ve read on the subject so far, both fiction and non-fiction, and will continue to update the list as I read more of them.
The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Penman
This is one of my all-time favourite historical fiction novels and the best book I’ve read on Richard III. Don’t let the length put you off! Penman does a great job of making a complicated period of history easy to understand as she tells the story of Richard’s life from his childhood to his tragic death. I can’t recommend this book highly enough…it really is wonderful.
The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey
Published in the 1950s, this is the story of Inspector Alan Grant who in hospital with a broken leg and decides to investigate Richard III and his alleged crimes from his hospital bed. Reading everything he can find about Richard and the disappearances of the Princes in the Tower, Grant begins to discover that historical sources can’t always be trusted and that history is written by the victors.
Like The Sunne in Splendour, this novel also covers Richard III’s life but from the perspective of his cousin Martin Robsart, a fictional character. I loved this book – it was well-researched, the characters were believable and I could even follow the battle scenes!
The Adventures of Alianore Audley by Brian Wainwright
A parody of the historical novel, this book takes a humorous look at the Wars of the Roses through the eyes of 15th century ‘damosel’, spy and knight’s lady Alianore Audley. Some familiarity with the period is needed to fully understand all the jokes and get the most out of this book.
A very early pro-Ricardian novel originally published in 1929. This book has a very old-fashioned feel, but is an enjoyable read which takes the reader through the entire life of Richard III.
The Confession of Richard Plantagenet by Dora Greenwell McChesney
An even older book than Dickon, this one was published in 1913! Described as ‘a sympathetic novel of Richard III’ it does live up to its description, seeking to free Richard from blame and rescue his reputation. Another novel written in a very archaic style, but definitely worth a read.
The Cousins’ War series by Philippa Gregory
Each of the books in Gregory’s Cousins’ War series focuses on a different female historical figure who played a part during the Wars of the Roses: The White Queen (Elizabeth Woodville), The Red Queen (Margaret Beaufort), The Lady of the Rivers (Jacquetta of Luxembourg), The Kingmaker’s Daughter (Anne Neville), The White Princess (Elizabeth of York) and The King’s Curse, (Margaret Pole). The final book is really more of a Tudor novel than a Wars of the Roses one, but I have included it with the others as it’s part of the same series.
Some Touch of Pity by Rhoda Edwards
This is an excellent novel from the 1970s about the reign of Richard III. Covering a short period of history (from 1483-1485) and told as a series of first-person accounts narrated by the people closest to Richard – and even Richard himself – the novel paints a moving and intimate portrait of this fascinating king.
Fortune’s Wheel by Rhoda Edwards
A prequel to Some Touch of Pity, this novel covers an earlier period in Richard’s life. It is written as a more straightforward third person narrative and I found it less emotional than the previous book, but still a good read.
Sons of the Blood by Robyn Young
This is the first in Robyn Young’s New World Rising series following the adventures of Jack Wynter, illegitimate son of a royal chamberlain, who becomes caught up in a secret conspiracy. This first novel is set in Richard III’s England with a large part of the storyline revolving around the mystery of the Princes in the Tower. The thriller-type elements were too prominent for my tastes, but I did still enjoy the book due to the time period being one of my favourites.
Under the Hog by Patrick Carleton
This is a great book on Richard III, originally published in 1937. It is written from many different perspectives, with a range of characters taking turns to tell their own part of the story. The portrayal of Richard is sympathetic but balanced. I would definitely recommend this one, but maybe not if you’re new to the period.
The Master of Bruges by Terence Morgan
A fictional account of the life of the 15th century artist, Hans Memling. After meeting both Edward IV and his brother Richard in Bruges (there’s no evidence that this ever happened), Memling comes to England where he becomes embroiled in the mystery of the Princes in the Tower. This was an interesting read, but I did have some reservations about it – read my review first to see if it sounds like something you would enjoy.
First of the Tudors by Joanna Hickson
Taking us back to the beginnings of both the Wars of the Roses and the House of Tudor, this is the story of Jasper Tudor, half-brother of Henry VI and uncle of the future Henry VII. An interesting novel, focusing on lesser-known characters from the period. However, there’s also a fictional storyline involving a cousin of Jasper’s and I found this aspect of the book less successful.
The Tudor Crown by Joanna Hickson
This is a sequel to First of the Tudors, but would also work as a standalone novel. The narrative alternates between Henry Tudor, exiled in Britanny, and his mother Margaret Beaufort at the English court, preparing the ground for him to return and claim the throne. An interesting novel, which portrays Henry in a sympathetic light – although I don’t share the author’s views on Richard III.
Succession, Rebellion and Accession by Livi Michael
A trilogy of Wars of the Roses novels with a focus on Margaret Beaufort and Margaret of Anjou. These are unusual books because they quote heavily from contemporary chronicles, using them to tell the story in conjunction with the author’s original prose. The first book takes us through to the Lancastrian defeat at the Battle of Towton, while the second continues the story as far as the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471 and the third reaches a conclusion with Henry Tudor’s victory at Bosworth Field.
The first in a series, this one is set at the beginning of the Wars of the Roses as Henry VI’s throne begins to come under threat from Richard, Duke of York. This turned out not to be my type of book, but Conn Iggulden is a very popular author so there’s a good chance that you will enjoy Stormbird much more than I did!
Kingmaker: Winter Pilgrims by Toby Clements
This is also the first in a series and is also set near the beginning of the period. The main characters, however, are a monk and a nun who have been forced to leave their priory, emerging from their isolated community to find that England is being torn apart by civil war. I liked the fact that this book concentrates on the lives of ordinary people rather than royalty and nobility.
Elizabeth the Beloved by Maureen Peters
A fairly straightforward fictional biography of Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV, sister of the Princes in the Tower, wife of Henry VII and mother of Henry VIII. A good introduction to Elizabeth’s life for readers new to the subject.
Elizabeth of York: The Last White Rose by Alison Weir
Another fictional biography of Elizabeth of York, but a much longer one this time! Similar in content to Alison Weir’s non-fiction book on Elizabeth (listed further down this page), it takes us through her whole life from childhood to death. An enjoyable book, but with Weir’s usual bias against Richard III.
The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson
This classic adventure novel first serialised in 1883 is often marketed as a children’s book, but I think it’s one that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages. It tells the story of Dick Shelton, a seventeen-year-old orphan, who joins a company of outlaws in order to avenge his father’s death and becomes drawn into the Wars of the Roses when he meets the future Richard III.
The story of two clever, charismatic men who find themselves on opposite sides of the conflict – the Lancastrian Simon Roseblood and Yorkist Amadeus Sevigny. The plots and schemes of these two men are played out during the early years of the Wars of the Roses as the Duke of York prepares to claim the throne of England. I really enjoyed this one and am hoping for a sequel.
Dark Queen Rising by Paul Doherty
A murder mystery set in the aftermath of the Battle of Tewkesbury and featuring Christopher Urswicke, a clerk in the service of Margaret Beaufort. Unfortunately, Doherty gets the name of Margaret’s husband wrong, referring to Humphrey Stafford instead of Henry – and this made me question the accuracy of everything else in the book. For a better book by Doherty, try Roseblood (above).
Timeslip and dual timeline:
A Dangerous Inheritance by Alison Weir
This is a dual timeline book. Part of the novel follows the life of Katherine Grey, a younger sister of Lady Jane Grey (Queen of England for just nine days), but the other part tells the story of Kate Plantagenet, an illegitimate daughter of Richard III. Unfortunately Alison Weir and I have very different opinions of Richard and this affected my enjoyment of the book to the point where I wished she had concentrated solely on the Katherine Grey storyline.
The Last Daughter by Nicola Cornick
A great timeslip novel split between the present day and the 15th century. Our modern day protagonist is a young woman investigating the disappearance of her sister in the grounds of Minster Lovell Hall, while the historical storyline follows the story of Anne FitzHugh, the wife of Francis Lovell. The solution to the mystery of the Princes in the Tower is completely different to any I have read about before!
Books about Cecily (sometimes spelled Cicely) Neville:
Red Rose, White Rose by Joanna Hickson
This novel tells the story of Cicely Neville, the ‘Rose of Raby’, who was mother to two Kings of England, Edward IV and Richard III. The book concentrates on Cicely’s early life and her marriage to Richard, Duke of York. Another storyline follows Cicely’s fictitious half-brother Cuthbert as he also becomes embroiled in the Wars of the Roses.
This book covers only the first part of Cecily’s life up to the Battle of Towton in 1461. Written in the third person present tense, this novel portrays Cecily as an ambitious, intelligent woman and focuses on her involvement in politics and her relationship with her husband, the Duke of York.
The Queen’s Rival by Anne O’Brien
This epistolary novel tells Cecily’s story in the form of diary entries and letters. It’s a lively and entertaining read, but I found some of the language too modern for the period and the book didn’t quite work for me overall.
Books about Jane Shore, a mistress of Edward IV:
Royal Mistress by Anne Easter Smith
This novel follows the story of Jane Shore, mistress of Edward IV. I found the first half of the book very heavy on the romance, but that is probably to be expected from a novel about a royal mistress! The second half was much better and I did end up enjoying it.
The Merry Mistress by Philip Lindsay
A different take on Jane Shore, but again very heavy on the romance with little attention given to any other aspects of Jane’s life or character. Published in the 1950s this does feel a bit dated.
Another novel on the life of Jane Shore, written by a long-forgotten Victorian author. With wooden characters, unconvincing dialogue and lots of melodrama, I really can’t recommend this book and would suggest trying one of the others I’ve mentioned above if you want to read about Jane Shore.
You could also try:
A Secret Alchemy by Emma Darwin
This sounded fascinating – a present day historian, Una Pryor, researches the lives of Elizabeth Woodville, wife of King Edward IV, and her brother Anthony, and begins to investigate the mystery of the Princes in the Tower. Unfortunately I couldn’t get into the story at all and didn’t finish reading it.
The Women of the Cousins’ War: The Duchess, the Queen and the King’s Mother
A companion book to Philippa Gregory’s Cousins’ War series mentioned above. The book contains three essays – one by Philippa Gregory on Jacquetta of Luxembourg, another by David Baldwin on Elizabeth Woodville and the final one by Michael Jones on Margaret Beaufort.
Blood Sisters: The Women Behind the Wars of the Roses by Sarah Gristwood
Another non-fiction book that looks at the period from a female perspective. The seven women whose lives are covered in this book are: Margaret of Anjou, Cecily Neville, Elizabeth Woodville, Margaret of Burgundy, Anne Neville, Margaret Beaufort and Elizabeth of York.
Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World by Alison Weir
A long, comprehensive biography of Elizabeth of York – daughter of Edward IV, niece of Richard III, wife of Henry VII and mother of Henry VIII. This book is wonderfully detailed and provides information on the social history of the period as well as the facts of Elizabeth’s life. I enjoyed it despite Alison Weir’s bias against Richard III.
The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones
This is a sequel to Dan Jones’ previous book, The Plantagenets. The book covers the whole of the Wars of the Roses period, beginning with the marriage of Henry V and Catherine of Valois and ending with the reign of Henry VII. It’s both factual and entertaining, but I found it slightly biased towards the Lancastrian/Tudor side.
The Brothers York: An English Tragedy by Thomas Penn
An accessible, well written account of the Wars of the Roses from a Yorkist perspective – although, despite the title, there’s not as much focus on the relationship between the brothers as I would have liked. A good place to start if you’re new to the subject, but it wasn’t quite what I was hoping for.
Richard III: Fact and Fiction by Matthew Lewis
This book on Richard III attempts to separate the facts from the fiction surrounding one of England’s most controversial kings. Written in question and answer format, this would be a good starting point for readers who know very little about Richard, but also an entertaining read for those of us who have already read a lot.
Following in the Footsteps of Henry Tudor by Phil Carradice
A biography of Henry Tudor and an overview of the Wars of the Roses, with a special focus on Henry’s march to Bosworth and the ensuing battle for the throne. I found this an interesting and enjoyable read and written in a style that makes it accessible for people new to the period as well as those with prior knowledge. There is a slight bias against Richard, but Carradice still treats him with respect.
Elizabeth Widville, Lady Grey by John Ashdown-Hill
A detailed and thoroughly researched biography of Elizabeth Woodville, wife of Edward IV. However, the author’s personal bias against Elizabeth spoiled my enjoyment of the book.
The Killer of the Princes in the Tower by MJ Trow
This fascinating book treats the mystery of the Princes in the Tower like a modern day police investigation, looking for means, motives and opportunity. All of the usual suspects are considered – as well as some very unlikely but not impossible ones! I couldn’t agree with Trow’s conclusion regarding the killer, but it was certainly someone I’d never even considered before.
If you’ve read any other books about the Wars of the Roses please post your recommendations in the comments below.
4 thoughts on “The Wars of the Roses”
Lovely list! Apart from The Daughter of Time, I’ve read just one – The Secret Alchemy, some years ago, but can’t remember much about it.
I am currently reading The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory. I just wanted to check your list to see if you’d reviewed it. I had forgotten how many amazing books are on your list! Oh no! I don’t have time to read them all and I want to, lol.
Well, it has taken me about twelve years to read all of the books I’ve listed here, if that makes you feel any better! This is one of my favourite periods of history.