MR GILLINGHAM's account of the Wars of the Roses ranges from their slow kindling in the I450's to the last battles at Bosworth (1485) and Stoke (1487).
They are very much part of the national story as Shakespeare realized, perhaps a little too enthusiastically. In over twenty campaigns, almost none of them lasting more than a fortnight. battles varied from a street scuffle like 'First St. Albans' to Towton in which. according to some historians, 70,000 men may have taken part.
During a mere thirty years three Kings and a dozen members of the royal family, together with more than fifty of their near kindred, were killed in battle. executed or murdered.
The rest of Europe was appalled by the ferocity of the English who, only recently, had devastated France on a scale unrivalled by even the 1940s.
As a professional historian the writer is well acquainted with the latest research. He rightly stresses what nonsense it is to claim that the old English nobility was exterminated by the Wars; lack of sons (largely due to marrying heiresses whenever possible) was the real extinguisher of that tiny body, then usually less than sixty peers at most.
He makes rather too much of the scarcely surprising fact that most ordinary English people suffered very little, while he does not tell us enough about the men who were the chief protagonists — although there is a wealth of personal information about them which cries out for pen portraits.
Nor has he anything particularly new to tell us of the actual experience of those who fought in such savage and bloodthirsty campaigns.
Nevertheless, this blandly written book is as of good value as anything of its sort currently available. And it is impossible not to be fascinated — and, frankly, terrified — by a reminder of quite how merciless Englishmen. even Catholic Englishmen, can be to one another.