Book review: Wars of the Roses: Ravenspur by Conn Iggulden

The leading players in one of the bloodiest episodes in England's history face their final reckoning in the thrilling conclusion to Conn Iggulden's magnificent War of the Roses epic.

Wars of the Roses: Ravenspur byConn Iggulden
Wars of the Roses: Ravenspur byConn Iggulden

Ravenspur is the fourth and final book in what has undoubtedly been the best series yet from the acclaimed author of the Emperor and Conqueror series and one of the giants of British historical novel writing.

Conflicts both on and off the battlefield, the machinations of the royal enemies, the notoriously vicious scramble for power and 40 years of virtual anarchy have provided a vast stage for Iggulden to play out, with his trademark brilliance, the bitter war that brought England to its knees.

This final chapter, which sees a barnstorming retelling of the tumultuous events leading up to the decisive Battle of Bosworth, brings the past to glorious life as Iggulden creates a vast panorama of real history featuring those who directed the action and those who suffered its consequences, the men who fought and the women who waited, those who ruled and those who sought to usurp that power.

From the mud, blood and wholesale slaughter of the battlefield to the poisonous politicking and the stunning depiction of two kings in waiting, Richard III and Henry VII, Iggulden paints a rich and enthralling portrait of the end of the Plantagenet dynasty and the rise of the Tudors.

In 1470, England is still dangerously divided. The Yorkist king Edward IV has been driven out of England and into exile while his pregnant wife Elizabeth and their children are forced to seek sanctuary from the House of Lancaster in Westminster Abbey.

The Lancastrian king Henry VI, a frail, broken man whose wits have been ‘emptied by the years of his life’ is struggling to retain the throne claimed back for him by his queen Margaret of Anjou and Kingmaker Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick.

Edward, now languishing in Flanders, is a giant of a man grown fat and slow by ‘the rewards of the world coming too easily’ but rage and humiliation at the treachery of his former ally Warwick spur him back into action.

Edward lands at Ravenspur, near Hull, with a half-drowned army and his wiry, teenage brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, at his side. Richard, ‘a thinking warrior, always looking for the place to put the blade,’ has compensated for the almost constant pain of his twisted spine by building up his shoulder and arm strength.

Although every hand is against them, and although every city gate is shut, the York brothers have come home to England, refusing to go quietly into banishment and instead choosing to attack to win back the throne.

What neither brother has yet realised is that the true enemy of York has yet to reveal himself. Across the sea in Brittany, Henry Tudor has grown up. He is the ‘the man of destiny’ who seeks to end the Wars of the Roses and, aided by his formidable mother Margaret Beaufort, he will carry his claim to the throne all the way to Bosworth Field...

Iggulden’s greatest gift is to bring us history as it happened… the complex politics and the sheer savagery of battle, all allied to stunning emotional insights into the workings of human nature and the psychological mechanisms that drive men – and women – to risk all for power.

In this perceptive and gifted writer’s hands, we look afresh at the events that made Britain what it is today, gain a new and enlightening perspective on the people who changed the course of history and learn important lessons still relevant in contemporary society.

An exciting and exhilarating series from an outstanding author…

(Michael Joseph, hardback, £18.99)