Blood Sisters: The Women Behind the Wars of the Roses

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Overview

The Wars of the Roses, which tore apart the ruling Plantagenet family in fifteenth-century England, was truly a domestic drama, as fraught and intimate as any family feud before or since. But as acclaimed historian Sarah Gristwood reveals, while the events of this turbulent time are usually described in terms of the men who fought and died seeking the throne, a handful of powerful women would prove just as decisive as their kinfolks’ clashing armies. A richly drawn, absorbing epic, Blood Sisters reveals how women...

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Blood Sisters: The Women Behind the Wars of the Roses

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Overview

The Wars of the Roses, which tore apart the ruling Plantagenet family in fifteenth-century England, was truly a domestic drama, as fraught and intimate as any family feud before or since. But as acclaimed historian Sarah Gristwood reveals, while the events of this turbulent time are usually described in terms of the men who fought and died seeking the throne, a handful of powerful women would prove just as decisive as their kinfolks’ clashing armies. A richly drawn, absorbing epic, Blood Sisters reveals how women helped to end the Wars of the Roses, paving the way for the Tudor age—and the creation of modern England.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Gristwood, a British journalist and biographer, provides a fresh take on the Wars of the Roses, a 30-year tug-of-war between two feuding dynasties, the houses of Lancaster and York, over the crown of England. The conflict officially ended with the accession of Henry VII in 1485, and it’s a story that has been hashed and rehashed by historians for centuries. But while most accounts focus upon battles fought and constantly shifting alliances between kings and noblemen, Gristwood (Arabella: England’s Lost Queen) adds another layer to the story: the essential roles played by the chief combatants’ mothers, sisters, daughters, and wives. Focusing on seven key women, from Marguerite of Anjou, Henry VI’s queen (who fought much more mightily than he to hold onto the throne), to Elizabeth of York, whose marriage to Henry VII in 1486 united the two houses, Gristwood has written a compelling narrative of what went on behind the scenes and away from the battlefields. Despite occasional confusion arising from the plethora of characters with common names, this is an engaging, well written, and thoroughly-researched page turner that should delight academics as much as fans of Philippa Gregory’s historical novels about several of the same notable women. Agent: George Lucas, Inkwell Management. (Mar.)
From the Publisher
The New Yorker
“The Wars of the Roses are often remembered for the men who seized thrones and led battles, but in this lively history the women take the reins. Arguing persuasively for the existence of a ‘female network,’… Gristwood details the paths of seven royal women who transcended their roles as diplomatic pawns and heir producers.”

Alison Weir, BBC History Magazine
“Once again, Sarah Gristwood proves that she is at the top of her field with Blood Sisters…. In this gem of a book, she effortlessly interweaves the dramatic, often tragic, lives of seven royal women…. In telling their stories in this original way, and focusing on their diverse roles in the conflict between Lancaster and York, Gristwood reveals how they influenced a male-dominated world. Her text is further enlivened by incisive analysis, exquisite detail and an elegant and witty style…. It’s the book that I wish I had written.”

The Spectator (London)
“Sarah Gristwood’s sensitive approach marks out Blood Sisters as much more than the narrative of an age…. It is an exploration of what it meant to be a medieval queen…. In describing what these noble women had in common, Gristwood is able to paint a compelling portrait of this bloody age, complete with the heartbreak and triumphs that went with it….. Medieval queens were far from being mere pawns in the game of thrones.”

Sunday Times (London)
“Most of the leading players in the Wars of the Roses have traditionally been thought to be the men. Historian Sarah Gristwood… stands this on its head. She examines seven women, whose lives were bound together across the best part of a century, and tries to see the wars from their points of view…. Gristwood successfully evokes the lives of all these women, and in doing so brings a new and welcome perspective on the Wars of the Roses.”

Maclean's
“While most historians focus on the men of the Plantagenet dynasty who tore their families and nation apart during the Wars of the Roses, Gristwood weaves a dizzying array of Yorkists and Lancastrians into an engaging and coherent history by focusing on seven women...who played crucial roles in the bloody feuds known as the ‘cousins’ war.’”

Toronto Star
“[Gristwood’s] is a revolutionary approach. For too long, history has been the purview of men, of kings and their battles, wars, conquests, murders and thirst for power.... Gristwood’s perspective and lively writing are refreshing.... Certainly there have been individual biographies of each of these seven powerful women but by tracing the connections among them, Gristwood digs into motives and aspirations of royals too long overlooked.... Through them, she gives us an unconventional history of the wars between relations, arguing that their actions mattered as much as battles, and certainly played a significant role in ending the war and establishing the peace.”

Literary Review
“Entertaining and vividly drawn…. This is the true story of the most important women of the period, their travails and suffering; but also of the links between them, their friendships and ambitions, their cooperation, their courage and pragmatism. It is a different way of looking at this complex period, and Gristwood weaves the story with considerable skill. The battles and bloodshed that led to the loss of so many of the old nobility of England form a backdrop to the narrative, but the real emphasis is on half-a-dozen women whose extraordinary experiences of triumph and disaster, often in a bewilderingly short period of time, brought them to the edge of despair but did not, in the end, lessen their commitment to their families. They provided continuity as the world fell apart around them…. Gristwood is to be congratulated for her highly readable account of their lives”

Asbury Park Press
“Gristwood crafts a compelling narrative about these fascinating women, not by straying from the truth, but by filling in details and by deducing plausible motives from what little is known. In her pages, these Annes, Elizabeths and Margarets live and breathe and plot once more.”

Publishers Weekly
“Gristwood has written a compelling narrative of what went on behind the scenes and away from the battlefields…. [Blood Sisters] is an engaging, well written, and thoroughly-researched page turner that should delight academics as much as fans of Philippa Gregory’s historical novels about several of the same notable women.”

Library Journal
“[Blood Sisters] deftly navigates a period of shifting alliances in a clear, concise fashion. Highly recommended for any academic or casual reader interested in the Wars of the Roses. Fans of Alison Weir’s historical fiction and nonfiction works, as well as fans of Philippa Gregory’s historical fiction series, ‘The Cousin’s War,’ are likely to enjoy this.”

Kirkus
"As Gristwood amply proves in this shrewd, rewarding study, alliances and ambitions involved women as much as men…. [Gristwood] nimbly makes sense and relevance out of the confoundingly entangled dynasties of the Yorks and Tudors."

Open Letters Monthly
“[A] nimble, engaging new book.... [Gristwood’s] a lively enthusiastic recounter of the violent turnovers of the age.”

Decatur Daily
“[Blood Sisters] brings new perspective to a history largely dominated by males.... Gristwood leads the reader though the intricacies of political managing and palace intrigue, where enemies and friends changed sides, often without notice, and frequently to the detriment of their former allies.”

Library Journal
Most accounts of the Wars of the Roses have focused largely on the men involved. Here British journalist and biographer Gristwood (Arbella: England's Lost Queen) concentrates on the women tied to those men and their roles in the conflict during the second half of the 15th century. By exploring the lives of seven women—Marguerite of Anjou (wife of Henry VI), Cecily Neville (mother of Edward IV), Elizabeth Woodville (mother of the princes in the Tower), Anne Neville (wife of Richard III), Margaret of Burgundy (sister of Edward IV and Richard III), Elizabeth of York (Edward IV's daughter and wife to Henry VII), and Margaret Beaufort (mother to Henry VII)—Gristwood shows their strongly interconnected roles during the wars. Naturally, each woman's primary role was to marry and produce an heir, but Gristwood shows how they also exuded influence by directing public opinion, conspiring for power, and acting as regents in both official and unofficial capacities. VERDICT This title deftly navigates a period of shifting alliances in a clear, concise fashion. Highly recommended for any academic or casual reader interested in the Wars of the Roses. Fans of Alison Weir's historical fiction and nonfiction works, as well as fans of Philippa Gregory's historical fiction series, "The Cousin's War," are likely to enjoy this.—Rebekah Kati, Walden Univ. Lib., Morrisville, NC
Kirkus Reviews
A labyrinthine journey through the York-Lancaster feud of 15th-century England from the point of view of its queens. Biographer Gristwood (The Girl in the Mirror, 2012, etc.) pursues no fewer than seven remarkable women of note between the wedding of Marguerite of Anjou to Henry VI in 1445 and the death of Elizabeth of York, queen to the re-established Henry Tudor, in 1503. The War of the Roses was more accurately known as the Cousins' War since, of course, everybody was related, descended from Edward III in some fashion, and convinced they had an equal shot at the crown. Gristwood allows several great matriarchs to take center stage between the vying for power by Lancastrians and Yorkists: Marguerite of Anjou, the strong, French-born queen who had to endure a humiliating return to France after her spineless husband was muscled out of the throne after the Yorkist victory at Towton; Cecily Neville, who would lose her husband but see her brilliant son prevail as Edward IV; and Margaret Beaufort, who jealously, devotedly schemed to dethrone Richard III in favor of her son, Henry Tudor. Moreover, there is the tremendously moving love story between Edward IV and commoner Elizabeth Woodville, the mother of the two subsequent young doomed princes in the tower. As Gristwood amply proves in this shrewd, rewarding study, alliances and ambitions involved women as much as men. The author also includes a glossary of select names and a "simplified family tree," both of which will be particularly helpful for American readers. A British historian nimbly makes sense and relevance out of the confoundingly entangled dynasties of the Yorks and Tudors.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465060986
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 3/4/2014
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 206,474
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 3.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Biographer and journalist Sarah Gristwood attended Oxford University and has been a regular contributor to the London Times, Telegraph, Guardian, and Independent. She is the author of seven previous books, including the best-selling Arbella: England’s Lost Queen and Elizabeth and Leicester: Power, Passion, Politics.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 9 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 10, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    I loved this book! The author did a wonderful job of explaining

    I loved this book! The author did a wonderful job of explaining a difficult situation and brought these women to life. A satisfying portrait of what women of the medieval aristocracy had to look forward to and face. Also, a book to enjoy and read for pleasure...not dry at all.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2013

    Poorly written

    Do not waste your time. Read Alison Weir's books about the same subject instead.

    2 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted June 2, 2013

    This book is amazing. This book will take you through the storie

    This book is amazing. This book will take you through the stories about the women during the war of roses. This book gives excellent detail how Henry the 7 came into power.  

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 17, 2013

    very good

    very good

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 28, 2013

    Ice

    Ok

    0 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 3, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted September 26, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted October 1, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 27, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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