The Brothers York

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: Not set

Member Reviews

I have mentioned before that historical novels are not my usual go to genre, but I am always open to stepping outside my comfort zone when the blurb interests me, and this one did.

I did have to slow my reading down a lot to be able to process this book, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it, at times I struggled, but overall I found this to be a solid and interesting read.
Was this review helpful?
A very interesting and well researched book. Very readable and not too confusing for anyone new to historical subjects.
Was this review helpful?
My thanks to Penguin U.K. Allen Lane for an eARC via NetGalley of ‘The Brothers York: An English Tragedy’ by Thomas Penn in exchange for an honest review. It was published on 3 October 2019 in hardback, audiobook, and ebook and will be available in paperback on 2 April 2020. 

“It is 1461 and England is crippled by civil war. One freezing morning, a teenage boy wins a battle in the Welsh marches, and claims the crown. He is Edward IV, first king of the usurping house of York...”

While I have read a number of fictional books set during this turbulent period of English history, this was my first foray into nonfiction about the Wars of the Roses. I found this a well written and accessible read while remaining a scholarly work providing in its final 13% (90 pages) notes, a detailed bibliography and index. 

I appreciated that Penn also incorporated details of economic and social issues including the introduction of the printing press to England by William Caxton, the influence of the Medici bankers and the early stirrings of the Renaissance. 

Although Penn tried to be impartial I did feel he was more inclined to support the Lancastrian cause and the young Henry Tudor, who was the subject of his 2012, ‘The WinterKing’.  Also, there was only minimal information about the women, who made important contributions to the period’s history.

Still, I am glad that I finally have read it and supplemented the eARC by borrowing its audiobook edition, read by Roy McMillan.
Was this review helpful?
I don’t often get excited about non-fiction books, but having enjoyed Thomas Penn’s Winter King – a biography of Henry VII – a few years ago, I was really looking forward to reading this new one, particularly as it covers one of my favourite periods of English history: the Wars of the Roses. I’ve read about this period many times now, but it sounded as though this book had something different to offer, promising to focus on Edward IV, Richard III and George, Duke of Clarence – three of the sons of Richard, Duke of York and Cecily Neville.

The Wars of the Roses were a series of battles for control of the throne of England fought between two rival branches of the House of Plantagenet: the House of York and the House of Lancaster. The background to the conflict is quite complex, but Thomas Penn devotes the early chapters of the book to explaining how it came about and the efforts of first the Duke of York and then his eldest son, Edward – assisted by his cousin, the Earl of Warwick – to take the throne from the Lancastrian king, Henry VI. Penn then takes us through the whole of Edward’s reign until his death in 1483 when his youngest brother, Richard, claims the throne under controversial circumstances. A relatively short account of Richard’s reign follows, before the book comes to an end with Richard’s defeat at the Battle of Bosworth and the rise of a new dynasty: the Tudors.

The Brothers York is as well written and thoroughly researched as I would expect from a Thomas Penn book, yet I had mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, it provides an excellent overview of a complicated, fascinating period of history written in a very readable and accessible style; on the other hand, if you’re already familiar with the period, as I am, there’s nothing new here that hasn’t been covered before in other books. I found The Hollow Crown by Dan Jones, for example, just as engaging and informative – and a more manageable length! I should mention that The Brothers York is a very long book that took me most of January to read; if you’re planning to read it, bear in mind that it’s going to be quite a commitment.

The majority of the book deals with Edward IV, which is understandable as his reign spanned more than twenty years (apart from a few months in 1470-71 when the crown was briefly reclaimed by Lancaster). I thought Penn’s portrayal of Edward seemed quite fair and unbiased, showing his transformation over the years from the brave, handsome, charismatic young man who succeeded so brilliantly on the battlefield to an increasingly overweight and unhealthy king, interested mainly in comfort and pleasure, accused of showing favouritism towards his wife’s Woodville relatives, something which caused resentment amongst his own loyal friends and supporters.

The portrayal of Richard, whose short and troubled reign is covered in the final section of the book, is less well balanced. It’s certainly not as negative as some I’ve read, but I definitely felt that Penn was selective about which sources he used and which aspects of Richard’s life he chose to focus on in order to show him in a bad light. That’s not really surprising though, as his sympathies are clearly with Henry Tudor, the subject of his previous book. What did surprise me was that the mystery of the Princes in the Tower is hardly mentioned at all. It’s implied that Richard was responsible, but it’s all passed over very quickly and none of the other theories for the princes’ disappearances are explored, which I thought was unusual (not that I particularly wanted to read about all of that again, but if this was the first time you’d read about it you wouldn’t realise it was actually one of history’s biggest unsolved mysteries).

As for the third York brother, George, Duke of Clarence, although he never becomes king himself he spends most of his adult life alternating between supporting Edward and conspiring against him, and in conflict with Richard over the inheritance of the Neville lands (George was married to Isabel Neville and Richard to her sister, Anne). The book is subtitled An English Tragedy and I think it’s obvious that the tragedy we are being shown here, as far as the House of York is concerned, is that the division within the family and the inability of the brothers to stay united and work together is what led to their downfall.

While the focus of the book is obviously on the situation in England, events taking place elsewhere in Europe are also discussed, including the succession to the Duchy of Burgundy and diplomatic relations between France and England. It’s all very interesting and all adds up to give a full and detailed portrait of the period. What I really wanted from a book with the title The Brothers York, though, was more analysis of the relationships between the three brothers and more insight into their characters, and there was just not enough of that for me. I think I learned almost as much about the Earl of Warwick as I did about Edward, George and Richard.

Overall, this is a very good book but I suppose I was slightly disappointed because I was hoping for something a little bit different and not just a straightforward retelling of the Wars of the Roses. For newcomers to the period, though, I’m sure you will find a wealth of information here and I would have no hesitation in recommending this book as a suitable place to start.
Was this review helpful?
Very smoothly written but I wasn´t quite sure what this book wanted to be, if it was a novel it was completely detached and lacking passion, if a history book, well it was a bit too subjective even if well-researched. 

If you want a detailed account of the complexities of the War of the Roses you could do no better than start here. And, boy, was that war complex! It made Game of Thrones look like tiddly winks... At times, however, it felt like one humongous info dump. Oh there were some very nice if tangential references to current British politics, especially with all the toings and froings with France and Burgandy, but at the end of the day I found this complex story pretty cold.
Was this review helpful?
A work of non-fiction treating about the controversial and frequently vilified York kings, Edward IV and Richard III. The book was packed with historical details and analysis, but it had moments when it read like fiction especially when the author dived directly into specific events and let the course of those events take over the narrative. 
I found it absorbing, with several interesting propositions and revelations about historical mysteries such as the Princes in the Tower.
The language was accessible. 
Informative and intriguing!
Was this review helpful?
One of thee finest pieces of historical non fiction I've ever had the pleasure to read. So important to be re-discovering a period when monarchy really mattered!
Was this review helpful?
This was an interesting read. Although I found it rather a long book and was a bit overwhelmed by all the information.  Not one to be picked up and put down. It would make an excellent reference book for anyone writing an essay for college etc. I did not find it an easy book to read on my Kindle because of all the references and would probably recommend an actual hard copy of the book. I cannot fault the research but you would need to be interested in the subject matter to fully appreciate all the work that has gone into writing this book.
Was this review helpful?
A fascinating and very well researched book.   Bloody long though and for me, not really suitable to read on a Kindle. 

Having said that, I was an enjoyable read.   The author managed to bring this period to life in a way that I hadn't read before.
Was this review helpful?
The Brothers York is predominantly the story of Edward IV as he reigned the longest of the two York kings, but the tumultuous relationship between the three brothers runs throughout the story.

The author shows us two sides of Edward, including how much of what made him impressive was also his downfall. It is interesting to read about him as a person and not just read his conquests. Richard is initially portrayed as a loving and loyal brother, it is upon Edwards death that this changes and then he eventually becomes the king that we recognise him to be.

This is an easy to read book, bringing to life the main characters of this period.
I was given a copy of The Brothers York by NetGalley and the publishers in exchange for an unbiased review.
Was this review helpful?
The Brothers York tells the story of the three brothers - Edward IV, Richard III and George, Duke of Clarence - from Edward’s taking of the throne in 1461, through the Wars of the Roses, to the Battle of Bosworth and beyond. It gives  a very full and complete history of the period, which does make it a little hard going in places.  Events were discussed in great detail, with the many characters fleshed out and brought to life. 

The Wars of the Roses is a fascinating period in England’s history and lends itself to an in depth analysis. My one disappointment was that the death of the Princes in the Tower was not covered in more detail. 

I think this is more a book to dip in and out of, rather than read in one sitting. At times there was some repetition of titles and names, as If it was expected that events in a previous chapter had been forgotten.  

A well written, detailed history book.
Was this review helpful?
This book is quite detailed in looking at the house of York from Richard through Edward IV and his siblings Clarence and Richard III and how the house imploded through infighting and changing politics in the struggles of late 15th century England. the book itself really enjoyed and a greater insight into the other part of the cousins war.
Was this review helpful?
Enthroned as a baby Henry VI is a weak and powerless king.  When his nobles kill his Uncle, the Duke of York, it sets off his demise because York's three remaining sons are out for vengeance.  The eldest is Edward, tall, strong and a powerful leader in waiting, who takes the throne after the bloody battle of Towton in 1461.  Over the next decade Edward fights to hold onto his throne as the supporters of Henry wage war but Edward has the support of his two younger brothers, Clarence and Richard.  Between them these brothers direct the course of English history for a quarter century.
This is a masterly book.  There is some criticism of Penn's portrayal of Richard but it is a balanced biography, Richard is shown as a capable administrator and soldier as well as a manipulative uncle.  The mercurial nature of loyalties is shown brilliantly and the research is second to none.  Unlike many worthy studies Penn has a modern writing style which draws the reader in and, by use of modern idiom, engages.
Was this review helpful?
Thomas Penn takes a poignant part of history, which happens to be my favourite era and retells it seamlessly. I've read many books from the same time period and came away feeling I learnt something.
Penn manages to captivate you enough to put you in the thick of it. Really enjoyed this epic tale.
Was this review helpful?
This was not the book for me so I feel it is difficult for me to give an impartial view. I am not a huge lover of historical fiction as many of my regular readers will know and this book was certainly that. I can’t dispute that it was a well researched novel following the three brothers of York however I found it heavy going and bias towards the House of Tudor. However I can think of readers who would love this book. Any fans of the Tudors or those who enjoy a weighty historical novel would find this to be a real treat.
Was this review helpful?
This is a very comprehensive and long narrative and at times I was very close to giving up on it as it is told in a series of activities in more or less chronological order.  This felt like ...and then this happened...and then this happened...and then this happened etc. which gets a little wearing after a while.  There are also many, many actors involved and you need to retain a high level of concentration in order to retain the names and relationships between everyone. Having said that, I am glad to have continued to the end and I enjoyed seeing a different side really to the three main characters (the three kings) as usually I have read historic novels covering this period and this can make the characters a little one dimensional.  I need to read something a little more light weight now, but will come back to this author again in the future.
Was this review helpful?
15th century England must be one of the most dramatic periods of Royal history. It is littered with plots, counter plots, obsession with powers and riches and has more turns than any fiction I have ever read.
Therefore reading the historical account of what happened from the time Edward the IV becomes king to when Richard III dies and Tudor rule is established was as entertaining as if reading fiction itself. 
The amount of research that has gone into this account is thoroughly impressive, captured most brilliantly in a concise manner, with salient explanations netted by referring to the accounts and publications from this time.
Perhaps popularised by modern works of fiction such as the television production of the White Queen, not to mention Shakespeare, it offers an engaging and absorbing read about the three sons of Richard, Duke of York, who together fought, won and lost the Wars of the Roses. 
This book reads as easy as fiction itself. No one can take anything for granted, no one is really safe if seen as a potential threat, no matter how loyal or vital to any political gain. At best you could lose your home and possessions, at worst your life in the most brutal and barbaric way to send a message to others and soothe paranoias.
Given the size of the book and hours’ worth of reading involved, it was never a chore and always a pleasure. Such an engaging account is a credit in itself and if you have any interest in this time period but maybe wouldn’t usually read non-fiction, I would urge you to give it a go, as I think you will be pleasantly surprised.
Was this review helpful?
I found it odd that other reviewers have likened the book to Wolf Hall or have referred to this work as being “historical fiction”. This is a nonfiction story of the York family and though Penn very cleverly gives us the sense we are there in the time and place described, it is always with a view to giving historical accuracy, rather than narrative. It’s not a taxing read and is a really good book for history fans. Having recently read other accounts of the same story, I found this one to be the most accessible. I would not necessarily however recommend this book to those who were after historical fiction - it’s not that kind of book ... and nor is it trying to be. 
Many thanks to NetGalley, the author and the publishers for a copy of this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Was this review helpful?
Thomas Penn has the most deft gift of being able to REALLY teach you history (even if you have studied it yourself) one is taken on such a journey, a true deep-dive through time. All the while Penn is dredging up all manner of detail around you, things others seem to have missed, and masterly weaves them into his narrative with an ease that leaves the reader almost forgetting that they are not actually living in the same time as the York. Book-Lag! , Penn dives so deeply, not into just history, but into his sublime story telling, that whilst reading about the Brothers York, in your minds eye, you can see and feel the patterns of stitching on their tunics! Truly inspiring reality telling, story telling and history telling. Bravo!
Was this review helpful?
This was a really expansive in-depth look at the rise and fall of both Kind Edward IV and his brother King Richard III, as well as some commentary around the history revolving the 'Princes in the Tower' and what could have happened to them. This book is about 70-80% King Edward IV, and the last 15% is King Richard III and the last 5% if even, looks at King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York with a brief paragraph on King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I.

As someone already very interested in this time period and the York rulers, and I have read historical fiction in the time period before (mainly Philippa Gregory's The White Queen series) and so was aware of some major events and players and this certainly helped. I think this is a very dense, richly packed book and you would need to have a general interest in the subject and the families to get a good enjoyment out of it.

I'm a fast reader but this book slowed my reading down considerably but it wasn't one I wanted to rush. I wanted to take in the history and understand the events and the causes and repercussions of them.

I really enjoyed this and it's very obvious that a lot of time and effort went into this book. It's not written in a way that's inaccessible to those who may not be history buffs but is also quite conversation and pleasant to read as well without losing the poignancy of the historical twists and turns.
Was this review helpful?