This is a story that ends badly, with a ‘wretched and blundering youth’ hacking at the head and shoulders of an old lady dressed in new shoes. The lady, Margaret Pole, is the last Plantagenet, executed on the orders of Henry VIII. Yet Dan Jones’s thrilling account of the War of the Roses and the ‘rise of the Tudors’ begins so very differently.
Children dressed as angels, with gold-painted faces, sang ‘Hail flower of England, knight of Christendom’ as they greeted Henry V on his return to London following the great victory at Agincourt in 1415. Five years later, the king was regent of France, heir to the French throne and married to Catherine of Valois. ‘It is not recorded’, wrote one admiring chronicler, ‘that any king of England ever accomplished so much in so short a time’.