Blood Sisters: The Hidden Lives of the Women Behind the Wars of the Roses by Sarah Gristwood - review by Linda Porter

Linda Porter

Wearing the Breeches

Blood Sisters: The Hidden Lives of the Women Behind the Wars of the Roses


HarperPress 400pp £20

In fifteenth-century England there was a ceremony of formal reconciliation known as a ‘Loveday’. Such a poetic term, with its undertones of chivalry and Christian values, spoke of an optimism often belied by harsher reality. This can seldom have been more so than on 25 March 1458, when Margaret of Anjou, the redoubtable queen of Henry VI, walked hand in hand in a Loveday procession through the streets of London with Richard, Duke of York, the monarch’s cousin and challenger to his throne. It is a powerful image: the determined and, by several accounts, attractive Frenchwoman walking alongside the stocky figure of the man who threatened the inheritance of her four-year-old son. For form’s sake, both were willing to grit their teeth and go through with the charade. There was no love lost between Margaret and Richard, and the brief appearance of amity was hollow. Just a year later, the hostility between rival Lancastrian and Yorkist groups had reached such a pitch that Margaret, her husband and son withdrew to Coventry (the Midlands were the queen’s power base, where she held most of her dower lands). At a great council held in the city the Yorkist lords were indicted for treason. But all did not go well for Margaret. After a series of battles and skirmishes so typical of this troubled period of civil war, her husband was captured at Northampton in 1460. The queen and her young son fled first to Wales and thence by boat to Scotland. It was the beginning of a long and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to safeguard the inheritance of Prince Edward, who would die at the Battle of Tewkesbury eleven years later.

The woman immortalised as Shakespeare’s ‘she-wolf of France’ in Henry VI is one of the key figures of Sarah Gristwood’s entertaining and vividly drawn new book. In Blood Sisters we learn another side of the conflict recently fictionalised by Philippa Gregory as the ‘Cousins’ War’. This is the true story

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