The Brothers York: A Royal Tragedy, by Thomas Penn, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2019, $35

Fifteenth century England was torn apart by a series of civil wars between competing branches of the royal family—the ruling House of Lancaster and the usurping House of York. Emblems chosen to identify the rival factions—the red rose of Lancaster and white rose of York—provided that tumultuous era’s name, the Wars of the Roses.

Thomas Penn’s The Brothers York explains that after the 1461 Battle of Towton the war took on an entirely different character. With the defeat of the House of Lancaster, the 18-year-old Earl of March became King Edward IV, while his 11-year-old brother, George, became Duke of Clarence, and his youngest brother, 8-year-old Richard, became Duke of Gloucester. From that time on the Wars of the Roses were no longer a rivalry between Lancaster and York, but between York and York.

Penn relates the ensuing conflicts between the brothers. They’d stood united against their common Lancastrian enemies, but once Edward came to power, they could not avoid friction with one another. While the usurpation of Richard III lives in infamy, it is often forgotten the Duke of Clarence also tried to usurp Edward’s throne. The author thus makes a case that sibling rivalry was the tragic flaw that ultimately brought down the House of York.

—Robert Guttman

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