The Last White Rose: The Secret Wars Against The Tudors

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The Last White Rose by Desmond Seward, book reviewThe Last White Rose: The Secret Wars Against The Tudors by Desmond Seward has a very interesting premise. It covers the reigns of Henry VII, the first Tudor monarch, and his son Henry VIII, and focuses on the various pretenders to their throne and the plots against them. While these pretenders (Perkin Warbeck, the Earl of Warwick and Reginald Pole being the most prominent) are often discussed in histories of the Tudors, the prospect of a detailed study of the Tudors from this angle was an intriguing one.

Henry VII came to the throne in 1485, following his victory over Richard III at the battle of Bosworth. He married Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV, and their son became Henry VIII, famed for his six wives and his impressive girth later in life. As Henry VII’s claim to the throne was somewhat shaky, both had to deal with pretenders and plots to overthrow them.

The Tudor period is one of the most popular periods of English history. I recently read a letter in the BBC History magazine complaining that there was too much coverage of the Tudors in the magazine. As a result, there are a wealth of excellent biographies, histories and studies of the period.

Sadly, Desmond Seward’s The Last White Rose will not be joining them.

The Last White Rose is riddled with errors, misleading statements and omissions. The writing style has a rather “fluffy” feel to it and lacks the depth of more respected historians. Sources are rarely utilised fully, with the author making statements and adding a footnote rather than discussing his source’s claims. His main sources are chroniclers from the Tudor period (or slightly later), many of whom wrote for propaganda purposes.

Allow me to give a few examples of these problems. The first, and perhaps most glaring one, relates to the fate of the Princes in the Tower. As anyone with an interest in fifteenth/sixteenth century will know, it is still a mystery as to what happened to them. There are arguments that Richard III or Henry VII killed them, but although there are strong opinions on the subject, no one knows for certain. Except Desmond Seward – he informs us that Richard III killed them. Now, most writers on the subject have their own opinion on what happened, but good writers are objective and present both sides of the case. Seward presents as fact that the princes were killed by Richard III, or on his orders – he doesn’t even reason why this is his conclusion.

Next up we have the popularity of Henry VIII. He was a bit of a tyrant in his later years especially, and was feared, but Seward drastically exaggerates Henry’s unpopularity. He seems to think that no one, outside the king’s closest advisors, likes him or wants him on the throne. Seward presents him as being universally loathed and feared, even by the commoners. Henry VIII was unpopular particularly for his religious reforms, but the people did not (in general) want to see him off the throne – they just wanted their religion to remain as it was. The Pilgrimage of Grace is an example of this.

Continuing, Seward informs us that Katherine of Aragon wanted to depose Henry VIII in favour of their daughter Mary – Mary was also in favour of this plan. I have never heard this before, and I really think it is nonsense – all Katherine wanted was to be reunited with her husband, who by this point had cast her aside for Anne Boleyn. Seward looks at this idea from the idea that Mary could marry Reginald Pole, which would please the Yorkists, but if this plot existed it is much more likely that it was so the Catholic faith could be re-established in England.

Finally, the author expects far too much knowledge on the part of his reader. This is not a straightforward history of the Tudors, but he should still make sure that all relevant facts are presented. Examples of omissions include a sudden reference to the Bishop of Rome, when at no point has he informed his readers that Henry VIII said the pope was to be known by this title after his break with Rome. Another example would be the sudden appearance of Princess Elizabeth in the narrative – we hear nothing of her birth and Seward only vaguely lets us know that her mother was Anne Boleyn.

I read the Kindle edition, and there were a number of formatting and grammar problems in it. There were typos, not so frequent as to be problematic, but still annoying – one which really stood out to me was when Thomas Cromwell was referred to as “Comwell”.

The Last White Rose really had a lot of promise, and could have been a truly fascinating book. It was interesting to learn more about the pretenders, but given how many errors or misleading statements were present in the book, I cannot accept that anything new I learnt from it was accurate.

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Last White Rose, The: The Secret Wars Against The Tudors
by Desmond Seward

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Written by eilidhcatriona

A Scottish lass in her late twenties living in London. A prolific reader always interested in something new.

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