Dan Spencer, The Castle in the Wars of the Roses (Pen & Sword, 2020)
The Wars of the Roses were noteworthy for their colourful cast of characters competing for the English crown, savage battles decided by close combat, and crumbling codes of medieval chivalry when loyalty and treachery clashed. Castles seem to be conspicuously missing from the scene, treated as an anachronism by many contemporary and modern chroniclers. Dan Spencer is here to address that neglect and return castles to their rightful place in the Wars of the Roses tapestry.
Spencer begins with a helpful overview of castle development from William the Conqueror to the 15th Century, demonstrating their multifunctional purpose at the heart of English military, political, and economic life. He complements that with the background story leading into the Wars of the Roses in which besieged castles play their part. And that is how Spencer proceeds, weaving a mostly familiar narrative between unfamiliar locations and events. In following him, we visit castles the length and breadth of England and Wales – having lived in Northumberland, I found the stories of those castles particularly interesting. We also find out how sieges were conducted in war – thirty-six of them apparently – and how castles were built and modified in peace. Spencer concludes that castles played a significant role in the Wars of the Roses, though in some places and times more than others. He adds appendices on notable characters, recorded and possible sieges, and recorded garrisons. It is also worth noting that Spencer includes an excellent set of notes to accompany his text and a proper bibliography.
In some ways, this is a straightforward retelling of the Wars of the Roses narrative. But it’s as if Spencer has travelled down a different road to get there. He has written an engaging text full of those little side stories that make the Wars of the Roses so interesting outside of the more obvious dynastic powerplays. A collection of diagrams and colour plates of castles helps his cause. Readers of the Wars of the Roses and castles will enjoy this book and appreciate Spencer’s contribution to both fields.