Alexander R Brondarbit, Soldier Rebel Traitor (Pen & Sword Military 2022)
(Reviewed by Dom Sore)
The War of the Roses was a time of conflict, uncertainty, and changing fortunes. That is not unusual in any war-torn period, but what makes it stand out is the treachery that appears to have been endemic. When you read about the period, it is easy to get lost with who is on what side and that shows why it has been so fruitful an inspiration for fiction like Game of Thrones. Most of the writing is around the main protagonists and deals with kings, princes, and dukes, but other people played their part too, and this book discusses one of them in the person of John Wenlock.
Wenlock rose from reasonably minor landowning stock to be a member of the Royal household and supporter of the Kingmaker, Warwick. We follow the parts of his story that we know about from his early years and his service in France with Henry V. The book weaves the story of John through the events he was involved in, and as he gets older, he becomes more involved. He begins as a Lancastrian, becomes a Yorkist, and ends up a Lancastrian dying at the Battle of Tewkesbury. In between, he was trusted as a diplomat, with the running of Calais, and helped besiege my two favourite castles – Warkworth and Dunstanburgh. The narrative is well executed, and Brondarbit does wonders with what source material is available given we have very little of John’s actual correspondence.
What this book isn’t is the authoritative biography it positions itself as, mainly because that primary source material isn’t available. That means we do not really get to know John, but we do know what he did. The prime example is his time in Calais when he neither supports nor disparages Warwick; was this self-preservation, a sense of duty, fear, fence sitting, pragmatism? We just do not have the information necessary; we can only guess. It also means we have very little guidance as to his motives.
The book is a good synopsis of the beginning of the Wars of the Roses based around the life of one of the more important lesser lights. It isn’t a biography, but you will learn as much as you need to about the life of john Wenlock and probably a little more. It is nice to get a better understanding of the frustrations that all historians must feel when they want to know something and the source material is lacking, leaving you with more questions than answers. Brondarbit has done a good job of working round those limitations to produce a useful addition to the library.