The Sunne in Splendour, Sharon Kay Penman

And now, the Plantagenets and the Wars of the Roses. Can someone British please tell me how British schoolchildren feel about learning the Wars of the Roses? Because I can see it two ways. On one hand, I can imagine it would be a great relief to get out of the thicket of battles and mess and dethronings and usurpations and arguing that went on all through the fifteenth century. On the other hand, I love political scheming and the Wars of the Roses are all schemes all the time.

The Sunne in Splendour (Amazon, B&N, Book Depository) is about my man Richard III. It has some tics, chief amongst them being the addition of helping verbs where the primary verbs did not truly require extra assistance, and the exclusion of grammatically warranted conjunctions. These things are a bit annoying. But set against those tics are ALL THE SCHEMES, y’all seriously, I can’t overstate how much I love schemes. It was also nice to reacquaint myself with this period in British history. I read a ton of books (nonfiction ones) about Richard III when I was in middle school because I’d just read Daughter of Time (of course), but it’s been ages since I took an active interest. Reading The Sunne in Splendour reminded me what a fascinating and insane time the fifteenth century was in British history. Can anyone recommend a good history of the Wars of the Roses? I won’t read Alison Weir because I think she’s bullshit, but I will take any other suggestions.

In case you do not know or have forgotten, here is the story of Richard III: He was the fourth son of a man who believed that his claim to the throne of England was better than that of the current king of England. Machinations ensued in which Richard’s father and oldest brother were killed, whereupon Richard’s second brother, Edward, began angling to get the throne. There were some battles, Edward was good at armies, and he did indeed become king (Edward IV). He married a widow with a gazillion ghastly relatives and dealt with a number of rebellions and malcontents, including his and Richard’s ridiculous brother George. Richard meanwhile married a woman whose father and first husband were both executed traitors; and they appear to have been happy as clams together so I guess he married for love. Very inconveniently, Edward IV died when his sons were still teenagers. Richard had the sons declared illegitimate (the validity of this declaration is in question) and took over the crown. And then Richard’s son died and then his wife died and then Henry VII showed up and took over the crown and killed Richard in a great big battle.

(Henry VII was not a good guy.)

The end.

As it’s been a while since I engrossed myself in Tudor/Plantagenet history, I kept having minor (but boring) epiphanies while reading this novel. For instance I realized that Thomas Grey (Edward IV’s wife’s son from a previous marriage) was most likely related to the Nine Days’ Queen, Lady Jane Grey, poor dear. I also realized that Robb Stark from Game of Thrones owes quite a bit to Edward IV. Edward’s family were lords in the North; like Robb Stark, Edward IV was a gifted and lucky military commander at a very young age; and also like Robb Stark, he did not marry who he was meant to marry but instead made a catastrophic marriage to a nobody. (Not, like, Red Wedding catastrophic, in Edward IV’s case. But pretty bad.) I was irritated with myself for not noticing this sooner! I knew this about Edward IV, and I also knew that George R.R. Martin was like, Wars of the Roses guy. Stupid stupid Jenny.

I enjoyed The Sunne in Splendour as a Wars-of-the-Roses-story delivery system, and as a supporter of Richard III who I also like and I really don’t think he killed his nephews so there. The prose had, as I said, some tics; and in the end I didn’t finish reading the book because it depressed me too much to read on to the part where Richard III was going to die. I kept being struck by how young he was — he had his first command when he was seventeen, became king at thirty-one, and died at thirty-three. That is too sad, even if he did become king by slightly underhand methods.

(Honestly even if Richard III made up the whole thing about Edward’s children being illegitimate, I still think it was the smart play. You will note that when a different kid called Edward with ambitious maternal relatives became king in 1547, things did not go that well for England.)

So! Recommend me a good history of the Wars of the Roses please! I am curious to read a proper history (not a novel) and see what is known and what is not really known. Litlove I do not mean to put you on the spot but I feel like you will know what book I should read about the Wars of the Roses. I kept going online to check whether things in The Sunne in Splendour were true or not. Like apparently Richard really did find Anne Neville working as a serving woman somewhere (either because she was hiding, or because Richard’s ridiculous brother George was hiding her in order to take her lands) and take her back to to London and marry her. That sounds fake. I am still sort of suspicious about that. But anyway if it is made up, Sharon Kay Penman is not the one who made it up.

Note: The above links to places you can buy this book are affiliate links. If you click on them and then buy a book from that website, I get a very small amount of money. This in no way influences my reviews.

  • This all sounds awesome and you totally used the word “machinations” which moved this review into the stratosphere of awesome. Just sayin’.

    • Gin Jenny

      Hahahah, if I’d known that’s all it took to move a review into the stratosphere of awesome, I’d have done that like WAY long ago. :p

  • I have never read SKP. Should I? And why is Alison Weir BS? Enquiring minds want to know!

    • Gin Jenny

      I don’t know if you SHOULD. The book was entertaining but it was veeeery long. BS might have been a strong way to put it about Alison Weir, but basically I think she’s sort of a sappy historian, and she gets sentimental about all the wrong stuff. She thinks Mary Queen of Scots was all wronged and martyred which she soooooo was not, and she’s very down on Richard III. And I think she maybe dislikes Anne Boleyn? She just likes all the wrong people.

      (The Mary Queen of Scots thing is inexcusable to me. Mary Queen of Scots was a moron. Everyone feels so sorry for her because she got executed, but honestly, she WOULD NOT STOP getting up these idiotic rebellions against Elizabeth. She didn’t deserve to get executed because that’s always wrong, but given the times I don’t know any ruler who wouldn’t have done the same.)

  • As a British teacher who teaches the Wars of the Roses to ten year olds, I can say that they love it. We don’t go into all of the details, it’s more of an intro to a larger unit on the Tudors, but the boys especially love a bit of political intrigue and gruesome battle!

    • Gin Jenny

      See, that sounds really fun. I bet young me would have liked the Wars of the Roses a lot — I also like political intrigue and gruesome battle.

  • aartichapati

    I really loved this one when I read it but I admit I don’t really love any of SKP’s other books (though Here Be Dragons was one I did enjoy), so I don’t know if it would stand up to a re-read. She gets a bit bogged down in the details, I feel, and I’ve noticed that any man who seems unable to get his wife pregnant in her books seems to blame himself which I feel is unlikely for the MIddle Ages…

    • Gin Jenny

      Hahaha, yeah, I think you’re right — history seems to indicate to us that the dudes blamed their wives.

  • SO glad I’m not royalty. No matter how bad my day is, I can always say to myself, “Well, at least I am not ROYALTY.”

  • HL

    There is a petition to get this book made into a TV series. Here is the link! I am trying to find SKPenman fans to sign this thing!
    http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/for-a-bbc-tv-adaptation-of-the-sunne-in-splendour/