2007: 13. Blood and Roses

“Paston Village, Norfolk.  November 2004.  A cold wind, heavy with salt, drags across the churchyard.  The sea, less than a mile away, is invisible over the gentle rise of open fields, but its presence can be felt everywhere, in the vastness of the sky and the closeness of the wide horizon.”

Blood and Roses: One Family’s Struggle and Triumph During the Tumultuous Wars of the Roses, Helen Castor

I bought this book at the Cloisters in New York, since all that medieval art left me wanting to know more about the time period, and since my new thing at historic sites/museums is to purchase a book relating to the site – feeding my souvenir needs and penchant for amassing books all in one go. Blood and Roses is billed as “A family biography lovingly crafted from letters written during dark and bloody decades during, before, and after the Wars of the Roses.” It tells the story of three generations of Paston family from about 1440 to 1490, using this remarkable trove of letters that they left behind.

I had mixed feelings about the book. I enjoyed the refresher it gave me on the Wars of the Roses, especially since Jon and I are going to see Richard III this week, and I needed to be reminded what exactly was going on there, and who everyone was. I was little disappointed by the biographical stuff, though. I was led to believe that that the story would be about the family and their lives, when really it is about their struggles to maintain their (newly elevated) social position, and the legal battles they had to keep the lands they had bought. This was absolutely interesting stuff – I had no idea how litigious people were at this time, how fragile the social order was, and how important land was (important enough for Lords to send armies and set siege to each other’s manors). I was just expecting the book to be less about history and legal battles more about what the people were really like. In retrospect, this was a little naïve – what sort of letters was I expecting these to be? The mere fact that they still exist is remarkable enough, without expecting there to be novelistic character development. Still, I had expected something a little different, and thus I was a little let down.

Recommend for: People who are interested in late medieval/Early Renaissance England; people who like reading about complicated property disputes; people about to see Richard III, and need a quick refresher on the Wars of the Roses.


Date/Place Completed: 01/31/07, D.C.

Categories: Non-Fiction

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017