Conn Iggulden’s fictional biography of Dunstan, a 10th century Anglo-Saxon Benedictine monk, Abbot, Bishop and Archbishop, and – later – Saint, who lived through the lifetimes of seven English Kings descended from Alfred the Great: Alfred’s grandsons, King Athelstan, Edmund I and Eadred, his great-grandsons Edwy and Edgar, and great-great-grandsons Edward (the Martyr) and Æthelred the Unready.
It’s an era of great change – the emergence of England, Monastic reform and the building of great Abbeys, including two by Dunstan – Glastonbury and Canterbury.
I’m now planning to track down Tom Holland’s Athelstan in the Penguin Monarchs series to read more.
As I was reading at times it felt like Conn Iggulden was running out of steam, or enthusiasm, but having read the Epilogue I wonder if it’s more the unfathomable shift in Richard of York’s behaviour – from supportive younger brother and trusted second in command to Edward IV, to usurper and murderer of his two young nephews – whether by his hand or by another’s, his power-grab to take the throne, and as King rather than as Protector, sealed their fate.
Fascinating too to approach the rise of the Tudors from the backdrop of the Wars of the Roses: vast lands in France lost then thirty years of civil war, battles between ancient houses, leading families wiped out and Kings captured and killed. There had been nothing like it in living memory.
And Henry Tudor’s claim? In most other eras, it would have been too feeble to stand a chance: through his mother, Margaret Beaufort (remarried to Lord Thomas Stanley, which at last explains to me why he, by then Lord High Constable of England, didn’t act in Richard’s interests at the Battle of Bosworth), only child of John, 1st Duke of Somerset, the elder son of John, 1st Earl of Somerset, the younger brother of Henry IV and second son of John of Gaunt, the third son of Edward III. But after those thirty years of death and destruction, a remote possibility proved to be a panacea for all that had gone before.
The second battle of St Albans, the winter, snowbound mega battle of Towton and the recapture of King Henry VI by Edward IV, the victory of the House of York with the support of their Neville allies led by Warwick the Kingmaker – and the surprising rise of the Woodvilles.
The Wars of the Roses kick off with the diplomatic marriage of Margaret of Anjou to Henry VI resulting in the abandonment of the English Crown’s possessions in Anjou and Maine, and the English men and women who’d built their lives there including Thomas Woodchurch an archer who’s fought at Agincourt.
Add in Jack Cade’s rebellion and machinations by the Dukes and Earls descended from Edward III, and it’s a rollicking good read.