Review: Warwick the Kingmaker, A J Pollard

Posted: March 14, 2011 in Pollard, Richard Nevill, Earl of Warwick

Firstly, a girl can’t get enough books about Warwick. Secondly, this one is well worth the money.

Pollard begins with a summary of the ways Warwick has been viewed by recent historians and suggests that, while we’re getting to a fairly decent (cumulative) view of the man, his life and his impact on the world, we’re not quite there yet. He goes on to make the rather daring suggestion that perhaps some of Warwick’s words (frequently dismissed as ‘propaganda’) can, perhaps, be taken at face value. Maybe he wasn’t just out for what he could get – wealth, power, renown. Maybe he really did care about the common weal, maybe his concerns about ‘evil counsellors’ weren’t just a convenient fiction. From my point of view, that’s a very gratifying – and refreshing – suggestion.

Though, all in all, I was pleased with this book, there were a couple of sour notes that I might as well get out of the way early. Firstly, Warwick’s countess and daughters are all but invisible. Pollard does give the countess a few paragraphs late in the book, but I’m fast coming to the conclusion that, in regard to many mediaeval noble marriages, the female partner shouldn’t be quite so easily dismissed as she… often? frequently? nearly always? is. Pollard does suggest that, given the available evidence, their marriage was probably close, and that, as soon as he realised there would be no sons in his life, Warwick focussed all his attention on advancing the fortunes of his daughters. I agree with both analyses. In the second, I’d go a step further and say that Warwick started to look at his daughters’ futures – and what they could mean for the advancement and future of his line – in much the way he’d have looked at his sons’.

The second point I had some difficulty with was the suggestion that Warwick was a ‘serial killer’. It’s not the body count that’s in dispute – there can be no denying the bloodbath he shared with his brother John after Hexham – but the term itself. It grates a little, as does Hicks’s cloaked suggestion (in his prosopographic study of her life) that Richard duke of Gloucester may be thought of as a ‘paedophile’ for his marriage to the 14 year old Anne Nevill. Neither charge, as culturally loaded as they are, and as specific to certain psychologies as they are, have a place in the contexts in which they’re found.

I couldn’t help, while I was reading this book, finding myself comparing it with the gold standard – Hicks’s Warwick. While, if my life was at stake if I didn’t make a choice, I’d choose Hicks, I’d really much rather not have to. If you desperately need to know more about the man, buy both books.

Pollard’s is in three sections. Part 1 (Politics) is a succinct retelling of Warwick’s life. Hicks is more detailed here, but Pollard has details (and insights) of his own. He also highlights some events that Hicks doesn’t. Others he writes about with a little more clarity.

Part 2 (Power) deals with Warwick’s wealth and affinity. As someone who’s operating systems shuts down every time I see the word feofee, I rather skimmed the chapter on finances, though there were some bits that I read in more detail. This is largely because I haven’t yet come across a paper called Understanding Late Mediaeval Words to do with Owning Things. The other three chapters in this section – to do with Warwick’s affinity – I found particularly useful, especially chapter 8 Calais and the Keeping of the Seas. It’s in these chapters that we see names – Warwick’s council, his most devoted followers and those who left him before the end. (And, incidentally, here that I discovered that, until 1460, Gervase Clifton was Treasurer of Calais – while its a little exciting to discover such hidden nuggets, there’s a part of me that really wishes I could find them all (preferably in dot point) in one place!)

Some time ago, I found myself asking some questions prompted by Hicks’s new Wars of the Roses. I am delighted to announce that Pollard’s Warwick has got me a little closer to answering at least one of these. I find that I have a clearer understanding of some of the choices made by the earl of Salisbury, with regard to his sons and his brother-in-law, the duke of York.

Part 3 (Fame) looks at how Warwick-the-myth was viewed (and viewed himself) in his time, as well as how history sees, and has seen, him.

Almost as good as Hicks? No – in many ways it’s equal and in some, the internal structure of the book, the details of Warwick’s affinity, the chapter on Calais, it’s better. Pollard belongs on any bookshelf that already holds Hicks, and – like Hicks – can be used most effectively to replace Kendall.

Lastly, with 9 citations in the index, and a couple of things I didn’t already know, this book comfortably passes the Fitzhugh Test!

  1. Sass says:

    feofee. I hate that word.

    Will be sure to check this book out.

  2. Susan Higginbotham says:

    I love Pollard’s books. Great review!

  3. tudorqueen6 says:

    “In the second, I’d go a step further and say that Warwick started to look at his daughters’ futures – and what they could mean for the advancement and future of his line – in much the way he’d have looked at his sons’.” I’m glad you wrote that. People don’t seem to understand this concept and see him as taking advantage of his daughters (being a horrible father who uses them as pawns).

    • anevillfeast says:

      Thanks! Everyone other noble father in England did the same things for his daughters as Warwick did – finding them good marriages that would benefit them individually and the family as a whole. Only Warwick gets spanked for it.

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