Blood Sisters: The Women Behind the Wars of the Roses by Sarah Gristwood

Blood Sisters Blood Sisters is a non-fiction book which looks at the lives of seven women who all played an important part in the period of history known as The Wars of the Roses or the Cousins’ War – the conflict between the House of York and the House of Lancaster, two branches of the English royal family. These seven women are listed below:

* Margaret of Anjou (Marguerite), Queen to Henry VI

* Cecily Neville, the mother of two Kings of England: Edward IV and Richard III

* Elizabeth Woodville, Queen to Edward IV and mother of the ‘Princes in the Tower’.

* Margaret of Burgundy, sister of Edward IV and Richard III and wife to the Duke of Burgundy.

* Anne Neville, wife of Richard III and daughter of the Earl of Warwick (the Kingmaker)

* Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry Tudor (the future Henry VII).

* Elizabeth of York, Edward IV’s daughter and Henry VII’s wife.

Notice that I’ve defined these seven women by their relationships to the men, the Kings, and it would have been almost impossible not to do that, as their connections to the Plantagenet and Tudor Kings of England are the reasons they are still remembered today. But in this book, Sarah Gristwood shows that each of them also had an interesting story of her own and was historically important in her own right. Rather than devoting one section of the book to each woman and telling their stories separately, she weaves them together which makes sense considering that some of the women were related and several of them did meet or interact with the others in some way.

While Blood Sisters was very compelling and readable non-fiction, I have to admit I didn’t learn much that I didn’t already know about most of the women. The lives of Elizabeth Woodville and Margaret Beaufort were covered in another book I’ve read, The Women of the Cousins’ War, and a lot of the same information appears here too – though I suppose there’s a limit to how much information is actually available. Of the seven featured in this book, Margaret of Burgundy was the one I previously knew the least about and so I was particularly interested in reading about her.

As well as telling us about the major historical events of the period, Gristwood also gives us a lot of information to help us understand what daily life was like for these women: for example, records of household accounts, and descriptions of clothes worn at coronations or pageants and the dishes served at banquets. I also enjoyed reading about the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower and I appreciate the fact that Gristwood presented some of the different theories and possibilities rather than just blaming Richard III! A lot of attention is also given to the stories of the various Yorkist pretenders to the throne who caused so many problems for Henry VII during his reign, especially Perkin Warbeck, who claimed to be the younger son of Edward IV.

It’s frustrating that so much of the information we have about this period comes from the work of Thomas More and others who were writing during the Tudor period and so were likely to be biased, but Gristwood does take care to point out when something may not be completely accurate and when we need to use some caution. She explains which of her sources may have been unreliable or may have had their own reasons for wanting to portray a person or event in a certain way.

I would recommend Blood Sisters to anyone interested in learning more about this period from a female perspective and it’s also an ideal book for readers like myself who don’t often read non-fiction but want to build on the knowledge they’ve already gained through reading historical fiction.

I received a copy of this book for review via Netgalley

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8 thoughts on “Blood Sisters: The Women Behind the Wars of the Roses by Sarah Gristwood

  1. Donna says:

    I have this book on request at the library. The Women of the Cousins’ War just came in for me today. Thanks for the review.

  2. therelentlessreader says:

    I love this time period and I especially love learning about the day to day lives of women back then. And nonfiction is my fave 🙂 I guess what I’m saying is that this really sounds like the book for me! Thanks!

    • Helen says:

      Yes, this was a fascinating book! I love reading about history from a female point of view and there were so many women who played an important role in this particular time period.

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