An even worse book? "Battles of the Wars of the Roses". A book review.

 Sometimes you know a book is being published, and you get quite excited about the thought of it. You think "that sounds like exactly the book I want/need". Then it arrives, and you start to read with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. What if the book isn't what I expected? That was sort of where I was with Tom Lewis' book on medieval combat, which I reviewed here.

Before Mike Ingram died we'd been discussing the next book we'd write together. One of the options was an updated version of Philip Haigh's "Military Campaigns of the Wars of the Roses". Haigh's book at the time was 25 years old, and with all the research being done, it was about time for a new single volume military history. Then word came through that Pen & Sword had signed up David Cohen, who runs the "Wars of the Rose and Medieval History" Facebook group to write a book called "Battles of the Wars of the Roses". As Mike had died by that point it felt like there was now no need for me to try and work out what we would have done.

In the run up to publication I started hearing suggestions that there might be some issues with the book. That it might not deliver on all of the promises made. Still, it can't be that bad, surely. The guy has been researching the Wars of the Roses for 40 years, and his Facebook group has a following of over 13,000 people. Really well respected writers on the period post on that group, and there's a lot of good stuff there.

How wrong I was. Trust me, dear reader. This is a bad book. Very bad indeed. It is not just bad, it is utterly pointless. It fills no gap in the market at all. It is another book on the period written by someone with no formal training in how to write or research history. To explain exactly why it is so bad I have broken this review down in to several categories

Historical Methodology

When writing history it is important that the reader knows where you got your information from. At the top end of scholastic publications this can be by the use of footnotes, often every other sentence. This can be irritating, but when you make a categorical factual statement it is essential that this can be checked. As a maths teacher would put it "show your working". In books that are less academic then you can cut back on the footnotes and refer to the sources in the body of the text. As you move into avowedly "popular" history then footnotes often disappear entirely, but you should get a detailed bibliography and list of sources at the back of the book. The best books break these down into general and chapter specific secondary sources, and then have a list of primary sources as well. Now we are in the internet age, you will also get a list of websites consulted, if they have been important in the research. Getting the references right is a real faff, so that's why popular history mostly doesn't do it, but at least you know, in theory, that the author has indeed read that book on that battle that everyone says is the most up to date account.

For the general reader this type of historical discipline often isn't important. They just want a book that tells them what happened, and I can understand that. As I have a history degree I tend to be a bit more sceptical if I can't see where something has come from. Thanks Professor Luscombe and others. It is also good to check if the writer has actually consulted the source material concerned, or has read a book that quotes it and has passed that quote off as their own research. 

It is also important that the writer is aware of the historiography as well as the history. Whilst writers often pride themselves on only using primary sources, understanding why we think what we think is important. Knowing what other historians have written on a subject may colour the writer's views, so can be presented as a reason for not reading secondary works. However, primary sources aren't all clear cut. They often won't tell you why they were written or by who. Earlier historians may have worked that out for you. And if you are trying to be original, then knowing what has gone before is sort of essential.

How does this book match up to these requirements? Well, for a start there are no footnotes, and very few in-text references, except to quote from a few sources. There is no acknowledgement of any other secondary work in the text at all. All illustrations are without attribution, except for one. What that means is that if someone else's work is used, that's plagiarism, as you are passing off someone else's work as your own. I'm not saying this book is plagiarised, but the signs aren't good, and I've noted some examples where it looks like we are sailing close to the wind below. There are a few clear statements of fact which are really interesting if true. But I can't verify that they are, so they are useless to me. To say that Queen Margaret was in Eccleshall Castle on the 10th July 1460 and not in Northampton when the battle is being fought is really interesting. It's certainly not what I thought, and if it is true it changes my view on a few things. But I can't know, and I can't quote this book as a reference if I want to say that elsewhere.

I'm also not clear on whether the primary sources have been consulted anyway, even where they are quoted in the text. At least one quotation I recognised from another history book. It is the same quotation, but it is listed here as being from a completely different source. I am left with the feeling that the author read the secondary source, and didn't actually read the primary. That's quite serious.

In respect of the historiography, except for a discussion about the Princes in the Tower, there is very little acknowledgement of any of the historical debate around the period. The development of our understanding over the last two decades is not covered at all, despite the book claiming that it uses the most recent archaeological and documentary research. Which brings us to my next heading:

Research

What research has been done to produce this book? In the absence of any references, we must turn to the Bibliography and the Primary Sources listed. There are also no websites or internet resources listed, which is odd. I know that many of the matters covered by the book have been discussed on the author's Facebook group, and I have joined in some of those discussions, but I cannot take that as research, and I don't think anyone else would do. It's the modern day equivalent of "this bloke told me down the pub". 

Whilst this book is targeted at actual warfare during the Wars of the Rose, in practice it gives a lot of background to explain why things are happening or happened. This is all to the good. The book therefore opens with Edward III's invasion of France, and runs through, quickly, Richard II, Henry IV, & V, Henry VI, the loss of France and all the other comings and goings that bring us to St Albans in 1455. It ends Stoke Field in 1487. That's quite a spread of history, so there's a lot of books covering what is being written about out there. For example, Alison Weir's book "Lancaster & York" published in 1995, which covers a similar period, lists about 120 secondary works and 109 Primary Sources. (My own book on Edgcote, which covers about 6 months in 1469 and only really looks at the campaign and battle itself, lists 26 secondary sources, and reprints extracts from 15 primary sources).

So how big is the Bibliography here? It runs to two pages, and lists 12 (yes, twelve) secondary sources and 18 (yes, eighteen) primary sources. It does not list any online resources. This is a small list by any standards for any book wanting to be taken seriously and covering this span of history. 

The secondary source books that make the cut are these, together with my comments:

  • Ashdown-Hill, John: The Wars of the Roses 2015
    An interesting choice for a general history. Lots if ideas in it, but it isn't the best single volume book on the Wars of the Roses out there. It's a marmite book. You'll love it or hate it, but you can't ignore it.
  • Ashdown-Hill, John: The Mythology of the Princes in the Tower 2020
    Not read this one. Don't know why you'd need a chapter requiring use of this book in a book about battles. Still, it is probably the most complete Ricardian defence of Richard, so if you are going to write about the Princes, you need to read it.
  • Burley, Peter; Elliot, Michael; Watson, Harvey: The Battles of St Albans 2017
    Top notch book on both battles. Excellent choice. Mike Elliott is a battlefield guide at St Albans, so he knows the terrain really well. He's also a long standing wargamer, so likes to get the fighting bits right.
  • Gillingham, John: The Wars of the Roses, Peace and Conflict in 15th Century England 2018
    Gillingham's been an influential writer on the period since the 1980s. Good choice.
  • Gravett, Chris: Tewkesbury 1471: The last Yorkist victory 2009
    The Osprey on the battle. It's a good Osprey, as far as I can tell. Tewkesbury isn't a battle I know well enough to criticise it.
  • Haigh, Philip: The Military Campaigns of the Wars of the Roses 1997
    Ah, yes. The grand daddy of WotR military history studies in the modern age. Badly in need of an update, but as wargamers we'd all be worse off without it.
  • Lewis, Matthew: The Wars of the Roses: The Key Players in the Struggle for Supremacy 2016
    Not read this. Matt's other books are usually solid, so I'd expect this to be the same.
  • Moorhouse, Dan: On this day in the Wars of the Roses 2021
    This book is a bit of fun, really. Excellent as day-by-day trivia, but the format of one day per page means that subjects can't always be dealt with in the detail you'd need if you were using it for anything other than as a date checker.
  • Reedman, J.P: Blood of Roses, Edward IV and Towton 2018
    Not read this one. That's because IT IS A WORK OF FICTION.
  • Sadler, John: Towton: The Battle of Palm Sunday Field 1461 2014
    On my pile of "to read" books. A proponent of Towton is the biggest and bloodiest battle school of thought
  • Weir, Alison: Lancaster and York; The Wars of the Roses 1998
    Not necessarily highly regarded by serious historians, but I have a soft spot for Weir, because she takes Wavrin seriously. It is now over 25 years old. 
  • Williams, D.T: The Battle of Bosworth 1975
    Seriously? A 24 page pamphlet published in 1975? The scholarship on Bosworth has moved on since then, as has the battlefield.
It is a list with serious shortcomings. Only 4 out of the 17 battles covered are covered by a book dedicated to it. What about Barnet? Northampton? Edgcote? Stoke Field? Wakefield? Mortimer's Cross? Blore Heath? I have books on all of them, and I'm not even trying (okay, so I wrote one of them, but you know what I mean). There may be others I haven't looked for. There are good monographs missing from this list on the battles which do get a book. Where is Foard & Curry's book on the Bosworth archaeology? Its omission is odd, given the claim to include the most recent archaeological research. Also missing is Tim Sutherland's seminal "Killing Time" paper on Ferrybridge, Ditingdale and Towton, which you can download for free. The author has claimed to have read it, via his Facebook group, which makes its omission from the bibliography odd, even if he disagrees with its findings.

I won't go through the list of Primary Sources, although I will note that there's no usage of any of the State Papers / Calendar rolls etc listed. The publications listing the sources also do not include the most recent version of many of them, contained in Embree & Tavormina's "Contemporary English Chronicles", which identify a number of problems with the old Victorian era publications. 

The reason for not reviewing each one individually will be given below.

Accuracy and other bad practice

We all make mistakes when writing, and you can't include everything. However, some mistakes are easy to avoid, and won't arise if your research is diligent enough.

I didn't fact check the entire book. Life is too short for that. But I did where something caught my eye and made me doubt myself or wonder. And some things I didn't need to fact check because I knew they were wrong.

I'll start with the Primary Source as listed in the book, Stow's Annales, which are quoted from in the chapter on St Albans, because it made me seriously doubt the usage of primary sources. Two different sources have John Stow's name attached to them. One is his publication of the contemporary Yorkist propaganda piece, called "The Relation" or similar, and the other is his "Annales", which is his history of England, written at the back end of the 16th century. The Relation isn't listed in the primary sources, and in the book a quotation from it is erroneously listed as being from the "Annales". In fact, it looks like the quotation has been lifted directly from the Burley/Elliott/Watson book on the two battles. Mixing up what was contemporary propaganda with a book written as a work of history over 125 years later is an inexcusable error, and shows a lack of understanding of the sources.

He also quotes in English from Whethamstede several times, although the listing in the bibliography is for the Latin version. The translation is identical to that in Burley et al. Of course, as there are no references, I can't say for sure whether this is plagiarism or not, but I have confirmed with one of the authors that the translations were prepared especially for the book. I haven't bothered to check any of the other quotations used in the book, as I don't have all of the works otherwise claimed to have been used, according to the bibliography. 

Accusations of plagiarism aside, simply paraphrasing another historians work is nearly as bad. Compare these two paragraphs about the post Empingham period, the first from this book, the second from Alison Weir's*

p116 Cohen: "On 24 March 1470, King Edward denounced the Earl of Warwick and Clarence as great traitors and rebels, with a bounty placed on their heads, and summoned them to appear before him. Edward then left York on 27 March and marched south to Nottingham and Coventry with the aim of capturing them."

pp362-3 Weir "On 24 March the King issued a proclamation denouncing both Warwick and Clarence as traitors and "great rebels" and putting a price on their heads. He then issued a further summons ordering them to appear before him by 28 March at the latest or be dealt with as traitors. On the 27th he left York with his host to hunt them down, marching south via Nottingham and Coventry".

If you have the two books you can check the next couple of pages for yourself. I'm not going to retype them all here.

My biggest concern, however, is over the accounts of the battles of Northampton and Edgcote, as I hold a watching brief over them as Chair of Northamptonshire Battlefields Society.

The account of Northampton is troublesome in several ways. Cohen has chosen to illustrate it with a map taken from Ramsey's "Lancaster & York" published in 1892. The use of Ramsey’s 19th century map places the battle in the wrong place. The location of the battlefield, as given on the English Heritage Register in an entry written by Glenn Foard, the leading battlefield archaeologist in the country at the time, places it between the Abbey and the Eleanor Cross, not on the site of the old railway sidings as indicated on Ramsey's map. The Register entry was first made in the 1990s. It has been updated since, and the location discussed and refined further at the 550th anniversary conference in 2010. Since then, the Northamptonshire Battlefields Society has published Mike Ingram’s book on the subject in 2015, which fixes the battlefield pretty securely in the grounds of Delapr√© Abbey. Cohen’s book rolls back nearly three decades of research in less than 6 pages. In terms of the description of the battle the opening skirmishes that led to part of Northampton being burnt down are completely overlooked. He seems to be unaware of the other reason believed to account for the non-firing Lancastrian guns, and the finding of the oldest cannon ball located on a battlefield in England. To round it all off, apparently Queen Margaret wasn’t even in Northampton, but was hiding out in Eccleshall Castle. Presumably still there after the Battle of Blore Heath, but see comment above. 

The chapter on Edgcote runs to 7 pages, and doesn’t include a map. The chapter is longer than that on Northampton, but that’s because it covers the period after the battle in July up to the end of December the same year. To be fair, Cohen gets the date right, and also can spell Edgcote too (except on the “battles map”, where it is called “Edgecote Moor”).  However, the description is sorely lacking. He claims Sir John Conyers is Robin of Redesdale, and that Redesdale dies in the battle. Which is odd, as Conyers was still alive 21 years later. He places the fighting at the crossing of the River Cherwell. As we now know the battle was fought across a tributary to the river, not the river itself. This was determined by new documentary research into Waurin’s account which identified the tributary location, backed up by the archaeology done as a result of HS2, which found no evidence of fighting at all at the Trafford Bridge site on the River Cherwell. He conflates the arrival of Gates and Parr with that of Clapham and identifies Parr as the leader of Warwick’s cavalry at Edgcote. I would very much like to see the supporting evidence for being that precise. 

I mentioned above about attribution for illustrations. All of the maps, and most, if not all, of the illustrations are sourced from the internet, and at least one of the family trees. Several of the maps (only six battles get them) are taken directly from Wikipedia. This means, of course, that the description of the battle has to conform to the maps downloaded. And even Wikipedia has standards and gives the required attribution text. So, JAPPALANG, whoever you are or were in 2011 when you drew the Towton maps, here's the credit you deserve. And for Barnet too.

The other major omission in a military history book is any discussion at all about how battles were actually fought, and the composition of armies. We are told that armies have archers, billmen and pikemen. I'm not sure about the regular presence of pikemen, especially as he places them at 1st St Albans, which is a small battle, where the armies are all home grown and the pike isn't really an English weapon at this time. He also puts them at Blore Heath. Modern accounts of the battle do not include pikes, although they do appear in Twemlow's 1902 account, and Oman is lazy about using the term in his biography of Warwick. In short, you will learn nothing about Wars of the Roses armies and warfare from reading this book. As a wargamer, I can firmly state that there is nothing in this book that illuminates the period for me.

And John Stacy was an astrologer, not an astronomer. And the "bars" at St Albans are spelt with a capital "B". They mean "gate", they don't mean the beam that blocks the road. If you take the beam away, the area is still a Bar.

Writing Style

This section is highly subjective, so feel free to ignore it.

I leave this to last, as writing styles are very personal, and what one person likes someone else might hate. This book, to me, is excruciating to read. It has many short paragraphs, often starting with On such and such a date, such and such happened. I can't grasp any form of theme, I don't know what thesis, if any, the writer is trying to develop around the period. It does look, from time to time, like a number of Facebook posts bolted together, but I can't prove that one way or the other without trawling back through the FB group concerned, and I've spent enough time cross checking information for this post. The text is clumsy. We are told that Warwick "kept a lavish household in London, where he dispensed his lavish hospitality". The section on Cade's Rebellion uses "Jack Cade" at least once in every paragraph. Having established it's Jack Cade, surely you can drop the Jack thereafter. And its always "William Lord Hastings". There's only one other Hastings in the book, and he doesn't appear until the end. It looks like someone desperately trying to get the word count up. And continued use of "in the land" or "across the land" makes it sound like some cod fantasy book ("much bloodshed throughout the land" for example) I'd have been embarrassed to hand any of this in as either an A Level or undergraduate essay (and I can check, because sad that I am, I still have a lot of mine in a file next to my desk). 

So, to summarise by giving scores out of 5:

Historical Methodology:    0/5

Research:                            0/5

Accuracy:                           1/5

Writing style:                     0/5

Total                                    1/20 

He only gets 1 out of 5 for accuracy because the dates I've checked are correct.

Conclusions

I've been at this post for several hours now, which is more than the book deserves, but if this in anyway stops this nonsense being taken seriously then it is time well spent. I posted what are legitimate concerns about the depiction of Northampton and Edgcote in the book in my capacity as Chair of the Northamptonshire Battlefields Society on our Facebook group. When I shared this to the "Wars of the Roses and Medieval History" group of which David Cohen is an admin, it was not unsurprisingly blocked. When I asked why, I was told it was because it was a "hatchet job". As a "hatchet job" is an unfair attack on a person in the disguise of something else, I think that's unfair. I have no interest in attacking David Cohen. I don't know him. I do have an interest in my local battles. Even this post isn't a hatchet job. I have identified and raised serious concerns about the accuracy and provenance of the contents of the book. It's publisher's description and book jacket make statements about the book that are untrue. It does not make use of any up to date archaeological or documentary research. This book adds NOTHING to our understanding of the period. In fact, with the views expressed it rolls back scholarship nearly 30 years if it is taken seriously. Pen and Sword need to look seriously at how this book got to be published.

This book is worse than Tom Lewis'. At the end of that review I recommended picking his book up when it got remaindered, as there are some interesting ideas in there, for example on the size of Towton and medieval battles generally. This book has no redeeming features. As a military history it tells us nothing new. As a single volume history of the period it adds nothing to the likes of Weir, if you want a popular history. It fails utterly and completely to deliver on sharing new research of any type. It is a bad, bad, book and if anyone read the manuscript before publication and said nothing they should be as ashamed as Pen and Sword. The book needs withdrawing and pulping. 

It is truly that bad and pointless.

* I owe this piece of detective work to David Grummitt. 

Comments

  1. Thank you for alerting us to this. I wish I was surprised. There are few publishers left in the UK who can tell a trebuchet from a toothbrush; scripts go from author's laptop to the printed page without passing through the brain of an editor. Gone are the days when my wife, editing a historical novel, could say on the phone 'hang on, I'll just check that, my husband is at his wargames table with three medievalists.'

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    1. Just seen a 5* review posted on Amazon by one of his chums describing it as a masterpiece. One of the 1* reviews has been taken down. David Grummitt's 1* review hasn't been posted and it has been over a day since he wrote it.

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  2. I feel it is the duty of the reviewer to call out bad publications and present a well thought out critique. My thoughts are that book has suffered from the 'get it out quick' mentality that appears to pervade the non-fiction (historical) scene these days. Not my area of interest but would not like to think of people wasting money on badly written stuff

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    1. There is a possibility it has been produced too quickly, but the author claims to have studied the period for 40 years, and spent the last 2 years writing this book. I fear he is an enthusiastic amateur who bit off more than he could chew and then wouldn't listen to any advice. I know he ignored me on his FB group when I suggested he might like to look at some of his ideas again.

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  3. Graham, you pull no punches again in a book review. You back up your claims too. Commendable.
    Pre-publish editing definitely seems to be a lost art especially among certain publishing houses. You should have been the editor. I thought it funny that a work of historical fiction made the bibliography.

    Based upon your recent experimentation with chatbots, could you distinguish whether this work was the creation of a human or machine? Some of the issues you surface with this book seem present in your chatbot trial. That is, a broad knowledge of the topic but getting some of the details and sources wrong. That might make for an interesting compare and contrast to see if the book could pass the Turing Test. Curious that later research was overlooked in favor of more dated narratives.

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    1. I could have just said that it was a bad book and don't bother with it, but that then begs the question why? It is hilarious that there's a work of fiction in the bibliography, but not Curry and Foard on Bosworth. As I've said, this book ignores all the work that my late friend, Mike Ingram, dedicated his life too. If he was alive, he'd have ordered it, and then been on the phone to me the moment he'd started reading it. I owed it to him as much as anything to make sure this nonsense doesn't spread any further. There is too much of the idea that anyone can write history, and that only the amateur really gets to the truth of the Wars of the Roses. For every Phillipa Langley who gets it right, there's at least one David Cohen. Here's me flying the flag for historians who do things properly.

      And I know this book was written by a real person. But I would say that my discussion with the chatbot was probably more productive. at least that listened and was prepared to change itsmind.

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    2. "And I know this book was written by a real person. But I would say that my discussion with the chatbot was probably more productive. at least that listened and was prepared to change its mind."

      Now, this is funny!

      I expect that your conclusion is exactly why AI (or machine learning/NLP) applications will be curtailed once governments realize AI allows society to discern truth from propaganda.

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    3. We'll never mistake AI for human until they select an entrenched position on an issue and refuse to change their mind regardless of the evidence.

      As a fan of Iain M Banks science fiction I'm just waiting for the debate about how we determine sentience, and if it is decided an AI is sentient, can we ever turn it off.

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  4. A very interesting - and entertaining! - review, Trebian. The only sources for the WoR I have are Shakespeare (Richard III being favourite), three little volumes of Heraldic Banners of WoR by Thomas Coveney and a fourth of standards, badges and livery by Pat McGill and Jonathan Jones. For a casual visitor to this topic a thorough review indicating the worth of this or that account is a godsend.
    Thank you.
    Cheers,
    Ion

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    1. You do know that Shakespeare isn't history, RIII doubly so. Should you ever enter the cess[pit of debate that is Richard III's reputation, the opening line from Ricardians is always "You only think he was horrible because of Shakespeare". In my case, never read it, never seen it. I had a lecture at University in the early 80s whose theme was why Shakespeare isn't the history of the Wars of the Roses. Ricardians love it because it creates an Aunt Sally they can attack, rather than deal with the reality of medieval kingship. The Coveney and McGill booklets are excellent.

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    2. I know the Shakespearian plays aren't history - or, more properly speaking, aren't proper historiography (I too have a postgraduate degree in history). But it is nevertheless entertaining - and does open up some intriguing questions. The plays in themselves are history (as well as literature) - even if what they depict has but the loosest connection with historical personages and events. I will frankly admit, though, I know sod-all about the Wars of the Roses, but I do have on my rearmost backburner a couple of WoR armies for a project somewhere down the track. So I am on the lookout for a worthwhile general source that offers some detail upon the campaigns and battles (yep, a tall order).

      I've read some historiography on Richard III, but not enough to be sure of where he stands.

      The thing I find strange in Shakespeare's RIII, is that, having spend the best part of 5 Acts demonising the man, even unto the parade of his murdered victims that visits him in his nightmares before Bosworth, he becomes in the battle itself a figure almost heroic. Was this somehow to cast into doubt the Tudor perspective of a defeated rival justly overthrown, or was this 'elevation' intended to portray the stature of Richard as a foe worthy of the Tudor's steel? Who knows?

      Trebian, I always enjoy your posts - ever and anon something thought provoking to be found here.
      Cheers,
      Ion

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    3. Didn't doubt you for a minute on the Shakespeare! Alas for those of us working in this period, the "only history I know is Shakespeare" joke stopped being funny years ago. And thanks for mistaking me for a postgrad historian. Just a humble graduate degree from a red brick university, I'm afraid. I knew very little about the WotR until about 10 years ago, when I started to get swept up in protecting our local battlefield. I can't comment on what Shakespeare was playing at with Richard III, but I know he likes to create interesting, fully rounded characters. I go for the worthy foe argument, if I had to pick.

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  5. Trebian, my friend, this is a hatchet job, but not for the reasons people might think. Bear with me. Clearly from reading the above I know that the book is not academic history. As such, the review is basically using a sledge hammer to flatten a mouse. So I'd edit your review something like this:

    Word came through that Pen & Sword had signed up David Cohen, who runs the "Wars of the Rose and Medieval History" Facebook group to write a book called "Battles of the Wars of the Roses".

    However, when writing history it is important to remember that the reader knows needs to know where you got your information from. Popular history books often forego footnotes, but usually give a detailed bibliography and list of sources at the back of the book.

    The bibliography provided runs to two pages, and lists 12 secondary sources and 18 primary sources. It does not list any online resources. This is a small list by any standards for any book wanting to be taken seriously and covering this span of history.

    I was also puzzled by the inclusion of a work of fiction in the bibliography

    Leaving these issues aside, all of this would have been less of a problem if there had been footnotes. Unfortunately, this book has no footnotes, and very few in-text references, except to quote from a few sources. Also, there are no acknowledgements of any other secondary works in the text, and all, except for one of the illustrations, are without attribution.

    There are a few statements that are really interesting, but without a reference to a source they can't be checked. For example, to say that Queen Margaret was in Eccleshall Castle on the 10th July 1460 and not in Northampton when the battle is being fought is really interesting. It's certainly not what I thought, and if it is true it changes my view on a few things. But I can't know, and I can't quote this book as a reference if I want to say that elsewhere.

    As a wargamer I found the account of Northampton troublesome, because Cohen has chosen to illustrate it with a map taken from Ramsey's "Lancaster & York" published in 1892, which places the battle in the wrong place. Archaeological evidence for the location of the battlefield places it between the Abbey and the Eleanor Cross, not on the site of the old railway sidings as indicated on Ramsey's map.

    Also, I found it odd that Cohen seems to be unaware of the other reason believed to account for the non-firing Lancastrian guns, and the finding of the oldest cannon ball located on a battlefield in England.

    The chapter on Edgcote runs to 7 pages with no a map, and is longer than that on Northampton covering the period after the battle in July, up to the end of December the same year. However, the description is sorely lacking. He claims Sir John Conyers is Robin of Redesdale, and that Redesdale dies in the battle. Which is odd, as Conyers was still alive 21 years later.

    Cohen places the fighting at the crossing of the River Cherwell. This is wrong because we now know that it took place across a tributary to the river from archaeology done as a result of HS2, which found no evidence of fighting at all at the Trafford Bridge site on the River Cherwell.

    So, while this book may serve as a popular introduction to the era discussed, there are problems that make the information presented contentious, and disappointed this reader's high hopes for a definitive work on the subject.

    ***

    Happy to discuss further. No offense. intended

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    1. Ashley,

      Thanks for taking the time to do that. No offense taken. There is history behind this, which might not be obvious. We are quite touchy about getting Northampton wrong as ignorance about its location nearly cost us what remains of the battlefield. This doesn't help reduce the ignorance, In fact it does the opposite. The book has been touted as a great new analysis of the military aspects of the WotR, and not just a "popular history". It's a flagship Pen & Sword publication on the period. It's publication by P&S means they won't be doing a similar subject book for a while. The author was warned about potential issues and has chosen to ignore them and gone ahead anyway.

      Whether it is academic or popular, the issues with non attribution of material should be made public. And I would disagree with your last sentence before the ***.

      There is a problem nowadays, especially with the late 15th century, that everyone thinks they can writer history, and that only the non-academic "historian" can get to the real truth. We get this is spades with Richard III. However, for every Phillipa Langley who happens to be right there's at least one writer who isn't.

      Trebian

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    2. Glad you took my comment the way it was meant to be taken. Talk to Henry Hyde about Sword & Pen, what he says may fill in some information gaps in your assessment of them. As for the last line, that was purely me writing, not editing your words so, I'm not surprised you disagree.

      My background is psychology, and therefore I tend to focus on trying to get the right effect; or perhaps I just like tongue in cheek criticism that the educated reader will understand, but the will fly over the average person will miss. Not saying that's right, or good, it's just that arguing with people is pointless if they won't listen.

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    3. There was discussion with the author on his FB group before publication, and it looked like he might not listen on some subjects (such as Towton) but I was reassured on Northampton and Edgcote, and took remarks he'd done up to date research at face value. I'm liking the Chatbot more and more (see JF's remarks above).

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  6. Bugger, you beat me to it. I to was looking forward to the release of this book as I naively imagined it provide details of the battles of that period and also give the wargaming reader enough detail to refight the battles. But no, instead we have a book that appears to have been written by an illeducated adolescent. As I commented before on the Amazon review site, I honestly thought it had been written by a person who possessed English as their second language and that it had been translated by someone who wasn't very good at their first language. As for the actual content, I would liken it to a substandard wargaming article but without any decent maps and images. Frankly Pen and Sword would do well to withdraw this crap before it undermines all the good work they have done previously.

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    1. The author isn't very pleased with me. He's accused me of academic snobbery, and is of the view that writers don't criticise other writer's work. Which is all a bit odd. It is also quite sad. He's done a lot through the FB group he helps run to encourage discussion about the Wars of the Roses. Alas the step up to writing a book seems to be beyond him, but that's not necessarily a surprise as based on my experience it is quite hard.

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  7. A very interesting post, thank you very much for shedding a bit of light on the process of historical research. I think it would be great to be able to learn the techniques, but sadly I don't have £30,000 to spare to take a degree in History in order to get that skillset. If anyone can suggest any other 'acess paths', I would be very interested - as I suspect would many others. I suppose the author of the book may have faced the same lack of knowledge of formal methods - just a shame he seemingly didn't consider that a problem worth solving(!).

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    1. Lucky me, I took my degree in the early 1980s. It is odd that many seem to think they can be a historian just by reading a book or two. You wouldn't expect anyone to claim to be a doctor just because they'd read a first aid book, or an engineer because they used to have a Meccano set. Of course there are amateurs who have made decisive contributions to all these fields without being university trained experts. The history thing is about asking the right questions, and constantly asking yourself how something is known. I'm not great at archival research. I find the hand writing hard to read, and I don't always have the patience to wade through lots of documentation looking for that one golden nugget. I'm a better historiographer, understanding how the picture we currently have is built up. Reading lots of books is core top it all anyway, even when you just want to work from primary sources. There's no short cut, and of course there's a lot of history out there. I only started taking the 15th century seriously about 10 years ago or so. and it has been a steep learning curve.

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    2. I was an early 80s student too, would have loved to do History but had no other 'humanities' subjects to go with it for A level. I ended up doing Physics, which lost me almost entirely at degree level - ironically I was saved by doing modules in History of Science! Interesting reply, clearly it's really all about read, read and read some more..

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    3. I wanted to do Law, but couldn't pass an interview to save my life. They obviously realised I didn't want it as much as I thought. I ended up doing history as I was good at it. The step change from A level to Degree caught a few out, I think.

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