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Book Review: The Wrath of Kings by Philip Photiou

17 October 2017

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The Wrath of Kings is the first of a trilogy following Philip Neville, a 26-year-old manorial knight in the service of his cousin, Richard earl of Warwick. The story commences at Ferrybridge in Yorkshire on the evening of Saturday 28 March 1461, immediately after the skirmish between Lancaster and York, and goes on to encompass a gritty and detailed account of the battle of Towton and the subsequent sieges of the northern castles by Warwick and Montague, including the often overlooked battle of Hedgeley Moor, up to and including the surrender of Bamburgh Castle in July 1464. Photiou makes the most of all of the rich ingredients of the time, including the Neville-Percy feud, a family divided by the conflict and the beginnings of the breakdown in the relationship between king and kingmaker.

Neville is one of three sons to Sir George Neville, a brother of the earl of Salisbury in whose household he was raised at Sheriff Hutton. His mother has already married Sir William Beaufort, uncle to third duke of Somerset, following the death of his father, and this has led to a significant rift within the family. His younger brother, Michael, has found an affinity with the Beauforts, laying the foundations of a complex sibling love-hate relationship, and fought on the opposing Lancastrian side at Towton. Neville holds an implacable hatred for the Beauforts and in particular for Somerset, whose father he holds responsible for the supposed murder of his own father, as well as the death of Salisbury after Wakefield. Rather predictably Neville is central to key events of the time and is a key player in undermining Edward’s rapprochement with Somerset.

Unusually, Potiou seems to have deliberately created a thoroughly unlikeable central character whose insolence and chip on his shoulder inevitably antagonises both friend and foe (and occasionally the reader) alike as evinced by his prickly relationships with Edward, Warwick and Hastings, as well as his doomed affair with Elizabeth Percy, daughter of Thomas Lord Egremont.

The book is extremely well researched and contains a wealth of detail in terms of people, events, geographyand martial and medical practices. The only criticism I would have is the intensity of some of the language, which unnecessarily jars with an otherwise compelling narrative. Leading characters are well developed - Edward is strong, sensual and already beginning to express his own determination to rule, while Warwick is very much a self-aware kingmaker; it will be interesting to see just how Richard is developed in subsequent books. The reader is drawn into the unfolding story and it feels like you are actually there alongside Neville as he interacts with both nobles and commoners, navigates northern battlefields and castles and endures the pains of fifteenth-century post-battle surgery. As Philippa Gregory neatly puts it, ‘You can feel the cold and smell the mud!’.

The first volume closes with Neville swearing vengeance on Warwick himself; this sets the scene for a fascinating inside account of Warwick’s downfall in the next instalment.

First published in the September 2017 edition of the Ricardian Bulletin, the members' magazine of the Richard III Society. Copyright Shaun Kelso.

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