In some ways The Brothers York is your standard history of the Wars of the Roses. It follows the myriad of factions vying for the English throne. All of the side switching and reverses of those factions. However, Penn does make an interesting argument. For all this civil war is presented as House of Lancaster vs House of York (a narrative largely created by the House of Tudor in the aftermath) large swaths of the war were actually fought between different factions of the Yorkists. Even when Edward IV was deposed in 1470 and Henry VI reinstated, the “Lancastrians” who did it were actually Richard Neville, Duke of Warwick former ally and uncle of Edward IV and George Duke of Clarence, Edward IV’s brother. From Edward’s reinstatement in 1471 to his death in 1483 almost all of the conflict in England is either direct York on York violence or proxies of the Yorkists fighting each other.
I listened to this one which if you aren’t familiar with the Wars of the Roses might not be the way to experience this book. It’s a lot to keep track of. There are so many sides and factions. People’s loyalties change. It’s a lot. In fact one of the only criticisms I have of the book is that Penn’s argument tends to get lost in the early stages of the book when it’s all Lancaster vs York. As the story progresses though that argument comes more and more to the forefront. One of the things I really liked was that Penn does a great job of talking about how Henry VI and Edward IV paid for years and years of war. Everything from loans from Italian bankers to shaking down local elites for payments. It’s a mess which makes for fascinating reading.