Red Roses: Blanche of Gaunt to Margaret Beaufort

Written by Amy Licence
Review by Karen Warren

Red Roses is the story of the women of England’s Lancastrian Dynasty, from 1345 to 1509. It traces the changing fortunes of the descendants of John of Gaunt, third son of King Edward III, from the viewpoint of their wives, mothers and daughters. These women’s lives were shaped through marriage, often contracted during early childhood. Alliances were made for dynastic or financial reasons, and to ensure the production of heirs.

Medieval women’s lives were not well documented. The book draws on letters and contemporary literature as well as account books and official papers, but inevitably there are gaps in the narrative. The author is scrupulous in explaining the source of her material and, despite the difficulties, she has managed to bring the women to life and to show their different personalities. I came away with a deeper understanding of the period and of the nature of courtly women’s lives. My only criticism is that I would have liked a family tree diagram to help me make sense of the complex relationships within the royal family. Red Roses will appeal to anyone who is interested in the English Middle Ages, especially those who would like a different perspective on the era.