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Blood and Roses: One Family's Struggle and Triumph During the Tumultuous Wars of the Roses

3.92  ·  Rating Details ·  448 Ratings  ·  59 Reviews

The Wars of the Roses tore England asunder. Over the course of thirty years, four kings lost their thrones, countless men lost their lives on the battlefield or their heads on the block, and others found themselves suddenly flush with gold. Yet until now, little has been written about the ordinary people who lived through this extraordinary time.

Blood and Roses is a gr

Hardcover, 448 pages
Published April 1st 2006 by HarperCollins (first published 2004)
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The Paston letters are a trove of letters involving at least one member of the Paston family, and they span one century, three generations, and so many kings and regents that I lost count (Henry V to Henry VII). They're also six hundred years old.

The Pastons were bonded farmers. Thanks to the social and economic upheaval caused by the plagues, they were able to send their son, William, to be trained as a lawyer. (Actually, his uncle paid for it.) William became a judge, and he started to buy lan
Shawn Thrasher
The Pastons are sort of like neighbors you've never met, but see occasionally driving down the street or working in their yards, neighbors you are on nodding acquaintance with but have never actually talked to. And when you finally get to talk to them, you find them to be delightful people. If you read anything about the Wars of the Roses or the early Tudors, you are bound to run into the Pastons. They usually don't get a whole book to themselves, particularly fiction, as their lives - or at lea ...more
Apr 23, 2010 Jeff added it
Shelves: european-history
The unique survival of hundreds of letters written by the 15th-century Paston family makes possible this brilliant synthesis of the family’s history with a narrative of the turbulent Wars of the Roses.

The Pastons’ determination to rise in the world at whatever cost plunged them into the thick of a brutal civil war in which it was imperative to find a powerful nobleman as patron and protector — which in turn meant that his enemies became their own, and that his backing the losing side in the dyn
Mar 07, 2013 Heather rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
After reading She Wolves and seeing the BBC production on TV, I was addicted to the authors gift for a storytelling voice. Blood & Roses is a beautifully in-depth look at the real lives of the Pastons over several generations. The Paston family letters could be in no better hands than Castor's to compile this work of history, life and times of the English countrymen of the Wars of the Roses time period. This is far better than some glammed-up Showtime Tudors series. Better not for the saucy ...more
Cynthia Haggard
Feb 18, 2013 Cynthia Haggard rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you want a vivid portrayal of England during the Wars of the Roses, you should read this book.

Helen Castor has done a wonderful job of putting the Paston Letters into context, both historical and familial, so that in reading this book it is not only clear what is happening in England during the struggle between various noble families and the King of England, but how this impacted people like the Pastons, who were powerless when England degenerated into chaos, and greedy neighbors seized their
James Loftus
Dec 28, 2012 James Loftus rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Truly a terrific book. The trials and tribulations of a family on the make, their fortunes tied to whoever is head of the family at a certain point in time. Sometimes, led by a figure of good common sense, intelligence and social skill, then if the wider social and political context allows the tangent of their fortunes soars ... Soon enough, however, their good sire and enabler is confined to history and another takes his place. The building blocks so carefully placed are trampled into the groun ...more
May 17, 2014 Dorothy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
Fabulous. Really. An amazing journey via letters through the rags to riches (rags later again) story of a real, Medieval English family tossed about by the turmoil of the wars of the Roses. A seemingly ordinary family parlaying the new opportunities that arose from the tragic Black Death scaled unimaginable heights amid the backdrop of civil war in a world slowly emerging from feudalism.

For any who have trouble tracking the many shifting players and alliances that populated these civil wars Cas
Interesting book on the lives of several generations of the Paston family from Norwich, set against the backdrop of the Wars of the Roses and the family's ups and downs. Amid the general political history of the period, excerpts from family correspondence give glimpses into the lives of an ordinary family and how the wars progress and affect them. Most of the letters discuss their real estate and an inheritance, which the family finally wins after many years. The family rose from villeinage [ten ...more
Gumble's Yard
Feb 18, 2017 Gumble's Yard rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010
Non-fictional account of the lives of the Norfolk based up and coming Paston family at the time of the Wars of the Roses. Some of the Norfolk references are interesting as are the summaries of the political situation (but the latter are not the main point of the book).

Also interesting is: the combination of warring magnates, weak kings and up and coming courtiers determined to rise their status (possible in a society convulsed first by the Black Death - leading to a rise in the power of the low
I started the book hoping a lot and ended up by forcing myself to finish it, to be honest, it's a bit boring, Helen is a fine writer but most of the extracts could be easily skipped by and focus or her interpretation rather than the letters itself for unless the subject is of your truly interest it'd get you bored eventually, in fact, that was the only way I could get myself to the end, by skipping most of the extracts on the second half of the book otherwise it would still be there on shelf rem ...more
Jul 25, 2013 Louise rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a highly unusual book. I believe this is the sort of material that's usually buried in PhD theses and never reaches a general audience.

Castor's exhaustive research shows as she reconstructs the history of the Paston family and its attempts to climb the social ladder of the landed gentry. In 15th century England, there is no title insurance. You can lose your land to claims of others who may be the progeny of previous owners, or may be just better connected. You can also lose it in a sieg
Oct 26, 2013 Donna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Using the 15th century correspondence of one family, discovered hundreds of years after it was written, historian Helen Castor paints a vivid picture of how life was lived and ambition fulfilled or thwarted in the late medieval period, which included the decades-long, recurring War of the Roses. Excerpts from the letters offer glimpses of everyday life among upwardly mobile family members--between spouses, parents and children, and siblings. The author includes comprehensive detail of ongoing le ...more
Ashley Catt
Mar 24, 2015 Ashley Catt rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
The subject matter of this book easily lends itself to interesting reading. The Paston letters more an unusual survival. In fact it could be considered more than unusual; it's highly unprecedented. A vast stock of correspondence from the Paston family, who's fortunes swing from the upper peasantry into respected gentry, have survived which give personal insights into the thoughts and feelings of these characters that we don't have for even some of the most famous historical figures.

The way this
Jessica Howard
Dec 19, 2007 Jessica Howard rated it liked it
Shelves: history
The basic premise of this book was an astonishing collection of letters from a "regular" family during the tumultuous Wars of the Roses. It is the only such collection of writing from non-nobility, and thus offers a rare glimpse into the everyday life of the era. That was what made me pick up this book, and I did enjoy reading about a lot of that part, as well as tidbits of information about the battling going on between the Houses of Lancaster and York. However, the brunt of the book is about t ...more
Jun 23, 2014 Nancy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
My expectation was that this was to be the story of a family, though its letters, against the backdrop of the tumultuous times of the rapidly shifting changes of political (i.e. royal) struggle (york vs lancaster). And it is, although more heavily focused on the political backdrop and its effects on the family than than on the family stories themselves.

That being said, this is a well-written and well-researched book, with appropriate footnotes and references. It gives a close-up view of the viol
Dec 20, 2013 English rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Read for an assignment with a deadline, so skimmed/skipped a fair amount but read quite a bit.

Generally a good work on about the lives and struggles of the Self-made Paston family who rose from the ranks of peasantry during turbulent era of the Wars of the Roses.
'The Paston letters' from which most of what we know about the Pastons surviving are the largest collection of surviving personal letters from the later Middle Ages.

The political realities and upheavals of the age are here, along with
Fascinating but sometimes heavy account of the lives of the Pastons, an upwardly mobile family during the Wars of the Roses. Castor does a good job making these long dead characters leap from the page - John Paston (I) annoyed me so much I was practically shouting at the page! Reading this you get a real sense of how people lived and how often their concerns are so similar to ours even if the times and systems are so utterly different to ours - the legal manipulations & the brinkmanship is b ...more
Michael Cayley
Dec 26, 2015 Michael Cayley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
The Paston letters - written by members of a rising Norfolk family during the turbulent 15th century - give a fascinating insight into the period, including into all the difficulties minor gentry had in holding on to their lands when legal title could be easily challenged and more powerful players might seize them by force. Part of the period they cover is that of the Wars of the Roses, and they show the difficulties faced if one associated with the wrong side. This book gives a very readable ac ...more
An incredibly interesting and well-written narrative which fleshes out the larger story, both of the Pastons and contemporary England, from the late 14th through the early years of Henry VII. Essentially, there are roughly 1,000 letters that have survived to and from a single family, the Pastons, who rose to prominence in East Anglia (centered in Norwich) during the final years of the Hundred Years War and fought for their socio-political survival during the Wars of the Roses. Castor has done a ...more
Aug 06, 2014 Sue rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is engrossing. The lives of the ambitious and upwardly mobile Paston family is written in a style which draws the reader into their lives and the tumultuous world in which they lived. You really get a sense of what it would have been like to try and improve the lot of your family during the chaotic decades of the Wars of the Roses. It puts the political upheaval of the Cousins' Wars in context and is a wonderful social history of a family attempting to improve itself through education ...more
James Elder
Jun 03, 2015 James Elder rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A few months ago I read Dan Jones' 'The Plantagenets' and really didn't get on with it. Rather than read his sequel about the Wars of the Roses, I'm so glad I found 'Blood and Roses' (which was, fortuitously, a Kindle daily deal).

Helen Castor uses the Paston letters to tell both the national story of the Houses of Lancaster and York, and the local story of the Paston family's progress from tenant farmers to landed gentry.

It's a splendid book which makes the late medieval period and the individua
Very interesting account of the Paston family in 15th century England and their tribulations as they tried to hang on to their lands. Despite the fascinating subject matter the book is occasionally heavy going and I did get a bit bogged down in the local politics of Norfolk and remembering who exactly was who and to whom they were affiliated. It did make clear how the chaos in government filtered down to make life difficult for people on a local level and how necessary a powerful patron was. Wel ...more
Helene Harrison
Review - A interesting concept to look at the progression of one family through the Wars of the Roses, but records weren't always kept so there is some supposition and guesswork involved. Nevertheless, the book does follow the story all the way through, using as much information as is available. Not really my kind of thing, as I'm more interested in the wider political consequences, but nevertheless an interesting read.

General Subject/s? - History / Wars of the Roses / Plantagenet

Recommend? – Ma
Margaret Sankey
Jul 24, 2011 Margaret Sankey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love the Paston family. In one of only three collections of family correspondence from the English 15th century, the Pastons scheme, sue, plot, choose sides in the Wars of the Roses, buy land, lose land, steal land, suck up to rich people, become rich people, get noble titles and eventually after seven generations burn themselves out and disappear, while leaving us a vivid and human paper trail of legal documents, love letters, petitions and household records. Medieval people were far from pio ...more
Well written, once again Castor portrays history in an eloquent and engaging way. This book provides a narrative on not only the wars of the roses but late medieval society in a way far more refreshing than the typical book which portrays the period through the lives of kings. This book provides insight into the social circles of the period and interestingly, how education provided the Paston family with the means to climb the social ladder. This book is personable and the Paston letters are use ...more
Dec 30, 2014 Holly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A thorough and interesting look at the life of one family during the Wars of the Roses. It won't give you a deeper understanding of the politics of the era but it will let you into the world of the more middle-class level gentry and their worries while great events over sweep them. Castor, as always, writes fluently and elegantly but at points the fact that there are only letters to let us know what happened leaves gaps. A delight for the serious history fan, but I wouldn't particularly recommen ...more
Mar 08, 2011 Joan rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Not what I expected or hoped for, thus the 2 stars. Some of it was fascinating: the looks into family life, society, and the politics of the war of the roses. Ultimately, though, for me, there was too much information about the family's land claims and struggles to maintain what they though should be theirs. It is amazing that the correspondence survived, and for scholars of the period, this book is a rare gem.
Jan 05, 2009 Leah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a fascinating look into a period of history and social class not often given its due. We forget that ours is not the only period of social mobility. This book follows the fortunes of one family during the period of the War of the Roses using - get this - the family's own correspondence! The letters were considered unique and valuable when they were discovered in the 18th century and were preserved until the present day.
Mar 30, 2013 Teresa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is not a quick read. It is an interesting one, however. There are many many people to keep track of so you might find yourself Googling a lot. It informs of the lives of a family for several generation, a family who lived through the War of the Roses. It would be well that it be required reading for those who wish for a small government that takes little interest in what is being done in the business world. While various Kings were distracted all sorts of crooked things were going on.
Jul 14, 2015 Martha rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This narrative of a family on the rise would perhaps make a lively graduate thesis but becomes plodding - much like the family's attempts to secure their property for most of 60 years. The discovery of theses letters written over the course of the late 15th Century was a thrilling find, and the letters themselves would probably be a better read. Historians must find new grist for the mill but this effort failed for me. However, I have Castor's _Joan of Arc_on my bookshelf. We'll see.
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Helen Castor is a historian of medieval England and a Fellow of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. She directed studies in History at Sidney for eight years before deciding to concentrate on writing history for a wider readership.

Her book Blood & Roses (Faber, 2004, published in revised form in the US by HarperCollins, 2006) is a biography of the fifteenth-century Paston family, whose letters
More about Helen Castor...

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