dispossessed Stuarts. (Sellar and Yeatman had also noted the Jacobite parallel, observing, vis-à-vis Simnel and Warbeck, that pretenders ‘usually come in small waves of about two – an Old Pretender and a Young Pretender’.) Jacobite history tends to be written by Jacobite sympathisers, and Seward makes no secret of his admiration for the fidelity of Yorkist partisans or of his distaste for Henry VIII, ‘the most treacherous monarch in English history’. He has a good eye for detail, and includes chapters on unfamiliar episodes of anti-Tudorism, though he also misses some lively characters who might have made it into his story, such as Robert Branceter, the London merchant and agent of Cardinal Pole, who visited England secretly in the after math of the Pilgrimage of Grace, having earlier been Charles V’s envoy to the Shah of Persia as well as the f ir st Englishman round the Cape of Good Hope; or James ap Gruffydd ap Hywel, a Welsh Catholic adventurer, who in the 1530s retraced Warbeck’s steps across Europe, charming the crowned heads and plotting rebellion in his homeland. Not all of Seward’s interpretations are reliably up-todate. To suggest that the significance of Elizabeth Barton (the visionary nun who prophesied against Henry VIII) ‘tends to be overlooked’ shows unawareness of a raft of recent scholarship, while the observation that, after the dissolution of the monasteries, ‘the country swarmed with beggars once fed by such houses, joined by starving monks and nuns’, will raise eyebrows among professional historians. Seward’s account arguably takes too seriously the prospects for an imperial-led invasion of England in the early 1530s, and gives Henry VIII too much credit for cleverly outwitting the Pilgrims of Grace in 1536–7. He is off-target on some small points (such as validating a Protestant smear that the Lord Chancellor, Thomas Wriothesly, committed suicide, or asserting that no Tudor court ever acquitted in cases of treason), as well as on some larger ones. The notion that the fall of the Duke of Buckingham in 1520 was entirely down to the scheming of Cardinal Wolsey involves accepting Seward’s proposition that i t was no big deal for Buckingham privately to threaten to chop off the king’s head. And there seems no warrant for claiming that Thomas More ‘would certainly have approved whole heartedly of Henry’s replacement by the impeccably Catholic Lady Mary’.
These quibbles aside, The Last White Rose is an entertaining and valuable exploration of a subject too often marginalised in histories of the early Tudor period. It’s a truism that victors write the history, and that history doesn’t have time for losers. But studies like this remind us that the distance between losers and winners can be paper thin, and invite us to imagine an alternative past and an altered present. To order this book at £16, see LR Bookshop on page 22
LITERARY REVIEW November 2010